“ArriveCAN initially launched on April 29, 2020, after just five weeks of development at a cost of $80,000.” Thus, talking points prepared for a senior Canadian Border Services Agency official, in advance of speaking in November 2022 to a parliamentary committee.Today, Canada’s auditor general released her own estimate of what the failed application has so far cost the taxpayers: $59.5 million.She added however that because of “poor financial record keeping” on the part of the Canadian Border Services Agency, it was “impossible” to estimate the true cost.So, as opposition leader Pierre Poilievre asserts, almost 750 times the original estimate. Or more. (One has to admit the possibility.)And that’s just the software. The cost to the 10,000 Canadians whose lives were disrupted when it didn’t function as intended — improperly quarantined at their own expense and unable to work — is also “impossible” to estimate.It is all, as Auditor General Karen Hogan said, “a bit of a head scratcher.”Were the people in charge just terminally incompetent?Or was there something else going on?For those inclined to think the best of everybody, trust governments and who come what may are also determined not to vote Conservative in 2025, there is this flimsy odalisque’s veil of modesty behind which to hide: The Trudeau Liberals had chosen to hype the COVID-19 outbreak as a national emergency. Not all countries or US states did, but this was the chosen approach in Canada. This therefore allowed the CBSA to defend itself after Hogan’s report landed, by reminding the poor old taxpayers who paid the bill that after all, everything that was done was done “during an extraordinary time and on an emergency basis.” (In this great national effort, let us not be constrained by petty rules or middle-class morality.)Well they were right about the extraordinary time and all levels of government for their own reasons did their best to keep things that way.Unfortunately, Minister Dominic LeBlanc undercut that argument during a scrum later, saying that even in an emergency, government employees were still expected to follow procedures.For example — as Auditor General Hogan helpfully proposed — it is good to keep receipts: “There was a lack,” she said, “of basic information to support an invoice.”The minister did not disagree.One might also allow as a secondary defence that updating the app to work on multiple platforms receiving multiple upgrades would have generated multiple extra expenses.However, $80,000 to $60 million?Not surprisingly the customer — the CBSA — is doing its own internal review and has reportedly brought in the RCMP. After all, if you can get a free upgrade from the App Store when your phone jumps a system upgrade, how much should the Government of Canada be paying for upgrades to what is basically nothing more than a form?Not surprisingly then, when asked about possible corruption, Hogan also deferred to the RCMP.Her report, for example, suggests CBSA employees failed to tell their superiors about contractors inviting them to “dinners and other activities.”And there’s this. I seem to recall an upbeat colour story at the time (spring 2020) about a talented two-man team figuring out the whole application over a weekend.In the rearview mirror, it looks undeniably propagandist — a good news story to cheer the masses at a time when the language of war rather than medicine dominated public discussion. How we needed a barely-trained pilot to defeat the entire Luftwaffe on his first mission.It turns out now that it was indeed a two-man team — trading as GC Strategies — but what they did was assemble a team of other tech companies that then co-operated to birth the app.The trouble was, as the AG tells the tale, that the CBSA “had little documentation to support how and why GC Strategies was awarded the initial ArriveCAN contract through a non-competitive process. We also found that GC Strategies was subsequently involved in the development of the requirements that the agency ultimately included in the request for proposal for its competitive contract.”So was it blithering incompetence? Or something else?Mostly the former. If the people who were supposed to be competent had been on top of the files, there would have been no opportunity for activities the auditor general declines to comment upon.But what it shows as much as anything is that when governments generate hysteria, common sense goes out the window, followed closely by tested procedures.And that this is by no means the only question arising from the entire COVID-19 experience to which Canadians would like an answer.