At least $61M spent equipping federal public servants to work from home
Initial pandemic-related costs included computers, office furniture
In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government spent at least $61 million to help public servants adapt to working from home, according to an analysis by Radio-Canada.
The amount is likely higher because some departments including Global Affairs Canada haven't released their spending figures.
According to Radio-Canada, the majority of the money that has been reported was used to equip workers with computers and office furniture needed to work from home. The spending doesn't include salaries.
As one example, the Department of National Defence provided employees with 960 chairs, 9,896 laptops, 33,000 VPN connections and 110,000 accounts for Microsoft Office 365. The department also allowed each employee to spend $300 on smaller office items.
By comparison, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a Crown corporation, granted its employees a monthly allowance of $80.
"What worries us the most is whether there were duplicate or triplicate expenses," Renaud Brossard, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's director for Quebec, told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.
Brossard is concerned some of that money might have been spent on items that could have been picked up from the office, and said the government needs to keep tabs on all that equipment once the pandemic is over and workers return to their cubicles.
Resources stretched thin: unions
But Geneviève Tellier, a professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, cautioned taxpayers to be understanding in these exceptional circumstances.
"It is possible that there were mistakes, that we paid too much," Tellier said in French.
But according to unions representing federal public servants, even with all the costs, resources for teleworkers are still stretched thin.
"We are experiencing technical problems, such as VPNs failing," said the Public Service Alliance of Canada's Alex Silas.
Stéphane Aubry of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) said some departments "have not provided much equipment" to their employees. According to PIPSC, some 200,000 federal public servants are working from home during the pandemic.
According to Radio-Canada's analysis, the government has also spent more than $26 million on safety measures for workplaces that have continued to function throughout the pandemic. The costs included installing signs and Plexiglas shields.
With files from Radio-Canada's Estelle Côté-Sroka