Auditor general Karen Hogan said the rollout of the wage subsidy highlighted pre-existing weaknesses in federal systems and data that need to be addressed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Federal government faces costly path to recoup wrongly paid COVID-19 aid: auditor

Auditor general Karen Hogan says the federal government missed its chances to flag fraudulent claims

Auditor general Karen Hogan says the federal government missed chances to flag fraudulent claims for emergency benefits last year.

She says officials will now have to rely on costly, years-long efforts to recoup wrongful payments.

Efforts will begin this spring for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and this fall for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Hogan’s two audits today each note how quickly the programs rolled out last March and April, eschewing the usual months-long policy-development process to quickly get aid to hard-hit businesses and workers.

The audits flag multiple moments when federal officials could have made changes to prevent the wage subsidy from going to companies with unpaid tax bills, or the CERB from potentially going to known fraudsters.

Hogan says the rollout of the wage subsidy, in particular, highlighted pre-existing weaknesses in federal systems and data that need to be addressed.