Military mission to COVID-hit long term care homes cost taxpayers about $53 million

Sending in Canadian soldiers to backstop long-term care homes overrun by the novel coronavirus in Ontario and Quebec cost the federal government approximately $53 million, according to figures obtained by CBC News from the Department of National Defence (DND).

Senior military officers told a House of Commons committee today that a number of lessons were learned from the deployment at 54 long-term care homes in both provinces — lessons that will come in handy should further missions be necessary during the second wave.

Members of the defence committee asked for the estimate of cost of that operation. Maj.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu promised to provide MPs with a written response.

Maj.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu says soldiers taking part in future pandemic operations will benefit from the “tough lessons learned by their teammates.” (Phil LaPlante/CBC)

CBC News already had asked for and received a breakdown of those expenses prior to the committee meeting, however.

The figures for the long-term care deployment were rolled into a recent request for supplementary funding put before Parliament by DND.

The military’s overall pandemic response (known as Operation Laser) has incurred $463 million in expenses — including $207.8 million spent to mobilize thousands of regular and reserve forces and on the intervention in long-term care homes.

The figures are current as of the end of August.

Lessons learned

New Democrat defence critic Randal Garrison said that, as a Canadian, he was “embarrassed” by the fact that the situation in long-term care homes was dire enough to require military action.

He and other committee members repeatedly thanked military representatives for stabilizing the situation in those long-term care centres — and for documenting the horrific conditions faced by many residents and staff during the pandemic crisis.

Those reports led the Liberal government to call for national standards for long-term care homes.

Fifty-five members of the military contracted COVID-19 while serving in those centres, said the military’s surgeon-general, Maj.-Gen. Marc Bilodeau. All of the soldiers recovered and none required hospitalization, he added.

“We are trying to learn some lessons from this experience to enhance our reaction to any next crisis,” Bilodeau said in French in response to a question from a committee member.

The military understands more now about the virus and how it is spreads than it did in the spring, he added.

Cadieu said the experience of serving in long-term care facilities during a pandemic gave soldiers new training in things like the use of personal protective equipment — skills that will help the Armed Forces deal with the next such crisis.

“Those troops will be going in having benefits from some of the tough lessons learned by their teammates,” he said. 

Separately, the military is helping the Public Health Agency of Canada to finalize its vaccine distribution plan.

No decision has been made yet on whether there will be a role for the Armed Forces in transporting, storing or delivering vaccines, Cadieu told the committee.

“Specifically, the Canadian Armed Forces is assisting with the development of a logistics support plan for the rollout of the vaccine,” he said. “We’re helping establish a national operations centre that will oversee distribution of the vaccine.”

The country’s top military commander has yet to give the government specific advice on how the Armed Forces could help get vaccine doses to all parts of the country, Cadieu added.

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