OTTAWA — The federal auditor general says he’s been given no way to measure the employment impact of a multi-billion-dollar fund designed to maintain or create jobs during the last recession.
The Community Adjustment Fund was one of three programs under the Conservative government’s self-styled Economic Action Plan that were examined by auditor John Wiersema.
The heavily promoted plan was a two-year, $47-billion stimulus spending exercise launched in January 2009 in the midst of a global recession.
Wiersema told a news conference Tuesday that his “overall message” is that the government should follow through on its commitment to Parliament to report on the impact of the full $47-billion action plan, “both in stimulating the economy and creating employment.”
“Whether or not we can rely on what the government does in reporting on the Economic Action Plan, well, we haven’t seen the government’s report yet,” said Wiersema, whose permanent replacement, Michael Ferguson, was appointed earlier this month by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“I haven’t audited the models that it will use.”
But opposition critics said Wiersema’s limited audit covering $7 billion of the full program gives them little reason for optimism that any government report will be verifiable.
“I don’t have confidence that the government is going to come clean on what the full results of the Economic Action Plan were, because they haven’t monitored it, so they don’t know,” NDP critic Peter Julian told a news conference.
“That’s my conclusion of reading the auditor general’s report.”
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said there is clear proof the Economic Action Plan created jobs.
“The positive impact of the economic action plan which the official opposition voted against can be seen in the almost 600,000 net new jobs for Canadians since the end of the recession,” Flaherty said during question period.
Despite the Harper government’s massive promotion of the action plan, Wiersema found a common theme among the three specific programs and $7 billion in spending he examined: All are hobbled by a failure to coherently say whether results met expectations for the dollars that were spent.
The auditor general’s criticism was particularly pointed for the $1-billion Community Adjustment Fund, which was created with the express purpose of creating and maintaining jobs in smaller communities hard-hit by the recession.
“Given that objective, we think they should have had a mechanism in place to actually measure how it did,” Wiersema told reporters.
Wiersema, who replaced retired auditor Sheila Fraser on an interim basis last spring, also looked at the $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund and the $2-billion Knowledge Infrastructure Program.
The programs were part of a whole-of-government advertising and promotion scheme in which tens of millions of dollars were spent on advertising.
A slick website, criticized by many observers for its partisan overtones, directed readers to community-funding announcements by MPs and cabinet ministers, complete with a map showing project locations. More than 8,000 project signs were erected across the country, tracked by public servants on a weekly basis with reports going all the way up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.
Yet the auditor found that on the most critical performance appraisals of the actual stimulus programs he examined, Canadians remain in the dark.