Auditor general flags foot-dragging by federal government in latest report

If there was a common thread running through auditor general Michael Ferguson’s latest report to Parliament, it was foot dragging by the federal government.

OTTAWA — If there was a common thread running through auditor general Michael Ferguson’s latest report to Parliament, it was foot dragging by the federal government.

Ferguson made no attempt Tuesday to hide his exasperation over the length of time it takes the government to act on recommendations like the ones he has just delivered.

“A look over the audits we are reporting on today show that in many cases, the results need to be improved,” he said during a news conference.

“Even when government identifies a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions. The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadian, both directly and indirectly.”

The top theme of Ferguson’s fall audit was safety and security.

Among his findings:

l there are “significant weaknesses” in Transport Canada’s oversight of federally regulated railways;

l big question marks around the Harper government’s multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan;

l loose borders that let dangerous people slip into Canada;

l problems with the way emergencies are handled on aboriginal reserves; and,

l a food inspection agency mired in confusion when it comes to major recalls.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement said he takes both the good and the bad of Ferguson’s findings.

“The government continues to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are used responsibly and that Canadians can access effective and efficient programs and services when they need to,” he said.

“We take the safety and security of Canadians very seriously and that is why we are already acting on the auditor general’s recommendations.”

Opposition parties say the audit shows a government falling down on its responsibilities to keep its people safe.

“Ensuring our food is safe to eat, ensuring rail ways are safe — these are the basic responsibilities of any government,” New Democrat MP Malcolm Allen said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, Conservatives have become so mired in scandal, and so focused on their well-connected friends, that they are neglecting their basic responsibilities. Their attempts to cut corners are putting Canadians at risk.”

The Liberals say the report “clearly confirms that the Conservative government has continued to fail Canadians when it comes to ensuring basic safety measures, specifically regarding rail and food safety.”

Ferguson’s team completed its rail-safety audit only days before the deadly train disaster this summer in Lac-Megantic, Que. The auditors found a lack of knowledge of rail routes used to transport dangerous goods, too few safety auditors, poorly trained inspectors and an absence of follow-up or sanctions when safety problems are identified.

On shipbuilding, the auditor general’s office could not determine exactly how many ships will come out of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. The hard cost ceilings in place could also force the navy to reduce the fleet size below its needs.

Ferguson also found the Canada Border Services Agency doesn’t always get the information it needs to pinpoint threats, with data that can be incomplete or missing entirely. Nor can the RCMP say for sure what percentage of people get nabbed when they try to sneak across the border between regular ports of entry.

First Nations communities are at risk because many have outdated or missing emergency plans, the auditors found. There is confusion among Aboriginal Affairs officials who don’t always know who is supposed to be doing what during emergencies.

The report says the department doesn’t know whether First Nations reserves are getting the same level of emergency services as other parts of Canada.

Ferguson also took issue with the amount of money Aboriginal Affairs puts into its emergency management program. The audit says the $19-million annual budget isn’t enough and the department has had to scrounge hundreds of millions of dollars from other sources. That has meant some community infrastructure projects were cancelled or delayed to pay for emergencies.

On food safety, the auditor general said last year’s massive recall at XL Foods exposed serious shortcomings at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The audit said the CFIA struggles to follow up on routine recalls and to manage major files.

Ferguson’s team also found widespread confusion among CFIA officials during emergencies.

During the XL Foods recall, for example, the company received multiple calls from CFIA officials who apparently didn’t know that their responsibilities had shifted during the emergency.

Just Posted

Downtown Red Deer was packed with people who lined the streets to watch the Westerner Days parade on Wednesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Westerner Days parade cancelled, full details on modified event coming June 28

The 2021 edition of Westerner Days will look much different than any… Continue reading

Residents in several neighbourhoods reported little to no water pressure Tuesday night. (File photo by Advocate staff)
City hall to reopen for payments and customer service

Red Deer City Hall will reopen on June 21 for utility and… Continue reading

Char Rausch was selected as this year’s recipient of the Bob Stollings Award, which goes to an employee who has displayed outstanding civic performance in alignment with The City’s Cornerstone Values – Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
Char Rausch wins City of Red Deer Bob Stollings Award

The City of Red Deer is honouring employees differently this year. With… Continue reading

The new Canada 150 Square, located along Riverwalk in Capstone.
Capstone to host unique Father’s Day celebration

Capstone is inviting Red Deer residents to enjoy Father’s Day by the… Continue reading

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

The Prime Minister's car waits outside the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg Tuesday, May 19, 2009. The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is showing no sign he'll release unredacted documents about the firing of two scientists at Canada's highest security laboratory — despite the prospect of being publicly shamed in the House of Commons for his refusal to turn them over. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
PHAC head maintains he’s bound by law not to release docs on fired scientists

OTTAWA — The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is… Continue reading

Various vaping nicotine e-liquids or "juice" are shown in a lab at Portland State University in in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products… Continue reading

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a government coronavirus advisory panel, issued a report listing the risks of allowing the spectators and the measurements to prevent the event from triggering a coronavirus spread. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is… Continue reading

FILE - In this June 12, 2021, file photo, Rajkumar Haryani, 38, who painted his body to create awareness about vaccination against the coronavirus poses for photographs after getting a dose of Covishield vaccine in Ahmedabad, India. Starting June 21, 2021, every Indian adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose for free that was purchased by the federal government. The policy reversal announced last week ends a complex system of buying vaccines that worsened inequities in accessing vaccines. India is a key global supplier of vaccines and its missteps have left millions of people waiting unprotected. The policy change is likely to address inequality but questions remain and shortages will continue. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
How India is changing vaccine plan amid shortages

NEW DELHI (AP) — Starting Monday, every adult in India will be… Continue reading

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference to , in Ottawa Tuesday August 30, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces says it is making progress in the fight against sexual misconduct in the ranks, but much more work needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Freeze promotions until military commanders are screened for misconduct: Committee

OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee has called for a freeze on all… Continue reading

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Hussen says he is looking to municipalities to reshape local rules to more quickly build units through the government's national housing strategy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Cities should redo planning, permitting to align with housing strategy, minister says

OTTAWA — The federal minister in charge of affordable housing says he… Continue reading

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. On June 1, NACI had said AstraZeneca recipients "could" get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second shot if they wanted, but Thursday went further to say an mRNA vaccine was the "preferred" choice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

When Gwenny Farrell booked her second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

Most Read