Evidence of meeting #14 for Public Accounts in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was audits.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Sheila Fraser  Auditor General of Canada
  • Lyn Sachs  Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

You mention in your 2009-10 RPP that one way to reduce expenses is to reduce the level of staff through attrition. Do you still intend to reduce staff through attrition?

9:40 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

We are pretty much at about the level we want to be. We of course had a surplus of personnel, particularly in the performance audit practice. The way we managed that was by contacting the internal audit departments of various government departments to ask them if they wanted to second some of our staff. I wish I had charged a little bit for that offer--we may have solved our budget problems--because I think within the first two hours we had something like 60 positions available for staff.

We have 18 or 20 people out on secondments to internal audit departments around town, and with our normal attrition, we think we will be able to manage that. They're getting good experience at the same time. It's a way to keep our people busy but also to be able to bring them back when we lose more and more senior people through retirements, in particular.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you very much.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Shawn Murphy

Thank you, Mr. Saxton.

That concludes the first round.

There are a couple of issues I want to bring up. First of all, on Mr. Saxton's point on the peer review, that's been talked about at the steering committee. The plan now—of course it has to be approved by this committee--is that we will receive it in mid-June. But we are leaning towards having a hearing via teleconference call with the leaders in Australia sometime in September. Of course that presents some time challenges, but that's what we're thinking right now.

Ms. Fraser, in your report you talked about an inability to access information. I take it that you were originally going to table a special report last week. That was the matter, was it?

9:45 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

That's correct.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Shawn Murphy

Can you tell me what department you're dealing with? What is the department that's giving you the problem?

9:45 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

It really comes to the central agencies--Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat--which are the ones that review, largely, cabinet confidence. So when other departments have an issue, they will refer the issue to Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Shawn Murphy

Is it one or the other that's providing the problem, or is it both?

9:45 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

It is both.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Shawn Murphy

It is both.

What is the level you were dealing with where somebody was giving you these legal opinions? And you said that there were inordinate delays.

9:45 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

It would have been largely legal counsel in the mid-manager range.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Shawn Murphy

Okay, then.

We're now going to start the second round.

Mr. McCallum, you have five minutes.

May 11th, 2010 / 9:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair and Ms. Fraser.

I was interested in paragraph 14, where you say that you will no longer be auditing departmental-level financial statements. You talk about delays in the readiness of the largest government departments to have their statements audited and about the lack of a formal government policy on audited departmental financial statements.

Is this a problem? Presumably you were auditing them before, and you thought they should be audited, and now you're not auditing them. Is someone else auditing them, or is there a gap? Should there be some government policy? You seem to say that there isn't right now a policy on this matter.

Finally, why are these largest government departments apparently so slow to be ready?

9:45 a.m.

Auditor General of Canada

Sheila Fraser

Members might recall that in 2004 the government announced, as part of the initiatives to strengthen financial management in government, that departments were to have audited financial statements within five years. The departmental financial statements have never been audited. The first and only one to be audited was the Department of Justice, last year. A couple of other departments indicated to us that they felt that they were ready and that they wanted to go through the audit. We had discussions, though, with the Office of the Comptroller General, because this was an initiative that originally came from the Comptroller General's office, as to whether this was still a government priority. There had been no policy ever established on this. Some departments were moving ahead with it and wanted to do this, but others seemed to be quite slow in changing.

It's largely a question of systems issues. Quite frankly, the government does not seem to view this as a priority at the current time. So we asked why we would continue to work on something when obviously we would have to probably reduce our performance audits even more to do this work. We have clearly indicated to government that should they decide that this is a priority, and there is a policy, then we would be quite pleased, of course, to reconsider our position on it. Unless we get an indication from them, we don't think we should be doing it.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Thank you.

I remember from my time as revenue minister the difficulty of competing with the private sector to hire tax accountants and people of that nature. It was always an issue. I'm sure you face a similar situation. It's difficult in ordinary times, but with budgets frozen it must be even more difficult.

My understanding is that your budgets are frozen but not your salaries. But of course if you raise your salaries then you have to cut other things. If you look forward three years, how are you going to deal with having to compete with the private sector for your key staff? You have a frozen budget, but do you have flexibility on salary levels as required?