Evidence of meeting #38 for Public Accounts in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was departments.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Gordon Stock  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome.

It's Thursday, December 1, 2016. This is meeting number 38 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts,

I remind everyone that we are televised today, and I would encourage you to shut your cellphones off or mute them so that they aren't disrupting the meeting later.

This afternoon we are beginning our hearings on the fall 2016 reports of the Auditor General of Canada. Appearing before us this afternoon, we have from the Office of the Auditor General, Mr. Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General of Canada. He's accompanied by a number of his principals: Gordon Stock, Carol McCalla, Jean Goulet, and Richard Domingue. They are all available to respond to questions from members on our committee.

I invite our Auditor General, Mr. Michael Ferguson, to proceed with his opening statement.

Welcome.

3:30 p.m.

Michael Ferguson Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my fall 2016 reports, which were tabled in the House of Commons this past Tuesday. The reports provide the findings of seven audits and three special examinations. I am accompanied by Gordon Stock, Richard Domingue, Carol McCalla, and Jean Goulet.

Many of the issues we are raising today we have also raised in the past. We see government programs that aren't designed to help those who have to navigate them, programs where the focus is more on what civil servants are doing than on what citizens are getting, where delivery times are long, where data is incomplete, and where public reporting does not provide a clear picture of what departments have done. These recurrent problems create increased frustration for individual citizens.

Let us begin with our audit of the beyond the border action plan, where we found that some initiatives have produced little value, and that obstacles could limit the impact of others.

For example, several departments spent almost $80 million on a system to let importers submit customs information electronically. This system has been in place for more than a year, and it is used to process less than one per cent of shipments entering Canada.

Also, the Canada Border Services Agency spent $53 million on a system to track who is entering and leaving the country. However, the agency can't make full use of it because it can't legally share travellers' information with the United States.

The governments of Canada and the United States launched the action plan in 2011 to enhance border security and speed up travel and trade. The plan was ambitious, comprising 34 initiatives with an initial deadline of three years.

We found that the organizations involved could show some progress for the almost $600 million they have spent. For example, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority was using new baggage screening technology at seven Canadian airports. However, there is still significant work to be done before the government achieves value for the more than $1 billion allocated to this action plan.

Let us turn now to our audit of tax objections.

The Income Tax Act is complex, and taxpayers often disagree with the Canada Revenue Agency's interpretation of the Act. Our audit found that the Agency took too long to decide if a taxpayer's objection was right. For example, it took more than five years to resolve 79,000 cases worth almost $4 billion.

We found that the agency's time frame for a decision on straightforward files was about five months. For medium complexity files, the agency told taxpayers they could expect to wait up to a year before even hearing from an appeals officer.

Furthermore, the agency's performance targets didn't consider timeliness from the point of view of the taxpayer. For example, the agency didn't count days that a file spent waiting for an appeals officer to be assigned.

Overall, we found that in 65% of objections, the agency ruled in whole or in part in favour of the taxpayer. However, the agency rarely used these results to improve future decisions.

In our audit of the Correctional Service of Canada, we found that as the indigenous offender population grows, the Correctional Service can't provide them with the rehabilitation programs they need, when they need them.

More than three quarters of indigenous offenders were sent to medium or maximum security institutions. From these institutions, most couldn't access the programs they needed for their rehabilitation before the earliest possible date they became eligible for parole. As a result, the Correctional Service prepares indigenous offenders for parole hearings less often than non-indigenous offenders.

We found that two thirds of released indigenous offenders had never been on parole. Half of them moved directly from medium or maximum security institutions back into the community, which means they had less time to benefit from a gradual and structured release.

Indigenous offenders are caught in a vicious circle. Most do not get timely access to the programs they need, and because they have not completed a rehabilitation program, they do not get released on parole as early as they could.

Let's turn now to another first nations' issue. In 2007, the federal government committed to a new process called Justice At Last to try to resolve long-standing specific claims, which often relate to the administration of reserve lands.

The government wanted to resolve specific claims fairly and transparently, preferably through negotiations. It also wanted to resolve the claims faster, to provide justice for first nations and certainty for government, industry, and all Canadians. However, some reforms have in fact created barriers that have prevented first nations and the federal government from resolving claims.

For instance, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada changed its negotiation practices without consulting first nations. It also significantly reduced its funding to first nations to research and negotiate their claims. These changes made claim resolution more difficult. The department was aware of these barriers but didn't address them.

The department publicly reported that the 2007 reforms were a success. However, in our view, most of the settlements used to support this assertion were either resolved or close to being resolved before the justice at last process was implemented. In fact, since 2008, almost as many claims were closed without resolution as were resolved.

Now I want to address our audit of motor vehicle safety. Through its oversight of the motor vehicle safety regulations, its monitoring of public complaints and vehicle recalls, and its investigations into alleged defects, Transport Canada plays an important role in keeping passenger vehicles safe. However, we found that Transport Canada hasn't kept the regulations up to date, so the department is lagging behind the pace of changing technologies. For example, the regulations don't allow vehicles to be equipped with software-operated advanced headlights, but semi-autonomous vehicles controlled by unregulated software are currently on Canadian roads. It can take Transport Canada more than 10 years to update its regulations.

This means that Transport Canada's approach to setting vehicle standards could prevent Canadians from having access to some safety technologies available in other markets.

We also found that Transport Canada generally did not consult stakeholders other than manufacturers about proposed regulations, and it did not actively gather information from manufacturers about their investigations into vehicle safety defects.

In the first of two audits related to the military, we looked at recruitment and retention in the Canadian Armed Forces. We found the Forces did not have the right number of trained members in the right occupations so that Canada can meet its national and international military commitments.

Four years ago, the Regular Force was about 2,000 trained members below the number it needed, and at the end of our audit, we found it is short-handed by 4,000.

In 2016, there were 21 military occupations that were significantly understaffed, and there were 23 with high attrition rates. National Defence must understand its staffing challenges and tailor its recruiting and retention approaches by occupation.

We found that the Canadian Armed Forces' recruiting process fit its own needs and not those of applicants. On average, it took 200 days to enrol a recruit. In some cases, the recruiting group closed the file of an applicant who was still interested in enrolling. This meant that the Canadian Armed Forces lost some qualified candidates. We found these same problems in 2002 and 2006. We believe that without significant changes to recruiting, it's unlikely the regular force will reach its target of 68,000 members by 2018-19.

Turning to the second of our military-related audits, National Defence depends on having equipment available and in good working condition when they need it. Costs to operate and maintain military equipment can be more than twice the cost of buying it, and if National Defence doesn't manage support costs properly, the equipment may not be available or its life may be shortened.

We found that when National Defence decided to buy major military equipment, it used poor planning assumptions about support costs, how it would use the equipment, and how many personnel it needed to operate and maintain the equipment. This means that National Defence paid for services that it couldn't use.

In addition, National Defence assumed that the cost to support new equipment would be no more than the cost to support the replaced equipment. However, we found that the maintenance costs for the new Hercules airplane were actually $7,000 more per flying hour than for the airplane it replaced.

National Defence needs to better align its equipment support, including personnel, operating costs, and maintenance resources with its life cycle planning of how that equipment will actually be used.

This brings me to the reports of our three special examinations.

In the case of the Pacific Pilotage Authority, we are satisfied that the corporation had good control of its resources and activities. However, we made recommendations in seven areas where we felt improvements were needed.

In the case of the International Development Research Centre, we found that the centre's ability to conduct business was significantly at risk because it didn't have enough board members. This problem persisted for at least three years, although recent appointments should now help.

As for the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, it experienced a number of significant problems ranging from a lack of strategic direction to its inability to confirm that its pilots and boat crews continuously met skill and safety requirements.

To close, I want to go back to my earlier remarks about the frustration of citizens with government programs.

One way or another, everything the government does is intended to serve Canadians. As such, departments should do service well to benefit Canadians both individually and collectively.

As I mentioned, there is nothing new about the issues we found in these most recent audits. We have seen many of these problems before. And in some cases, they are getting worse.

It often takes departments too long to deliver, such as in the case of Canada Revenue Agency making decisions about tax objections.

Public reporting is not very good. Sometimes, it is incomplete or even inaccurate, such as we found in our audits of the beyond the border action plan or the resolution of first nations specific claims.

Elsewhere, it's clear that departments can't always show value for the money they've spent, such as National Defence's support contracts for military equipment or the implementation of initiatives under the beyond the border action plan.

It's critical for government departments to understand that their services need to be built around citizens, not process. As they work to implement our recommendations, I encourage them to take a step back and focus on how they can deliver services that work for Canadians.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Ferguson, for that statement, and also for your report that you tabled earlier this week.

We'll now move into our first round of questions.

Mr. Lefebvre, you have the floor for seven minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Ferguson, sir, I would like to congratulate you and your team on your excellent work. I believe these reports are timely. I also commend you for taking the time to cover the last five years in your own report and for providing us with your observations on the government's bureaucracy.

I find it interesting, especially as a new member of the House of Commons, to see your suggestions and recommendations on how the bureaucracy could be improved. I really appreciate the fact that you do not blame the people who work with us here, but instead make practical suggestions. Thank you for that as well.

I found certain reports very frustrating, as you did also. I would like to talk about them a bit. National Defence and first nations issues come up very often in reports. Unfortunately, we do not see any improvement from year to year. It is almost offensive that nothing changes.

In your report at page 4—I have the English version in front of me—is the message from the Auditor General, in which you talk about Canada's indigenous people and say that your predecessor, Sheila Fraser, near the end of her mandate summed up her impression of 10 years of audit and related recommendations on first nation issues with the word “unacceptable”.

Since your arrival, you have continued to audit these issues and to present at least one report per year on areas that have an impact on first nations, including emergency management, policing services, on-reserve access to health services, and most recently, correctional services.

When you add the results of these audits to those you reported on in the past, I can only describe the situation as it exists now as beyond unacceptable. We had unacceptable before, and now we are beyond unacceptable.

I'd like to get from you your sense. For the past 10 years, and even before that—I'm not saying it is just the past 10 years—there has been a systemic problem in addressing first nations concerns. As the committee does its work here, what can you share with us about how we can do better in trying to change that culture and get to the systemic problems that exist in the system?

3:45 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

Mr. Chair, in relation to the issues with services for first nations, really what we've been focusing on is just for the departments to deliver the services that they themselves have said they need to deliver. We're not trying to take it any further than that.

Even if you look at the audit we have—these audits on the specific claims process and the justice at last program—you see that the department decided to change the process without consulting with first nations.

One of the primary things the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs should be doing is consulting. When they reduce the budget so that the first nations don't have the money to research the claims, or they set limits on the amount of the loan, they don't share all the information. They set up the mediation services within the department itself, which meant that the first nations didn't have faith that those mediation services were going to be independent.

For me, it's just a matter of.... I don't know about fixing all of these problems, but I know the departments could do the things that they have set out for themselves to do, and that would be the first step on the road to getting better services for first nations.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you. I agree with you.

In your conclusion, at page 5, you make an observation. You say that parliamentary committees play a crucial role, and you suggest, given the fact that every year there are many reports from your office that have been produced.... I'm not even sure that some committees are aware that the Auditor General.... I'm sure they are, but do they actually use the reports? As a committee, starting from your suggestion that we use our audit reports not just to understand what has happened but also to make sure that changes take place, I suggest, Auditor General, that any time we have a report from the Auditor General or provide a report from this committee, we should share it with our colleagues on whatever committee it reflects upon.

Thank you for that suggestion. I think that is a way we can improve internally as well between committees.

I'll pass it over to Madam Mendès, who will say a few words.

Thank you very much.

You have done an excellent job. I look forward to reading the documents and asking questions.

Thank you.

December 1st, 2016 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you for being here.

I will continue in the same vein as my colleague. The most important thing for us at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is to receive reports on what has happened and to hold the government to account for its actions. We must of course also be sure that the departments will learn from your recommendations. They must not only present an action plan, but truly learn from your recommendations.

The greatest injustice we can do to our fellow Canadians is to focus too narrowly on the process to the detriment of services. It is not the process that is important, but rather the services that have to be provided.

I imagine you have already done comparisons with other bureaucracies or other countries, in the Commonwealth in particular. Are there other countries that face the same problem?

3:50 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

The only comparison we did in these audits pertains to the problem at the Canada Revenue Agency. About four years ago, the United Kingdom completed a study of taxpayers who had income tax objections. We found that the Canada Revenue Agency took four times longer to process these cases than the six other countries included in the study.

We cannot do that kind of comparison for all audits, but we can do it from time to time. We found the response times for these decisions to be problematic.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. Mendès.

We'll now move to the opposition side, and we'll go to Mr. McColeman, for seven minutes, please.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Auditor General, thank you to you and your principals for being here today.

I want to address a couple of questions about the report on the CRA and on income tax. Then I want to take some time after that to try to articulate my eight years of service here as a member of Parliament relative to my frame of reference, which was being an owner of a small business for 25 years. Allow me to do that, afterwards.

On the time it takes for citizens to get decisions on their objections, you were asked in another venue the questions, “Is this a manpower issue? Is this an issue where they don't have enough people working, hence the backlog results from that, or is that part of the issue?” I'd like you to expand on that for me and do it publicly in this environment.

3:50 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

I think, Mr. Chair, I'll refer to paragraph 2.33 in that audit. In there we point out that the rate of growth of the number of new objections far outpaced the increase in resources that the agency dedicated to managing them, and that in the past 10 years, the inventory of outstanding income tax objections increased by 171%, while the number of employees dedicated to resolving these objections increased by 14%.

There definitely is a certain component of this that has to do with resourcing, and if you look at exhibit 2.5 in the audit above paragraph 2.76, you'll see things like, in 32% of the cases, it was that the taxpayer had to provide new facts that were not asked for at the assessment or reassessment stage; in 28% of the cases, the information was already on file at the Canada Revenue Agency, but they didn't recognize it at that point in time; and in 8% of the cases, the Canada Revenue Agency improperly applied the facts, the law, or the policy.

Yes, there's a certain component related to resourcing, but I think there are a lot of things that the Canada Revenue Agency can do to improve its process. One of those things would be just learning the lessons from later decisions when one of their assessments or reassessments is overturned, and building that back into their process. I think there's a lot they can do even with the resources they have.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Thank you for that answer.

I have a full-time employee in my constituency office, and probably 60% to 70% of that person's time is spent working on CRA interventions. This is because people come to our counter, or they call us, and they are trying to resolve something that's happening at CRA. Although I speak for myself, I think every member of Parliament could attest to that fact. The debriefing of those situations, which I sometimes do with my staff person, exposes this problem.

I know the problems. I know it is anecdotal to talk about the Brantford member of Parliament's office, but let me tell you, this is something we see every day. We see it. My staff sees it. I use the word “customer”. In terms of the customer, the unfriendliness, the barriers that are put up—often for no good reason—the duplication of work, the many things that happen along the way, the change of a file going from one desk to another desk, these things must....

It was mentioned earlier that we're not going to point a finger, but at a certain point, we must point a finger, not at a particular individual, not at one of the senior managers, but we need to point a finger at the processes that they follow, which absolutely frustrate Canadians day after day when they're dealing with agencies.

I said in an earlier meeting that if a survey were done of Canadians who've dealt with government bureaucracy, the people who are inside government, about their issues, and how satisfied they were, what their experience was like, I suspect you would find that it's not very high, because I've seen frustration over the years. CRA is one of them. We have other ones here. We hope to study them all.

Going back to what you provided for us in your report this time, which is your message of observations since you've been in this role, and you're about halfway through your mandate, I see it as a window of opportunity. I'd like to ask you publicly, do you see this as a window of opportunity to expose, from the 30,000-foot level, the kind of cultural change that we should be driving towards in terms of government services being provided in what I call a customer-friendly way, a citizen-friendly way, versus the way it is today?

3:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

Mr. Chair, that's the crux of the message that I've been trying to deliver. The services need to be built around the citizen, not built around the process. I think there's a role for us all to play. As Auditor General, we will continue to bring these things forward. The audit we've done on the Canada Revenue Agency shows that even though, as you mentioned, it may be anecdotal, it isn't just anecdotal. It shows that there are systemic issues around this.

We have another audit under way right now at the Canada Revenue Agency, looking at how they handle calls through their customer call centre. We are going to continue to look at the issue of customer service through the Canada Revenue Agency. Then, of course, there's a very important role for this committee, which we talked about earlier, and for other committees at the House of Commons and at the Senate. It is to help make sure that the departments are getting the message that they need to improve these services so that they are delivered from the point of view of the citizen.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Ferguson.

We'll now move to Mr. Christopherson, please, for seven minutes.

4 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, and your staff, for another fantastic job on behalf of Canadians by your department.

Like Mr. Lefebvre, I want to spend a few minutes of my opening time talking about your message. We don't receive those very often. It's somewhat outside the normal procedure. I thought it was interesting, given the impact of your predecessor's final message, and you have picked up on that. I must say, as someone who was here before and after, that for us it has been seamless going from one fantastic auditor general to another.

This message is resonating with this committee. You note that you're halfway into your term, and this is a reflection of some of your observations. It's also timely, because we're just a little over one year into a new majority government that has publicly committed to do things differently, so it's a great opportunity to revisit these things.

I thought the quote you used was interesting. You said that in terms of the audits and what's going on, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra—I attributed them to you in the news clip, but it was actually you attributing them to...but take the credit while you can—it's like déjà vu all over again.

That is exactly what it seems to be like, particularly when we're now seeing more and more repetition of audit findings that are similar. We've been on this over and over, but we're getting a bigger buildup of case study that shows this is the case. It's the “one and done”; as long as the departments can get through the immediate public scrutiny when you launch your report and when we hold a hearing, they are pretty much into safe waters. Our goal is to work with you to ensure that doesn't happen, and that we hold more focus on these things.

One of the things you have mentioned over and over again—you already commented on it but we have to keep drilling it down—is to do service well. I would like you to talk again about how you think government is looking too much at measuring how well they are doing their internal steps, and not doing enough measurement from the point of view of citizens.

I completely agree with Mr. McColeman that not only with regard to Canada Revenue Agency but in most areas where there's interaction with government, there's great frustration. People feel like they just don't matter. They are lost in the system. That's why they come to us asking, “Can you help me cut through all this?”

In terms of the refocusing that you think needs to take place, how does that happen? I assume it starts with the ministers and deputy ministers and works its way through, but how do you see you and us working together to bring about that cultural change so that the view of success is how well things are being delivered to the actual citizen, rather than how well we check off our internal boxes?

4 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

Mr. Chair, I think we have now started that work. I'm quite happy to be on record as saying that I think the work that this committee has done over the last—whatever it is—year and a half has been exactly the way a public accounts committee should be working. I think the committee has taken on the task of holding the departments accountable and making sure that they are actually going to implement...and make progress. It's not just about saying they agree with our results. It's not just about bringing forward an action plan. It's about being able to show that the results are getting better for Canadians.

As I think I've said before, there are multiple players in this. We have a role in the Office of the Auditor General to keep bringing the audits forward. This committee and other committees have a role to play in holding the departments accountable for actually delivering better on services, not just talking about our recommendations or how they are going to deal with our recommendations, but how what they are going to do is actually going to make things better.

The government as a whole has a responsibility to keep setting the tone on this, and to convey their expectation that these results are going to get better for individual citizens. Then it's very much the department's responsibility to make sure they understand that, and that they are implementing and measuring their performance from the point of view of understanding what the citizen experiences when that citizen tries to navigate those government programs.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Very good.

I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I say that we are actively considering responding in kind. In the 12 years that I've been on this committee, we've never responded directly to an auditor general message. We're looking at doing so and taking action to give this as much heightened attention as we can, too, to show that it really is an auditor general public accounts system; that the two go hand in hand, that there's a partnership in making these changes.

Thank you for your leadership. It's our intent to hold up our end of the system and to respond in kind by shoring up your macro-messaging, which you have brought halfway through your term.

I only have a moment left, but I'll turn to one specific in these reports. This is a pretty devastating round of reports, but I'm also concerned that we're getting to the point in some of the reporting from government that—these are my words—it's borderline misleading of Parliament in terms of the cherry-picking of what is reported.

Take the submarines, for example. I'd like you to just quickly, if you would, in a nutshell give us what the government told us about submarines and their readiness and availability versus what you actually found when you studied their own numbers in National Defence.

Chair, obviously, I'll conclude with that.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

I'll just make a high-level response and then pass it to Mr. Stock, if I may.

At the high level, the government reported that their submarines were available 100% of the time, when in fact their own internal numbers showed that they were only available 42% of the time.

I'll ask Mr. Stock to give you more detail.

4:05 p.m.

Gordon Stock Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, within the reports that National Defence provides to Parliament, in a departmental performance report they said that there was no requirement to actually provide this specific information, but since the information was there, we audited it to make sure that it was verifiable.

The numbers for the submarines are accumulated with figures for other types of vessels and divided into east coast and west coast, so you don't actually see within the departmental performance report the actual results for the submarines or for other major pieces of equipment.

The way they put it together and the way they got to the 100% was that it was beyond what they expected to provide, so they used the 100% figure and aggregated it with other types of vessels to provide the overall number that was then provided to Parliament.

From the starting point, we thought it was misleading, from the perspective that it is including a number that is not what their own number was and is not providing the information Parliament would need to be able to assess the progress and performance of the department.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Stock.

We'll move to Ms. Shanahan, please.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you very much, Auditor General, for being here with your panel. I know we're going to have ample opportunity in the months to come to study each one of these reports, at least I think that's the intention of this committee, and I look forward to doing so.

We have discussed on previous occasions just what we should be looking at when we're faced with.... As an office, you have a number of audits going on at any one time, and these come to us as they're completed. There are various timelines accorded to them. When we receive them here, I as a member of this committee am looking first and foremost at which reports represent a direct and personal risk to the safety and security of Canadians.

What strikes me here is that a number of them touch on the idea of personal risk, but I am particularly struck by report number three, “Preparing Indigenous Offenders for Release—Correctional Service Canada”, particularly because I know that one of our fellow members is presenting a private member's bill concerning fetal alcohol syndrome and there being an overrepresentation of offenders, particularly indigenous offenders, who have this condition, FASD.

I'd like you to talk to us about that report in more detail and expand upon your concern, as you put it in your message, about this not being the first time that issues like this have come to your attention and about its being beyond acceptable.

4:10 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

Mr. Chair, I guess I'll start at the back end of this issue, which is that more than 50% of indigenous offenders, when they are released from federal penitentiaries, are coming out of either medium or maximum security institutions. They are coming out at their statutory release date, which is two-thirds into their sentence. That means they have only that one-third of their sentence to be under supervision. The department, Correctional Service Canada, is not preparing them for parole early in their sentence. If they were being prepared for parole, they would be able to come out in a more gradual, supervised way to make that transition back into the community.

One thing to remember is that in order for an offender to get parole, they need to have at least gotten down to a minimum-security facility, but what's happening is that these people are not getting their correctional programming in a timely manner, so they are not being prepared for parole. Many of them are staying at those higher-level security institutions, so when they come out, more than 50% of them are coming out from medium or maximum security right back into the community, with that shorter period of time under supervision.

It starts, though, right from the very beginning, when they come in the door, because there are certain pieces of information that the Correctional Service has said they need in order to be able to assign the right level of security to a particular offender, and they are not getting all of that information. In fact, we found that, in a sample of 45 files that we looked at, only in one case was it clear that they had received all the information they should have received to be able to make that assessment.

Then, they have a tool that they use to assign the individual to a security level and also to assign correctional programming to that individual, but the tool was designed only for assigning a level of security. It wasn't built for dealing with what the right programming for an offender is, particularly an indigenous offender with a different cultural and aboriginal social history.

Right from the very beginning, they may be assigned to a higher level of security than necessary and to more programming than necessary, and the programs don't start on time. Therefore, they are not getting prepared for parole. I think the numbers were that only 31% of them are prepared for parole, compared to 48% of non-indigenous offenders, at the earliest possible date they are eligible for parole.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

We clearly have a lot more questions on that report. Thank you, Auditor General.

Back to the message, your call is for government to start looking at how the services are delivered to Canadians, and that there needs to be better control of data. Data integrity is something that has come up before. We seem to be at a point where we need to look at how we deliver government in a different way. I would just like to have your opinion on the kinds of tools that government should be looking at to be able to do so. Is it more interdepartmental cohesion? We know that the Treasury Board has a project now about aligning the budget and the estimates process. Can you talk to us about that?

4:15 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

From what I've seen over the last five years, I think what ends up happening.... In some ways, we have probably partly contributed to this, because what we do in a number of our audits is tell departments that they should have ways of measuring whether they have success in their programs. What actually happens, I think, is that a lot of times government departments put in place measures to measure their performance, but they put in place a measure around something that's easy to measure. They don't put something in place that measures the process from beginning to end, taking into account the experience of the citizen; they measure a piece of the process that's easy to measure.

Again, if you look at the Canada Revenue Agency audit on income tax objections, you'll see that they do track how much time their agents have to spend on a file on an income tax objection. In fact, you can see in the audit that they set standards for it. The standards are for their agent to work on a file anywhere from four hours for the easiest files to 28 hours for the most complex files. They monitor how much time the agent is spending, but this is totally disproportionate to what the individual citizen is going through. On those most complex files, where they say that the standard for their agent is 28 hours, we said that the taxpayer could be waiting over 900 days to get an answer. They are not measuring the process from the point of view of how long this person is waiting. Yes, they are measuring a little piece of the process to help them understand what's going on there, but it's not getting them to realize the fact that we are making people wait around too long for these decisions, and we need to figure out how to do a better job on that.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson.

We'll move to Mr. Godin.