Evidence of meeting #59 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 controls.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General
Nicholas Swales  Principal, Office of the Auditor General
Joanne Butler  Principal, Office of the Auditor General

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to Mr. Christopherson for five minutes, please.

5 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

If my friend Mr. Arya wants to get into the weeds on this, we can. I'm not letting go.

What made this particular situation different is that this time the analysis, which would normally be available as a stand-alone document that could readily be accessed, was included within a cabinet submission. As a rule, that would be part of the recommendation and it would be off-site. So we had this overlap where the Auditor General was entitled to get at it, but it was contained within a document labelled in such a way that he couldn't.

It has taken all this time for sunny ways to suddenly realize that you cannot just stand on this technicality and that this analysis needs to come out—or an admission that the analysis wasn't done.

I am more than willing to get into this, and we will be getting into the detailed weeds on this. I could be wrong, but my experience tells me that we are ultimately going to have to bring in the parliamentary law clerk.

The Auditor General right now cannot tell us with any certainty whether or not we have the power and, if we do, how we can go about exercising it to get information that goes before the mandate of the current government.

I'd be surprised if there was anybody on this committee who would take the position that it's not that important that the Auditor General get everything, that as long as he gets most of it, it will sort of be okay. That's not the way we do things around here.

We'd bring in, I would think, the parliamentary law clerk. I hope that we have much of that discussion in public, as a bit of a service, so that people can watch and learn as we talk about how the law works. Then, it would be my suggestion that we move in camera and take the instant case. We would get legal advice, which would be properly in camera, in terms of actions that we may or may not want to take or to make to Parliament, which is the ultimate reservoir of all this power.

Having said that, I would like to make sure that we don't leave here today without putting a special focus on the RCMP and mental health issues. I don't think we've had a chance to turn our minds to that yet, and we should. It's going to be one of the things that we look at very carefully as a group, and I don't think I'm speaking out of school when I say it's a unanimous slam dunk that we're doing a hearing on this one.

As I understand it so far, Auditor General, they were the first to come out with some of these measures. That makes it extremely important for the rest of the government. If this is the lead one, it needs to work. The plan was there, but the failure is in the implementation of the plan.

You made reference to it in your opening remarks, but I'd like you to return to it and put a focus on the key issues that you think we need to drill down on in terms of what has gone wrong with mental health services for our RCMP officers.

5:05 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

I'll give a brief introduction, and then I'll ask Ms. Butler to perhaps provide some more details on it.

Certainly, the RCMP was one of the first federal organizations to put in place a mental health strategy, as a sign not just to the members of the RCMP, but to the whole federal public service that when these types of things are put in place, they are going to work when people need them. I think it is absolutely critical that this strategy succeed, not just as a strategy on paper, but as a strategy that is implemented the way it is intended to be implemented.

I'll ask Ms. Butler if she wants to provide any details about what she considers some of the most important components.

5:05 p.m.

Joanne Butler Principal, Office of the Auditor General

Overall, we found some key problems with the implementation of this plan: first and foremost, they developed a strategy but didn't put into practice or develop what it was going to cost, how exactly they were going to do it, or how they would make sure it was getting done. In other words—I know we'll use performance audit-speak—they needed a performance measurement framework in order to know that the strategy was being implemented as intended and that it was working, or if it wasn't, that they could course-correct accordingly. I will add that in the strategy, they made an explicit commitment that putting in place a performance measurement framework was one of their goals. Unfortunately, that hasn't yet come to pass. From a management perspective, those are the very first things: what's our business plan and how are we going to monitor to make sure it's working?

If we put that aside, we also found that there are challenges across divisions in terms of consistency around the policies to support members' mental health. This is particularly important for us to understand, because, as you know, with the RCMP, members can be transferred from division to division. It's really important that they understand that they're going to have consistency of support, because a lack of support can obviously have an impact on their career outcomes. That's also something that we found was problematic.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

Ms. Shanahan, you have five minutes.

May 17th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

I'd like to thank the Auditor General and his team very much for being with us here today. Attending these sessions and seeing the kind of work that the Auditor General's office is doing and trying to suss out what priorities we as parliamentarians should have is quickly becoming one of the highlights of my parliamentary career. I've spoken about this before, and maybe it's just on my own, but when I look at the reports that are before us, issues of security and safety are the priority filters that I look through first. Next are health and access to health services, and then of course there is the money question. In that regard, report number four, on the mental health support for members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is certainly important to me.

There's one thing we see, and we're now understanding more about how the audit reports look. In the “about the audit” section on page 29 of the report, there's a comment there that I would like the Auditor General or Ms. Butler to address. It has to do with the members of management not agreeing with the statistical collection methods here. I can find it directly if you don't have it. From my understanding, it's something fairly unusual to have.

5:05 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

I have it in front of me.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

RCMP management refused to confirm that the findings in this report are factually based, because of disagreement about the approach used to report statistics from the file review and member survey.

5:05 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

Again, I'll ask Ms. Butler for any details that need to be supplied.

This is a normal part of the practice that we go through when we do one of our audits. We ask the organizations to confirm that they agree that we have stated things factually correctly. Again, we don't ask them to necessarily say that they agree with our opinion on something or our conclusion necessarily, but they should be agreeing with the facts.

In this case it's interesting, because the RCMP has agreed with all our recommendations. They have agreed that at the end we have come up with the right recommendations. They did not agree with how we reported some of the statistics. Perhaps I'll ask Ms. Butler to provide more detail.

5:10 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General

Joanne Butler

Once again, there was overall agreement. The source of disagreement was with respect to paragraph 4.61 on page 13 of the report, where we talk about the results of the case file review.

In particular, when we get to the statistics of the 20% of members who remained on off-duty sick leave or, in other words, never returned to work or took a discharge, the RCMP's disagreement was that they believe that if those 20% never returned to work, the other 80% did return to work in some capacity eventually, and therefore we should be reporting it as an 80% success rate. We did not agree.

We explained, as we do in our report, that the 80% is not an homogenous population, and once again, if you are off-duty sick multiple times, or if you return to work and not in your regular duties, but rather in an administrative or restricted capacity, you're not serving the way you had trained to do. It has an impact, obviously, on your self-perception, as well as your career.

Number two, if you turn to the next page, page 14, and you take a look at exhibit 4.1, with respect to the respondents for the survey, their position was that we also should have included those who agreed with the responses. Our position was that if you take 100% and you look at the percentages there, you will have the other calculation.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

This is very interesting. I'm sure we're going to be delving into this much more. Would you consider this as part of a general—

Oh, am I done?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

We can come back to you.

We'll try to move along to Mr. Jeneroux, please.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I won't take the full five minutes.

If I may go back to some of the line of questioning that we talked about earlier with regard to the temporary foreign worker program, I'm looking at your “about the audit” page in report 5, at page 21, which talks about scope and approach.

On the first aspect of the scope and the approach, you say that you “interviewed officials at Department headquarters and at regional service centres in Vancouver, British Columbia; Toronto, Ontario; and Saint John, New Brunswick”. The second aspect is that you “conducted work in regional [service] centres in Vancouver, Toronto, and Saint John” again.

I guess I'm looking for something here. We've had a real concern about the temporary foreign worker program, particularly in Alberta, and its lack of that regional approach over the years. I'd be curious if you can point me to something, somewhere, where you looked outside those three centres. Again, the types of temporary foreign worker concerns that would impact an area such as Saint John, New Brunswick, versus a location like an Edmonton, a Calgary, or a Fort McMurray in Alberta would I think be vastly different.

Perhaps these officials could comment on the Alberta-specific unemployment rate or the temporary foreign worker program. Again, I'm looking for your assistance to point to something there to show that we considered Alberta.

5:10 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

We looked at the program overall. I think we do talk in the audit about some of the issues in the west related to the hospitality industry and that sort of thing, but again, most of the problems we found tended to be in the areas of caregivers, which could be anywhere in the country, or of fish plant workers.

The issue of the fish plant workers tended to be more on the east coast rather than on the west coast. There were some fish plants on the west coast that were hiring temporary foreign workers, but on the east coast it was more prevalent.

We don't have more detail going down to very specific individual provinces and things, but when you do bring the department in to talk about this program and how they're doing the analysis, I think that's the type of information that having the department explain exactly how they assess things from a regional basis.... I think they will be much better positioned to be able to give you that type of information.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

Thank you.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

We'll now move to Ms. Mendès, please.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Auditor General, I would like you to clarify one point. As I will read your own remarks, it will be more of a statement than a question. My colleague Mr. Christopherson talked earlier about your message in the introduction of your report, where you ask us for our help. I would just like to clarify, for the record, that you not only had difficulty obtaining documents from the Department of Finance and the Department of the Environment, but also came to the following conclusion:

We have recently had many discussions with the Privy Council Office on this issue, and as a result, the government put in place a new order-in-council that I believe is a good first step to shape how the government will deal with our right to access information in future audits.

Further on you say:

I ask the House of Commons for its support as we work with the Privy Council Office to find a lasting solution to this problem.

Are we hearing bells?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

The bells have started to ring signifying that we have another vote. My understanding is that we have half an hour of bells, so we would need unanimous consent to continue with this. At least the trip to the next place isn't as long a travel period, so we have at least until 5:30 or 5:35.

We have unanimous consent.

Please continue. I'm sorry for interrupting.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Auditor General, when it comes to the support you are requesting from the House of Commons in the discussions you will hold with the Privy Council Office, you can count on the members on this side of the table. In fact, I think that it is in everyone's interest for this to work well and for adequate information to be obtained without difficulty in future reports. I would just like to assure you that we will be there to support you and that we will willingly work with you.

Thank you very much.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You still have time, and I think Madam Shanahan had a question as well.

Ms. Shanahan.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Ferguson, we would like a little commentary on the financial commentary. Why did you feel it was important to have this kind of commentary, and what kind of information in the commentary itself is relevant to this committee? Do you think we should be studying this further?

5:15 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

We have provided this commentary on the financial audits we do. About 50% of the work we do is spent on audits of financial statements. What we are trying to do is find a way to help you as members of Parliament, members of this committee, to navigate and to understand the information contained in the financial statements. We have done this in a way that we hope provides some insight, but we will need your feedback on the type of information that is important to you.

We talk about things like the impact of discount rate sensitivity on results. I think it's important for members to understand that financial statements are not always precise. Many numbers are based on estimates. Things like pension liabilities and pension expense are based on estimates. The results you get once you have estimated—once you've assumed a certain discount rate or interest rate—can be very different. It is important to understand the impact of these assumptions on our results. Looking at a set of financial statements and understanding how much a set of financial statements is based on estimates and how much is based on hard dollar actions, this type of thing is important to members.

This is our attempt to give you a bit more information about the financial statements of various crown corporations. We hope to work with you in the future to understand the type of information that would be useful to you as members. Our purpose is to help you understand the information in the financial statements of the Government of Canada and our crown corporations.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

Mr. Chen, did you have a question?

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Yes, I do. Thank you very much.

First, let me just start by thanking the Auditor General and his team for a diligent set of seven reports, three special examinations, and the commentary that came out. I want to focus on report number three. It jumped out at me because one of the biggest issues we deal with in the constituency office is immigration casework. I've had constituents come and make suggestions and ask the question, “What if? Does this happen in terms of fairness and the possibility of fraud and corruption?” I read this report with a lot of interest.

I want to frame it this way. The AG could have come and said that department officials and staff hired in local offices are corrupt. I don't believe he said that. He could have said that they can be corrupted, and that is what he did say. Ideally, one day I hope that the AG will come to this table or to a parliamentary committee and be able to say that it's bulletproof, that there cannot be any corruption. But we need to get there.

From the report, it sounds like we need to get there by implementing controls and making sure those controls are monitored. I give the analogy of a bank. If you don't lock up the vault at the end of the night and you disable the security cameras, someone is bound to take the opportunity to take the money and run. To me, the gist of this report is that we have to make sure those controls are in place.

I want to hone in on something the Auditor General said, which is that he found no evidence that the “improper actions” observed during the audit were due to corruption. Can he give some examples of what those “improper actions” are, and whether those actions can be specifically attributed to other causes? Or were there no specific causes that those actions could be attributed to?

5:20 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

The problems we found in the course of this audit could have just been the case of people not doing what they were supposed to do, or there could be other reasons that the controls were not followed. Fundamentally, our message is that the department needs to make sure these controls are followed. That's not just to make sure that only people and goods can come into the country that should come into the country, but it's also to make sure that they have an environment that protects their border service officers, the folks who work in the missions, and those types of things. The controls are important not just to make sure the rules are followed, but also to protect the people who are on the front line making these decisions.

A type of problem we found, for example, as I mentioned earlier, is the 300,000 vehicles that entered into Canada without the border service officers collecting information they should have collected about who was actually in those vehicles. They know those vehicles came into the country, they have the licence plates recorded, but they didn't collect the information about who was in them. That was a problem.