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

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

Do you have examples on the immigration side?

5:20 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

On the immigration side, I'll ask Mr. Swales to provide the details.

5:25 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General

Nicholas Swales

The clearest example is in paragraph 3.86, where we talk about situations of staff looking up their own records. In that case, as we mention in paragraph 3.37, the scenarios we examined were ones where there had been previous code of conduct violation situations. Again, there was a case in 2016, investigated by the department, of staff looking up records they should not have been looking up.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shaun Chen Liberal Scarborough North, ON

In that case, it sounds like it's not a matter of not implementing the controls; it sounds like the controls were never there. If the system is designed so that individuals can look themselves up, to me, there's no control.

5:25 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

Certainly you're right that there could be additional controls in place, but we were able to identify, for example, that those locally engaged staff were looking up their own information. The ability did exist. The control in place was that they were not supposed to do it. They should have gone further and they should have done the analysis themselves of the information they already had. They could then perhaps even take an additional step, which would be to try to build in electronic controls in the system. That would be another way. There are different levels of controls, and they didn't have all of them, but they should have been able to identify that these types of situations were happening. As Mr. Swales said, they already knew in the past that these situations had happened so they should have drawn on that to look at their database to identify when those types of situations might be happening.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

Mr. Harvey.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Following up on Mr. Jeneroux's comments earlier, you mentioned that speaking with industry was not part of the audit you conducted of the temporary foreign worker program. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the reason.

5:25 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

I have had it confirmed that we didn't meet with any of the employers. I'd have to go back into all of the decisions about what we were going to do in the course of that audit, so I don't have the answer for you right now. We can go back and get you an answer for that.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Okay. I just wanted to touch really quickly on the relevance of data. Data is something we talk a lot about in this committee, as well as the lack of data across a lot of departments. If you go to page 11 in the report, it says that the department also noted that unemployment in any given area does not necessarily mean that there are Canadians or permanent residents available to fill those job vacancies. The reason for that is directly linked to data. Just because the data indicates one thing doesn't necessarily relay to the relevance.

I'm going to give you an example in the transportation industry. A CTA study recently identified that by 2024 there could be as many as 48,000 job vacancies in the transportation industry in Canada. The relevant data in New Brunswick would say there are 350 transportation companies in my riding, Tobique—Mactaquac, and that there's a surplus of truck-drivers there. Yet companies are utilizing the temporary foreign worker program to fill those vacancies, because they can't get enough drivers to fill those spots. Really, they're using it as a pathway to citizenship, and sometimes this program is being used for an alternative use because there's no available immigration tool to fill the void.

An example of how the data can be skewed is that when they look at data of drivers who are ready, willing, and able to fill those job vacancies, I would show up as somebody who's available to drive a truck, because I'm not working for a trucking company and I hold a class 1 driver's license. But obviously today I'm not ready, willing, and able to go to work in that industry.

When you elaborate on the reasons why industry was not included in this, I'm wondering if you could maybe give us a few comments on what your opinion is around the relevance of industry data to cross against the data from the department. It would be interesting to see how much space there is between what the department says versus what industry is saying.

5:30 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

The need to collect the data is important. We identified that they weren't using some bits of the data they already had, including the record of employment and the employment insurance data.

Also, as I pointed out earlier, they have been working with Statistics Canada to put together a new survey of information. It will be interesting to hear from the department what type of analysis that data will allow them to do, and whether what they get out of that survey will help them to better understand the situation in terms of available workers. For example, in the types of situations that you're describing, will that information help them better identify when there are vacancies and when there people available to work? That's something that would be useful to find out from the department in the course of your conversation with them.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Great. Thank you.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Christopherson.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

If I may be permitted by you, Chair, I have a very brief statement. It's just an observation, but I think an important one.

This committee, unlike any other committee, absolutely fails to function, in my opinion, when we're partisan. I think most members have been on this committee long enough now and have had enough broad exposure that they would agree that the hard part of this job is to stay away from the partisanship and try to stay with the facts, the analysis, and good governance.

It's been fairly easy for the government members so far because all the reports we've been getting were the previous government's. The proof in the pudding is always when it starts to be an analysis of their own government. That's where it gets difficult.

I just want to say that I have all along felt—this is my fifth Parliament in terms of being on this committee—that this is by far the best committee in terms of working as a team. I want to point to, underscore, and thank the government members who have made it very clear, through Madam Mendès making it very clear, that on the first time there was a little bit of a push between the work we have to do here and their allegiance to their government—the partisan part of it—they stand four-square behind us, where we all stand four-square behind you, Auditor General, to ensure the legislation that says you get access to the information you want is backed up by us. It couldn't happen with just the Conservatives and me. It had to include the government members.

Chair, in addition to the great job you're doing, I wanted to thank the government members and point that out to them, because it's going to get tougher. It's going to get tougher, and for those of us who know how tough it is, every now and then we need to be giving you that credibility, because it's a great service to Canadians that you give. Believe me: there are going to be times when you're going to piss off people in leadership in your party and you're going to feel that pressure. Yet to be here consistently and to say, no, if it's the Auditor General's work, that's my priority when I'm on this committee, and the oversight that we do is the priority, deserves to be congratulated, underscored, and even celebrated. It comes best from those of us who are in the opposition benches, so I want to say to my colleagues, thank you for living up to the commitment you've made. You continue to make this the best public accounts committee that I've had the honour to serve on.

Thank you, Chair.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you very much.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Christopherson.

I just want to sum up—

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

[Inaudible—Editor]

May 17th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Yes, you're very kind and very generous.

I would wholeheartedly agree with what Mr. Christopherson says. Our role here is to make government better.

For Canadians who are watching this today, what you've seen happen is that this week, first of all, our Auditor General has come to Parliament and, in an in camera meeting, provided his documentation on his spring 2017 report. We were briefed a bit there, in camera, and he then tabled the report, which becomes public for Canadians. The next part of that exercise, after he goes through explaining it to media, is the explanation of each one of these chapters, each one of these reports.

Today he has come to our committee to give us a synopsis of what's in here. We've had a very quick opportunity today to quiz and question our Auditor General and his team, because our job now is to call in departments that he has found in some ways perhaps lacking in some areas; they could do certain things better, such as collection of data and other things. Now we will bring them in.

We look at his recommendations, we look at our Auditor General's reports, and we hear from them, and then, so that Canadians understand this, we draw up a report with the recommendations of those departments. This is to help government, the government in power today, so that when they make a policy, they will expect that departments will deliver on that policy. Sometimes it moves very freely and there are no problems. At other times, it's more difficult. It's a very important responsibility for all members here to do our work, and to bring in these departments and hold them to account, so that whatever policy the government expects, departments deliver.

We thank you today for being here and helping us as we prepare to call these departments before committee to hear from them.

We are adjourned.