Evidence of meeting #60 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was letter.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Lucie Talbot  Director, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
James McKenzie  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

11:55 a.m.

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

Michael Ferguson

I will ask Ms. Talbot to answer that question.

11:55 a.m.

Director, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Lucie Talbot

We made recommendations for expediting the implementation of procedures to respond to the safety problems. In response to that, Transport Canada modified its framework for consultation and response to safety problems, to expedite the process. If that framework is implemented, we should be able to expect that the time needed for responding to safety problems would be shorter.

May 18th, 2017 / 11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Perfect.

You also mentioned in your opening statement, in point number 10, that you “found significant weaknesses in how the Department had planned and conducted its surveillance of aviation companies”. You also referred to the years 2010-11. You also mentioned that the information the department uses to assess high-risk companies was not always available and up to date. We're looking back at 2010-11. What about today? What's more recent? Has that changed? Do you have data being collected? Is this surveillance being upgraded, or is it still below?

11:55 a.m.

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

Michael Ferguson

The audit that we did, that we released in 2012, was based on mostly what was going on in that time frame of 2010-11. We haven't been back to do a follow-up on the audit, so I can't tell you exactly what the department has done. It would have prepared a response, an action plan, but we haven't audited the implementation of that action plan. That's something we could do if we decide to go in and do a follow-up audit.

We felt it was important, though, for you to be aware of what we found at that time for Transport Canada in order, perhaps, to inform your study. Perhaps Transport Canada could provide you the details of its action plan, and what it's done on it, but we haven't been back in to do a follow-up on that.

Noon

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Indeed, the assistant deputy minister has provided us, actually, a table where she illustrates that certification activities in 2014-15 were in the average of $10,000 and that for 2016-17, they are in the average of over $118,000. So there's been change. I was just trying to figure out why, in your report, you've only referred to particular years, and have not come to something more recent.

Thank you both.

I'll give my remaining time to Sean Fraser.

Noon

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you very much for being here. It's very helpful to have objective information as to some of the shortcomings in our northern air infrastructure.

One of the things I've learned over the course of this study and in my own consultations with stakeholder groups, which was a complete surprise to me, is that in addition to safety processes and infrastructure, one looming factor is that there's a pilot shortage in Canada, and that we might be implementing systems of rules about fatigue that we don't necessarily have the capacity to meet because there's not that human or logistical infrastructure with pilots. Is this something that came up at all over the course of your audit of northern infrastructure, and have you considered the...?

I stopped because I saw a headshake “no”. I'll let you jump in.

Noon

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

Michael Ferguson

Certainly.

No, it wasn't, because what we were looking at in that audit was simply the infrastructure, and the state of the infrastructure. We didn't get down into all of the operational side of it. It was just the infrastructure we were looking at.

Noon

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Certainly.

With respect to the audit, I note you have suggested Transport Canada should work with stakeholders to identify sources of funding to potentially boost the infrastructure that would help safety. That's something I could see a committee of parliamentarians also being helpful with. Is there a process that you think we could use to identify the greatest stakeholders? I find if we have an open call, we tend to get the same people who know how parliamentary procedures work. In particular, you mentioned the prominence of indigenous communities in the north, who may not be familiar with Ottawa parliamentary procedure. Is there a way that we, as a committee, could help Transport Canada, or perhaps ourselves, better engage with the stakeholders to identify these sources of funding?

Noon

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

Michael Ferguson

I'll first admit that I'm not an expert in organizing stakeholder engagement types of exercises, but I think it would need to identify specific groups, working perhaps through the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to identify some, working through Transport Canada to identify some, working even with perhaps territorial governments to identify stakeholders. We must remember, however, that when we're talking about remote northern airports we're not just talking about airports in the territories; many of these airports are also in the northern parts of provinces. I think what you would need to do on this file would be to try to identify specific groups that you want to talk to, rather than issue a straight open call for people to come forward.

Noon

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

I think that's my time. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Noon

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Luc Berthold

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson.

Ms. Block now has the floor for five minutes.

Noon

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Ferguson, I appreciate the opportunity to have you here to provide us with comments on your 2012 audit.

I want to follow up on some of the comments that my colleague Mr. Hardie made. I think he quite rightly noted that regardless of which witness we've heard from on the safety management systems that our transportation system has implemented, whether they are departmental officials or service providers or those who work within the industry, we get a different view of what safety management systems are, how they are appreciated or not, and whether or not they are working.

In the 2008 audit, it was found that in planning for the transition, the department did not document risks, such as the impact of the transition process on oversight of air transportation safety, and did not identify actions to mitigate these risks. It did not measure the impact of shifting resources to SMS activities, and the department has not yet identified how many inspectors and engineers it needed.

In your remarks, you make some similar comments about your findings in 2012, when you say, “We also found that Transport Canada should have identified the number of resources and competencies it needed to plan and conduct inspections and develop a strategy to obtain these resources and competencies.

In your estimation, have these failings been remedied?

12:05 p.m.

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

Michael Ferguson

You are right that in the 2012 audit we pointed out some of the issues that we had found in 2008. I guess one that was consistent between 2008 and 2012 was the need to identify how many inspectors and engineers and such types of resources were needed to make sure that the oversight of the SMS activities was being conducted properly at Transport Canada. We haven't been back in since. Transport Canada would have to give you the details of what they have done.

It's always concerning to us when we do an audit like the one we did in 2008 and then come back later on, in this case in 2012, and find similar types of issues. It's something that happens in a fair number of audits. I can't, however, speak to what the department has done since 2012. Given, though, that we identified it in 2008 and 2012, I think it would be reasonable to get some sort of comment, if they haven't already given it to you, from the department about whether they now know how many inspectors and engineers they need to oversee the SMS system and whether they have those people in place.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you.

To follow up on that, and also to follow up on a similar question to the one asked by my colleague Mr. Berthold about the cycling back by your office to do a follow-up audit, is there anything that triggers your office?

For example, as you've noted, there were issues in 2008. They came to the surface again in 2012. Does that trigger your office in considering whether or not you need to cycle back more quickly to follow up to ensure that these things are being dealt with, or could it be another nine or 10 years before we actually hear from you whether something has been remedied?

12:05 p.m.

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

Michael Ferguson

When we are selecting our audits, and our audits that are following up on work that we have done previously, we look at the risk that the program is not functioning the way it's supposed to be functioning.

We certainly would take into account things like seeing the same problems happen over and over again. Quite frankly, we will also pay attention to whatever comes out of this committee and all of the work you do and the types of issues or improvements that you identify have happened since that time frame. We will take that into account. Obviously, when you're dealing with something like aviation safety, that's something that is important to Canadians, to parliamentarians, so from that point of view it's also something that we will be paying attention to. This would be the type of subject matter that we would seriously look at from the point of view of trying to decide to do a follow-up audit. We take all of those factors into account in making that decision.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Luc Berthold

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson.

Thank you, Ms. Block.

Mr. Aubin, you have three minutes.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We are making big efforts to rise above party politics on this committee, and sometimes we succeed. This study is excellent proof of that, as is the motion just now.

However, when it comes to figures, I like to have an objective and independent opinion. Could you tell us how much the federal government invested in aviation safety programs, according to the Public Accounts of Canada, in 2015 and 2016? If you do not have the figures at hand, you can send them to us.

12:10 p.m.

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

Michael Ferguson

I obviously don't have those numbers with me right now. We can go back to the public accounts and see if that level of detail is there and could provide you with that information, if it is.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

I would like to come back to your remarks at the start of the meeting. In paragraph 10 of your opening presentation, you say that the information the department used to assess high-risk companies that should be inspected — meaning the ones that are assessed, obviously — was not always available and kept up to date.

Documents that are not kept up to date: we know what that means. However, what does it mean when it says that the information was not always available? Does that mean that the information was missing or that you were denied it?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Lucie Talbot

It means that it was missing at the department. The inspectors therefore did not have that information so they could identify the companies most at risk.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

You also say that the department completed only two thirds of the inspections it had planned for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Were you able to reach any conclusions based on the two thirds of inspections, without all of them? Does that seem to you to be connected with a lack of funding, a lack of personnel, or both?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Lucie Talbot

In the report published in 2012, we drew no conclusions and did not try to make any connection, because the department had not done so at that point. That is therefore not a subject that we covered in our audit.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

The next question will be my last one.

I would like to talk to you about the incident involving Air Canada flight 624 at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. We will all recall that tragic incident, and if there is one thing we need to learn from incidents like that, it is how to make sure they do not happen again.

This is the conclusion stated by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada regarding that incident:

... Because company procedures did not require the flight crew to monitor the aircraft's altitude and distance to the runway, the crew did not notice that wind variations had caused the aircraft's flight path to move further back from the selected flight path.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Luc Berthold

Unfortunately, Mr. Aubin...

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

I will not have time to ask my question?