I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. This is meeting number 80, on Thursday, November 23, 2017.
I would remind everyone this morning that we are televised, so please take your telephones and put them on vibrate or mute or something. It helps, especially when the mikes are on, so please do that.
Today we are having a briefing on the Fall 2017 Report of the Auditor General of Canada.
As our witnesses today, we have Mr. Michael Ferguson, our Auditor General of Canada. He is accompanied by his principals, Jean Goulet, Martin Dompierre, Casey Thomas, and Carol McCalla.
I would invite the Auditor General of Canada to make his comments before we go into the usual first and second rounds of questioning from our committee members.
Welcome again. Good morning, and the floor is yours, sir.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here to present the findings of six performance audits and two special examinations that were tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
When I look at these audits together, I find that once again, I am struck by the fact that departments do not consider the results of their programs and services from the point of view of the citizens they serve. I find myself delivering this message audit after audit, and year after year, because we still see that departments are focused on their own activities, and not on the citizen's perspective. The audits we have delivered this week are no exception, as you will see.
Let's start with our audit of the Phoenix pay system. Here, we looked at what Public Services and Procurement Canada and selected departments and agencies were doing to fix problems with the system, and eventually have a system that takes less effort to pay government employees, not more.
We found that a year and a half after the federal government launched the Phoenix pay system, over 150,000 public servants were still waiting for a pay request to be processed. The value of outstanding pay errors, including employees who were paid too little and those who were paid too much, was about half a billion dollars at the end of June 2017.
We found that Public Services and Procurement Canada has been largely reacting to problems since Phoenix was launched. In our view, it will take years to fix the pay system, and it will cost much more than the $540 million the government has so far identified that it will spend.
In a similar situation in Queensland, Australia, it took seven years and $1.2 billion to fix most of the pay problems.
Next, I will turn to our audit of how the Canada Revenue Agency's call centres handle inquiries from taxpayers.
Overall, we found that the customer service results that the Canada Revenue Agency reports make its call centre service look better than it really is.
For example, the agency says that 90% of callers are able to connect with either its self-service system or a call centre agent. While this is technically true, it only reflects part of the caller's experience. The agency's reported rate does not reflect that, on average, a taxpayer has to call about four times in a week just to get through to the agency.
We found that the Canada Revenue Agency's numbers didn't account for the 29 million calls it blocked in a year, more than half its total call volume. Those calls either get a busy signal, a message to visit the agency's website, or a message to call back later. Overall, we found that only 36% of calls were able to connect.
Based on our tests and those done by others, we found that the Canada Revenue Agency gave taxpayers wrong answers to their questions almost 30% of the time. This is significantly higher than the roughly 6.5% error rate estimated by the agency.
Let's go now to an audit that looked at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's $257-million initiative to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.
Overall, we found that the settlement needs of more than 80% of Syrian refugees were assessed.
However, the audit identified two main concerns. First, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada delayed the transfer of $51 million to its service providers by at least three months, which caused some service reductions.
Second, the department didn't collect all the information it needed to monitor whether Syrian refugees were integrating into Canada. For example, it didn't know what proportion of school-aged Syrian children were enrolled in school.
In another audit, we looked at Health Canada's programs to help Inuit and first nations people improve their oral health.
Overall, we found that Health Canada spends more than $200 million a year on medically necessary dental services for Inuit and first nations people. Even though the department knows that the oral health of Inuit and first nations people is significantly worse than that of the rest of Canadians, it does not know how much of a difference its dental benefit program makes.
Health Canada does know that its $5-million children's oral health initiative, which is focused on prevention, improved the oral health of some first nations and Inuit children. However, the department's data shows that fewer children are now enrolled and fewer services are provided under the initiative than in previous years. Health Canada does not know why this is the case, making it difficult to address the situation.
In our audit of Correctional Service of Canada, we found that CSC's programs and services did not meet the rehabilitation needs of women offenders, especially those with mental illness.
The tool that CSC uses to assign women offenders to security levels and correctional programs was designed to assess men, not women. As a result, some women offenders were held at a higher security level than necessary and were assigned to programs that CSC could not deliver before the majority of offenders were first eligible for parole.
A delayed release means that women offenders do not have a gradual re-entry into the community, and it also costs more to keep them in a correctional facility.
We found that Correctional Service Canada's mental health teams were not fully staffed to provide the mental health services that women offenders need. We also found that CSC placed in segregation cells women offenders who were at risk of harming themselves or committing suicide. It is not appropriate to keep women offenders with serious mental health issues in segregation cells, where they do not get the clinical support they need.
In another audit, we focused on whether the Royal Military College of Canada educates and trains officer cadets at a reasonable cost to take on leadership roles in the Canadian Armed Forces. The Royal Military College of Canada is a federally funded university.
We found that the quality of the college's academic programs is good, but it spends about twice as much per student as other universities. National Defence was unable to show how the military officers trained at the college were more effective in their jobs than those who came into the Canadian Armed Forces through other entry plans.
We also found that the Royal Military College of Canada did not provide officer cadets with adequate training in leadership and in the proper conduct expected of future officers. While the college took action when serious incidents of misconduct were reported, the number of incidents involving senior officer cadets showed that the college had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.
In our opinion, the academic environment at the college does not consistently support the teaching of military conduct and ethical behaviour. The college must re-establish its focus as a military training institution so that it can produce the leaders that the Canadian Armed Forces requires.
Our fall reports to Parliament also include copies of the special examination reports that we delivered to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and the National Capital Commission since the release of our spring reports.
Overall, we found that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited had in place systems and practices it needed to successfully implement its government-owned, contractor-operated business model. The corporation now needs to turn its attention to measuring whether this new model is efficient and effective.
Our examination of the National Capital Commission found that more than one-quarter of the NCC's assets, some of which are of historical value, were in fair, poor, or critical condition. The commission's resources, as authorized in its approved corporate plan, are not sufficient to restore and maintain these assets. The NCC has committed to finalizing an analysis of the resources it needs and developing options to address the situation.
I was hoping to be able to talk about something other than results for citizens. I keep delivering the same message, which is that the government doesn't understand its results from the citizen's perspective. It's possible that our message of citizen-centric service delivery has been heard at the individual program level; however, we see no signs of it being picked up government-wide.
As we begin new audits, we find the same absence of focus on fully understanding what Canadians are getting from government programs—whether it is answers to their tax questions, mental health support for women offenders, improved oral health for Inuit and first nations, or the extent of the problems the government has in paying its employees.
It appears that our message is not being heard at a whole-of-government level, and that concerns me. Government is supposed to be about service to citizens. Getting there requires a concerted effort across government to understand and measure the citizen experience, not just one program at a time, but across all programs and services.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am now ready to take your questions.
Mr. Ferguson, I'd like to thank you and your team for all your hard work every single day. Your reports are fact-based and objective, with a clear view to ensuring that public funds are properly spent and well managed.
For the most part, I'm going to focus on your Phoenix pay system report. It's a report that worries me, as do the others. I want to say that my thoughts are with all the public servants affected by the Phoenix pay problems. My thoughts are with all the people working in Miramichi, Matane, Ottawa, and elsewhere who are working tirelessly in an effort to fix all these problems.
I have no doubt that, like me, my fellow members of Parliament receive emails and calls from public servants experiencing tremendous difficulty because of this problem. They are in our thoughts.
To put things in context, I would point out that the previous system was 40 years old. In 2010, in fact, your predecessor had this to say in one of his 2010 reports. I'm going to read the quote in English, because that's the version I have:
A breakdown would have had wide and severe consequences. At worst, the government could no longer conduct its business and deliver service to Canadians.
It was therefore clear that it was time for a new system.
Seven years later, here we are, trying to understand the extent of the system and its problems. We can all agree that the system is far from simple. With more than 300,000 public-sector employees, just over 100 departments, and 105 collective agreements to manage, the federal public service pay system has to process nine million transactions a year, which total some $20 billion annually. There is no question, then, as to the system's importance.
The Government of Canada chose the PeopleSoft system produced by IBM. My question is very simple.
Let's say we could wave a magic wand and resolve all of the 494,000 outstanding pay requests today. Given your analyses, reports, and discussions with public servants, do you think it is possible to make the system work? Is it possible to perform transactions? Could pay transactions function properly if all the outstanding pay requests were to disappear today?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to applaud you on your French skills, which continue to improve. On that front, we have in you, Mr. Ferguson, someone who is leading by example. I want to say thank you and bravo.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your House of Commons.
I want to begin by echoing what my fellow member Mr. Massé said earlier about the Phoenix pay problems. Our thoughts are, first and foremost, with the tens of thousands of Canadian workers who, regrettably, are waiting to be paid correctly. Like all of our ridings, mine is home to employees of the federal public service, albeit fewer than provincial government employees—which I'm sure you can appreciate since I am from the Quebec City area. Two weeks ago, when I was eating breakfast at a restaurant in Val-Bélair, I met a woman who, with tears in her eyes, shared her ordeal with me. Those are the people we are thinking about today. I imagine you and your team also had those people in mind as you were writing this report.
Mr. Chair, in the first few paragraphs of his report, Mr. Ferguson clearly references the fact that the previous pay system was 40 years old and in need of replacement, and that it has taken seven years to get to this point.
Obviously, launching a new system like this doesn't happen without raising a few red flags. That is why, under the previous government, decision-makers decided to put the implementation of the system on hold, not once, but twice in 2015, because it wasn't adequately ready.
History being what it is, on February 24, 2016, the current government chose to pull the trigger on Phoenix, initiating the trail of devastation we are now all too familiar with. It was relaunched in April, and, even though everything seemed to be going fine, it turned out to be a disaster.
Mr. Ferguson, in paragraph 1.86 of your report, you make a rather scathing observation, and I quote:
||We found that for the first 16 months after the pay problems started to surface, there was no comprehensive governance and oversight of efforts to respond….Public Services and Procurement Canada did not work with departments….[T]here was no governance structure to define which committees and working groups were needed and what their roles and responsibilities should be to provide clear direction or to coordinate their work.
In a nutshell, they buried their head in the sand. They did not deal with the problem and opted to work in isolation instead of hand in hand with other departments.
How do you explain such a lax approach, Mr. Ferguson?
The situation in Queensland was, fortunately for them, a little different, because it concerned only one department as opposed to 101 departments, so it was easier to establish a sole point of leadership within the department. What is really different in that particular case is that the leadership decided to go out to the public servants over there, to the health workers, and explain to them in a very regular fashion what was going on. They put forward a very structured plan to not only try to stabilize the situation but also to make sure very rapidly that the employees were paid on time and accurately.
That even meant that kiosks were established in the various hospitals so that employees could go to those kiosks and demonstrate that they were not being paid accurately, and a cheque could be written to those employees at that point.
There are some fundamental differences. The scope in Queensland was also not as big as what we're living with here, which probably made an understanding of what was going on easier. We're talking about 78,000 employees, one department, and 20,000 rules. Regardless, it still took all that time.
I want to also clarify that they stabilized the situation quite rapidly, but it took them seven years to get to the point, now, where they're achieving the efficiencies they originally intended.
Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, and all your staff.
Where to begin?
For the first time ever, I've talked to a couple of colleagues and I think there's a lot of appetite for doing a hearing on every one of these. Number one, there are only six chapters. Number two, this committee is incredibly efficient when we want to be, and we get a lot of work done. Every one of these touches on not just a one-off but a significant aspect of government services to citizens. I hope, colleagues, that we can find our way clear to allow our schedule to hold a public hearing on each and every one of these chapters.
Chair, given that we're dealing with the macro report as well as the individual chapters, I'd like to spend a bit of my time talking about the macro message that our Auditor General is bringing today, with your permission.
Mr. Ferguson, you both opened your remarks and closed your remarks with the same thing. In terms of auditor-speak, it's pretty strong language. I just want to take a moment to underscore that and then pose a couple of questions about going forward.
Again, colleagues, we have an obligation. We're where the rubber hits the road here, and with all the good work that the Auditor General does, if we're not able to reflect change in government, all this is for nothing. It's really important that we get not only the micro right but also the macro right.
The Auditor General tells us that when he looks at these audits together, he finds that once again he's struck by the fact that departments do not consider the results of their programs and services from the point of view of the citizens they serve.
Again, we've now learned from our Auditor General that in his opinion what that means is that a lot of departments are getting very good at measuring how they move things inside. They do an A and B as part of their process and measure that, and then announce and pronounce whether they're doing really well or really badly, when the point is, at the end of the day, what services are Canadians receiving?
Again, the Auditor General is saying, and I go on, that he finds himself delivering this message audit after audit and year after year because they still see that departments are focused on their own activity and not on the citizen's perspective. I just gave an example of that. The audits they have delivered this week are no exception.
Again, the Auditor General ends by saying, “I was hoping that today, I would be able to talk about something other than results for citizens. I keep delivering the same message that the government doesn’t understand its results from the citizen’s perspective.”
This is strong stuff coming from auditors.
He further says, “It’s possible that our message of citizen-centric service delivery has been heard at the individual program level, however we see no signs of it being picked up government wide.”
Interestingly, my experience normally is that it's the other way around. The top says, “Yes, we understand. We get that. We'll get on that.” Then they leave, and it never seems to filter down to the departments. Now we see that sometimes some of the departments are getting it, but there's still no macro leadership.
I'll jump to the last, and then pose a question, Chair.
Again, continuing with the Auditor General, he says:
||It appears that our message is not being heard at a whole-of-government level, and that concerns me. Government is supposed to be about service to citizens. Getting there requires a concerted effort across government to understand and measure the citizen experience, not just one program at a time, but across all programs and services.
Again, if we as a government—all of us, Parliament—are not meeting the needs of Canadians in the services that are delivered, then citizens have every right to believe that their tax money is just being wasted—and we're about eliminating waste.
I want to ask you this, Auditor General. I'm getting kind of old and don't know what the current terminology is—blue-skying, outside the box, whatever the new terms are. Obviously, what we're doing is not working. What can we do that's extraordinary? Are there any steps we can take to really push the limits of what we can do as a committee in working with you?
This can't continue. I've been here 14 years. I don't want to sit here for another 14 years having the Auditor General come in time after time and say the same damn thing, and nothing changes.
We are that agent of change. What can we do, Mr. Ferguson? Push us. Push the limits of what we can do. How can we help you turn government around so that it's meeting the needs of its citizens? How can we do that, sir?
I'll talk about one thing that you have taken a step into, first of all, then perhaps something else as well.
This committee has now held a hearing with a department a second time, bringing them back about a year or a year and a half afterward to talk about an audit that had been done before. I think that sends a good message throughout the whole system, a message that this committee is serious about departments actually fixing the problems that we see. That's something that has already started, and I would encourage the committee to continue to do that. I think that's an important message for the system.
In terms of the message I delivered today, here is part of what I'm trying to get at. We will do an audit. We will identify some issues. We'll make recommendations. The department will say, “Yes, we will deal with those”, and they may very well go back and deal with them, but we won't really know whether they have or how well they've done it until we come back and do a follow-up audit, but they may very well do that.
However, I guess what concerns me is.... I'll take the example of the call centre audit with the CRA. The message in that audit, the overall high-level message in that audit, is not very different from the message we delivered a few years ago about veterans trying to get access to mental health services. I guess what concerns me when I'm talking about the whole-of-government level is that it almost seems departments are only concerned about audits we do about them. They should also be looking at audits that we do about other departments and programs in order to figure out what they should be doing in their programs to get them to a good place, so that when I do come in here with an audit on their programs, I can say, “Yes, they're delivering this program and they seem to be trying to understand the program from the point of view of the citizen.”
I think it's very important that departments learn from the audits of others. Perhaps one thing the committee could think about doing is some sort of overall summary report, perhaps, of some of the common issues that have come out from a number of different reports and things that departments should be learning from a number of audits. What are those common-theme things? Departments should be paying attention to those more.
Then if we come back with an audit that says they haven't done it, the committee will be in the position to say, “Look, we've even given you a bit of a road map for the types of things you should be learning from audits done on other departments.”
Obviously, they're not doing that on their own, so they might need a little bit of help. Maybe that's a role the committee could play.
Thank you to the Auditor General for providing these reports to us. Certainly there are some great educational opportunities for governments, and not just for this government but for governments across the country.
I'd like to start by picking up where Mr. Christopherson finished and then delve directly into the CRA audit.
The message that I think comes through both your message and when looking at each individual report is that when it comes to Phoenix, we're failing our own employees. When it comes to a number of the other items, such as the CRA, we're failing the citizens of Canada. A client-centric approach does not seem to be in the mentality or culture of the Government of Canada, on the whole.
When we look specifically at the CRA, we have a reporting issue concerning the way they were reporting to the Auditor General—whether it was apples to apples, in the sense of the number of people as compared with volumes of calls. We have an issue with blocked calls, as you said. We have an issue with the type of information that's being given out to clients, who are the taxpayers of Canada, and with whether or not it's accurate. As much as 30% of the information that's given to citizens is inaccurate.
These are very major issues at the CRA, and we've seen other major issues out of CRA recently that I know are not in the scope of the report. There's certainly a theme here, however, with regard to what's happening with the CRA, and there obviously needs to be major work completed.
Just to add insult to injury, when you think about what the CRA is and compare it with the private sector, if you were calling to try to figure out what your payment was or the parameters within which your payment needed to be made, in the private sector—and let's just use a telecom company, because they're large companies—it is not very difficult to find out from them what you owe them and why you owe it to them. It is very easy to do; it doesn't require eight phone calls. They know right away.
This brings me to the issue. I was thinking about this last night. We had the opportunity to speak with you about this on a couple of occasions. Is the issue within the CRA that the employees don't have the training to answer the questions and that there is therefore an avoidance of answering those questions and a nervousness about giving information to citizens, or is it just mismanagement and bureaucracy gone wild?
Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much again to the Auditor General and his team.
I know when you're choosing your audit schedule—and maybe you can talk to us a little bit about how you do that—there's a certain amount of priority but also a certain amount of randomness too, yet we're still able to see the themes overriding each set of reports. This is my fourth round, and I'm certainly noticing that.
When we're talking about these reports, we're really looking at the performance of the individual departments. We're looking at the value for taxpayers' money. I have a set of measures that I use. Of course, I'm looking at the cost of the programs, but I'm also looking at things like public security and citizen health, which has been a theme that you have referred to in the past as well as Auditor General.
We see that in the oral health programs for first nations, where we're looking at the health of our most vulnerable citizens. Another theme that is arising, and one that is quite surprising—because I do believe we've always had great pride in the quality of our public service and the services the government provides its citizens—is that quality now appears to be an issue. That is what I'm seeing.
Phoenix is a huge concern for us, and we're going to have the opportunity to delve deeply into that at a later date. When we're talking about the CRA call centres, it looks as though they're responding to your questions, but they really are not at all. Even when we do something urgent, do the best job in getting money out to the Syrian refugee settlement agencies, there was a problem getting the money on the ground. There is also the issue with our vulnerable populations, women offenders in correctional institutions, and a simple quality issue about how we're educating our future officers.
When you do these reviews, you're making recommendations. Are there any cases of the agencies or departments having difficulty with your recommendations? What was the kind of response you were getting? Can you talk to us a little bit about where you see future action plans going?
I would suggest probably a couple of things.
One is that when there is the original acceptance of a project—if you're talking about a payroll system or about Shared Services, whatever you're talking about—the chances that the project sponsor will be able to come forward at the conception point of the idea and the acceptance of the project and give a precise number for how much that is going to cost, a precise date for when it is going to be delivered, and a precise number for the end impact in terms of whether there are going to be efficiencies are slight . I would say it would be extremely rare for somebody to be able to come in at the conception of these very complex projects and say this is going to cost x number of dollars, I'm going to deliver it on this date, and it's going to save you this amount of money.
Those things need to be updated during the course of the whole project, based on what is being learned through the course of the project. There will need to be some understanding that this is starting to look more complex than originally thought, so maybe it's going to cost more or maybe we need to delay it some more.
Those things will all have to be considered: “Maybe we can't do everything we thought we were going to be able to do in the first place, or maybe we can do this, but it's not going to provide all the efficiencies that we thought.”
Those things all need to be updated during the course of the project. I think what happens too often is that these projects get anchored on amounts that were established very early on. I think that's one part of understanding these types of projects.
I would say the other thing is to never underestimate the importance of a good governance structure on complex projects. It can't all be in the hands of the individuals or the team that is responsible for delivering the project. There needs to be some oversight by people who are not just the project deliverers. Then there needs to be some independent expertise that can advise the individuals charged with the oversight. That could be by internal audit or outside evaluators, but they should be reporting to the people with the oversight, not reporting to the people who are delivering the project.
I'm not saying that's what's happened in any of these cases. I'm saying that conceptually, those are the types of things I think are needed.
I can tell you what they did about it—nothing. It's right in their report.
I'm raising this because it's so timely. One of the things we do is not only look for results; we also take a look at the oversight. Was there proper oversight, and if not...?
Mr. Ferguson just alluded to some of that. I have to tell you that $2.3 million of taxpayer money goes for this ombudsman who reports to the minister only.
It's an interesting read, colleagues. For instance, they say, “Our role is not to be an advocate for taxpayers”, yet under the bold heading of “Who we serve”, they say, “We serve taxpayers”.
It's a very lovely brochure, by the way—very nice and glossy, with lots of big pictures. A lot of time was spent on this. It's a nice product.
Anyway, in this issue, buried on page 23, we see $2.3 million, yet one of the biggest issues found in this study through the auditor was the inability of Canadians to even connect. If ever there was a disconnect, it's the inability to connect, so the biggest issue we're facing—and here's what this $2.3 million got us on this file. Under “Connecting with the CRA through the general enquiries lines”, we see:
|| Our Office has received numerous complaints from taxpayers and representatives in recent years, claiming it is very difficult to connect with the CRA's general enquiries telephone lines. A recurring complaint from taxpayers is they reach a busy signal, regardless of the time of day they call, forcing them to make multiple calls.
That's dead accurate. What did they do about it?
|| Given the announcement of increased funding for telephone access and initiatives underway by the CRA, our Office is not opening an examination at this time,
—but it's okay, everybody—
|| ...we are monitoring this issue.
There was $2.3 million worth of monitoring, and it took the Auditor General to tell us that we have a problem.
Normally we don't go in this direction, but I'll be talking to colleagues about how we look at this. This whole office exists to help Canadians deal with these kinds of issues, and from what I can see, they failed. Part of our review, and maybe it's part of the prescription for solving it, is that we ask the minister—because this ombudsman reports to the minister—to change the mandate, review it, or do something.
I saw that it cost $2.3 million to run this office and that on the biggest issue we're facing, that's all they had to say. The minister said, “It's okay, because we're increasing the budget,” so the ombudsman said, “Oh, okay. Obviously it's no big problem. It will get solved.” That's not how oversight is supposed to work.
To the taxpayers' ombudsman, we're coming.
I'll just leave it at that. It's more of a statement. It's a bit of a rant more than anything, but I was kind of frustrated. If there's room for a response, I would love it. If not, I'm happy to have my rant. Thank you.
Thank you very much. I want to start off by thanking the Auditor General and his team for their outstanding work and this set of reports.
I want to echo the concerns that have been expressed by my colleagues around the table, particularly Mr. Christopherson. He pointed to the Auditor General's opening statement in which he expressed the overall message that audit after audit, year after year, we still see that departments are focused on their own activities, not on the citizens' perspectives.
We've talked around the table today about the concerns of citizens, the experiences of citizens, the service to citizens. I want to start off by taking a moment to first deconstruct this terminology, because I believe it's very important that we are clear on who we serve. That, to me, is Canadians, in the most general, broadest, and most inclusive sense, whether we are talking about the oral health of first nations and Inuit children, or Syrian refugees who have now been welcomed to their new home, or indigenous women offenders who are not provided with culturally appropriate programs, or women offenders in general who are subjected to correctional programs designed for men, not women. To me, we need to be clear that we are talking about all Canadians and to understand who they are and be able to provide the types of services and programming that very clearly meet the needs of all Canadians.
With that said, I want to focus on the audit with respect to the Phoenix pay system.
Exhibit 1.2 on page 7 of the Auditor General's report shows a graph of the number of public servants with outstanding pay requests in 46 departments and agencies. This graph shows very clearly that over the course of two years, under the Miramichi pay centre, there were 15,000 public servants with outstanding pay requests. That number goes up to 35,000 in January 2016, when Phoenix was first adopted, and then we see an exponential increase in the number of outstanding pay requests, going up to the latest number, in June 2017, of 150,000.
If I were to take this graph at face value, I would understand it to be what it is described as—46 departments and agencies, the public services under those departments. However, reading the report tells me something a bit different. It points out that these outstanding pay requests were not capturing the information from all 46 departments over those two years, because some of them were not on board with those systems.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comment on what this means. To me, at face value, it means a significant and very worrisome increase in the number of cases. However, reading the report tells me that this increase can be attributed to departments that perhaps were not on the Miramichi pay system or the Phoenix pay system at certain points in time.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comments.
For our audit of women offenders, we looked to see how well the Correctional Service was meeting the unique needs of women offenders.
It's been 25 years since the government closed the Kingston Prison for Women, so we looked to see the extent to which the Correctional Service of Canada now provides programs and services that are responsive to the unique needs of women, as it's required to do in its legislation.
Primarily we found that they have not yet developed a security classification tool that's appropriate for women offenders as women enter the system. It still uses the security classification tool it developed 25 years ago for male offenders. As well, it uses this tool to determine rehabilitation needs, which is problematic, because the tool wasn't designed for this purpose. More problematic for us is that it has developed a tool to determine program needs that would be more appropriate for women offenders, but it hasn't yet put that into use.
We did see that it had developed correctional programs specifically for women offenders and for indigenous women offenders. The problem was that it was unable to deliver these programs to women before they were first eligible for parole. As a result, women offenders stayed in custody past their day parole eligibility dates and thus served more of their sentences in custody, rather than in the community setting that is much more effective for long-term successful reintegration.
In the Correctional Service, most of the women offenders are serving short-term sentences, which means they're eligible for parole within a year of entry, yet CSC is unable to deliver the programs by this time. We made recommendations that they improve the delivery of these correctional programs to the women offenders.
Finally, we looked at the delivery of mental health services, because a significant portion of women offenders have mental health issues. We found that treatment plans weren't being completed for women offenders in a timely manner. They weren't systematically tracking the delivery of mental health services to women offenders. There were significant shortfalls in the resources that they said they needed in terms of hospital beds in psychiatric hospitals and staff psychologists.
Finally, we looked at the number of women in segregation and the segregation of women with mental health issues, which we found problematic.
Thank you for putting the focus on this. It's a key area, and I'd appreciate just a moment.
I have a bit of background in this area. When I was on regional council, I chaired a task force on “people with psychiatric disabilities”, as the term then was. The whole issue was that we had people on the streets with mental health issues, and there was a revolving door when the police were asked to intervene.
Remember that it's a mental health issue. The police are asked to intervene, but they don't know what to do, so they'll often take them to the hospital. The hospital system may be able to stabilize them for a while, but then they're back on the street. If they have mental health issues, they're going to be acting out again. I don't know if that's the terminology, but there are going to be problems again. It was a revolving door.
Fast-forward a few years, and I find myself sitting at the cabinet table as the minister responsible for corrections provincially, and lo and behold, all the studies in front of me are showing the same thing.
As much as I made some attempt, I didn't change a darn thing. I'd like to say I did, but I didn't. Here we are now, pushing two and a half decades later, and we still have the same problem. Again it's that revolving door of people going from police involvement to the mental health system and ultimately ending up in the criminal justice system, and they shouldn't. They're not criminals. They have mental issues, but we don't have a system that allows us to deal with this situation.
Personally, I've seen this at the local level, the provincial level, and now at the federal level. The last thing you said, Auditor General, was about doing a massive overall look at this: Please. I implore you.
My experience is telling me that no matter how much good people are trying, we're not able to change it and we're not able to help the issue. More and more people are encountering mental health stresses. It's only going to get worse. We need a massive intervention in a way that can make a difference, and that's you and your office.
For what it's worth, I want to put as much support as I can behind you to take a look at this broader system. We need a major overhaul, and thank you, Chair, for putting a focus on this. It's a key issue no matter whom you talk to in society. We have a unique opportunity here to at least be part of changing that if we can.
Please, let's get on this, folks. Otherwise, it's just going to continue to be a revolving door, and we're not going to meet the needs of our citizens.
I think what committee members are taking from today's meeting, where we've had a very good overview of the entire audit that has just been released by our Auditor General of Canada, is that a number of studies will be coming out of this audit. For Canadians who may be watching, we have the Phoenix pay problems, the call centres at CRA, settlement services for Syrian refugees, oral health programs for first nations and Inuit, preparing women offenders for release, the Royal Military College of Canada, the National Capital Commission, and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. I think the will of the committee is...will we do a study on each one of these? What I'm hearing back is that we need to. We will be asking you more formally.
We can all tell stories from our constituencies on many of these chapters. I asked my staff in my constituency office, and typically, in a rural riding, about 65% to 70% of what we do in that constituency office is immigration. My staff person told me this fall that she has equal files the same size on Phoenix.
I have Drumheller penitentiary in my riding. Most are coming out of there. I applaud them for getting to the members. Each one of you has stories that you can tell about people being afraid make payments, and things like that.
Starting next week, this committee will look at the Phoenix problem more carefully, and from there on we will look at all these chapters.
You've helped us today. You've helped us with the audit. We look forward to your coming when we study these chapters.
Thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.