I call this meeting to order. Colleagues, welcome here today to meeting number 22 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. As the committee is meeting in public today to receive two separate briefings, there will be two one-hour panels. During the first hour, the Auditor General will provide us with a further briefing on the reports that were tabled in the House on Thursday, February 25. During the second hour, we will begin a study of the departmental plans for 2021-22 and the main estimates for 2021-22.
As you know, today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of January 25, and therefore members may attend in person in the room or remotely using the Zoom application.
I have a couple of reminders for members and our guests. For those participating virtually, interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either the floor, English or French. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly, and unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone is mandatory for everyone participating remotely. Should any technical challenges arise, please do advise me. Note that we may need to suspend for a few minutes as we do want to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
I believe that we are all attending virtually, so I'd now like to welcome Karen Hogan, Auditor General. With her today are Dawn Campbell, Dusan Duvnjak, Philippe Le Goff, Carol McCalla, Nicholas Swales, and Glenn Wheeler, all of whom are principals
Joining her during the second hour, we'll have Andrew Hayes, deputy auditor general; Kimberly Leblanc, principal, human resources; and Helene Haddad, principal, financial management.
I know that Ms. Hogan does have some opening remarks, so I will turn it over to her for her remarks.
Thank you, Madame Chair.
I am pleased to discuss our audit reports, which were tabled in the House of Commons on February 25. As you mentioned, I am accompanied by all the principals who were responsible for those audits.
Included in my February reports was a copy of our special examination of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. I am pleased to report that we found no significant deficiencies in the foundation's corporate management practices or management of outreach and awareness activities during the period covered by our audit.
Let's start with our audit of the government procurement of complex IT systems. Many of the government's IT systems are aging and need to be replaced to better serve Canadians. They include systems that deliver benefits like employment insurance, old age security and pensions, systems that are used to pay government employees and systems that support government telecommunications infrastructure.
Overall we found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Public Services and Procurement Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Shared Services Canada made good progress in modernizing their procurement approaches. For example, in two of the three complex IT procurements we looked at, they introduced new agile practices that included breaking down megaprojects into smaller ones, and they consulted early and often with end-users and private sector suppliers to define business needs and design solutions.
We also found that there was room for improvement in some areas, such as guidance and training for procurement officers and better mechanisms for monitoring fairness, openness, and transparency.
I am encouraged by the openness to explore new ways of doing business that we've noted in this audit. To pave the way for further progress, these organizations will need to build on what they've learned so far to continue modernizing their procurement approaches and maximize services and support for Canadians.
Let's turn now to our audit on the national shipbuilding strategy. This audit provided an opportunity to examine a complex program in its early stages, once the procurement process was completed.
Overall, we found that during our audit period, the national ship building strategy was slow to deliver the combat and non-combat ships that Canada needs to meet its domestic and international obligations for science and defence.
The delivery of many ships has been significantly delayed. Further delays could result in several ships being retired before their replacements are operational.
National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada reacted to issues impacting the timely delivery of ships. They made key decisions during the audit so as to improve the prospects of timely future deliveries.
That said, I am still concerned that the strategy has been slow to deliver. Considering the unknown impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on work in departments and shipyards, and with the bulk of new ships yet to be built, departments need to look for opportunities to further improve how they manage risks and contingencies.
I am now going to go to a couple of audits that more closely impact the day-to-day life of Canadians.
The first examined the Canada child benefit program. This income-based benefit program is important to help families who need financial support to raise their children. The audit also reviewed the one-time additional payment of up to $300 per child issued in May 2020 to help eligible families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, we found that the Canada Revenue Agency managed the Canada child benefit program in a way that provided accurate and timely payments to millions of eligible families. We also noted areas where the agency could improve the administration of the program. For example, a better information-sharing process with other organizations that notified the agency when recipients left the country permanently would enable the agency to avoid issuing payments based on outdated information.
Turning to another people story, we audited Indigenous Services Canada's support to ensure that first nations communities have reliable access to safe drinking water. Despite committing to do so by March 2021, Indigenous Services Canada did not meet the government's commitment to remove all long-term drinking water advisories for public systems in first nations communities.
Drinking water advisories have remained a constant for many communities, with almost half outstanding for more than 10 years. In some cases, advisories were lifted as a result of interim measures that did not fully address the underlying deficiencies. The department's efforts to address the problem have been constrained by a number of issues, including an outdated policy and formula for funding the operation and maintenance of public water systems. The department has also been working to revise the legislative framework to provide first nations communities with drinking water protections comparable to other communities in Canada.
I am very concerned and honestly disheartened that this long-standing issue is still not resolved. Access to safe drinking water is a basic human necessity. I don't believe that anyone would say that this is in any way an acceptable situation in Canada in 2021. Indigenous Services Canada must work in partnership with first nations to develop and implement a lasting solution for safe drinking water in first nations communities.
Let's go now to our last report. This audit followed up on selected recommendations from our 2013 audit of Transport Canada's oversight of rail safety.
We found that Transport Canada had yet to fully address our recommendations from 2013. While the department has made important improvements to the way it plans and prioritizes its activities and follows up on rail company's plans and actions to address deficiencies, it is unable to show whether these actions have contributed to improving rail safety overall. When you devote people and time to addressing issues, you should be able to measure if that investment is making a difference.
Rail safety accidents can have serious consequences causing devastating loss of life and environmental damage. I'm very concerned that while Transport Canada has taken some actions to address our recommendations, eight years after our last audit, there is still much left to do to improve the oversight of rail safety in Canada.
All of these audits touch on areas that have direct and indirect ramifications for Canadians across the country. Whether it's reliable access to safe drinking water or ensuring the safe movement of people and goods on our national railways, there are some serious and long-standing issues here. They need to be resolved permanently, and soon.
This concludes my opening statement.
My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Karen Hogan, for being here today and your principals as well.
I would like to focus on your report and what you alluded to it in your opening comments on access to safe drinking water in first nation communities. In your introduction you talk about safe drinking water being vital to the health and well-being of Canadians, including 3,300 first nation communities. Access to safe drinking water can also boost communities' economic growth and help reduce poverty.
You mentioned, however, that to this day many first nation communities live without this assurance that their drinking water is safe. You mentioned that some first nation communities continue to lack access to safe drinking water. I would like to know how many communities those are.
We all know that the federal government promised to address this long-standing issue in 2015. It committed to eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on first nation reserves by, as you mentioned, March 31, 2021. That's in 20 days. Of course, they have not met that commitment, and it is incredibly disappointing.
Back in 2016 the government allocated $2 billion; on November 20, 2020, $1.5 billion in additional funding, and an additional $114 million per year for maintenance. With all of this money invested, Canadians in first nation communities continue to have issues, and it is a national embarrassment.
Of course, there has been progress because $3.5 billion has been invested in this thing, but we still continue to have a long way to go. I'm assuming that the easy fixes were done long ago, but the more costly and more complex cases remain.
Is that the case, Ms. Hogan?
Madam Chair, hopefully I'll answer all the little bits there. If not, please remind me if I missed something.
You started by talking about drinking water advisories and how many communities are impacted. Our audit covered the period from November 2015 to November 2020. Over that time, 100 long-term drinking water advisories were lifted. At the end of our audit, 60 remained. Those 60 that remain are across 41 communities in the country.
Steps were made to lift some of the long-term drinking water advisories. As you mentioned, the government also mentioned in December that they would not meet the commitment by March. We saw that as well, that they will not meet it by the end of this month.
One of the fundamental issues is the funding formula. This funding formula has not been revisited in 30 years. I would agree with you. Thirty years is a bit of a long-standing issue. Thirty years is a long time to not revisit a funding formula. We found that it's not meeting the needs of the first nations, it's not addressing the actual costs, it hasn't been updated to reflect new technology that might be there, and one of the repercussions is likely that operators are not being paid the same amount as their counterparts in other parts of the country. Hence, having qualified operators is impeding the ability to have good, effective water treatment systems.
It is about finding and addressing those root causes, and not just temporary solutions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Hello to all our witnesses today.
Welcome to our committee, Ms. Hogan. It's always a pleasure to see you. You are a great witness for the committee, and I would like to congratulate you on the exceptional work you do for Parliament.
In your presentation, you seemed optimistic with regards to the current progressive management approach to technology modernization projects within the public service. I would, however, like to go over a few things with you.
Are you able to confirm right now that there is a type of gentleman's agreement, if you will, that we won't see a repeat of those awful situations of the past? I am thinking of the Phoenix pay system. I know that your predecessors were shocked by the catalogue of errors that took place.
More specifically, are you satisfied that communication between the managers that are responsible is sufficient to ensure that a similar fiasco will not be repeated?
Pardon me for interrupting you, Ms. Hogan.
I noticed in exhibit 1.48 in your 2021 report, which deals with opportunities to strengthen governance, that these are the same findings that were made in 2018, i.e. a lack of communication with senior officials who were not invited to participate in setting up the Phoenix program.
A few years later, we see that communication with senior officials and, obviously, their participation in setting up IT procurement projects need to be strengthened. This is why I suspect that problems are still a possibility. We have, of course, made progress and the situation is improving, but it is shocking to see that the main problem that your office underlined in 2018 with regards to Phoenix is still in your 2021 report.
What can you tell us about this?
There are certainly some really incredibly important societal questions being put in these audit reports today. I want to thank my colleague Mr. Webber for leading out on what I believe to be the most important one. I'm going to have a comment first, and then I'll get into my questions.
I'll share with you that as a Hamilton city councillor, the most rigorous training I had was in water protection—in water regulation and distribution within my municipality—because of the Walkerton crisis. As Ontarians will recall, that crisis demanded immediate action by the government to ensure that the E. coli poisoning, which made children in those communities sick, would never happen again. One way they did that was by putting a greater fiduciary responsibility on municipalities to give them culpability should these outbreaks occur. Out of all the things I learned as a city councillor, nothing struck me as more serious than getting my first orientation in water regulations due to Walkerton.
In these reports, I find a list of deficiencies and highlights that is pages long. I can't help but think, as a member of Parliament, that if we had in our House of Commons a fiduciary responsibility, a culpability, as individual MPs, to ensure that our first nations had clean drinking water, how quickly this would have been resolved.
What I don't want to lose sight of in my opening comments is that behind every statistic and every metric, there is a community and stories and people. I think about Grassy Narrows and the response they got—thanks for the “donation”. I think about the work of my MPP colleague Sol Mamakwa, in calling for help for the 250 people who were evacuated from Neskantaga, who had to leave their community, which has been under a water advisory since 1995. When Mr. Webber says this is a national embarrassment, he's not understating what's before us here today.
This is a damning report, and if it weren't for COVID and all the other things that have been happening, I would hope this would be central to our moral obligations as MPs to take care of.
Ms. Hogan, you identified the outdated funding policy formulas that go back 30 years and the new technologies. In your audit, did you ever come up with an actual figure, a cost analysis? Has the the Parliamentary Budget Officer done so? Is there a number that would give us the cost or scale and scope of this problem, so that if we were to throw $10 billion or $100 billion at it, we could solve it?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Ms. Hogan. It's always a pleasure to welcome you to the committee.
Mr. Green, I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about the importance of the report on drinking water. However, you will understand that, given what happened in Lac-Mégantic, the report having to do with rail safety is equally important to me.
Ms. Hogan, since you released your reports, I have had the opportunity to speak with people in my riding, people in Lac-Mégantic. Imagine if those people were made aware of one of your statements:
I am very concerned that [...] eight years after our last audit, there is still much left to do to improve the oversight of rail safety in Canada.
I note that this audit, conducted in June 2013, predated the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, which occurred in July.
Ms. Hogan, the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities had the opportunity to go to Lac-Mégantic and do a study on this. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has done reports. A lot of analysis has been done.
What can we do to prevent issues like this from coming up in your next report? It is unacceptable for the public to hear things like this from the Auditor General of Canada, and for the public to see that there is so much more to be done.
I would like you to give me a path forward because, frankly, I don't know how to approach this anymore. I have done everything in my power, but I don't want to read statements like that anymore.
Thank you for the question about the shipbuilding strategy.
It's important to start off, I think, with the three objectives of this strategy: It was to renew the fleet in a timely and affordable way, to create and support our marine sector and also to generate economic benefits for the country.
Some of what we saw in the delays was a bit of a shared responsibility between the department and the government, knowing exactly the design they wanted and figuring that out, and then production on the side of the shipyards. The intent was to make sure there wasn't a boom and bust sort of cycle.
That's why focusing in on target state.... Having shipyards meet their target state is really important, especially as deadlines move away. It's a way of measuring progress and value. The departments did not do a good job on following up on that target state, and still the shipyards have not met it yet. That's essential.
I have about 30 seconds left according to my clock, Madam Chair.
Ms. Hogan, if I had more time, I would really like to get into the indigenous water advisories. I would agree with my colleagues that these are particularly concerning.
Whether or not you can answer it now, or maybe in future opportunities, it is around the capacity. It seems like, yes, we're dealing with funding, but there's a capacity issue in having trained operators and having communities themselves be able to maintain these types of assets such that we don't get into those situations.
I don't know if I have any time, but I would be interested if you could speak to that.
Thank you. I will use the two and a half minutes to address the transportation issue.
When I return to my community of Hamilton Centre, my home is within 500 metres of a rail line. Again, as a city councillor, when the tragedy happened in Quebec, I tried to find information about what types of material were coming through and what the government was doing.
Yet, in this report the things that jump out at me is that the government allowed the safety management system to be developed by the corporations and it has all these policies and targets and risk assessments that are set by the companies and, if I'm to be clear, there is nothing in place to actually see whether their safety systems are resulting in greater safety.
Is that a fair assessment, Ms. Hogan?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We are pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the work of our office, including our most recent departmental reports.
With me today are Andrew Hayes, deputy auditor general; Hélène Haddad, principal responsible for financial management; and Kimberly Leblanc, principal responsible for human resources.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada contributes to a well-managed and accountable government for Canadians. We do this by providing Parliament and territorial legislatures with independent and objective information, advice and assurance about government financial statements and the management of government programs.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development assists me by conducting reviews and audits that relate to the environment and sustainable development. I am pleased to inform the committee that on February 1, Jerry DeMarco was appointed the new commissioner for a seven-year term.
We also support the development of legislative audit methodology and accounting and auditing standards, and we work internationally to build audit capacity, and promote better-managed and more accountable international institutions.
Let me turn first to our 2019-20 departmental results report. We provided this report to Parliament in December 2020. As shown in our financial statements, our net operating cost was $102.4 million, and we employed the equivalent of 567 full-time employees.
With these resources, we completed 16 performance audits, including four led by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and three reported to the northern legislatures. In addition, we conducted three special examinations of Crown corporations.
In terms of our financial audit work, we issued clean opinions on 85 of the 88 financial statements we audited from the federal and territorial governments and Crown corporations. We also presented our annual commentary on our financial audit work.
Our departmental results reports include several indicators of the impact of our work, along with measures of our operational performance. One of the ways in which we assess the impact of our performance audit work is through the level of parliamentary engagement with our audit reports.
Parliamentary committees reviewed 26% of the reports we presented to Parliament in the 2019-20 fiscal year, compared with 58% in the prior year. This drop can be attributed to the lower number of sitting days during the year due to the fall 2019 federal election campaign and the temporary suspension of Parliament due to the pandemic. However, I'm pleased to say that with the hearings over the last few months, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has been able to review all the performance audits referred to it during the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Let me turn now to our main estimates and our departmental plan for the upcoming 2021–22 fiscal year. Under vote 1 of the main estimates, our program expenditures for the 2021–2022 fiscal year are now set at $105 million, which include the entire $25 million of additional permanent funding we requested. With these resources, we plan to employ the equivalent of 737 full-time employees.
I would like to thank this committee because your unwavering support was instrumental in resolving our resourcing challenges.
With this increase in base funding, one of our main priorities for the upcoming year is to increase our capacity in the performance audit practice, which includes the audit reports that we present to Parliament and northern legislative assemblies. This year represents a step toward re-establishing a broader audit coverage of government programs and spending, including the environmental and sustainable development audits that are issued by the commissioner.
In addition to reports related to the COVID-19 response, we are auditing a range of topics, including those related to natural health products, water basins, and outreach to vulnerable populations, as well as updates on past audits.
Now that we have secured our permanent funding, we have been proactive in hiring the additional diverse and qualified professional and support staff we need. As you can imagine, onboarding and training newly hired employees will be critical for the coming years.
Another priority in the 2021–2022 fiscal year will be to continue modernizing our approaches, tools, and products.
I could not be prouder of everyone at the OAG. They are resilient, caring, and devoted to excellence.
We thank the committee for its ongoing support and use of our work. We would be pleased to answer the committee’s questions.
Thank you to the Auditor General for appearing. I am glad to see that you have received the funding, and if our committee and I had a little part in that, I'm glad to have supported it.
With respect to the process, I'm glad, Auditor General, that you seem open to the idea of maybe changing the process a bit. A lot of the process was these grand unveilings, where we literally would be using typewriters to come up with hundreds of pages and then presenting them to the committee. That's not really the way the world works anymore and, quite frankly, it reduces the effectiveness of the recommendations if they are two or three years later....
I would like to get her comment. Maybe she can expand on how the committee could work with that. I would be fully supportive of the idea of having interim, temporary or smaller reports that come to the committee more often, so that we can actually get back and fix these things, right? What I see is a pattern here, whether we're talking about first nations and indigenous water clarity, shipbuilding, the Phoenix debacle in digital services, or even things we haven't contemplated yet, such as vaccine procurement. We see these failures, but we don't get to them in time to change the results. We hear about process updates, but I don't see any results coming from that.
Maybe the Auditor General could comment on how we could work with her to actually make a change, as opposed to just having processes that change, and actually get results for the Canadian people.
Thank you very much for that question. I feel like you have been sitting with me when I talk to all the people in our office.
We have to look at the process, absolutely, and we need to help improve that, but we should keep our eye on the outcomes. A part of how I hope to accomplish that is by breaking down some of the audits. I think you're going to start seeing that. We'll be able to have a dialogue about how we want to approach that together so that you can study a subject appropriately.
I'm going to use two examples, one being CERB. We're going to table the first part of our CERB audit in a few days, in about 14 days, actually. It won't cover the whole program. It is actually meant to identify what's going on now and to help feed the department to deal with looking at payments in the next round.
You mentioned vaccines. That's another one that we're looking at breaking down into more manageable pieces. I guess, then, the decision might be, does the committee want to study the bits and pieces or wait to study the entire program or subject?
For vaccines, we are going to try to target in and look at the contracting of those in order to give the Public Health Agency some time to deal with rollout, but then our intention is to look at approval and rollout to the provinces. We're going to try to break it up. I really think it's about us having a good dialogue on what the best way might be as to how to study that going forward.
I worked very hard with my executive team, after lots of consultations and discussions with all of our people across the office, to make sure that our vision spoke to people.
I think it addresses what I've been telling this committee for a while, that I want to modernize not just our processes but also how we work and how we interact, and that's why breaking down some of the audits into smaller pieces is one of those things we have to see working to see how it goes.
It also includes how we communicate. Again, I encourage you to go to our website. We just posted an infographic about rail safety that accompanies the audit report. We want to see how that is digested and if individuals like it and find that it's a meaningful way to understand the report.
Our new vision is to bring together people, expertise and technology, and we see that as including both the people within our office and the people and entities we audit. We see that as bringing together our expertise and the expertise in the public service in the programs that we audit and in all of the initiatives that they put forward and in technology. I think not only do we have to modernize and use technology in a better way, so does the federal public service.
There are so many opportunities with new technologies to get a better handle on data and be more informed, and we need to take that journey with the government so that we can provide better value-added to our audit.
Coming up with that percentage is a little complicated, so I want to talk about a few things that are in it. It includes all the reports that we will table in the House.
A few years ago we started to table all of our special examinations of Crown corporations so that they would be available if a parliamentary committee wanted to study them. They are available publicly on every Crown's website, but we wanted them to be in one place for Parliament. Those are not often studied, and we considered that. They have been discussed with the board of directors of the Crown corporations. They have an action plan and their internal audit shops and their boards of directors will follow up with the corporations taking those actions. While these examinations they may not be studied in Parliament, they are studied and looked at.
In the case of many of the audit reports, when we issued our results, it looked as if they hadn't been reviewed, as I mentioned in my opening statement; but they were reviewed by the public accounts committee.
There are reports of the commissioner that are referred to the environment committee that are not always studied there. That's where I would encourage any committee across Parliament to study any of our reports. We are always happy to talk about our work, and it doesn't necessarily always have to be studied by the committee that refers to them.
I agree with you. We spend a lot of time, and so do the departments and entities we audit, and we want to make sure that we make a change that improves programs in the lives of Canadians.
We have a few options, and we follow them up. For example, we have this new product that I mentioned that we're going to be putting together that will look at certain measures in some of our audits. It's going to be more of an electronic product than a paper product. We're hoping that we'll be able to add some pressure to the departments to recognize that we might come in more regularly to start doing that quick follow-up. We want to make it publicly available so that everyone can see what's going on. As I mentioned earlier, we will always follow up on important topics in the larger, more comprehensive way.
The internal audit areas within departments and agencies should be following up on the recommendations that come from our financial and our performance audits, and their departmental audit committees should be asking those questions as well.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Hogan, I am trying to verify what had already been established about a House motion, tabled in April 2020, that asked you to conduct an audit of emergency actions taken in response to COVID-19. A report on the findings must also be filed by June 1, 2021. Of course, a House order called for the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that your office had sufficient resources to do the work.
In our previous meetings, you told us that it was not easy, in the context of COVID-19, to get information from certain departments.
Will you be able to complete COVID-19 reporting by June 1, 2021?
The answer is not simple, but I will try to answer your question in a satisfactory manner.
To address the motion, we would have to look at all the programs that the government has put in place in response to the pandemic. As I mentioned before, it is almost impossible to meet this request. I would work solely on that for several years.
So we decided to look at programs that are somewhat broader, based on certain risks or on discussions with departments. We will be tabling four reports in March, before the June 1 deadline.
These reports will be a beginning of a response to the motion. The reality is that we will continue for years to come to review programs related to the government's response to the pandemic. We will be tabling further reports later this year and in 2022. We will continue this work for several years.
We are unable to fully respond to the requests made in this motion by June 1.
Thank you for that. I want to take a step back to the previous section. I didn't get a chance to do so, and I think it's important every now and again that we take a step back and do it, because in the audit world, no news is good news. When you have a department or agency that comes through without any juice or anything spicy, it is overlooked.
I want to go back to your opening remarks in the last section to note that in the special examination of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, you were pleased to report that there were no significant deficiencies in corporate management practices or in the management of outreach and awareness activities during the period.
I want to take a moment to welcome, I believe their new ED, Mohammed Hashim, who is incredible. I'll share with you that his work in the surveys on online hate have played a role, I think, in helping Canadians better understand what online hate looks like in Canada. I think that's valuably important.
I never want to miss the opportunity to sing praise in this committee and to take a step back to do so, because I often come off as pretty agitated in thought on many topics. With this particular agency, however, I think we're definitely going down the right track. I want to take a moment just to note that: well done to that particular foundation.
I want now to segue into your comments that, having secured your permanent funding, you are proactively hiring additional diverse and qualified professionals.
Can you take a moment to explain to us what steps you are taking within your department to do so and how you're committed to the outcomes and not just the process of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Thank you for the question. I may turn to Kim Leblanc at some point, if she should want to add to this, if I forget a few of the things in the concrete actions we're taking to focus on outcomes.
We look at our employment equity distribution. In my mind it is just the minimum that we need to meet. We need to overshoot that minimum.
I recognize that we're doing a great job in our staff levels across the office. We still have some work to do; not every group is well represented. For sure, we have some work to do in the indigenous community. We have some very targeted outreach that we're doing there. I'm sure Madame Leblanc could add comment on this.
I recognize that we need to do better when it comes to our management level and that we have to work on it. We're in the middle of a hiring or promotion process at the principal level in our office. We're looking to certain lists that the government has available of diverse populations to look at, to try to address some of that process.
We're definitely focused on the outcome. It's definitely something I keep asking our hiring managers and our HR team about.
Kim, do you want to add a few more things that might help address the member's question?
When it comes to our physical space, we have not made any changes to our physical space yet. That was at the request of Treasury Board as we all sort out what's going on. We're in an active dialogue with them continuously about what our physical space might look like. What we've communicated to all of our employees is that flexibility is going to be our way forward.
We definitely see a hybrid workforce going forward. What I can tell you with regard to the individuals we've hired in the last year is that about a quarter of them, I believe, are in cities where we do not have bricks and mortar. We have regional offices across the country. Traditionally we would hire only in those cities or make people relocate, and we have not done that. We are just looking for talent across the country and telling them that they can work from home right now, and we're going to sort out what that might look like in the future.
Currently, the majority of our workforce is at home. We do have certain facilities, individuals and IT folks who are in on a more regular basis. We do have people who regularly require access in order to access secret documents in our building, but for the most part, we are all working from home, respecting public health guidelines and doing our part.
What we see as the way forward, though, is that it will likely be hybrid. You'll be in. You'll be out. You'll be at entities. You'll be at home. You'll be at work. Work is what you do, not where you go.
Absolutely. Everybody wants to know who audits the auditors.
We have a few audits. We have an annual financial audit, like most entities do, which is carried out by an accounting firm that is independent from us, and we rotate firms on an occasional basis. That's the financial side.
We have an internal audit shop that carries out traditional internal audit work across our office. We also have peer reviews. I was in the office when Sheila Fraser and Mike Ferguson launched their peer review, whereby supreme audit institutes from other parts of the country would come in and review our office. I committed at the beginning of my mandate that before I was done, we would do a peer review as well. The peer review really looks at the entire office—our performance audits, our internal operations and our financial audit work.
I also want to add that because we are a teaching office for CPAs, we are regularly inspected by provincial institutes as well as to how we mentor and train our students and whether or not we adequately support them to get their designations going forward. So there are a lot of people looking at us.
Thanks, Ms. Hogan and your staff, for being here. Thanks to my colleagues for a great meeting and great discussions.
I want to build on some of the areas that Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Green were touching on, which was how we work better together and what we could do to help your work. You're definitely helping our work with some of what you're discussing today.
There are two areas for me in terms of how we work together. One is SWOT analysis. It's something I lived and breathed for about 30 years in business. The particular part of the SWOT analysis is the threats as you're auditing.
We had an impassioned discussion about indigenous water supply and clean water for all Canadians. One of the threats that the elders brought up with me—one elder in particular in Sioux Lookout—was to stop making the water dirty and then we would have a better shot at having clean water. There are things like the clean water agency or ways to stop water pollution at its source. You look at the process, but the actual threat might be outside the process.
Could you comment, Ms. Hogan, on how we could address the external threats to the audits you're performing?
That's a great question. I didn't think that was where you were going when you were asking that question.
I have a few things on that. You wanted to know how you could help support better. I think when you bring departments and entities in front of you, it's definitely keeping the constant focus on the quality of their data and on the importance of knowing what data they need, how they collect it, store it, retrieve it and use it. Really, it's about having a data strategy. I think every organization should have one. That's a really important one.
It's to continue to push accountability and transparency, and actually getting answers that are focused on outcomes and staying focused there.
If we had issues about access, we would come to you and we would hope that you would be able to help us address access issues from that front.
For external threats.... It's a great dialogue, which I've even started with the commissioner of the environment. It was interesting to hear your comment about water. I do think that's a focus that we must have when we look at audit selection. Then it's the kinds of questions that you might ask when we come here.
We often have a hard time getting to some of the root causes in our audits, so asking the departments about that and challenging them to think that way would go a long way. It will likely take some time to change that headspace, but we should be able to do that together.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Ms. Hogan, I really liked what I heard today. So I will start with a comment.
The members of the committee fought hard to get you additional money. You will understand that our expectations will also be higher than they have been in recent years, especially since there is so much work to be done.
I have a couple of questions for you.
You sometimes file several reports at the same time and we have to go through them all at the same time. You said that you intend to make several presentations over the course of the year. How will you determine the timing of your report submissions?
How will you present both the reports that address the response to COVID-19 and those that deal with the topics you choose, since the essence of the Office of the Auditor General is to initiate its own reports and carry out its own performance audits?
How will you evaluate, select and present all these reports in a fair and equitable manner so that you are not deprived of fulfilling your mandate properly, knowing that, as parliamentarians, we have all supported you to do your job better?
Thank you for the questions.
I will first answer the question about how we are going to table the reports. Under the Auditor General Act, we can table four reports a year in Parliament. We usually make sure to table one in the fall and one in the spring. These reports will not be related to COVID-19. The reports that I tabled in February are basically reports that should have been tabled last year that were on programs that were not related to COVID-19.
There is a section of the act that gives us permission to table something of significance in Parliament, if necessary. We will use this provision of the act to table reports related to COVID-19.
I will try to table the reports in small groups so that you can digest them. I think that is when the members of the parliamentary committees will be able to tell us whether the pace is too fast or not. My intention is to give you enough reports so that you can choose what you will look at, and not so that you are forced to look at only the reports that I table. That's the pace we'll have. I am willing to hear your comments, if you have any.
The balance between COVID-19-related reports and reports on other extremely important topics is a topic of discussion in my office. This morning, with the senior leadership of the office, I was just discussing how to divide our efforts between reports for the commissioner, reports that focus on regular programs, and reports on COVID-19. We have tried to allocate our staff to ensure that we touch all three areas in a balanced way. One topic may take precedence over another in a certain year, but we will try to maintain that balance. Finally, if, in a report that is not related to COVID-19, we find something related to the pandemic, we will try to look at it.
We will try to do all of this at a fairly steady pace.
Good morning, colleagues.
Good morning, Auditor General. I apologize for missing your introductory remarks. I had another set of responsibilities this morning.
There have been a lot of good questions from my colleagues this morning delving into the issues at hand and the role of the Auditor General and the environment that we're in. On Tuesday we had the deputy minister of finance at our committee. Like you, obviously, Mr. Sabia has had vast experience, I would say a treasure trove of experience, dealing with organizations and organizational complexity in every sort of capacity.
First, I thank Mr. Lawrence for commenting on this earlier. In the era of digitization, where we're working from a remote environment, be it in the basement of one's home or even a bedroom, from what we see these days, how can the AG maintain its effectiveness? Are there any concerns there?
Second, how can there be a lowering of costs for taxpayers who fund governmental organizations in this era when individuals can be situated at home? I'll start off with that question.
Thank you very much, Mr. Sorbara and Ms. Hogan.
Thank you to our witnesses for joining us.
Colleagues, if everyone is satisfied that we have sufficiently studied the main estimates, I have two questions for you.
Are you ready for the question on the main estimates today?
I see thumbs up and nods.
OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$104,833,863
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report the vote on the main estimates to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Mr. Luc Berthold: On division.
The Chair: Thank you very much, members, for joining us today.