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View Peter Fragiskatos Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is anything being done on television? Is any message promoted on television? I ask that because, as my colleague mentioned, the elderly are particularly targeted here. They've been victimized in a great way, and yes, social media remains quite important for particular demographics, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the like, but television is still an important medium, particularly for seniors. Is anything being promoted on TV in terms of messaging to combat scams?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 12:15
Unless any of my colleagues knows, I may have to get back to you on that, because I don't, off the top of my head, know what we do in terms of TV advertising on that.
Sylvain Ricard
View Sylvain Ricard Profile
Sylvain Ricard
2019-05-09 9:39
Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here to present the findings of our recent audit reports that were tabled in the House on Tuesday. They include five performance audits of government programs or activities and four special examination reports of Crown corporations.
I am accompanied by Jean Goulet, Carol McCalla, Philippe Le Goff, Michelle Salvail and Nicholas Swales, principals responsible for the audits.
In our first performance audit, we looked at the call centres of three departments: Employment and Social Development Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and Veterans Affairs Canada.
Overall, we found that getting through to government call centres took time and persistence. In fact, we found that half of the 16 million Canadians who tried to speak to an agent could not do so. Seven million callers were redirected to an automated system, told to visit the website or disconnected. In addition, more than a million callers gave up waiting and hung up.
We found that service decisions were not driven by Canadians' needs. For example, departments did not offer callers the option of staying on the line or getting a call back when an agent became available.
The situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. The government's “clients first” service strategy does not include call centres although more than 25% of Canadians use the telephone to connect with government. In addition, after five years of a call centre modernization project, Shared Services Canada has managed to upgrade only eight of the 221 call centres, and it has no plans for the remaining 213.
Let's turn now to our second audit. In this audit, we examined how asylum claims were processed by the Canada Border Services Agency; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and the Immigration and Refugee Board.
We found that Canada's refugee system is unable to process claims within the two-month target set by the government. In fact, backlogs and wait times are worse now than when the system was last reformed in 2012, to address these very same issues. The claims backlog has grown from 59,000 in 2010 to 71,000 in 2018. Wait times have grown from 19 months in 2010 to 2 years today.
The fundamental problem is that the system is unable to adjust to spikes in the volume of claims. With the current number of claims, if the problem remains unresolved, 5 years from now, families and individuals seeking asylum can expect to wait 5 years to find out whether Canada will grant them protection.
This fundamental flaw in the system is made worse by a number of administrative issues that would improve the processing of claims if they were fixed. For example, we found that the 3 organizations' computer systems don't work well together. This causes delays, duplication of effort, and a reliance on paper files. We found that almost two-thirds of hearings were postponed at least once, adding an average of five months to the time required for decisions.
I'm going to go now to the results of our audit of the taxation of e-commerce. This audit focused on whether the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Department of Finance Canada ensured that the sales tax system for e-commerce was neutral, and that the sales tax base was protected. We found that the Canadian sales tax system did not keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital marketplace. We estimated that Canada had forgone $169 million in sales tax revenue on digital products.
The Department of Finance analysis of the e-commerce sales tax system has shown that there is a risk that the current system could discourage foreign businesses from settling in Canada and encourage Canadian businesses to move their operation to other countries.
The Canada Revenue Agency and the Canada Border Services Agency have roles to play in ensuring that all taxes are collected and remitted to the government. We found that they have not done enough work to make sure that this is happening. For example, we found that the Canada Revenue Agency has identified e-commerce and accommodation-sharing as corporate risks but has done little to address these risks.
Take the case of accommodation-sharing, an industry that has grown almost tenfold to $2.8 billion in just three years. The agency could confirm that it had audited only four companies. The Canada Revenue Agency does not have the authority to implement practices that have been successful in other countries or provinces, such as putting in place a simplified registration process for foreign businesses.
We also looked at how the Canada Border Services Agency managed the collection of taxes on low-value parcels imported through courier companies. We found that the agency's systems and processes were outdated and that it relied on couriers to remit taxes owing. The agency did little work in response to warning signs such as an unexplained increase in the volume of parcels valued at under $20, and therefore not subject to tax, or audits showing a significant undervaluation of parcels by couriers.
The next audit I'm going to discuss looked at the oversight mechanism that the government has put in place to ensure that it meets its commitments to non-partisan advertising. It's important to understand that the government has a policy that requires all of its communication to be non-partisan. For advertising, which is a subset of communication, the government has put in place a review mechanism to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used for partisan advertising. For campaigns with a budget of less than $500,000, the review is to be conducted by Public Services and Procurement Canada. Campaigns with a budget of more than $500,000 are subject to an external review conducted by an organization called Ad Standards.
We found that the money threshold is the only factor that determined whether advertising is reviewed externally. In our view, other factors such as the topic of a campaign or its potential reach could also be considered when assessing the risk of partisanship in government advertising. For example, a small-value campaign on a politically sensitive topic may carry more risk of partisanship than a more expensive campaign that is strictly informational. The audit also found that there was little documentation to show that reviews, whether internal or external, were conducted with sufficient rigour to address the risk of partisanship.
In our final performance audit, we focused on whether the RCMP provided its officers with the hard-body armour vests and carbines they need to respond to an active shooter situation.
We found that the RCMP had enough protective vests across the country, but that distribution was uneven. In other words, not all officers had access to a vest. We also found that the RCMP did not know if all officers who needed a carbine had access to one.
Due to a lack of planning, the RCMP was not prepared to meet the long-term requirements of adding a new weapon to its inventory. This affected both maintenance of the carbine and annual recertification on its use. We found that maintenance had not been completed for about half of carbines.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my statement, the reports we released Tuesday morning also included copies of the audit work we completed in Crown corporations since the fall. These reports have already been made available to the public by the Crown Corporations who received them.
Our audits of the Business Development Bank of Canada and Canada Post Corporation found no significant deficiencies in these corporations' practices.
We reported a significant deficiency in the audits of Marine Atlantic Inc. and the National Museum of Science and Technology. In the first case, the problem was due to the government's delays in approving Marine Atlantic's corporate plans, which hindered the corporation's ability to make long-term strategic decisions. We raised this same problem in our 2009 audit.
In the case of the National Museum of Science and Technology, we found many weaknesses in the way the Corporation managed, safeguarded and preserved its collection. Combined, these weaknesses amounted to a significant deficiency.
That concludes my opening statement.
We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
View David Christopherson Profile
Thank you, Chair.
I thank our Auditor General and his staff for being here again.
The thing that jarred me the most going through these reports, and it's just personal experience, was your overall message on the RCMP where you state on page 2, “Overall, we found that not all RCMP officers had access to the equipment they needed to respond to an active shooter situation.”
It struck me for three different reasons. One is just as a citizen. Particularly when we link this to Mr. Arya's point, normally the issue in these cases is that the money and the equipment are not there, and that's the source of the problem. In this case, we were well past that. The funding had been issued, the equipment had been purchased, and it was now just a matter of distribution and making sure it was available to the right people at the right time. That is solely management. As a citizen, it just jars me that a world-class national police service like the RCMP, given the funds and the equipment they need from Parliament, failed to manage them in a way that kept our officers and public as safe as they could be.
Then it hit me because of my own experience as a former solicitor general in Ontario responsible for some of these things and having a little better understanding of how policing works than the average person. It jarred me.
Last, as with other colleagues, some of whom were here, I've been in an active shooter situation where I was one of the targets right here in Centre Block. For those three life experience reasons, when I read that, it really jarred me.
I know we're going to call them in, and I know we're going to hold them to account on this one, and they're pretty good at keeping an eye on these things. I suspect, and I would hope, that they're going to have ironclad answers and procedures, more than what we find in here. You can tell that they spent time wording some of this stuff. I've been there; I get it, but we need to hear satisfactory answers that commit to safety.
The last thing I want to say on this is that it's important that the Canada Labour Code is referenced here, because part of it references the right for RCMP officers to have as safe a workplace as they can, notwithstanding that they're in one of the most dangerous workplaces you can be in.
It was under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario and the fact that the responsibility for police officers under that act was not being met, that I, as the solicitor general, authorized police in Ontario, OPP and municipal, to move from a revolver to a semi-automatic. It was all based on the health and safety of the officers.
I've got to tell you, this one really jumped out at me. I don't really have a question per se, but I'll give you the opportunity, Auditor General, to either agree with my remarks or, if you think I've been over the top, I'm willing to hear that. I'd like your thoughts on both your findings and my comments about your findings.
Sylvain Ricard
View Sylvain Ricard Profile
Sylvain Ricard
2019-05-09 10:09
Our conclusion was that officers don't always have the equipment and the training they need to protect themselves and protect the public. We're talking about hard body armour and we're talking about carbines.
We refer in the report to having to do better on managing a project. We do mention in the report that they've added more carbines, but you need to manage that. You need to prepare for training and recertification because when they're not trained or recertified, they can't have access to the carbines. You also need to maintain those carbines, and we've noted that 50% of the carbines were not maintained according to their own standards. We made a number of recommendations so that they improve those issues.
View David Christopherson Profile
Very good. Thank you. We'll be following that one up, big time.
I'd like to move now, because we're running out of runway in terms of Parliament, and I'm not sure how many hearings we're going to get in before Parliament not only rises but very soon dissolves.
I'd like to raise one issue that may not get some further attention beyond this, and it is your report on the “Oversight of Government of Canada Advertising”. It's not as serious as the issue we just talked about, but looking at the overall political situation, this is always a rub.
I've been around long enough in elected office to remember when this was just an idea thrown out a few decades ago, and now we've got to the point where we've got actual policies and legislation that speaks to government not using taxpayers' money to advance its partisan interests.
Your message on page 3, paragraph 4.15 is:
Overall, in our view, the Government of Canada’s oversight of advertising was not sufficiently robust to ensure that the Government of Canada was meeting its commitment that public funds were not...spent on partisan advertising.
Could you just tease that one out for us a little more, please, Auditor General, in terms of your findings?
Sylvain Ricard
View Sylvain Ricard Profile
Sylvain Ricard
2019-05-09 10:12
There were two perspectives here. One is that there is a review being done on campaigns. The decision to go with the independent external reviewer is anchored in a dollar threshold—a $500,000 campaign goes to an external review.
We are of the view, especially in these days with technology and other means of delivering campaigns in a cheaper way, that other limits such as topics of the campaign and the size of the audience, the reach, should be considered.
After a few years of having the mechanism in place, we made the recommendation that it may be time to reflect on adjusting that criterion.
The second perspective is the review being done internally or externally. There was not enough documentation for us to be able to assess the rigour with which the assessment was done. Internally or externally, there was basically no file for us to review.
View David Christopherson Profile
I am assuming there should have been. That material should have been there.
Sylvain Ricard
View Sylvain Ricard Profile
Sylvain Ricard
2019-05-09 10:13
No, the only way you can manage a function like that is to adopt a new file, so you can have somebody reviewing the files, supervising the work, planning the work and demonstrating that it's being done properly.
Yoshua Bengio
View Yoshua Bengio Profile
Yoshua Bengio
2019-04-30 15:55
Hello. My expertise is in computer science. I've been a pioneer of deep learning, which is the area that has changed AI from something that was happening in universities into something that is now taking a big economic role and where there are billions of investments in industry.
In spite of the progress that's remarkable, it's also important to realize that the current AI systems are very far from human-level AI. In many ways they are weak. They don't understand the human context, of course. They don't understand moral values. They don't understand much but they can be very good at a particular task and that can be very economically useful, but we have to be aware of these limitations.
For example, if we consider the application of these tools in the military, a system is going to take a decision to kill a person and doesn't have the moral context a human can have to maybe not obey the order. There's a red line, which the UN Secretary-General has talked about, that we shouldn't be crossing.
Going back to AI and Canada's role, the thing that is interesting is we've played a very important role in development of the recent science of AI and clearly we are recognized as a scientific leader. We also are playing a growing role on the economic side. Of course, Canada is still dwarfed in comparison to Silicon Valley, but there is a very rapid growth of our tech industry regarding AI and we have a chance, because of our strength scientifically, to become not just a consumer of AI but also a producer, which means Canadian companies are getting involved and that's important to keep in mind as well.
The thing that's important, in addition to the scientific leadership and our growing economic leadership regarding AI, is moral leadership, and Canada has a chance to play a crucial role in the world here. We have already been noticed for this. In particular I want to mention the Montreal declaration for responsible development of AI to which I contributed and which is really about ethical principles.
Ten principles have been articulated with a number of subprinciples for each. This is interesting and different from other efforts in trying to formalize the ethical and social aspects of AI because in addition to bringing in experts in AI, of course there were scholars in the social sciences and humanities, but ordinary people also had a chance to provide feedback. The declaration was modified thanks to that feedback with citizens in libraries, for example, attending workshops where they could discuss the issues that were presented in the declaration.
In general for the future, I think it's a good thing to keep in mind that we have to keep ordinary people in the loop. We have to educate them so they understand issues because we will take decisions collectively, and it's important that ordinary people understand.
When I give talks about AI, often the biggest concerns I hear are about the effect of AI on motivation and jobs. Clearly, governments need to think about that and that thinking must be done quite a bit ahead of the changes that are coming. If you think about, say, changing the education system to adapt to a new wave of people who might lose their jobs in the next decade, those changes can take years, can take a decade to have a real impact. So it's important to start these things early. It's the same thing if we decide to change our social safety net to adapt to these potential rapid changes in the job market. These things should be tackled fairly soon.
I have another example of short-term concerns. I talked about military applications. It could be really good if Canada played more of a leadership role in the discussions that are currently taking place around the UN in the military use of AI and the so-called “killer drones” that can be used, thanks to computer videos, to recognize people and target them.
There's already a large coalition of countries expressing concern and working on drafting an international ban. Even if not all the countries—or even major countries such as the U.S., China or Russia—don't go with such an international treaty, I think Canada can play an important role. A good example is what we did in the nineties with anti-personnel mines and the treaty that was signed in Canada. That really had an impact. Even though countries such as the U.S. didn't sign it, the social stigma of these anti-personnel mines, thanks to the ban, has meant that companies gradually have stopped building them.
Another area of concern from an ethical point of view has to do with bias and discrimination, which is something that is very important to Canadian values. I think it's also an area where governments can step in to make sure there's a level playing field between companies.
Right now, companies can choose to use one approach—or no approach at all—to try to tackle the potential issues of bias and discrimination in the use of AI, which comes mostly from the data that those systems are trained on, but there will be a trade-off between their use of these techniques and, say, the profitability or the predictability of the systems. If there is no regulation, what's going to happen is that the more ethical companies are going to lose market share against the companies that don't have such high standards, and it's important, of course, to make sure that all those companies play on the same level.
Another example that's interesting is the use of AI not necessarily in Canada but in other countries, because these systems can be used to track where people are by, again, using these cameras all over the place. The surveillance systems, for example, are currently being sold by China to some authoritarian countries. We are probably going to see more of that in the future. It's something that is ethnically questionable. We need to decide if we want to just not think about it or have some sort of regulation to make sure that these potentially unethical uses are not something that our companies are going to be doing.
Another area that's interesting for government to think about is advertising. As AI becomes gradually more powerful, it can influence people's minds more efficiently. In using information that a company has on a particular user, a particular person, the advertising can be targeted in a way that can have much more influence on our decisions than older forms of advertising can. If you think about things like political advertising, this could be a real issue, but even in other areas where that type of advertising can influence our behaviour in ways that are not good for us—with respect to our health, for example—we have to be careful.
Finally, related again to targeted advertising is the use of AI in social networks. We've seen the issues with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, but I think there's a more general issue about how governments should set the rules of the game to minimize this kind of influencing by, again, using targeted messages. It's not necessarily advertising, but equivalently somebody is paying for influencing people's minds in a way that might not agree with what they really think or what's in their best interests.
Related to social networks is the question of data. A lot of the data that is being used by companies like Google and Facebook, of course, comes from users. Right now, users sign a consent to allow those companies to do whatever they want, basically, with that data.
There's no real potential strength for bargaining between a single user and those companies, so various organizations, particularly in the U.K., have been thinking about ways to bring back some sort of balance between the power of these large companies and the users who are providing data. There's a notion of data trust, which I encourage the Canadian government to consider as a legal approach to try to make sure the users can aggregate—you can think of it like a union—where they can negotiate contracts that are aligned with their values and interests.
View Martin Shields Profile
View Martin Shields Profile
2019-04-09 16:53
I'm going to deal with the business income tax measures referred to a minute ago. One of the comments from the Quebec Community Newspapers Association was this:
Some of our member newspapers do not have the resources to employ more than one journalist and often, the editor also writes news articles.
It's not going to work.
In my riding, I don't have any dailies; I have weeklies. I have the Taber Times, the Vauxhall Advance, the Rocky View Weekly, the Chestermere Anchor, the Bassano Times, the Strathmore Times and the Brooks Bulletin.
If you look at all those papers—and that's not all of them—the owner is usually the editor. The owner has a camera and there's one reporter. However, these are the lifeblood of my communities. They cover the local mayor, the councils, what the hockey team did, and enhancing development in that community.
They are the lifeblood, but under your criterion of “two or more journalists in the production of its content who deal at arm's length with the organization”.... The editor is usually the owner. He's not only the owner; he's the photographer and the writer. All of them that you can list might have one reporter, or maybe two, but usually they're not just a reporter; they're also a photographer.
Therefore, every one of the weeklies in my riding won't get anything out of this, because the criterion eliminates them. These papers, all of the weeklies, are the lifeblood of all the communities in my riding.
I had the Calgary Herald years ago, but I don't take it anymore because it doesn't cover the communities in my riding. That's what most people do. The weeklies are the lifeblood, and the owner is the editor, the photographer and the reporter.
One of the owner-editors I met with said, “You're trying to save print media. The federal government used to advertise in print media, but now they don't. It's all social media. Give us back our print media advertising from the federal government. You've pulled that all from the weekly newspapers.” He said, “If we had that as a source of income, that would make a difference.”
On the one hand, you want to support the production of newspapers, the big newspaper chains, which maybe are dying, but you said you need to support them. However, on the other hand, you've pulled that support from the weekly newspapers that are the lifeblood of the communities.
You say they have to have two separate reporters. If you look through every one of my weeklies here, the Brooks Bulletin included, they won't qualify because of that piece. These are owned by the editors. The editors are the owners of these weekly papers. They can't be separated; they're part of it.
That's an ask when I meet with the weekly newspapers in my riding. They say, “Give us back the print ads that the feds were doing. You're going to support the large newspapers in print form, but you've pulled the support and advertising from the weeklies.” That's a challenge.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, Mr. Shields, but with due respect, the shift from traditional media to social media started under the previous government.
View Martin Shields Profile
View Martin Shields Profile
2019-04-09 16:59
Oh, I got that. It's just that one line in the criteria, and then that all the print ads have been pulled. It really makes it difficult under this criterion you've put in here, and then with the print ads from the federal government gone. These weeklies are the lifeblood of my communities, all of them. We don't have a daily.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven Blaney Profile
Minister, I would like to take advantage of the fact that you are before me today to ask you how much your government has invested in Facebook. Taxpayers have the right to know how much the Canadian government invested in Facebook over the past year.
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