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Results: 1 - 15 of 198
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:04
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting us to discuss the planned audit work of our office, including the work on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With me today is Andrew Hayes, deputy auditor general and interim commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.
My appointment as Auditor General of Canada was effective on June 8. I am very pleased to make my first appearance before a parliamentary committee as the Auditor General, and I look forward to supporting the government over the next 10 years.
When the interim auditor general, Sylvain Ricard, appeared before this committee on May 12, he discussed our audits of the government's investing in Canada plan and the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also spoke about the resourcing challenges that our office has been facing, and the difficult decisions that we had to make to delay other planned audit work in order to prioritize the investing in Canada and COVID-19 audits.
Today, I will build on the information that Mr. Ricard provided to this committee. Our audit of the investing in Canada plan is well under way. We know that there is considerable interest in this audit. We have been collecting and analyzing a significant amount of information.
We have also designed an audit approach that will allow us to provide as much information as possible to Parliament about the government's implementation and monitoring activities, and the nature of the projects that have been funded under the plan.
With respect to our COVID-19 audit work, we have been focusing on the government's spending related to health and safety protection, support to individuals and businesses, and other liquidity support and capital relief. We are also considering elements of emergency preparedness and early response actions. We expect to be conducting audits related to COVID-19 for many years.
Although our work is progressing, I think that it is worth noting that physical distancing and remote working arrangements present some challenges for our audits. We have seen that it takes more time and effort to work through the audit processes, and to access, receive and exchange information. I would emphasize, however, that we have seen a willingness and a concerted effort on the part of those that we audit to work with us.
We also know that there is important audit work that will have to be done at a later date. For example, information about the effectiveness of some programs and corrective actions that the government may take will only be available for audit in the future. For both the COVID-19 and the investing in Canada audits, we are exploring ways to report our findings to Parliament as quickly as possible.
At this point, it is likely that we will present specific audit reports to Parliament when they are completed, rather than take the traditional approach of setting a date for presenting a collection of reports.
I would now like to speak briefly about the unanimous motion that was passed by your committee on June 9.
We have always considered a unanimous motion from a parliamentary committee to be a very clear message to our office. The committee's motion calls on us to audit all federal programs associated with Canada's COVID-19 response, to conduct all audits requested by the House of Commons and to complete all previously scheduled audits. The motion also calls on the government to provide us with all the funding we need to carry out these audits and any other work that we deem to be appropriate.
We viewed the committee's motion as reinforcing the importance of our work and its value to Parliament. We pride ourselves in supporting Parliament to the best of our abilities. Given our current resourcing and funding levels, we need to be selective when deciding on the audits that we conduct. We will not be able to audit each and every federal program associated with Canada's COVID-19 response.
When I appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on May 29, I mentioned that once I was appointed, one of my first priorities would be to assess our funding needs in light of the current circumstances, which includes the significant work that we have been asked to do. At this point, I do not have an updated number to share, but I am confident that we will ask for a budget increase that will be greater than the $10.8 million of additional funding that the office requested in 2019 and in 2020. That amount was based on assessments that were done in 2017, and a lot has changed since then.
We are currently engaged in discussions with the Department of Finance about our funding. We expect that those discussions will continue over the next few weeks. Although we still believe that an independent funding mechanism is the best long-term solution, we are committed to exploring solutions with senior public servants so that our current funding needs can be addressed as quickly as possible.
If we encounter difficulties that cannot be overcome, we will be sure to inform Parliament; however, we are not sitting back and waiting. We have taken steps over the last week to maximize the performance of our audit work that we can do in the future. In particular, we launched a hiring process last Friday with the intention of significantly increasing the capacity of our performance audit practice. We know that it will take some time to hire and onboard the highly skilled people we need to do the work that you have asked us to do.
Obviously, we are taking some risks, because we have not received a permanent funding increase. On the other hand, if we do not start the hiring processes, we will not have the people in place to do our work. We will keep Parliament informed about our work and the impact on our resources.
Both Andrew and I would now be happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
Andrew Hayes
View Andrew Hayes Profile
Andrew Hayes
2020-06-22 12:20
Yes, indeed. The spending and design of the CERB was the other main area that I think we were going to mention.
View Peter Julian Profile
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Auditor General Hogan.
Mr. Hayes, thank you very much.
Congratulations. It's a very important position that you hold. I have no doubt that people right across the country are looking to make sure that money is spent effectively and wisely.
I will start off by mentioning the finger pointing between the Conservatives and Liberals, which I don't think anyone finds credible. The reality is, as we all know, that we look at constant dollars. It is only under minority parliaments that the Auditor General's department has been adequately financed. The moment the Harper Conservatives became a majority government, they started slashing. The current government has continued that practice, a massive slash from a decade ago that has made it very difficult to have the Auditor General do the important work on behalf of Canadians.
The contradiction is very clear. We've seen previous Conservatives governments and the current Liberal government splurging on banks and big businesses at the same time as they nickel and dime the Auditor General and that important function to death. I think it's good we have unanimous support around restoring the funding, but the reality is that only happens in minority parliaments. Now we can move forward.
You mentioned earlier the importance of putting in place an independent funding mechanism. You have cited other countries that have in place an auditor general function that is independent from whether or not the majority government can run roughshod over the important function the auditor general performs.
In your mind, what is the best example of other countries that have independent funding mechanisms that should really apply in the case of the Auditor General?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:38
There are a few examples we can look to. There are provinces across our country that have an independent funding mechanism, and there are also the U.K. and New Zealand that have such a mechanism. While we can look to those to inform what we might want to come up with, I do think it's something that even Parliament plays a role in helping shape.
I have been talking with the public accounts committee and their chair about exactly that. There is a role for Parliament to play in oversight once an independent funding mechanism is in there. There is a control function to rightsize, when needed, the Auditor General's budget and to do so in such a way such that it can be stable for the organization.
View Marty Morantz Profile
I just wanted to circle back to the independent funding mechanism, because I want to get your perspective on this. It's obviously important for you to have a stable source of funding so that you can conduct your work, but I see the independent funding mechanism as more than that. Your department, as much as any auditing organization, needs to be perceived as being independent of government.
Do you see the independent funding mechanism not only as a source of stable funding but as an added safeguard in the system, basically, to ensure that the public perception of the Auditor General remains independent?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 13:04
Absolutely. As you noted, it is from two fronts that we need it to be independent, not just for stability. There is an added complexity when you must turn to a department that you audit on a regular basis, both financially and through performance audits, and ask them for money. Obviously, there's a need to have it just be in a better realm, where there is no potential perceived or real conflict.
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
I do know that when we came into office in 2015, there were various departments that had undergone very draconian spending cuts by the Conservative government. For example, we invested over a billion dollars into the Canada Revenue Agency. A lot of it went into technology. You see some of those investments paying off in the ability to undertake the Canada emergency response benefit, whereby Canadians applied on a Monday morning and received a direct deposit into their accounts sometimes within 24 or 36 hours. You heard that anecdotal evidence and, for that matter, the reality that it was.
We need to ensure that the Auditor General's office has the resources, and not only the human capital but also the technological wherewithal, to move within a more digitized period. For me, it's something that we need to do. Transparency and accountability are bedrock in my principles as a parliamentarian and as someone who sat on the Accounting Standards Board user advisory committee in Canada for almost a decade. Those are two things that have been drilled into me. It's very important.
In terms of the workflow or the workflow plan, you said that you were out hiring. I read this morning that there's an engineering firm in Montreal that's looking to hire as well, but they're having difficulty in hiring. We are seeing some green shoots in the economy, but because of the traditional way of hiring someone—screening them and meeting with them—it's not happening as quickly as possible. Can you give us some feedback in terms of your hiring process? Can we get the individuals in, interviewed and going through that process, or are you finding some difficulties there?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 13:11
Prior to the pandemic, as most audit shops across the country will tell you, we were having difficulty attracting individuals. There's just a high demand for them.
In this context, we just launched our process on Friday in order to increase significantly our performance audit practice and some of our HR group and in order to be able to onboard all of these individuals. We're still working through the mechanics of what that might look like, but we know that it's absolutely going to be in a virtual forum, a virtual interview. Even recruiting events are now going to be virtual across our social media platforms. It's going to take a little time for everyone to get used to that.
Onboarding will be different for individuals, and we've also started to train our managers, given that managing a remote workforce brings a whole set of different challenges. We need our managers as well as our employees to be at ease with what that might look like. We're not the only ones living through this. The entire federal public service is living through this. The private sector is living through this. We've been talking with many people in order to learn about best practices and hopefully leverage that.
What I can guarantee is that I think it will take some time, a little longer than we normally expect, which is why we decided to still launch our hiring process without the funding so that we could get the ball rolling.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Thank you to the officials, and thank you, Mr. Minister, for appearing, not just today, but for providing regular updates before our committee. It's appreciated and important.
I want to ask you a question about the Auditor General. Both the outgoing Auditor General and the incoming Auditor General have stated publicly that the Office of the Auditor General is underfunded by approximately $11 million. As a result, performance audits have been reduced in half over the last number of years, and due to the government's COVID expenditures, nearly all non-COVID-related audits will be put off this year.
What is your government going to do to remedy that and provide the Auditor General with the $11 million she needs to do her job?
View Bill Morneau Profile
Lib. (ON)
First of all, Mr. Cooper, let me thank you for bringing up the Auditor General. I'm obviously very pleased that we've been able to appoint the new Auditor General. I think she will do a spectacular job. We know that she has significant experience and she'll bring that experience and a fresh look at what is a very important parliamentary role.
As you probably also know, we have increased funding for the Auditor General over the years. We've increased the number of positions in the Auditor General's office, or increased funding so they can increase the positions. I understand that the number of positions has been increased by 38 people.
What's incumbent on us is to work together with the new Auditor General to make sure that we ensure the office has the requisite ability to perform the function, so I will commit that it's an ongoing goal we have and we'll work together with her to do that.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Mr. Minister, in light of your commitment to working with the Auditor General, when can the Office of the Auditor General expect to receive the funding?
View Bill Morneau Profile
Lib. (ON)
She's now new in her role, and that is appropriately something we should work together with her on to get to the conclusion that ensures the office has the support required and the appropriate level of support to do the function.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Well, the office doesn't have sufficient support, not when performance audits have been reduced in half, not when almost all non-COVID-related audits have been put off, and indeed the outgoing Auditor General said they'd probably need another year to deal with the COVID-related expenditures alone.
Thus, we have a government right now that is spending half a trillion dollars and the Auditor General is asking for $11 million.
In regard to half a trillion dollars in spending, $11 million constitutes a rounding error. What's the holdup?
View Bill Morneau Profile
Lib. (ON)
First of all, we should be clear with our numbers. The numbers you're throwing around are not accurate. We detailed the investments we're making for the pandemic in the report presented to this committee. You're a very long way off in the scope of those numbers.
I think the frame that we need to make sure the Auditor General has the appropriate resources is an important one. She's been in her new role for a couple of weeks I think, and we will be working with her to make sure there is the appropriate level of funding for the needs of the Auditor General.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Well, your government is spending in total—not new spending—half a trillion dollars, and we're talking about $11 million.
I guess, Mr. Minister, the only reasonable conclusion one could reach about the refusal of your government to adequately resource the Office of the Auditor General is that your government is afraid of being accountable and having a fully resourced Auditor General shed light on mismanagement, including 20,000 unaccounted infrastructure projects, $5 billion in unaccounted infrastructure spending, and a $35-billion Infrastructure Bank that has completed precisely zero infrastructure projects.
Speaking of the failed Canada Infrastructure Bank, I will follow up with you on a question that I posed to the associate minister of finance when she last appeared before our committee. How much did the outgoing president of the Canada Infrastructure Bank receive in the way of bonuses?
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