Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my Fall 2013 Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. I am accompanied by assistant auditors general Wendy Loschiuk and Maurice Laplante, and principals Gordon Stock and John Affleck.
This report touches on a range of long-standing issues the government has been struggling to address, with potentially significant impacts for Canadians.
Rail safety is one such issue. Fourteen years ago, Transport Canada recognized the need to shift from an inspection-based oversight approach to one that integrates the oversight of safety management systems. This shift is ongoing. Much work remains to be done, and the transition is taking too long.
Transport Canada completed only 26% of its planned audits of federal railways over a three-year period. Most of these audits were narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of railway safety management systems. The department has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems for complying on a day-to-day basis with Canada's framework for rail safety.
Our audit of Canada's food recall system showed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does a good job of managing most aspects of recalls. However, the weaknesses we saw in both follow-ups with industry and in large emergency recalls leave significant gaps in the system. While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I'm not confident the system will always yield similar results. The weaknesses we found in decision-making and follow-up stand in the way of the continuous improvement of a system intended to deal with food safety incidents in Canada.
In this report, we also looked at how the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on a list of possible Canadian residents with accounts in a European bank. The Canada Revenue Agency's initial work on offshore banking information shows promise. However, with more lists to look at and changes in legislation that will give the agency access to more information, I believe that it needs to formalize its approach to deal with the increase in its workload.
In another audit, we looked at border controls to prevent illegal entry into Canada. It is very important for the safety of Canadians that controls at the border work as they are supposed to. I am very concerned that our audit found too many examples of controls not working.
Though the Canada Border Services Agency has made significant progress in some of its efforts to detect high risk travellers, it often does not get the information it needs to identify these travellers before they arrive in Canada. Furthermore, even when the agency has the information, we found that controls do not always work. We also found that the RCMP does not know the extent to which it is successful in intercepting people who enter the country illegally between ports of entry.
Though it is not the first time we have raised these issues, border controls are still not working as they should. With better analysis of existing information and better monitoring, many of these issues can be fixed.
Our audit of disaster assistance to agricultural producers is an example of a program with a disconnect between the program's objectives and its outcomes.
Providing quick assistance to agricultural producers is a key goal of the AgriRecovery program. While Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has delivered assistance to producers for large disasters within their targeted timeline, those producers impacted by disasters with a smaller total payout often wait more than a year for financial help.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada needs to streamline its processes for smaller initiatives, and it must track whether it is meeting its timelines.
Let's now move on to our audit of online government services. We found that, since 2005, the government has not significantly expanded the services it offers online to its citizens. As Canadians rely more on the Internet in their day-to-day lives, they expect the government to provide them with online information and services that address their needs.
The government has estimated that savings can be realized by providing better online services for Canadians, but there needs to be a concerted client-focussed strategy. Departments need to work together to make this happen.
Our audit of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's role in supporting emergency management on first nations reserves showed that the department is in a cycle of reacting to emergencies. It has not been able to focus on what can be done to prevent and mitigate these events.
Some reserves continue to be adversely affected in significant ways by repeated emergencies, such as floods. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal government and other stakeholders are unclear. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada must work with other stakeholders, including first nations, to reduce the human and financial costs of emergencies over the long term.
We also followed up on our audit of internal controls over financial reporting. Eight years after the government made it a priority to have in place effective internal controls over financial reporting, I am concerned that several large departments are still years away from knowing whether these controls are in place and working effectively. With annual spending of nearly $300 billion across government, effective internal controls are a necessary part of safeguarding public assets. It is imperative that departments get this work done without further delay.
This report also looked at the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, specifically whether it has been designed and managed to help sustain Canadian shipbuilding capacity and capability over the coming decades. It's still early, but so far the strategy has resulted in the transparent and efficient selection of two yards to build ships for the navy and the coast guard.
Although only a few contracts have signed to date, and it will be a few years before any ships are delivered, the national shipbuilding procurement strategy shows promise. As with anything new, there are risks involved, and these will need to be closely monitored on an ongoing basis.
A look over the audits that we are reporting on today shows that, in many cases, the results need to be improved. Even when the government recognizes a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions. The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadians, both directly and indirectly.
Departments need to focus on critical success factors that are proven to work. These include setting clear priorities, applying lessons learned, and monitoring deliverables against timelines and objectives.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.
We are happy to answer any questions the members may have. Thank you.