Auditor-General Michael Ferguson is blasting the government for refusing to
provide him with key financial information, saying the lack of transparency
prevented him from completing an audit on the elimination of fossil fuel
subsidies.

The Office of the Auditor-General has been scrapping with the federal
government over access to documents and data since the 1980s. However, the
current dispute with the Liberal government is the biggest of Mr. Ferguson’s
six-year-old tenure.

Auditor slams Finance Department on access to information (The Canadian Press)

“Getting access to information is fundamental to the independence of an
Auditor-General,” Mr. Ferguson said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Whenever
we run into this type of a situation, where we can’t tell you whether a
department has done what it is supposed to because we weren’t provided the
information, that is an extremely concerning situation.”

In response to the Auditor-General’s report, a number of Liberal ministers
promised to follow his recommendations, including facilitating access to
sensitive information for future audits.

“Greater transparency and openness in government helps strengthen Canadians’
trust in our public institutions,” said Treasury Board president Scott Brison.

But the opposition said the government is simply paying lip service to these
principles.

“The Liberals’ refusal to provide information to the Auditor-General strikes
at the heart of accountability and makes a farce of their promise of openness
and transparency,” said NDP MP David Christopherson.

The latest dispute centred around Finance Canada’s role in phasing out tax
measures that constitute “inefficient” subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry.
Mr. Ferguson said he simply couldn’t come up with definitive conclusions on the
government’s ability and willingness to fulfill its G20 commitment by 2025.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau
insisted the government was on track to meet its targets. He added there is a
new cabinet directive that will open up budgetary information, such as the one
that was denied in this case, to future audits.

“Actually allowing the Auditor-General to see our budget analysis, from the
budget documents that we work through in order to get to our budget conclusions,
that is what we decided to do,” Mr. Morneau told
reporters. “That will be helpful, we believe, for the Auditor-General in the
future.”

In another report, the Auditor-General found that 20 per cent of RCMP members
who seek mental-health treatment never return to active duty or are simply
discharged from the force. The finding raised questions about the quality of the
treatment and care offered to Mounties who are involved in traumatic incidents,
such as shootings and standoffs.

“The RCMP is only as strong as its members. If the organization does not
effectively manage members’ mental health and fulfill its responsibilities to
support their return to work, members struggle to carry out their duties, their
confidence in the RCMP may be undermined, and the RCMP’s effectiveness may be reduced,” the
Auditor-General said in his report.

By offering inefficient treatments, the RCMP is effectively deterring members
from admitting they are suffering from mental-health issues, which could worsen
their conditions in the long run, the report added.

The RCMP is already under fire over its inability to deal with long-standing
workplace-harassment issues, prompting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to contemplate placing the force under
greater civilian management. One of the goals of increased civilian management
would be to ensure that programs such as health services are under the
responsibility of outside experts rather than senior police officers.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has
rejected any link between the force’s management structure and its ability to
deal with issues such as harassment. However, Mr. Goodale continued to suggest on Tuesday that major
reforms might be needed for the RCMP to deal with issues such as harassment and
mental health.

“We expect those deficiencies to be remedied. If additional external
assistance or structural change is required to accomplish that objective, we
will make it,” Mr. Goodale told
reporters.

In an audit into customs duties, the Auditor-General raised questions about
the rules by which the government raises more than $5-billion a year from
importers of goods. For the most part, the system is based on a self-assessment
process by importers, who are in a position to “circumvent the rules to their
own advantage.” In a series of verifications in 2015-16, the Canada Border
Services Agency identified $42-million in lost revenue.

On the issue of temporary foreign workers, the Auditor-General found that the
government approved applications from companies that “had not demonstrated
reasonable efforts to train existing employees or hire unemployed
Canadians.”

The program was increasingly part of various companies’ business model,
according to the Auditor-General, which explained why the government needed to
ensure that access to foreign workers was an exception and not the rule.

“It is important for employers to make more efforts to hire and train
Canadian workers and to use the program only as intended – as a last resort,”
the report said.

At the news conference, Mr. Ferguson said he was concerned with the hiring of
foreign caregivers and fish-plant workers when Canadian employees could perform
the work. The number of temporary foreign workers stood at 90,000 in 2015, down
from 163,000 in 2013.



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