May 2008 report

The federal auditor general cited concerns over passport fees, the conditions at 24 Sussex Drive and deportee tracking in her May 2008 report to Parliament.

Passport fees, 24 Sussex Drive repairs among concerns cited


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Thousands elude border agency

Canada's border agency doesn't know the whereabouts of 41,000 people ordered to leave the country, makes flawed decisions about when to lock up suspected illegal immigrants and keeps poor tabs on spending when it does usher them out of Canada, the report said.

Fraser criticized the Canada Border Services Agency for failing to monitor its detention and removal decisions across the country to ensure they are being made properly.

As a result, growing numbers of people might be in Canada illegally, jeopardizing the integrity of Canada's immigration program, the report said.

Some of the problems were traced to difficulties with a major new computer system.

User fees too high

Passport fees have been too high because Foreign Affairs has overcharged for consular services, the auditor general reported, citing a $25 fee added into the $85 cost of an adult passport.

Fraser took the department to task for that fee, saying it collects more than it should, even though its own rules say it's supposed to break even. 

The fee is designed to be a kind of travel insurance for Canadians abroad who might need protection or assistance because of accident, illness or natural disaster. It includes support in the event of arrest overseas. 

But Fraser said Foreign Affairs piled in other costs when calculating the fee. 

"Adult passport holders are, in effect, helping to cover the costs of activities that are outside the scope of what they would receive for the fee," she wrote. 

The department agreed to review how it calculates the consular services fee.

Inequities for native children

Native children under the care of welfare agencies are being shortchanged by a fee structure that hasn't changed in 20 years despite increased needs, the report said. 

Children on native reserves across Canada are eight times more likely to wind up in under-funded, poorly tracked foster care that appears to be failing them, the report said.

Fraser called on Ottawa and the provinces to work with First Nations on badly needed improvements to the system. Little is known about how well services are working or how often they fail to meet provincial standards. 

Among top concerns is the fact the federal government funds First Nation-delivered services using a formula dating back to 1988. It assumes that a fixed percentage of all communities served by an agency need that help — whether or not the real number is higher or lower. 

The formula "has not been changed to reflect variations in legislation … or the actual number of children in care," Fraser said. Its use "has led to inequities."

Extreme makeover for 24 Sussex Drive

The stone residence that's supposed to house the prime minister in regal splendour is a drafty, outmoded, plumbing nightmare that would take $10 million to fix, the report said. 

"Completely rehabilitating 24 Sussex Drive would cost about $10 million and would require full access to the residence for a minimum of 12 to 15 months," Fraser said.

There have been no major renovations to the house with a scenic view of the Ottawa River for 50 years. The report said that repairs are urgently needed and that further delay will only drive up costs.

Among other work required at the residence, "the ceilings and interior walls of the residence will have to be opened up to install new air ducts for ventilation and air conditioning, to replace old electrical wiring, to install a sprinkler system for fire protection, to remove toxic materials such as asbestos or to monitor such materials, and to retrofit service areas."

However, a spokeswoman for Stephen Harper said the prime minister has no plans to go anywhere "between now and the next election."

Supply line concerns for soldiers

Auditor General Sheila Fraser responds to reporters' questions at an Ottawa news conference, May 6, 2008. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

The long supply line that brings beans, bullets, bandages and everything else needed for the troops in Afghanistan owes its success more to hard work and dedicated people than to slick organization, the report said.

Shortcomings in the supply system have caused delays in getting supplies to the soldiers on the ground — but they're getting what they need, regardless.

Problems may develop down the road if improvements aren't made, Fraser warned. The report found the supply system lacks a reliable method of tracking goods along the chain from Canada to Kandahar. Once supplies arrive, they have to be tracked manually.

For example, the report said, in one supply inventory, a defence team couldn't locate $7 million worth of items. On the other hand, they located $6.6 million worth of goods that weren't supposed to be there.

Transportation bottlenecks can slow delivery of spare parts and equipment. Some shipments were delayed because the vehicles used to load airplanes in Canada broke down, leading to backlogs.

Air safety turbulence

The report found several weaknesses in how Transport Canada has managed the transition to a new approach for overseeing air transportation safety.

The new safety regime requires aircraft operators to carry out their own safety checks without direct government inspections.

Public health risks

Canada's public health agency relies primarily on the goodwill of the provinces to get timely information about disease outbreaks and the system isn't working, the report said.

Fraser reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada risks not reporting the spread of infectious diseases to the World Health Organization in a timely way because it lacks information sharing agreements with the provinces.