Frustrated AG to get help from public accounts committee

Members of the committee in charge of studying government audits are ready to help Canada's increasingly exasperated Auditor General follow up on his often damning reports.
Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre regarding the 2016 Fall Reports in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Members of the committee in charge of studying government audits are ready to help Canada's increasingly exasperated Auditor General follow up on his often damning reports.

Michael Ferguson delivered his fall audits this week, along with a blunt message for the federal government. 

"I keep delivering the same message: that the government doesn't understand the results from the citizen's perspective. It's possible that our message of citizen-centric service delivery has been heard at the individual program level, however we see no signs of it being picked up government-wide." Ferguson during his press conference.

For example, Ferguson found that only 36 per cent of calls to the Canada Revenue Agency were able to connect, and that the tax agency didn't account for 29 million calls it blocked in a year.

In an interview with The House, Ferguson pointed out another problem: the lack of follow up on his audits.

After an appearance in front of the public accounts committee, "the only step that would happen next, normally,  is for us to come back and do a follow up audit, which would be a few years down the road," he said.

Departments might not act as quickly to implement change, knowing that a follow up audit might not come for several years," he said.

We spoke to the Auditor General following the release of his falls reports, and the normally even-keeled Michael Ferguson had trouble hiding his frustration with the federal government. 15:26

That's changing.

"We've now started to call departments back when we're not satisfied with their answers or we're not satisfied with the pace of the progress, or we see changes that we don't think are supportive of the direction they've indicated. So we really ramped up efforts," said NDP MP David Christopherson, vice-chair of the Commons' powerful public accounts committee.

"We'll bring them back to committee, we'll ask the questions again. And it's not just to say that we're not happy with how they're going, we want to make sure that what they promised they would do in their action plans is being done," said the Liberal vice-chair, Alexandra Mendes.

"They know we won't forget to check."

​Conservative committee member Gérard Deltell also told The House he was ready for the committee to take on a more active role.

Both Mendes and Christopherson said they are also ready to help departments understand the auditor general's message about the need to look at government services through the eyes of the citizen.

Christopherson added that the committee will, "haul the departments back in when we're not satisfied, and put them under the glare of public transparency and accountability. The camera is on you folks all there."

The vice-chairs of the Public Accounts Committee, the NDP's David Chistopherson and Liberal Alexandra Mendes, explain how they are planning to help the Auditor General. 4:32