New Brunswick

Auditor general's review of N.B.'s COVID-19 response postpones several audits

A review of New Brunswick's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is proceeding as quickly as possible, and several other audits have been postponed until it's completed, says the auditor general's office.

Office is working 'as fast as possible,' with no set timeline, says spokesperson

The auditor general's report on the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will be made public once complete. (Daniel McHardie/CBC News file photo)

A review of New Brunswick's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is proceeding as quickly as possible, and several other audits have been postponed until it's completed, says the Auditor General's Office.

The review, unanimously requested by the legislature on March 31, is currently in the "scoping phase," said spokesperson Jolyne Roy. She did not respond to a request to elaborate.

"The office is working as fast as possible while ensuring quality audit work," Roy said in an emailed statement.

The timeline for a final report will depend on a variety of factors, including any "complications or unforeseen challenges that may arise," she said.

Performance audit resources have been "substantially shifted … to respond to this important request," according to spokesperson Ashlyn McKinney.

Work on the following audits has been deferred until the COVID review is complete:

  • Nursing homes
  • Mental health services
  • Nurse practitioners
  • WorkSafeNB claims
  • Flood relief and readiness
  • Crown agency construction contracts
  • SNB value proposition
  • Procurement phase II schedule B

Once the COVID review is complete, the findings and report will be made available to the public on the auditor general's website "as soon as possible," said Roy.

"We may share further information about developments and progress when appropriate," she said.

Premier Blaine Higgs has previously said he anticipates the review will take about a year to complete.

'Flawed' findings on lockdowns fed decision to end mandates

Earlier this month, CBC reported the Department of Health's March 2022 decision to end mask mandates and other COVID-19 measures was made after officials circulated an academic paper widely criticized as "fundamentally flawed."

Among the flaws identified by critics is the paper's use of the general term "lockdown" for a range of policies from stay-at-home orders to mask mandates. 

That makes measuring the impact of individual restrictions difficult, said Adrian Lison, a doctoral student and infectious disease researcher at ETH Zurich, who co-authored a rebuttal posted to the Social Science Research Network website.

Department spokesperson Adam Bowie said a recommendation from Public Health to introduce or remove any health mandate would "never be based on any one study or report."

COVID-19 claimed four more New Brunswickers the week of Aug. 22, the last week for which numbers are available, raising the pandemic death toll to 466.

There were 33 people in hospital because of the virus, including four in intensive care, according to the province.

Meanwhile the regional health authorities, which include in their weekly reports people admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, as well as those initially admitted for another reason and later test positive for the virus, say 99 New Brunswickers were hospitalized either for or with COVID-19, five of whom required intensive care.

A total of 1,398 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, and there were 1,072 active cases across the province, based on PCR tests alone.

The Liberals called in December for an independent review of the province's handling of the pandemic. The motion was defeated 23-20 by the Progressive Conservative majority.

Higgs said then that it wasn't the right time for a review because the province was still dealing with issues related to the health and safety of citizens.

He said he was proud of his government's response, citing spending to help businesses and people recover, record immigration, and interest in properties.

According to the auditor general's 2022-23 business plan, performance review reports expected to be published this year include:

  • Government health and dental benefit plans
  • NB Liquor Corporation 
  • Contaminated sites
  • Environmental trust fund
  • Joint followup of the 2016 recommendations to the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and followup