The House

Canadians are not well served by some government departments, auditor general deplores

Auditor General Michael Ferguson says his audits of the Social Security Tribunal, Shared Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency show federal departments need to think more about how Canadians navigate the system to get their services.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson is shown during an interview in his office in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The auditor general says the findings of wrongful spending in the Senate are justified despite accusations from some senators that his review was incomplete or flawed. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
Listen10:31

Auditor General Michael Ferguson says his most recent report shows government departments aren't considering how Canadians access services when they administer programs.

"These programs, they need to focus on results," Ferguson told Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House. "They need to focus on services to Canadians. They need to focus on what's it like as a Canadian to have to try to navigate this system."

The auditor general report showed massive delays for Canadians trying to access disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan. The results stem from the establishment of the Social Security Tribunal of Canada in 2012 by the previous Conservative government.

The tribunal was supposed to speed up processing times for Canadians with prolonged and severe disabilities — such as nervous and circulatory diseases, cancers and mental illness — waiting for a crucial source of income.

The auditor-general found the processing backlog nearly doubled after the tribunal was created,from 6,585 cases at its creation to 10,871 by December 2014. The average wait-time for appeal decisions more than doubled to 884 days in the same time period.

Ferguson says the tribunal was understaffed during its transition, but there were other problems with their process. The CPP disability program requires a 42-page application, something Ferguson says was unnecessary given some applicants with terminal illnesses could fill out a simplified version.

"They reduced the application package down to about an 11-page package. So if you can do it in one case, why can't it be done in the other case? Why can't there be a similar reduction?"

Ferguson says the Social Security Tribunal was mostly successful in meeting its target of processing applications in 120 days, but he says that doesn't reflect whether Canadians were able to get the service effectively.

"They end up only focusing on one aspect of the system because that's easy to measure, rather than the whole system."

The auditor general has slammed a program for workers who become disabled. It's a burden just to apply and some wait years to see if they'll get it. 2:26

Troubles at Shared Services

The audit also looked at the consolidation of information technology services at Shared Services Canada and found itss well short of its targets.

By March 2015, Shared Services was supposed to have migrated over 500,000 email accounts to a new streamlined system. Only 3,000 had actually been moved over by that date, the audit found.

The audit says the department didn't identify service targets for its clients within the civil service and didn't have a way of keeping track of any cost savings.