The House

Midweek podcast: Trouble with the force

On The House midweek, podcast, we look at a series of reports critical of the RCMP with CBC senior reporter Alison Crawford. Then, we talk to the author of one of those reports, Auditor General Michael Ferguson.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers march during a memorial for four slain officers in Edmonton, Alberta, in this March 10, 2005 file photo. The head of the troubled RCMP admitted on December 14, 2007 that the national force needed a major overhaul to deal with a widespread lack of morale, scarce resources and heavy public criticism. REUTERS/Shaun Best (CANADA) - RTX4QVH (Shaun Best/Reuters)

There's trouble with the force.

The RCMP faced criticism from all directions this week, with three reports criticizing the way the organization is managed and raising questions about the impact that's having on the Mounties' ability to effectively serve and protect Canadians.

On Tuesday, Canada's auditor general issued the third report this week slamming the national police force for how it treats its employees. 

"Ultimately, members' poor mental health affects the RCMP's capacity to serve and protect Canadians," wrote Michael Ferguson in his audit on mental health support for employees.

On Monday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) and former auditor general Sheila Fraser independently released reports that tied harassment to reduced effectiveness on the front lines. Both recommended the federal government legislate civilian governance and oversight of the RCMP.

CBC senior reporter Alison Crawford, a longtime RCMP watcher, joins us to discuss the state of the force.

AG can't always get what he wants, and he says that's a problem

Auditor General Michael Ferguson speaks during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Michael Ferguson is entering his sixth year as Canada's auditor general and, not surprisingly, his reports during that time into government waste, excess and neglect found numerous examples of all three of those things.

But his most recent batch of audits released this week exposed a significant hurdle in fulfilling the role of ensuring government programs provide good value for taxpayers' money.

In two cases, both involving Finance Canada, auditors were denied access to key documents they needed. As a result, Ferguson was unable to report back to Parliament on whether those programs are working, and if not, how the the government can do a better job.

It's serious enough that he took the unusual step of writing a separate message to the House of Commons alerting MPs that he was unable to get all the information needed to complete those audits.

"We need to get back to the first principle that we have a broad right of access to information," Ferguson said in an interview with the podcast edition of CBC Radio's The House.

In the first case, the department didn't give auditors information they needed to assess what had been done to identify and eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. This is no small matter. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listed the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies as a core commitment in his mandate letters to both Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.

In the other, Finance Canada refused to hand over its analysis of the $20 threshold for customs duties on parcels imported by mail or courier, claiming it was a cabinet confidence. Raising that threshold to allow more people to import items bought online without having to pay duties is another topic of considerable public debate.

"It speaks to the very core of the auditor general's mandate,'' said New Democrat MP David Christopherson who serves as vice-chair of the Commons' public accounts committee which reviews the AG's reports with senior officials of the department's reviewed.

"If his office doesn't get the information they are legally entitled to they simply cannot do their work."

Morneau was pressed to explain why his department, in apparent defiance of the Liberals' campaign commitment to openness and transparency, refused to hand over the information.

He told reporters cabinet issued an order on May 12 to addresses Ferguson's concerns.

"When we realized that it was possible to provide more information through an order in council, we moved forward to do this. This is unprecedented and will allow the Auditor General a high level of information from which to make future reports."