Tory brand undercut by Auditor General's report

The Conservative government likes to talk up public safety and its respect for taxpayer dollars as brand strengths. The latest report from Canada's Auditor General Michael Ferguson, released Tuesday, undermines this narrative. Here's how:

Putting the brakes on rail safety improvements

Transport Canada doesn't have a handle on rail safety. Between 2009 and 2012, Transport Canada completed only 14 audits of federal railways — just 26% of what its own risk-based policy required, the report found. And when regulators did conduct audits, they were too narrowly focussed, so weren't an effective check on companies' overall safety plans. Not one of those audits were carried out at VIA Rail Canada, which carries about 4 million passengers annually.

Porous border security

Canada Border Services Agency isn't doing a very good job at blocking illegal entry into Canada. The Auditor General looked at 34 "lookout" cases earlier this year, where border agents get advance notifications to look out for a specific person, and found that five were not examined at all and four of them were able to enter Canada.

Lax spending controls

The federal government's budget is about $300 billion annually, but it doesn't have effective internal controls to keep an eye out for waste, abuse, mismanagement, fraud and errors. After finding problems with internal controls in 2011, the Auditor General followed up and found "unsatisfactory" progress in five of seven large departments.

Questionable price tag for military procurement

Don't be surprised if the $50 billion price tag for new navy ships goes up. The Auditor General found that the government's multi-billion dollar national shipbuilding plan was based on "rough estimates" developed years ago — and these estimates for individual projects were never updated to reflect changing circumstances.

Inaction on tax havens

Looks like tax cheats are still getting away with ripping off the public treasury. The Auditor General examined how the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on a tip in 2007 about 182 Canadians evading taxes with offshore bank accounts in Liechtenstein. After 46 audits, CRA's work led to reassessments worth $24.7 million. To put this in perspective, Canadians for Tax Fairness estimates, based on Statistics Canada data, that Canadians have $170 billion stashed in tax havens around the world. The report notes that the agency "is not prepared for the growing workload in this area."

Natural disaster response a... disaster

If you're a farmer looking for help after natural disasters, don't expect speedy service. The Auditor General report found that the government takes 126 days, on average, to assess natural disasters under its AgriRecovery program. The program's target is 45 days, and Agriculture Canada met this target in 16% of the cases.

Underfunding Aboriginal emergency response

First Nations reserves can't count on the federal government to support them adequately if they're struck by emergencies. That's the blunt assessement in the report from the Auditor General, who concluded the annual budget of $19 million for emergency management is inadequate.

Tainted food inspection

Consumers can't be sure companies destroy tainted food products. That's one of the findings of the Auditor General, who failed to find proof that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency fulfilled its responsibility to make sure recalled product was either relabelled or destroyed. "For most of the recalls we examined, the incomplete documentation prevented us from being able to verify that the CFIA had adequate assurance that foods posing serious safety risks to Canadians did not re-enter the marketplace," the report stated.

Photo: daviding. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

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