Bringing Performance Audit Results to Parliament and Canadians
Since 1879, the Auditor General’s main instrument for reporting has been the annual report to the House of Commons. Since then, the Auditor General Act has been amended to allow for the submission of additional reports.
Performance audits are examinations of government activities that are planned, performed, and reported by qualified and independent practitioners, in accordance with professional standards and Office policies. These audits examine government activities against established criteria to see whether they are managed with due regard for economy, efficiency, and environmental impact, and with measures in place to determine their effectiveness.
Since 1996, the Office of the Auditor General has submitted up to four reports to the House of Commons every year. These reports include a status report, which follows up on progress made by the government in responding to recommendations contained in previous performance audits, and annual reports from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development on the government’s sustainable development strategies and environmental petitions. The audit findings presented in these reports are communicated to the media and the public once they are tabled in the House of Commons.
Since the Auditor General’s reports can be tabled only when Parliament is sitting, tabling dates are planned with the parliamentary schedule in mind.
The Auditor General notifies the Speaker of the House of the intention to present a report. The Speaker is given a short summary of each audit topic, and the summary is also made available on the Office’s website.
During the audit, the Office deals only with public service officials, giving them an opportunity to check facts, provide additional information, and respond to recommendations. Once the report is final, and shortly before it is tabled, the Auditor General offers to brief ministers whose organizations are included in the report.
On Tabling Day
The Auditor General gives members of Parliament and senators a confidential preview of the report several hours before the report is tabled in the House of Commons. This preview session is hosted by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and consists of a short statement by the Auditor General and a question-and-answer period. (Parliamentary staff may attend the preview, but they must remain in the briefing room until the report is tabled.)
A media lock-up takes place at the same time as the briefing for parliamentarians. The media lock-up is an opportunity for members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery to examine a document before it is tabled in Parliament or made public that day. As conditions of entering the lock-up and having access to the report, journalists surrender cell phones and electronic communication devices, and they agree to remain in the lock-up until the report is tabled.
Since reports are often complex and deal with up to a dozen different topics, the lock-up gives journalists time to understand the information in the report. Journalists receive the report at the beginning of the lock-up, and the Office ensures that auditors are present to answer their questions.
The Auditor General also holds a news conference during the media lock-up. Here again, the Auditor General makes a short statement and then answers questions about the report.
Hearings by Parliamentary Committees
All of the Auditor General’s reports are automatically referred to the Public Accounts Committee for further review. The reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development are referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. These two committees hold hearings to discuss issues raised in these reports, as do other parliamentary committees.
The Public Accounts Committee bases much of its work on the Auditor General’s reports. At committee hearings, the Auditor General and senior public servants from the audited organizations are invited to make brief statements. Department officials may be asked to respond to the audit findings and may be required to provide action plans for responding to the audit findings.
After such hearings, the Committee may present a report in the House of Commons that includes recommendations to the government. The government is expected to table a response to the Committee’s report within 120 days. These responses are approved by Cabinet.
Committee hearings are important opportunities for Parliament to use the Auditor General’s reports to improve government management and accountability. It is through the committee hearings process that Parliament holds government to account.