Auditor General’s Opening Statement

Deh Cho Bridge Project—Department of Transportation; Northwest Territories Health Programs and Services—Department of Health and Social Services—March 2011 Reports—1 March 2011

I am pleased to be in Yellowknife today to discuss the two reports that I presented to the Speaker of the Assembly earlier today. These reports are on health programs and services in the Northwest Territories and on the Deh Cho bridge project.

As is the case in all Canadian jurisdictions, increasing costs and changing demographics in the Northwest Territories mean that health care expenditures make up a greater percentage of the Government’s overall expenses. The Department of Health and Social Services has to improve its management of the health care system to position it to meet these challenges. The Department’s 2010-11 budget of $326 million accounts for about 25 percent of the territorial Government’s budget.

We found that the Department of Health and Social Services has identified key priorities to improve the health care system and has taken action in some areas, but it lacks the information needed to determine whether the health of the population is getting better as a result.

The Department and the Health and Social Services Authorities that deliver programs in communities need to improve their collaboration. This includes having better information on how the Authorities use the funds provided by the Department and what results are achieved.

In addition, the Department needs to improve its monitoring of programs delivered by the Authorities—for example, it lacks information to determine whether health outcomes of diabetes patients are improving, and current standards for home care and long-term care are too broad for monitoring.

We noted that the Department has taken action to improve the delivery of the Medical Travel Assistance program and is working on alternative ways to recruit doctors and nurses.

The Department has set a clear direction to improve the system by identifying health priorities and actions in its strategic plan. But it needs to follow through with regional Authorities in order to achieve its priorities and sustain improvements in the long term.

The Department has agreed with all recommendations contained in the report, but has not yet developed a formal action plan. Now let me turn to the Deh Cho Bridge.

The Deh Cho Bridge will eliminate seasonal interruptions of road travel when the ice bridge or ferry service is not available. It is the largest public infrastructure project ever undertaken in the Northwest Territories. While it was initially presented as a $55 million project, the Government now says it will cost $182 million.

We found that the Government identified the risks associated with building the bridge but did not adequately manage them. For example, the GNWT waived approval of the bridge design so construction could start, despite the Department of Transportation’s concerns about the design.

We also found that what was supposed to be a partnership with the private sector became a publicly funded project with all the additional costs and risks resting with the Government.

Since the Department of Transportation has taken over the project, it has put in place a framework to manage the key risks. However, we found that some of the risk mitigation measures are too general to be useful. While quality assurance and quality control have improved, risks remain in the areas of the project’s schedule, scope, and cost.

I am pleased to report that the Department has agreed with all of our recommendations. While it has indicated how it will respond to the recommendations, we have not seen a formal action plan.

The Department needs to assure the Legislative Assembly and the public that it has measures in place to adequately manage the risks that remain.

This concludes my opening remarks. I will be pleased to answer your questions now.