2023 Reports 5 to 9 of the Auditor General of Canada to the Parliament of Canada—Auditor General of Canada’s Opening Statement to the news conference

2023 Reports 5 to 9 of the Auditor General of Canada to the Parliament of CanadaAuditor General of Canada’s Opening Statement to the news conference

Good afternoon. I first want to acknowledge that we are gathered in Ottawa, on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Thank you for joining me today to discuss the findings of 5 reports that my office released this morning.

Two points stood out for me from all these reports. The first is data. Weak or underused data often affects departments and agencies’ ability to make well‑informed decisions, monitor and report on results, and to assess the effectiveness of their decisions. Ultimately, these blind spots, identified in all our reports, reduce the public service’s ability to deliver programs and services that meet people’s needs.

My second point is timeliness, and the impacts of failing to take prompt action. This theme runs through all the reports that I have presented today, whether the limited progress on antimicrobial resistance, which the World Health Organization called a “silent pandemic” last year, or the aging of information technologyIT systems—a problem that the government has known about for 24 years. Progress that is measured in years, if not decades, is simply not acceptable when people risk not receiving benefits they rely on, or when people do not have access to medicines they need.

I will turn first to our audit of antimicrobial resistance, an area that my office last examined in 2015. When it comes to public health, the COVID‑19 pandemic showed that the cost of not being prepared is measured in lives lost. For this reason, antimicrobial resistance is concerning. The rate of resistance to first‑line antibiotics in Canada was estimated at 26% in 2018, and it is likely to reach 40% by 2050.

We found that overall, the federal government has not done enough to address this problem. While the Public Health Agency of Canada released a Pan‑Canadian Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance in June 2023, I am concerned that it lacks critical elements like concrete deliverables, timelines, ways to measure progress, and clear roles and responsibilities for each level of government. Without these elements, it is unlikely that this plan will result in any progress.

We found that the Public Health Agency and Health Canada have been slow to implement changes, such as economic incentives, that could improve Canadians’ access to antibiotics of last resort. Only 2 of 13 new antibiotics used to fight drug-resistant infections are available in Canada, yet all 13 are available in the United States.

To successfully fight antimicrobial resistance, Canada needs a full picture of antimicrobial use and resistance across the country, and a solid plan so that the right antimicrobials are available and used in the right way to protect the health of Canadians.

Let’s look next at 2 audits that are closely related. The first examined the government’s overall approach to modernizing its information technology systems, while the second focused on a specific programme to modernize how more than 10 million Canadians receive Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance benefits.

In the first audit, we found that about two thirds of the approximately 7,500 software applications used in the government were in poor health, including 562 that are essential to the health, safety, security, or economic well‑being of Canadians.

We found that a number of factors contributed to delays and cost increases. They include a lack of centralized leadership and oversight, a shortage of skilled people to carry out the work and an inflexible funding approach. Every day that these systems are not modernized increases the risk that they may fail and that Canadians may lose access to essential services.

The second audit, focusing on the Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme, echoed these findings. Progress on modernizing the systems that deliver benefits to Canadians has encountered delays, cost increases and staffing challenges. The Programme is halfway through its 13 year timeline and all benefits are still running on systems that are 20 to 60 years old.

This second audit also illustrates how the government’s funding approach is poorly suited to large IT projects. When the Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme was launched in 2017, Employment and Social Development Canada estimated that it would cost $1.75 billion. That number has since been revised twice to reach $2.5 billion in April 2022, and is likely to change again in the face of further delays and challenges. That represents a 43% increase of the 2017 number, and no benefits have been migrated to the new platform at this point.

We found that Employment and Social Development Canada adjusted its approach to deal with the delays and other challenges in the Benefits Delivery Modernization programme. For example, it moved Old Age Security—the oldest of the 3 systems and the one at greatest risk of failing—ahead of Employment Insurance in the migration schedule.

While Employment and Social Development Canada’s decision to focus on migrating the systems rightly prioritizes the continuity of benefits, I am concerned that if challenges and delays continue, decisions could be made to remove aspects of transformation or take shortcuts to maintain the timelines or budget, as happened with the Phoenix pay system. This would put the Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme at risk of resulting in a final product that fails to meet the needs of diverse and vulnerable clients groups, including seniors, people in remote locations, Indigenous people, and refugees.

Our fourth audit looked at the processing of immigration applications for permanent residence. We found delays, backlogs and inefficiencies that affect the lives of people seeking to permanently make Canada their home, with the greatest impact on those applying to refugee programs.

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improved the time it took to process applications and reduced backlogs overall in 2022, it did not meet its service standards for prompt processing in any of the 8 programs we examined. People applying to refugee programs waited the longest, on average close to 3 years. At the end of 2022, 99,000 refugees were still waiting for a decision on their application and, in the current processing environment, many will be waiting years.

Although the government sets the target for how many permanent residents are admitted to Canada in a given year, we found that most delays and backlogs were caused by the department’s own processes. For example, the department did not always process applications in the order they were received, causing older applications to get further backlogged, or routed applications to offices without considering their processing capacity.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also did not assess whether its automated eligibility-assessment tool reduced overall processing times for all applicants as intended, nor did it identify and resolve any unintended differential outcomes.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada needs to analyze its backlogs to understand the root causes for differential outcomes, ensure that the tools it implements are not contributing to these differences, and match workloads to available resources in its offices to improve processing times.

Our last audit looked at actions taken by 6 federal organizations to foster an inclusive organizational culture and correct conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by racialized employees.

We found that all 6 organizations had action plans to address equity, diversity and inclusion and took some actions, but none measured or comprehensively reported on progress against outcomes.

We also found that organizations were not always using performance agreements for executives, managers, and supervisors to create accountability for fostering inclusion and change. To the racialized employees who volunteered to be interviewed for this audit, these and other gaps were viewed as a lack of true commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Although the 6 organizations we audited focused on the goal of assembling a workforce representative of Canadian society, that is only the first step. It is not enough to achieve the change needed to create a truly inclusive workplace. For that change to happen, departments need to actively engage with their racialized employees, to meaningfully use the data they have to inform their decisions, and to hold their leadership accountable for delivering change.

These issues are not new. If COVID‑19 taught us anything, it’s that being prepared and acting early costs less and results in better outcomes. I said it in March 2021, and I will repeat it today: the government should not need a crisis to understand the importance of prompt action.

Thank you for your attention. I am now ready for your questions.