Opening Statement to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance
Recent reports of the Auditor General of Canada
4 October 2022
Karen Hogan, Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA
Auditor General of Canada
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss some of our reports that were recently tabled in Parliament. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Joining me today are Andrew Hayes, Deputy Auditor General; Martin Dompierre, Assistant Auditor General; and Philippe Le Goff, Principal.
This is my first appearance before this committee since being appointed Auditor General. One of my office’s priorities is to build meaningful relationships with our key stakeholders. We recognize that our relevance is built on the value we bring to parliamentarians and committees such as yours.
I will begin by giving you an overview of the audits that looked at the government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, and I will then turn to some other recent reports that may be of interest to the committee.
Since March 2021, I have presented 9 reports that deal with the government’s response to the pandemic. These looked at a wide range of topics, including the government’s initial preparedness and response, several financial support programs, securing personal protective equipment and medical devices, health resources for Indigenous communities, temporary foreign workers, and safeguarding Canada’s food system.
There is no doubt that the COVID‑19 pandemic was an all‑hands‑on‑deck emergency the world over. Governments had to mobilize quickly to respond to the public health, social, and economic effects of this pandemic. Canada was no exception.
While we found that the government was not as ready as it could have been for a pandemic of this magnitude, for the most part, the public service mobilized, prioritized the needs of Canadians, and quickly delivered support and services.
While departments and agencies have shown that when faced with a crisis, they are able to act with agility and responsiveness, our audits have also shown that the government needs to take action to resolve long-standing and known problems, such as the lack of interdepartmental collaboration, outdated systems and practices, and issues in planning and managing equipment stockpiles. It must also never lose sight of its duty to protect the health and safety of vulnerable populations and of all Canadians in general.
My next audits related to the pandemic will be tabled later this fall, and they will look at COVID‑19 vaccines and specific COVID‑19 benefits as required by Bill C‑2, An Act to provide further support in response to COVID‑19.
I will now briefly discuss two other recent reports that may be of interest to the committee.
I will turn first to my report on the Investing in Canada Plan, which was tabled in March 2021. In this audit, we found that Infrastructure Canada was unable to present a full picture of results achieved and progress made under the plan. We found that the department’s reporting excluded almost half of the government’s investment because it did not capture more than $92 billion of funding that was committed before the plan’s creation in 2016. The absence of clear and complete reporting makes it difficult for parliamentarians and Canadians to know whether progress is being made against the plan’s intended objectives.
I will now turn to my audit of access to benefits for hard-to-reach populations, which was tabled in May of this year. We found that the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada lacked a clear and complete picture of the people who are not accessing benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Workers Benefit, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the Canada Learning Bond. The agency and the department also did not know whether most of their targeted outreach activities had helped to increase the benefit take‑up rates for hard‑to‑reach populations. They also lacked a comprehensive plan to connect people with benefits. As a result, they are failing to improve the lives of some individuals and families who may need these benefits the most.
In addition, as you may know, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who is part of my office, issued some reports in April of this year that may be of interest to the committee. These reports dealt with hydrogen’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon pricing. The Commissioner could not be with us today because he is presenting his annual report for tabling this morning. However, should the committee wish to invite the Commissioner to appear for any of his reports, he would be happy to do so.
Finally, I would like to note that my office audits the consolidated financial statements of the government of Canada every year, the results of which are published in the Public Accounts of Canada. We also prepare a commentary that highlights the results of financial audits conducted by my office during the fiscal year. Our commentary on the 2021–2022 financial audits will be tabled at the same time as the Public Accounts of Canada later this fall.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have on these reports and any others that may be of interest. Thank you.