November 29, 2016 1:11 pm
Updated: November 29, 2016 10:48 pm

Auditor general says many government programs are not designed to help citizens

WATCH: The auditor general is frustrated with the Canada Revenue Agency's performance when it comes to tax disputes. He also criticized Transport Canada for having regulations related to the light over a license plate but lagging behind on driverless car technology. Shirlee Engel has the details.

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Federal auditor general Michael Ferguson says that many government programs aren’t helping the people who use them, and aren’t even necessarily designed with citizens in mind.

“We see government programs that are not designed to help those who have to navigate them, programs where the focus is more on what civil servants are doing than on what citizens are getting, where delivery times are long, where data is incomplete, and where public reporting does not provide a clear picture of what departments have done,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

“Government departments need to find a way to design their programs so they actually meet the needs of the citizens.”

The auditor general released his fall report Tuesday, which was critical of many government departments for how they build their programs and report on their results.

WATCH: Auditor General Michael Ferguson is marking the midpoint of his 10-year mandate by acknowledging some recurring themes.


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In one example, the auditor noted flaws in how the Canada Revenue Agency figures out how long it takes to resolve taxpayer objections to how their taxes were assessed. The CRA estimates times based on when the file is assigned to a reviewer, not from when the taxpayer makes the complaint.

READ MORE: CRA taking too long to resolve taxpayer disputes: auditor general

In some cases, it can take years to assess an objection, and the file might sit for months waiting to be assigned to CRA staff, said Ferguson. “That type of performance just isn’t acceptable.”

WATCH: No way to tell if border plan is helping security, trade or travellers: Auditor General

In another case, the auditor general noted that a $134-million Transport Canada program designed to better screen checked baggage at certain airports never measured whether this improved security. Similarly, a $60-million RCMP program designed to intercept people trying to illegally cross the Canada-U.S. border by water never measured whether this resulted in more seizures or arrests for serious crimes.

READ MORE: No way to tell if billion-dollar border plan is improving security – Auditor general

Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, said the government accepts all of the auditor general’s recommendations. “We agree that the government of Canada must do a better job of reporting and tracking its progress,” he said.

He said a policy introduced by the government in July should improve government reporting by using better metrics and data to measure whether programs are achieving the desired results and reporting more clearly and frequently to the government and the public.

“We have to up our game as government. We have to deliver better results to Canadians, better value to taxpayers.”

Little progress

Ferguson also repeatedly said that he was frustrated at how little progress has been made on a variety of issues that were flagged in previous auditor general’s reports.

He made particular note of the lack of progress on solving problems experienced by Canada’s indigenous peoples.

“My predecessor said that the situation was unacceptable 10 years ago and now we have five more years of audits that don’t see any improvements,” he said.

“These recurrent problems have created a lot of frustration for citizens,” agreed Brison.

Ferguson hopes that parliamentary committees might be able to hold government departments to account, by demanding they show what kind of progress they have made on issues flagged by his office.

“These problems are not problems that are new. It’s time for departments to put their attention to the fact that it’s the results that matter, not the process,” he said.

“Government exists to do things for people,” he said. “It’s frustrating to see that there’s a lack of emphasis on what the citizen has to live through.”

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