Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reform Conservatives Get a Failing Grade From Auditor General

The auditor general today released her report card on our current government and gave it a failing grade. Of important note is how ill equipped they were to handle a crisis, like a pandemic; and we are seeing now what that incompetence is doing.

And rather than take responsibility for their mishandling of the H1N1 preparedness, they are trying to blame everything on the provinces.

However, that is simply not true. This fell right into the lap of Peter Van Loan, our not so much a safety minister as a Gestapo guard.

This is what happens, when as Political Scientist professor and author, Brooke Jeffrey warned, Ignorant Gladiators take control of a government. A recipe for disaster.


Opposition joins AG in criticizing government's pandemic planning
By Janice Tibbetts and David Akin,
Canwest News Service
November 3, 2009

OTTAWA — The federal department charged with disaster planning is itself a disaster when it comes to preparing for emergencies as varied as the swine flu pandemic, floods and terrorist attacks, says Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

"We found that Public Safety Canada has not exercised the leadership necessary to co-ordinate emergency management activities," Fraser concluded in her latest report, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Her department did not study the current H1N1 crisis, but Fraser believes that had Public Safety Canada put pandemic management plans in place, there would have been less confusion.

"Certainly an approved plan would have clearly indicated what the role was for Public Safety Canada, what the roles of the other departments and the federal government would be, and would also have brought in the co-ordination with the provinces, municipalities and territories," Fraser told reporters.

"So it's important — very important — that the role and responsibilities of Public Safety Canada be agreed to and endorsed in these emergencies."

The opposition parties seized on Fraser's findings in the House of Commons question period, blaming the long lineups for H1N1 immunizations and a vaccine shortage of the Conservative government's failure to have an organized plan.

"Doesn't that begin to explain why the government's response to this crisis has been so slow and so confused?" charged Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

The Conservatives were also hammered for relying on a sole manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, for the vaccine. The federal government is responsible for buying the vaccine and distributing it to the provinces.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan replied that the government has a separate pandemic management plan in place, overseen by Health Canada, that should not be confused with the Public Safety Department's more general role to oversee national disasters.

He stressed that the federal government only plays a co-ordinating role in emergency preparedness and that disaster and emergency management "is primarily a provincial issue."

In her report, Fraser highlighted not only H1N1, but also severe acute respiratory syndrome, the 2003 eastern seaboard power blackout massive flooding and terrorist threats as examples of emergencies that fall under the co-ordination of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The department, which was created in 2003, has yet to finalize a Federal Emergency Response Plan and appears to be offering no guidance to other federal departments in developing their own sub-plans, the auditor concluded.

"Building the capability to manage a co-ordinated federal response to an emergency of national significance is a huge undertaking and cannot be achieved overnight," Fraser wrote.

She noted, however, that the department has spent only one-third of its annual $58.5-million budget for emergency preparedness in the last two years.

"In this context, it is evident that Public Safety has been unable to develop its capacity for emergency management," she wrote.

Fraser was also critical of Citizenship and Immigration Canada after her auditors found that some temporary workers are getting into Canada after work permits have been issued for jobs or employers that do not exist.

Fraser's auditors also said they were disappointed to find that there was no evidence that changes the governing Conservatives made to Canada's immigration system were helping to meet Canada's skills shortages. Moreover, the temporary foreign worker program is inefficient and ineffective and that could leave foreign workers in a vulnerable position.

In addition, Fraser found that Canada's foreign aid system is a mess, with millions of dollars being spent in a haphazard way with little guidance on priorities or policy direction.

Despite promises by the Conservative government to narrow the focus of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), it has yet to do so, Fraser found, and that has imperiled the effectiveness of Canada's foreign aid.

Fraser also looked at four procurement projects that were "fast-tracked" at the Defence Department to get urgently needed tanks and armoured vehicles to the front lines in Afghanistan. Fraser found that in three of the projects, the new gear got to the soldiers in time but the paperwork was not handled correctly. The fourth project, involving a weapons system for a light armoured vehicle, is running at least double its original $55-million budget and is nearly two years behind schedule.

Fraser's audit said Public Safety Canada's emergency preparedness arm is plagued with staff shortages and inexperience, with a 39 per cent staff vacancy rate in 2008-09 and 50 per cent the previous year.

"The department had difficulty in attracting and retaining senior managers to provide the direction that is needed in its senior management," the audit said.

"Turnover and change of staff has been particularly problematic."

The department, which is responsible for co-ordinating the government's overall response to emergencies, has been working on a Federal Emergency Response Plan for five years, yet it remains in its skeletal form and has not received final approval as of last spring, when the audit was conducted.

Public Safety also lacks an "all-hazards risk assessment" to identify potential threats and a five-year-old Government Operations Centre, established to co-ordinate events of "national significance," is running poorly.

"Officials at Public Safety Canada told us that the Government Operations Centre did not have the physical facilities to support the number of staff needed to keep the operations centre fully functioning for a major emergency lasting an extended period of time," wrote Fraser.

She looked at six federal departments, all of which were updating their emergency preparedness plans and none had received any guidance from Public Safety Canada.

Fraser also handed out a rare gold star to Canada Health Infoway, concluding that the non-profit foundation which is involved in "the national development of electronic health records" and which has received $1.2 billion in federal funding since its creation in 2001 was well-managed.

Highlights the auditor general's report released Tuesday afternoon:

- No planning or co-ordination for emergencies such as pandemics
- Changes to immigration rules not working
- Some foreign workers getting permits with no job or no employer
- Some landfills, sewage treatment plants on reserves have no permits
- Foreign aid system a mess
- Soldiers got tanks but paperwork wasn't filled out
- Tax laws still too confusing
- Electronic health records group "well-managed"

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