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Auditor General of Canada’s Opening Statement to the news conference

Press Release

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining me. I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered in Ottawa on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

I am here today to discuss 4 performance audit reports that we released this morning. These 4 audits covered a variety of government activities, yet they are linked by a common thread. That thread is inclusion.

These audits are important because every person—regardless of his, her or their health status, gender, or location—has a right to participate fully and equally in society.

Consider this: it’s frustrating enough to land after a flight only to find out that your luggage didn’t make it. Now consider the impact when that missing cargo isn’t your toothbrush or a change of clothes, but it’s your wheelchair, and without it, you’re unable to move around independently.

Some people in Canada have to constantly fight for rights that others take for granted as basic rights. Whether access to these rights is delayed or denied, the impact is that some members of society are excluded or left behind. This is the concern that these 4 audits are highlighting today.

Let me turn now to our findings. Our first audit focused on whether VIA Rail, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, and the Canadian Transportation Agency worked to identify, remove and prevent barriers for travellers with disabilities. In 2019 and 2020, more than 1 million persons with disabilities who travelled on a federally regulated mode of transportation faced a barrier.

We found that all 3 organizations had identified some barriers and taken steps to improve accessibility. VIA Rail held consultations with persons with disabilities to design its new fleet. It also consulted on its accessibility plan and training programs, as did the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Despite improved accessibility, many barriers remained. For example, we found that websites were not fully accessible which is very concerning because this is a barrier that travelers with disabilities often face.

To further improve the accessibility of trains, planes and other federally-regulated modes of transportation, responsible organizations need to broaden their consultations, make their online content fully accessible and use complaint data to identify, learn about, and prevent barriers.

Our second audit examined whether Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications CommissionCRTC had improved the accessibility, affordability, and quality of high-speed Internet and mobile cellular connectivity for Canadians in rural and remote areas.

At a time when so much takes place online, it is critical for all Canadians to have access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet and mobile cellular services. This again is a matter of inclusion: when services are of poor quality, unaffordable or unavailable, people are effectively excluded from participating fully and equally in the digital economy, accessing online education, banking, medical care, and government services, or working remotely.

We found that overall access to Internet and mobile cellular services had improved across the country since our last audit, in 2018. However, Internet connectivity in rural and remote areas remains below 60%, and below 43% on First Nations reserves. Therefore, while connectivity has improved in urban areas, the federal government’s strategy has yet to deliver results for many rural and remote communities, and First Nations reserves.

We also found that there were delays in approving projects that were meant to bring services to rural and remote areas. This means that the 1.4 million households who are already underserved—First Nations reserves and people in rural and remote areas—are left waiting.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada tracked only some dimensions of the quality and affordability of services. The department considers pricing to be part of affordability, but not household income. I find this puzzling because if the price of the service is beyond a household’s means, then connectivity will not improve, and some people will remain excluded.

These findings emphasize the persistent digital divide for people living on First Nations reserves and in rural and remote communities, compared to people who live in urban areas. The government needs to take action so that there is affordable, high-speed connectivity coverage for Canadians in all areas of the country.

Let’s turn now to our report on international assistance. Global Affairs Canada spends an average of 3.5 billion dollars each year to support gender equality in low- and middle-income countries, but it is unable to show how this spending is improving outcomes for women and girls.

We found significant weaknesses in the department’s information management practices. This included not having a standardized approach for storing, managing and using project information. In addition, the department has not set itself up to track long-term outcomes. So while it is able to show, for example, that money has been spent to provide nutritious meals, it does not know whether long-term health outcomes have improved for the people who were supposed to receive these meals.

These weaknesses make it impossible for Global Affairs Canada to accurately track and report on the outcomes of funded projects against the goals set out in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

These weaknesses are not new: they were flagged in a departmental internal audit in 2021. It is imperative that Global Affairs Canada act immediately to improve its information management practices and reporting on results to show parliamentarians and Canadians the value of Canada’s bilateral international assistance to support women and girls in low- and middle-income countries.

Our final audit today focused on whether Public Services and Procurement Canada effectively managed the cost, schedule, and scope during the early phases of the rehabilitation program of Parliament’s Centre Block. Based on a 2021 estimate, the rehabilitation is expected to cost $4.5 to $5 billion. This vast program involves many partners, such as the House of Commons, the Senate, the Parliamentary Protective Service and the Library of Parliament.

We concluded that Public Services and Procurement Canada used flexible approaches to effectively manage the planning, design and early construction phases of the program. The department adjusted workflows to deal with delayed planning decisions on important user requirements, such as security.

We also found that the department consulted and worked with experts to balance environmental sustainability and accessibility elements, while respecting the heritage nature of the building.

Given the size and complexity of this undertaking, a streamlined decision-making process will be required to continue effectively managing the costs and timelines of the rehabilitation program, as construction work accelerates between now and the planned completion date of 2030–31.

These 4 audits provide a snapshot of progress and concerns in specific areas at a point in time. The public service has a duty to serve all Canada’s peoples, and that means working actively to provide as full and equal access as possible to services, opportunities and national heritage, both within Canada and abroad.

Thank you. I am now ready to answer your questions.


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