March 5, 2001

Desautels offers final review of his decade as A-G

In a personal review concluding his ten-year term as Canada's Auditor-General, Denis Desautels calls on the federal government to improve its public accountability, improve the management of its employees and finances and initiate a continual review of programs.

Federal environmental programs and their delivery are still especially in need of attention, he says. A major achievement on Desautels' watch has been the creation, through amendments to the Auditor General Act, of the post of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The Commissioner's role is to monitor departments' progress toward sustainable development and while there has been success in some areas, Desautels notes three key weakness cited by the Commissioner. These include: gaps between commitments made and concrete action taken; lack of co-ordination among departments and across jurisdictions; and inadequate review of environmental performance and provision of information to Parliament.

Canada, he says, has been at the forefront of thinking on environmental and sustainable development issues, but has been less effective in following thought with action. The federal government's performance has fallen well short of many of its stated objectives in areas such as ground-level ozone reduction, climate change, toxic substances and biodiversity, notes the review.

Ten years ago, the previous Auditor General asked "Who's minding the store?" with regard to the environment. Desautels says this question still has not been answered clearly, what with a tangle of federal agencies involved in environmental management. Effective co-ordination is essential to meeting Canada's sustainable development challenges, and governments are not very good at it, he observes, noting that no single federal department has been assigned the task of leading the greening of government operations.

The failure of federal and provincial governments to work effectively together has been cited as an important factor in Canada's failure to meet its commitments. This, problem, combined with the lack of co-ordination within the federal government, is becoming an even greater concern in Desautels' view, since future programs are more and more likely to involve partnerships between the federal and provincial governments.

Concerning the inadequacy of information received by Parliament, Desautels points out that "although the federal government is the largest enterprise in Canada, it has only rudimentary information on its vast operations and their environmental consequences. The government does not know its environmental impact and the environmental costs its operations impose," he states.

On an overall basis, Desautels suggests further amendments to the Auditor General Act to make it a stronger government watchdog. He also recommends the development of guidelines as to which agencies the Auditor General should audit.

"Reflections on a Decade of Serving Parliament" may be viewed on the Office of the Auditor General Web site, www.oag-bvg.gc.ca.

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