New AG to scrutinize city's pandemic response

·2 min read
The City of Ottawa's new auditor general Nathalie Gougeon addresses reporters via video conference Tuesday following her first appearance before the audit committee. (CBC - image credit)
The City of Ottawa's new auditor general Nathalie Gougeon addresses reporters via video conference Tuesday following her first appearance before the audit committee. (CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's new auditor general will undertake a major review of the city's response to COVID-19, but Nathalie Gougeon has promised it won't interfere with the ongoing work of pandemic-weary staff.

The city's audit committee endorsed Gougeon's to-do list of audits on Tuesday. It also includes a review of the city's workplace harassment policies.

It was Gougeon's first appearance before the committee since starting her new job on Feb. 1.

Gougeon told the committee her audit team will delay some of their work until the pandemic is in "a more controlled state," likely later this year or early 2022.

"I think about our ability to have the vaccination clinics roll out. While our audits are very important, they do not outweigh that type of service," Gougeon assured the committee.

Staff 'struggling' under strain

That came as a relief to city manager Steve Kanellakos, who noted that staff are under intense pressure at the moment. In a recent survey, 44 per cent reported feeling worse psychologically now than one year ago, Kanellakos said.

"Our staff are struggling to maintain all the services," he said. "I think [the auditor's] recognition that we need to get people stabilized, we need to get the organization past the pandemic, is really important to have a successful audit."

Gougeon's provincial counterpart Bonnie Lysick filed a special report on Ontario's poor emergency preparedness and inadequate lab capacity in November, and on Wednesday will make public a second report focused on the response of long-term care homes.

Harassment policies under scrutiny

Gougeon will also look at whether the city's policies to prevent workplace violence and harassment are in step with current legislation. That audit could include an anonymous survey of staff, she said.

"Prevention of workplace violence and harassment is currently top of mind for all levels of government and across all industries," said Gougeon.

Audits of the city's procurement practices, as well as funding it provides through various grant programs, are also expected before the end of year.

Unfinished business

Gougeon and her staff also plan to start providing semi-annual updates measuring how well the city's top managers have followed her advice.

The committee heard Tuesday that an auditor's report from 2011 that called for a long-term plan to align employees' skills with city priorities still hasn't been implemented a decade later.

Progress has been made elsewhere, however, including bolstering the city's defences against cyberattacks, as recommended in a 2015 auditor's report.

Kanellakos noted the city has hired a chief information security officer and has a team working to protect its IT systems from hackers.

"Right now I'm feeling a lot better about than I did several years ago," Kanellakos said after a closed-door session during which councillors on the committee asked sensitive questions about the greatest cyberthreats facing the city.