Four troubling findings in the Auditor General’s semi-annual report

·Politics Reporter

The good news for the Conservatives is that the Auditor General's report, released on Tuesday, could help distract voters — and the opposition parties — from the ongoing Senate expense scandal.

The bad news is...there's some bad news in there.

The semi-annual report was tabled on Tuesday morning, by AG Michael Ferguson, and focuses on government performance in areas such as food-recall, border safety, shipbuilding, rail safety and offshore banking.

Here are some of the highlights of the report — some things that Canadians perhaps should be concerned about:

Border Safety:

The Auditor-General warns that individuals who pose a risk to Canadians' safety and security have succeeded in entering the country illegally thanks to lax border controls.

Specifically, the auditor general examined 34 cases of travellers coming into Canada in February 2013 who were flagged for secondary inspection upon arrival (also known as lookouts). The report notes that Canada Border Services Agency failed to examine five of the 34 individuals — four of whom entered Canada.

"The Agency has made little improvement in its monitoring of immigration lookouts since 2007," notes the report.

"Given the seriousness of the threats that lookouts are designed to address, even one missed lookout is cause for concern."

In response to the criticisms, Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney said that his government will accept the AG's recommendations.

"I have asked and can confirm that both CBSA and the RCMP are implementing...the findings and recommendations the Office of the Auditor General," Blaney said during a televised press conference with several other ministers.

"We have increased front line border officers by 26 per cent and we have removed over 115,000 illegal immigrants since 2006. In 2012 alone, the CBSA has denied entry to nearly 51,000 inadmissible travelers."

Rail Safety:

Just four months after the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, the Auditor General suggests that there are significant weaknesses in Transport Canada's management and oversight of rail safety.

As explained by the Canadian Press, those weaknesses include

- a lack of knowledge of rail routes used to transport dangerous goods,

- too few safety auditors,

- poorly trained inspectors

- an absence of follow-up or sanctions when safety problems are identified.

"Transport Canada completed only 26 per cent of its planned audits of federal railways over a three year period," Ferguson said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.

"Most of these audits were narrowly focused and provided assurance only a few aspects of railway safety management systems.

"The department has yet to establish an audit approach that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems for complying on a day to day basis with Canada's framework for rail safety."

[ Related: Rail safety improving despite recent derailments, says expert ]

The audit was conducted just prior to the train disaster in Lac-Megantic.

Food recalls:

One year after the largest the XL Foods beef recall, the largest meat recall in Canadian history, the Auditor General lauding government agencies for investigating food safety issues promptly, but has concerns about "follow-up" once a recall is ordered.

The report finds that the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency "did not adequately follow up to verify that recalling firms had corrected the underlying cause of the recall on a timely basis."

"While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I am not confident that the system will always yield similar results," Ferguson said.

Cabinet Minister Rona Ambrose downplayed the AG's concerns saying that many of the AG's recommendations are already being acted upon.

"The report found that overall, our food recall system works well," Abrose, who as health minister, is charged with overseeing the nation's food recall procedures, said.

"The recommendations that the auditor general made are largely administrative and highlight that the agency can improve how it does paperwork following a recall.

"Importantly after recent high profile recall cases and lessons learned by the agency the food inspection agency has...already begun to act on all of the recommendations in the Auditor General's report."

Shipbuilding:

The Harper government has embarked on an ambitious $34 billion shipbuilding exercise. But,according to the Auditor General's report, the government may be underestimating the price tag.

"National Defence established budgets early in the planning process, based on rough estimates and historic information," notes the report.

"These have not been revised for the changes in the cost of materials and labour since the projects were first approved. The Department has had to reduce the expected number of military ships or their capabilities to remain within budget."

[ More Politics: Byelection results: Are the Liberals now the party to beat? ]

NDP MP Nycole Turmel says that we've seen this movie before.

"It's a question for this government to say things but in reality not knowing where they are going and that's the main issue here," she told reporters.

In a 2012 Auditor General's report, the government was also chided for underestimating the full life-cycle cost of the F-35 fighter jets.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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