A wide-ranging audit slammed several federal departments on Tuesday for being secretive and failing to adequately protect taxpayers from the risk of fraud and corruption.

These are among the key conclusions of the annual spring report tabled in Parliament by Canada’s auditor general, Michael Ferguson.

The report reviewed several key departments and programs and found that Finance Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the central department in government — the Privy Council Office — were among those needing to make significant improvements to their practices.

“Access to information is critical to the auditor general’s ability to do his or her job,” said Ferguson in a prepared statement that was released with the audit.

“Our right to freely access information is fundamental to our work, and a cornerstone that protects our independence.

“To be clear, to do our work, we do not need access to the recommendations that departments made to ministers or to Cabinet, nor any information about the deliberations that Cabinet or ministers had. Rather, we need access to the information that lets us assess whether public servants analyzed policy issues with an appropriate level of thoroughness.”

Here are some of the highlights of Ferguson’s latest report:

Auditor General Michael Ferguson fields question at a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on May 16th. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Secretive government

The auditor general said it was unable to verify the federal government’s international commitments to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies because the Finance Department refused to share information about how it was keeping this promise.

Ferguson’s office said the government agreed it would order departments to be more transparent, but this would only come after the audit concluded. In addition, members of the auditor general’s staff would only be able to access new information produced after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed government, and would not be able to access cabinet documents related to the former Harper government.

Risk of fraud

Several government departments are spending public money without adequately managing the risk of fraud, the audit concluded. This is happening because staff aren’t being trained properly and management isn’t providing adequate oversight to ensure that they are following the rules.

Missing customs and duties

The Canada Border Services Agency is allowing millions of dollars worth of goods such as dairy, turkey, chicken beef and eggs to enter the country with sloppy oversight of customs, duties and limits.

Corrupted border staff?

Canada isn’t doing enough to check whether border guards and staff are corrupted. Many seem to break rules and share passwords, putting the country’s borders at risk.

Mental health of Mounties

The RCMP is failing to provide mental health support for its members in need, and must improve the implementation of its mental health strategy.

Migrant Workers out of control

Employment and Social Development Canada has an incomplete process when it comes to managing temporary foreign workers. It means that in some areas such as fish and seafood processing plants, there is a lack of safeguards to ensure that unemployed Canadian workers are considered for jobs before companies look abroad.

Northern airports lacking funding

Transport Canada is showing poor leadership in addressing infrastructure needs of Canada’s north and has allocated inadequate funding to meet the needs of northern airports.

Secrecy about fossil fuel subsidies

Finance Canada refused to share information with the auditor general about how Canada is delivering on an international commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Meantime, Environment and Climate Change Canada hasn’t implemented the government’s plan to meet that commitment.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson came very close to a smile after a compliment from a reporter in the National Press Theatre where he was holding a press conference about his office's reports. Photo by Alex Tétreault

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