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Auditors are untouchable in Ottawa

Why two partners from Deloitte command a lot of respect on the Hill


 

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

The Senate’s embarrassing string of expense scandals might have rocked Canadians’ collective faith in the reeling upper chamber, but it’s done wonders for a mostly invisible group of number crunchers. The powerhouse auditors at Deloitte, who’ve been charged with sorting out right from wrong in the ongoing investigation of four expense-happy senators, enjoy near invincibility in the nation’s capital. Only the cadre of embattled senators has questioned Deloitte’s wisdom, while virtually everyone else on Parliament Hill lines up behind the auditors.

After Senator Pamela Wallin reviewed the audit into her expenses, she called it a “fundamentally flawed and unfair process,” claiming vaguely that Deloitte applied new rules to expense claims that predate them. Those charges went unanswered for less than a day. Gerald Comeau, the chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee that’s behind the expenses probe, lauded Deloitte’s “tremendous work,” calling it “very professional and highly regarded.” Indeed, no one who’s not accused of wrongdoing has a bad thing to say about the venerable auditors, who appear as stalwarts of transparency and accountability. Likewise, few questions have been asked of Senate Finance officials who, behind the scenes, originally approved the bad claims.

Auditors have a long reputation as powerful characters in federal circles. Former auditor general Sheila Fraser was feared by Liberal and Conservative governments for the duration of her decade in office. She exposed the Sponsorship Scandal that tripped up the Liberals and eventually led to the government’s demise in 2006. Prime ministers and their front benches always responded to Fraser’s recommendations, and found themselves in hot water if they ignored her. Fraser’s successor, Michael Ferguson, initially took heat for his lacklustre French fluency. He’s since earned a reputation for competence, and his report on the government’s cost estimates related to the F-35 fighter jet had the government scrambling. Ferguson’s next target is the federal northern food subsidy program, Ottawa’s effort to manage sky-high food prices in Canada’s north.

Where auditors general differ from Deloitte is the public nature of their work. Fraser became a household name, and Ferguson is on his way to similar stature. All we know about Deloitte is that two partners, Alan Stewart and Gary Timm, are named in correspondence with Wallin’s legal counsel. The firm, which declined comment on the story, is otherwise largely anonymous, as far as the general public is concerned. That’s curious cover for a group of auditors playing such an integral role in reshaping, and possibly improving, an institution central to Canada’s parliamentary democracy.


 

Auditors are untouchable in Ottawa

  1. ” might have rocked Canadians’ collective faith in the reeling upper chamber”

    That’s assuming we had any to begin with.

    The Conservatives wanted the Auditor General as far away from this as possible, because he doesn’t report to the Senate leadership or the Federal Government, but to Parliament and thus to the Canadian public. His reports would be tabled in Parliament openly. They couldn’t hide anything or polish anything.

    I don’t doubt Deloitte has done a good job. But as seen with Duffy’s audit being doctored once handed to the Senate and since it’s the Senate leadership releasing the documents handed over by Deloitte, we will never get a clear or accurate picture of these criminals that sit in Government. And we will be left with people barely charged of anything and handed suspended sentences (if in the unlikely event they’re convicted) that do nothing. And we will never be able to abolish it in that case.

    • It might change if all voters stopped voting for the corrupt 3 placatory parties and voted for independents, more ethical people and once the majority, the independents can form government and elect a leader.

      The inherent nature of the parliament system by its very design and with “parties” is for government to be corrupt and to make democracy a ruse.

      But far too many Canadians are politically naive and too easy for the corrupt to lead.

  2. I wouldn’t want to be the next senator caught dipping in the taxpayers coffers, they may end up hitch hiking back and forth to his/her to there districts of representation. im also willing to bet harper is on the last stand with the Canadian taxpayer as well. just imagine how much goes on in Ottawa, that taxpayers have yet to be privy to.

  3. Taking over 6 months to audit one person’s expenses is hardly “tremendous work”.

    Expanding their scope at the Senate’s request also seemed to be more of a strategy to push the findings intro the summer break.

  4. I very much prefer that they not play to the media either because the media desires it or they do. Let their work speak for itself.

  5. Funny how Ottawa has 450,000 give or take civil servants and contractors and none of them are doing audits internally. AANDC FN, CF, RCMP others all wasting money and no one even audits the waste.

    No wonder taxation has become modern day slavery, no one is watching the waste, corruption and how our money is spent. Trouble is all parties only have one solution for all problems, get more of our money and make for more governemtn bloat.

  6. It’s about time to scrap the senate.
    Why waste our hard earned money on a bunch of good for nothing political dinosaurs.

  7. Deloitte (and they are far from alone… I don’t want to single them out) gets millions in fees from governments and municipalities, and probably also from international bodies. All audit and consultant firms are experts at producing reports that say exactly what the government wants. Two examples. Case #1: Attawapiskat. Deloitte made sure not to go see the receipts, that were in an unheated warehouse (poor things… with the price they’re paid I think they could tolerate a little cold!). Case #2: RCGT wrote a report for Lucien Bouchard saying city mergers were a good thing and would produce “economies of scale”, which is BS (it makes no sense in economics to say that) because municipalities are not pea canning plants, but public service providers. And lo and behold, RCGT got lots of contracts afterwards to “help cities manage the mergers”. They even give municipalities ethics courses.

    ALL professional firms give to political parties. ALL. The Charbonneau inquiry is limited to Québec. I wonder if the CA (now CPA) firms’ turn will come? And what about other governments in Canada? This problem is not limited to Québec.

    The problem is not this firm or that firm. The problem is the way our system is built. If humans benefit from doing something, they will do it. People balk at the grants given to political parties. They think it is wasted money. But the current situation of corruption is costing us billions every year, for poor quality work. Penny wise, pound foolish, methinks.

    I trust the public sector auditors a lot more (Auditor General, Consulting and Audit Canada, departments’ internal auditors…). They are proud of what they do and they are also taxpayers. And they know the programs and don’t have a “profit at all costs” mentality.

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