The Auditor General has concerns: Politics on TV, Oct. 23 edition

In which everybody was talking about the Auditor General's report

Message of the day

“We accept the recommendations of the Auditor General.”

Questions not answered

  • What other aircraft are being considered to replace the CF-18s?

The Auditor General’s report:

Power & Politics opened with Auditor General Michael Ferguson to discuss his new report, and his concerns over the long-term fiscal plan, veterans’ services, and cyber-security. Regarding cyber-security, Ferguson said the government should be playing a leadership and coordination role in addressing threats posed by hackers, and that the Cyber Incident Response Centre should be operating 24/7 in order to be vigilant – something it hasn’t been doing. Regarding his report on veterans’ services, he noted that they heard not only from veterans that there are problems with an overly complex system, but also from employees trying to help those veterans access the system.

Solomon then assembled an MP panel of Candace Bergen, Jack Harris and Gerry Byrne. Bergen said that extending the Response Centre’s hours was part of the solution, and that they are putting money and a strategy into place. Harris said that there was lots of catching-up to do, but that he has no confidence in the minister to do it. Byrne said that expanding the hours of the Response Centre was not enough, and that there has been no leadership when it comes to cyber-security.

Over on Power Play, Ferguson added that the problem with the Response Centre is that it wasn’t getting information on a timely basis, when they needed to connect individual incidents with a broader picture. He added that the government did implement some changes after a “lessons learned” exercise stemming from the attack on the Treasury Board and Finance servers. He also noted that with the veterans report, his office also found a number of gaps in the case management system.

Don Martin then spoke with Defence and Intelligence CEO Keith Murphy about the cyber-security portion of the report. Murphy said that up until this point, there has been confusion around the role of the Response Centre and that most people don’t know it exists. What a lot of people don’t know is that the centre’s primary function is not to prevent attacks, but to notify, disseminate and mitigate after the fact.

Turning the attention to the veterans portion of the report, Martin spoke to veterans advocate Sean Bruyea, who said that Veterans Affairs hasn’t had an audit in 14 years, and that even he was shocked by just how inefficient and inaccessible the system really is. Some of those problems included wrong file numbers on 20 per cent of files. Bruyea said that a follow-up audit is needed to see if everyone is getting the services they need or if those services are actually helping them.

On Power Play’s MP panel of Megan Leslie, Roger Cuzner, and James Rajotte, Leslie said it was concerning that it took one department a week to report a cyber breach. Cuzner said the fact that nearly a quarter of veterans don’t have case management is a concern, and that this issue was fully anticipated years ago when he was on the veterans affairs committee. Rajotte said that the Auditor General also recognized that improvements were made in both of these areas.

Later on P&P’s Power Panel, Martin Patriquin said the speed of government is painfully slow regardless of the stripe. Tim Powers said that while more needs to be done, the government hasn’t gone to sleep on the issue. Robin MacLachlan said that the government is still playing catch-up and noted that those servers at Finance still locked down. Amanda Alvaro pointed out that the report also said that they couldn’t determine where all of the money was being spent, and as a result, aren’t sure how effective the spending is.

When Martin spoke to journalists Joel-Denis Bellavance and Stephanie Levitz, Levitz said that what most concerned her out of today’s report were the comments about the way in which the government manages its money, which validates the concerns of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Bellavance also noted that the UK has invested a billion dollars in security their data networks, and that our spending a tenth of that could be of concern to our allies.

SIRC report:

The Security and Intelligence Review Committee’s latest report had a cryptic line about an operational failure around counter-proliferation, and Solomon called up Ray Boivert, former assistant director of intelligence at CSIS, to explain it. Boisvert explained that counter-proliferation is trying to prevent countries from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or its component knowledge, but that involves cooperation with allied agencies, which doesn’t always go smoothly. Boisvert suspects the failure may have been a risk of an agent being detected, or that the intelligence wasn’t collected in a manner that was useful.

XL Foods re-opening:

With the news that the XL Foods plant would be re-opening, Don Martin spoke with Bruce Cran of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, who said that he has very little confidence in the findings of CFIA at the moment. Cran says he wants explanations as to why there hasn’t been an uptake in the vaccine available for cattle against that strain of E. Coli, or why there was the two-week delay in reporting the outbreak.

Self-harm in prisons:

After the Correctional Investigator’s report showed that self-harming incidents in Canadian prisons tripled over the past five years, mostly involving cutting, Solomon spoke with Howard Sapers about his findings. Sapers pointed to a combination of factors including increased prison populations and double-bunking rates, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining mental health officers when a third of the prison population has mental health issues. Sapers noted that there are a dozen chronic self-harmers in the system responsible for 300 of the incidents, and that the problem gets exacerbated when they are dealt with using force.

Replacing the CF-18s:

After DND said the head of the air force misspoke when he said they weren’t looking at aircraft other than the F-35s, Solomon summoned an MP panel of Chris Alexander, Matthew Kellway and John McKay to discuss this change of information. Alexander said that DND needs to look comprehensively at all of the options available, but there is no deadline for that process. Kellway said that today’s statement was the clearest to date about the options analysis being undertaken, but we still need to find out what the requirements for the replacement fighters are. McKay quipped “different Tory, different story,” before pointing out that there are really only two or three aircraft available that could meet the criteria, but he still suspects the statement of requirements will be torqued to favour the F-35.

Diamond Jubilee controversy:

After Conservative MP Maurice Velacott’s awarded Diamond Jubilee medals to two jailed anti-abortion activists, comparing them to Martin Luther King, Solomon spoke to an MP panel of Paul Calandra, Megan Leslie, and Scott Brison. Calandra valiantly repeated the purpose of the medals, and wouldn’t comment on Velacott’s choices. Leslie said her objection was not to the women’s beliefs, but that one of them was still in jail for intimidating women. Brison said the standard for receiving medals should be high because they do reflect on the Sovereign, and he was troubled that Velacott selected them because they broke the law, seeing as Parliamentarians shouldn’t encourage vigilantism.

Over on Power Play, Leslie, Cuzner, and Rajotte each said that they had an arm’s length or non-partisan committee come up with or vet the nominations so as to avoid these kinds of situations.

When P&P’s Power Panel weighed in, Alvaro said it’s the antithesis of community service to be incarcerated for intimidating women. Powers said that Velacott was using the symbolic power of the medals to get his views out, which MacLachlin said allowed the rest of the world to see how Velacott sees the world. Patriquin said that Velacott making the comparisons to Martin Luther King to prove his point made him a “stupid baby.”