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Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre regarding the 2016 Fall Reports in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre regarding the 2016 Fall Reports in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa not tracking effectiveness of $1.1-billion U.S. border plan, auditor says Add to ...

The $1.1-billion Beyond the Border Action Plan has placed RCMP officers on U.S. Coast Guard vessels, installed new screening devices at airports and launched extensive information-sharing programs between Canada and the United States – but the federal Auditor-General says Ottawa has no idea whether any of this has made a difference.

In his latest report to Parliament, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson weighs in on what has suddenly become a major source of anxiety in Canada: the state of its border with the United States.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to renegotiate or even scrap the North American free-trade agreement, crack down on illegal immigration and said he will pursue an “America First” economic agenda, which many expect could include a new focus on protectionism.

“This audit is important because the Canada-U.S. border is vital to our economy and way of life,” the Auditor-General’s report states, pointing out that in 2015, close to $700-billion in goods flowed across the border.

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Tuesday’s audit report includes a chapter focused on the Beyond the Border Action Plan, which was announced in December, 2011, by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama. It is also known as the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan.

Mr. Ferguson’s overall finding is that the eight Canadian government departments involved in delivering the plan have generally done what was promised but have failed to measure whether all of the spending has produced improved results in terms of security or trade. The report chastises Ottawa for providing “an incomplete and inaccurate picture of progress and costs.”

The various aspects of the Beyond the Border plan add up to $1.1-billion in promised spending between 2012-13 and 2017-18, of which $585-million had been spent as of March, 2016, according to Tuesday’s report.

While the audit report does not mention the results of this year’s U.S. election, its findings could serve as a useful list of the many unresolved border issues that remain between the two countries as the Trump administration prepares for its Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration.

For instance, a new program meant to highlight potential passenger threats before an international flight takes off has faced several delays. The Interactive Advance Passenger Information initiative is meant to have airlines alert the Canada Border Services Agency when a flight bound for Canada has a security threat onboard.

However this has been delayed for U.S. flights because of issues related to a Canada-U.S. memorandum, and a similar program for European flights is on hold because of a legal challenge before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

“Until these issues are resolved, airlines will continue to provide passenger data to the Agency when flights depart rather than before they depart,” the audit report states.

Another project facing delays is an information-sharing effort between Canada and the U.S. that records land or air entry in one country so that it will act as an exit record from the other. So far, $53-million of the program’s $121-million budget has been spent.

One of the reasons for the delay, according to the report, is that the federal government has decided to expand the sharing of travellers’ entry and exit information with other departments and agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency, Employment and Social Development Canada and the RCMP.

“This decision has raised several privacy concerns that have yet to be addressed,” the report states.

On trade, one of the most high-profile promises of the Beyond the Border plan was a 2015 “pre-clearance” agreement that would allow goods to be inspected away from the border in an effort to ease congestion.

However the Auditor-General’s Office said it found government testing of the concept “had mixed results” and further tests are planned.

Public Safety Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP and Transport Canada all said they agreed with the report’s findings and recommendations. They all pledged to do a better job of reporting on the performance of the Beyond the Border measures.

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