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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. (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. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Breaking: The federal government sometimes ignores good advice Add to ...

After five years on the job as Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson has come to the conclusion that the federal government moves... wait for it... slowly. It took him half a decade to figure that out, and his office is one of the quickest on its feet in Ottawa.

Mr. Ferguson has used the occasion of the halfway mark in his 10-year appointment to deliver an extraordinary message to the rookie Trudeau government, in the hopes that it would be heard through fresh ears.

His point is simple: The government always says it is going to do something about the gaffes, inaccuracies, extravagances and other common imperfections that the Auditor-General uncovers with the reliability of the arrival of winter, but in too many cases it never actually gets around to it.

Related: Government consistently fails to fix mistakes, Auditor-General says

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

“In just five years, with some 100 performance audits and special examinations behind me since I began my mandate, the results of some audits seem to be – in the immortal words of Yogi Berra – ‘déjà vu all over again.’”

Mr. Ferguson cites examples where a department remains defiantly indifferent to the critical needs of citizens (hello, Revenue Canada), has a chronic inability to accurately estimate the cost of a major procurement (take a bow, National Defence), or is slow to adapt to new technology (every government website ever).

He takes particular aim at the departments and agencies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a joint U.S.-Canada program to speed up cross-border trade and travel, but which have no clue whether or not their efforts have had an effect.

He saves his harshest words for the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. “This is now more than a decade’s worth of audits showing that programs have failed to effectively serve Canada’s Indigenous peoples,” Mr. Ferguson says. “The situation [is] beyond unacceptable.”

Mr. Ferguson acknowledges that most federal departments and agencies respond promptly to any issues his office raises. He is just frustrated, like all of us, by the high-profile laggards that are immune to change, and by the politicians who solemnly vow to revoke that immunity but then never do. Also like all of us, he wants Ottawa to focus on being more productive.

All we can say is, welcome to Ottawa. Your call is important. Please hold.

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