The federal government’s failure to fill vacancies on the board of directors of the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority may have put shipping safety at risk and led to the reimbursement of thousands of dollars in inappropriate travel expenses, the Auditor General of Canada concluded in a report quietly released late last month.
The findings by the Auditor General underline one of the broader failings of the Trudeau government — its failure to fill key leadership posts in a timely fashion in dozens of federal agencies and Crown corporations.
For weeks — and sometimes months — there has been no CEO at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, Canada Post, the Canadian Dairy Commission or the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.
The office of the President is vacant at the CBC and at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. And it has been 460 days since Canada had a Chief Electoral Officer.
“Canadians should be very concerned because we have dozens of agencies and corporations and commissions which require strong leadership at the top,” said Conservative MP Peter Kent.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday morning in Ottawa to speak about leadership at the CBC. The CBC needs both a chairperson of its board of directors and CEO.
“But the most important vacancy now that must be filled very quickly is that of the Chief Electoral Officer,” said Kent. “It’s outrageous that we don’t have a chief electoral officer in place preparing for this next election given the range of changes that the Liberals are attempting to make to the Elections Act.”
As the Chief Electoral Officer is an Officer of Parliament, that appointment is ultimately up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though Scott Brison, the interim Minister for Democratic Institutions, could play a key role in finding someone to fill that position. The last chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, retired on Dec. 28, 2016 — 460 days ago.
At the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority, a Crown corporation established to operatie and maintain a service to supply cargo ships sailing the Great Lakes with qualified pilots, a failure by Transport Minister Marc Garneau to fill vacancies on the board of directors was the root cause of “significant deficiencies in corporate management practices,” auditor Nathalie Chartrand wrote in her special examination of the authority.
“The board did not properly monitor the Chief Executive Officer’s travel and hospitality expenses, did not receive consistent and complete information on the implementation of some risk mitigation strategies, and did not ensure that the Corporation conducted internal audits,” Chartrand said.
“We also found delays in the appointment of Board members, which resulted in a significant deficiency that was out of the Corporation’s control.”
The shipping season on the Great Lakes opened on Friday.
Garneau said he and his department agreed with the findings.
“You’re right and we need to do better in terms of appointing board members. We’ve done a bunch of interviews and it’s going to happen imminently,” Garneau said on March 20, just after the audit was published. He has yet to name new board members, however.
Garneau said he had written to the chair of the pilotage authority’s board asking how the board intends to address the issues in the auditor’s report.
“Overall, most of the operational safety issues were being addressed, but there were some deficiencies and there were deficiencies on oversight,” Garneau said. “We expect things to run much more smoothly and I will take the Auditor General’s report very seriously.”
The Auditor General found that some of the expense claims paid to the CEO of the pilotage authority were not backed up with the required paperwork. As a result, the Auditor General could not determine if, for example, $11,000 in travel expenses paid to the CEO’s spouse between January 2016 and February 2017 was “reasonable and job-related.”
In both 2015 and 2016, the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority ran operating losses of $352,000 and $854,000 respectively on revenues in each year of $25.56 million and $25.89 million.
Aside from financial concerns, the Auditor General also found that pilotage authority had poor risk mitigation strategies, was doing a poor job of making sure its pilots were staying up with required qualifications, and could not say if it was placing pilots on all ships that are legally required to have pilots.
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