An article from www.globeandmail.com, Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Auditor cites gun registry as 'inexcusable failure'

By DARREN YOURK
Globe and Mail Update
 
 

 Auditor-General Sheila Fraser took aim at the Liberal's billion-dollar federal gun registry
Tuesday, citing it as a glaring example of the government's "inexcusable failure" to account
for how it spends Canadians' tax dollars.

 Ms. Fraser, in her Report tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons, singled out the lack of
information provided to Parliament about the Canadian Firearms Program as an example of how
miscommunication undermines Parliament's ability performance.Highlights from the
Auditor-General's report
                 Parliament kept in the dark about astronomical cost overruns in gun control
registry that will cost taxpayers $1-billion by 2004. Multinatonal corporations avoiding
hundreds of millions in taxes through finance loopholes.
 Stacks of seldom-used accountabililty reports that overburden cash-strapped First Nations.
 Employment Insurance surplus balloons to $40-billion without clear explanation.
 Canadian Space Agency unable to meet its commitments because of cost overruns.
 Public Works branch spends $1.7-billion a year on government office space without fully
asessing need. Longstanding failure to improve marine safety system.

The Auditor-General's Report for 2002

 "The issue here is not gun control. And it's not even astronomical cost overruns, although
those are serious," says Ms. Fraser. "What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the
dark."

 Instead of the $85-million cost originally determined by then-justice minister Allan Rock in
1995 for full implementation, the price tag on the registry is now expected to reach $1-billion
by 2004.

 The Auditor-General's report says Parliament had no opportunity to scrutinize the program's
cost because the department's performance report made no mention of increased costs, and the
additional spending was approved largely through supplementary estimates rather than through
main appropriations.

 Justice Minister Martin Cauchon faced the brunt of attacks during Question Period Tuesday as
MPs from all four opposition parties jumped on the gun registry blunder.

 Mr. Cauchon was quick to say that he "totally accepts the recommendations," and to admit that
his department "can do better" but Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark said that was not
good enough.

 "The Minister can't simply say I'm sorry," Mr. Clark said, demanding to know who authorized
the "deliberate withholding of information from Parliament" of the fact that the registry cost
the government an additional $700-million above what Ottawa estimated.

 Mr. Cauchon said that he accepted the fact that Ms. Fraser disagreed with his departments
reporting method but said he did not hide the estimates.

 "It doesnt mean that the numbers werent reported. They were reported through Justice Canada
through the main estimates or supplementary estimates."

 Mr. Cauchon defended the registrys costs, saying that it was a complex program.

 He said costs had to be adjusted following the consultation process. Some provinces have opted
out of the gun registry, he said, adding costs, and new technology also increased the overhead.

 Mr. Cauchon defended the program itself, saying that while it was more costly than the
government anticipated, it has saved lives by reducing the number of firearms available on the
black market due to break-ins, reducing the use of guns and reducing heat-of-the-moment use.

 After Question Period Mr. Cauchon said the Justice Department has already launched an external
audit into the gun registry to satisfy some of the Auditor-Generals concerns.

 When asked whether he would listen to Mr. Clarks suggestion that "heads should roll" in
Justice Canada, Mr. Cauchon replied that "if you look at the report, theres no wrongdoing."

 The Auditor-General also wrote Tuesday about the 40-year effort to modernize the way the
government manages and controls its finances, urging the federal government to resolve issues
that would improve its financial management.

 While the government has made some progress, Ms. Fraser says an enormous amount of money -
hundreds of millions of dollars - has been spent to set up state-of-the-art financial systems,
more effort is required for the initiative to succeed.

 "Like other, similar government-wide reforms, the initiative aimed at improving financial
management and control has not received the commitment and leadership it needs to succeed," Ms.
Fraser writes. "For an organization that spends almost $180-billion a year, this is not
acceptable. It's time for the government to get serious and get on with making the necessary
improvements."

 The Auditor-General says hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars have been lost to
multinational firms because of weaknesses in federal law.

 Foreign-based companies have taken advantage of loopholes in Canadian laws to cut millions of
dollars from their tax bills here, Ms. Fraser reported. At the same time, many of those firms
report their earnings in low-tax countries such as Barbados, and pay their taxes there.

 "Tax rules that reduce tax revenue mean either higher taxes for other taxpayers or reductions
in public expenditures," Ms. Fraser said. "Nobody wants to pay someone else's taxes. It's time
to fix this."

 Ms. Fraser also called on the federal government to lessen the paperwork burden it put on
Native communities. She describes extensive overlap and duplication among the reports required
by many federal programs.

 A study of federal reporting requirements found that Natives have to submit a total of 168
reports a year to four main funding organizations and most of the information is never used.

 "There's not much point in First Nations exchanging data for dollars with the federal
government when the information is of no real benefit to either party," Ms. Fraser said. "...
Reporting requirements must be overhauled so that they support meaningful accountability and
serve the real needs of First Nation communities and government."

 Ms. Fraser says the Canadian Space Agency is unable to carry out its required activities under
the Canadian Space Program because of funding obligations that predate its creation - a problem
that will get significantly worse over the next five years.

 "The hands of the Canadian Space Agency are tied," says Ms. Fraser. "It is unable to meet its
existing commitments under the government-approved Canadian Space Program, and new initiatives
must compete with existing programs for resources."

 The Auditor-General also called on the government to get its house in order - literally. Ms.
Fraser said the federal government risks paying too much for its office space.

 The Real Property Services Branch of Public Works and Government Services Canada has been
responsible for providing office space for most of the government's 187,000 employees for many
years. Two previous audits recommended that the Branch improve its long-term planning.

 "The government spends $1.7-billion a year on office space," says Ms. Fraser. "Frankly, given
the long-standing issue of proper planning, we would have expected the Branch to have moved
faster in correcting it."

 With a report from Allison Dunfield