On Tuesday, March 5, ACFO-ACAF President Dany Richard appeared in front of the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Accounts (opens in a new tab) in view of its study of Report 1, ArriveCAN (opens in a new tab) from the Auditor General of Canada. You can view the recording of his appearance here (opens in a new tab, begins at 16:17:06).

In this appearance, Dany spoke to MPs about the troubling lapse of internal controls, accountability, and transparency that occurred at every step. Had the CT Community been properly consulted on ArriveCAN, and had internal controls been respected, much of the controversy surrounding the app could have been avoided.

To prevent debacles like ArriveCAN from happening in the future, Dany spoke to the importance of three key points to ensure proper financial stewardship and restore public trust in how the public purse is managed.

1. Listen to the CT Community

It’s clear that after the Auditor General’s report found the precise cost of the ArriveCAN application could not be determined, financial oversight and the Financial Administration Act was sidestepped, as establishing a governance structure is something any member of the CT Community would have immediately identified as essential.

In addition, based on an ACFO-ACAF survey sent last week to nearly 1,000 CTs at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), very few CTs were consulted on the development or implementation of ArriveCAN. Among those who were consulted and noticed red flags, despite having reported their findings to management, their advice was ultimately ignored.

Financial professionals and auditors in the federal government are incredibly knowledgeable, abide by a strict code of conduct, and can be relied upon for solid and trustworthy advice. When it comes to costing, budgets, forecasts – anything related to government spending – CTs should be consulted and given both the tools and authority to do their job at all stages of programming.

2. Protect whistleblowers

In 2017, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates issued a report (opens in a new tab) that made several recommendations to help improve legislation around protections for whistleblowers, with many of ACFO-ACAF’s recommendations included. Nearly seven years later, while an advisory task force (opens in a new tab) was struck in November 2022 to review the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act with ACFO-ACAF’s own Scott Chamberlain as a participant, these recommendations have yet to be adopted.

When the far-too-few ACFO-ACAF members who were in the position to report issues flagged them to their superior, followed the appropriate course of action, and had their advice ignored, they felt they were out of options. They faced an impossible choice between their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families or the wellbeing of taxpayers’ dollars.

It’s imperative that public servants are protected against reprisal for doing the right thing and disclosing wrongdoing. All too often, whistleblowers face reprisal and their careers are put in jeopardy. Even when disclosures do occur, employees must continue to work with the individuals against whom they’ve blown the whistle while the appropriate channels investigate, leading to detrimental effects on employees’ wellbeing.

While the work of the advisory task force is ongoing, it’s important that the government acts quickly to protect whistleblowers and adopts the recommendations made by the 2017 report, as they are crucial to ensuring that financial accountability frameworks continue to be followed.

3. Invest in the CT Community over contractors

Due to issues such as the slow, inefficient staffing system in the public service, contractors and consultants are overly relied upon to do the work of public servants, with this number and costs ballooning in recent years. It’s often said that consultants can work for cheaper, faster, and better than the public service—but what happened with ArriveCAN is a clear example of why that’s not always true.

While there’s a time and place for outside contracts, consultants are not held to the same code of ethics and level of accountability as public servants. These consultants can also lack the institutional knowledge housed within government, which has often led to employees being left to do the verification of contract work when those employees could have done the work at a fraction of the cost. To remedy this, the government should focus their spending on improving the staffing system as well as developing and hiring in-house talent not only to ensure accountability, but to retain the existing expertise within the federal public service. By investing in the CT Community, long-term savings on contractors will occur all while upholding the financial accountability of government programming and assuring Canadians that the best and brightest are managing their tax dollars.