Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I want to share my comments on the report of the Auditor General on the NWT income security programs, a report released last week.
Income support is supposed to help people who have no other way to pay for basics such as food, shelter and clothing. The core shelter benefit is for rent or mortgage, utilities, damage deposit, home insurance and so on. The core essential benefit is for food, clothing, personal needs, transportation, telephone and household supplies. This audit looked at four income security programs, the Income Assistance Program, the Student Financial Assistance program, the senior home heating subsidy and the Child Care User Subsidy. For anyone remotely associated with income security, it was no surprise that the report was scathing.
A quick perusal of the report’s table of contents shows the following problems with these programs, problems which have long been recognized and suffered through by income security clients and the organizations who help them. They are:
inconsistent processing of client applications;
payments not made on time and incorrect payments, either too much or too little;
forms and back-up paperwork lost or misplaced;
inadequately trained staff and insufficient opportunities for staff training;
not enough staff to handle the workload;
staff overburdened with work, handling too many files;
inconsistencies with how different officials apply the rules to applications;
management not adequately monitoring staff performance;
a lack of clear processes to support program delivery and manage the work; and
limited assessment of program performance.
All of these deficiencies indicate a division at Education, Culture and Employment that is not operating as it should. It results in clients who suffer the consequences, a reduced quality of life and a lack of self-respect, both of which the Income Security Program is supposed to avoid.
I would like to quote a constituent I recently met with to discuss consistently late support payments. This is her assessment of the current situation: Over the years, there have been numerous problems with income support. It has been bounced from Health and Social Services, where social workers worked with families and knew all the issues, to Education, Culture and Employment where families are falling through the cracks because there is no one department looking at the whole picture.
Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.
---Unanimous consent granted
My constituent went on to say: Since ECE has taken over, that department has become the enforcer and the two departments, Health and Social Services and Education, Culture and Employment, do not talk to each other. They are in conflicting roles.
The Auditor General’s report didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know but it does quantify the deficiencies for MLAs, the department and the public. Now as the department formulates its action plan in response to the Auditor General’s report, I hope that the department has the blinders off, and I hope they remain objective and honest about their performance and about the Auditor General’s findings.
There’s an opportunity here for ECE to make some major adjustments to its Income Security Program delivery, to revise it for the better, and revise it to benefit the clients it’s intended to serve. I’m happy to see that the department accepts the Auditor General’s recommendations. The proof of their commitment will be in the actions they take to fix the problems. I’ll be watching for that. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The review of public accounts is the cornerstone of financial accountability and governance in the public sector. In the NWT Legislative Assembly, this oversight is performed by the Standing Committee on Government Operations or, as we like to call it, Gov Ops for short. Our Gov Ops committee works in tandem with the Auditor General of Canada to hold the government to account for its use of public funds and resources. Generally, in overseeing government’s expenditures, we examine the financial accounts; we examine whether the government has spent funds for the purposes intended by the Legislature; we examine whether funds spent were with due regard to economy and efficiencies; and we evaluate governance means to measure its own effectiveness.
In our modified Westminster system of politics, the Auditor General of Canada has the power to report the findings to the Legislature but does not have the sanctioning power. That is, they cannot force departments or agencies to correct deficiencies. Therefore, the Gov Ops committee plays an essential role in bringing about corrective action by endorsing the Auditor General’s findings and recommends corrective action.
Sadly, during the 15th and 16th Assemblies, the standing committee chose not to address public accounts as part of its mandate. As a result, there was no standing committee review for public accounts until last year’s closed-door review, which was eight years in waiting.
Excitingly, we have turned a new corner and I’m pleased to report that this Friday at 11:30 a.m. the present Standing Committee of Government Operations will, for the first time in the history of the NWT, publicly broadcast our review of the public accounts for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Our Gov Ops committee, chaired by Mr. Nadli, comprises of Ms. Bisaro, Mr. Yakeleya, Mr. Moses and myself, and we look forward to shedding transparency and clarity to our public purse. We want the people of the NWT to know that this committee has fought hard to bring back the proper oversight expected by their elected officials and we look forward to tabling our findings later this spring. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to thank the Minister of Public Works and Services for his very comprehensive Minister’s statement today: Diamond Jenness Secondary School Renovations.
It just seems like yesterday that I was standing up in this House waving that thick volume of material that was the technical review of the Diamond Jenness Secondary School and I guess lobbying hard on the government to get that midlife update done on it, and I’m happy to celebrate with the citizens of Hay River on June 29th when we have the unveiling, the reopening of the new and improved Diamond Jenness Secondary School. This event will take place on June 29th and it will coincide with probably the biggest ever homecoming hosted by Hay River. Many, many former graduates of Diamond Jenness Secondary School will be there to celebrate with us, and we have a graduate of that school with us here in the Chamber today, a fine specimen of the GNWT education system, my colleague from Hay River North, Mr. Bouchard.
I’d also like to say that maybe we can televise the grand reopening of the high school on our new Bell Vu channel. I would like to thank again the GNWT, the contractors, the staff at Diamond Jenness, the teachers. About midway through the renovation the Minister was down and we did a tour, and we saw boxes and incoming supplies and everything all over the place. So although it’s a happy thing to get your school renovated, it does take a lot of patience for the staff and the teachers who work around a major renovation like that all the while keeping the school open, and for the students as well, I’d like to thank them.
So now we have the Purple People Eater, as it is fondly known, that will remain on Hay River’s landscape as a landmark, as a tourist attraction and probably the most remarkable purple school anywhere. Now with this new improved school, with decentralization, we just need more government jobs so more people can fill it up. Thank you.