News / Canada

No way to tell if border plan is helping security, trade or travellers: auditor

Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre regarding the 2016 Fall Reports in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre regarding the 2016 Fall Reports in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The federal spending watchdog says the government has no way of telling whether its billion-dollar border plan is improving security or helping to speed the flow of goods and people between Canada and the United States.

While departments and agencies completed many commitments of the high-profile Beyond the Border plan, they faced numerous challenges and lacked the means to measure results, auditor general Michael Ferguson said in a report released Tuesday.

In addition, Ferguson found the government's own evaluation, made public in September, painted an "incomplete and inaccurate" picture.

The Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border initiative was unfurled in December 2011 to help protect the continent from terrorist threats while ensuring the efficient passage of travellers and shipments across the 49th parallel.

The issues are crucial: last year close to $700 billion in goods traversed the border and people made nearly 150 million land crossings, with millions more travelling by air or water, Ferguson said.

He urged a number of federal agencies to develop indicators so they can fully assess efforts involving everything from checked baggage screening to so-called trusted-trader programs.

"Government exists to do things for people," Ferguson told a news conference Tuesday. "So they need to put the focus on those results for people."

The auditor general said the 34 projects that make up the border plan call for spending of more than $1.1 billion between 2012-13 and 2017-18. About $585 million had been spent as of the end of March.

Federal agencies did not have reliable means of gauging performance for 17 of 19 projects intended to beef up border security, Ferguson said.

For instance, agencies have spent more than $82 million on making it easier to share immigration-related information with the U.S., but there was no reporting to show it had improved decision-making on who should be allowed into Canada.

Another project allows commercial traders and importers to electronically submit all customs and regulatory information through a single window. But the Canada Border Services Agency could not demonstrate whether it was reducing costs or simplifying border processes.

Transport Canada is leading the installation of technology at several high-priority land crossings to provide wait times that could help people make decisions about when and where to cross the border. However, Ferguson said, the department had not measured the benefits of six existing installations in place for years.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is "very determined" to get effective measurement systems in place.

The auditor general noted several projects — including an effort to track and share information about when people leave Canada — are behind schedule.

The government's evaluation of the Beyond the Border initiative did not provide a complete view of the progress of projects, Ferguson said. Notably, it neglected to report on the results of certain pilot projects or mention that some were postponed or shelved.

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