Government Acting on Auditor General’s Report

Ministers affected by today’s Auditor General’s report have released the following statements.

Part of being under new management is how this government acts on recommendations from Alberta’s Auditor General. All the recommendations call for better monitoring and oversight, improved performance measures or systems, thorough risk analysis, or training to improve program accountability and results.

Improving government’s openness, accountability and decision-making will be essential as the upcoming 10-year plan and budget redefine how our government delivers high quality, sustainable and affordable public services.

The Auditor General’s recommendations address education and post-secondary education, pipeline safety and reliability, mitigating flood damage, dam safety and Alberta’s international offices.

The responsible Ministers have issued statements:

Education and Post-Secondary Education

“I acknowledge the importance of the Auditor General’s recommendation that Education exercise oversight by ensuring that Northland School Division develops and executes an operational plan to improve student attendance, including identifying the necessary resources and how results will be measured, reported and analyzed.

“The factors that contribute to poor attendance are numerous and complex, including the damaging effects of residential schools, poverty, addictions, and high teacher turnover. As noted in the Northland Inquiry Team Report regarding student attendance, we need to think more broadly and consider that a structure designed simply around efficiency and accountability principles will not suffice. It will have to include community-level strategies as well.

“All students in Alberta deserve a quality education that enables them to succeed and the students in Northland School Division are no exception. We are working in close partnership with the school division and local communities on improving student learning in the region.”

Gordon Dirks, Minister of Education

“Albertans want to know that their government is getting results from public dollars. I am encouraged to see that overall the Auditor General saw improvements in public post-secondary processes and controls. There are still outstanding recommendations for this sector and my ministry will be taking a bigger role in encouraging and assisting our post-secondary institutions to meet the Auditor General’s recommendations.”

Don Scott, Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education

Pipeline Safety and Reliability

“The Auditor General provided six recommendations to the Alberta Energy Regulator to improve its Pipeline Safety and Reliability program, including using risk management in allocating resources, improving measures to assess industry performance, expanding analysis of incidents beyond primary causes and sharing lessons learned with industry.

“Pipeline safety is important to Albertans and I am pleased that the Auditor General has found that we have a well-functioning system with effective oversight and enforcement. I appreciate the Auditor General’s recommendations to further improve our pipeline regulatory system. The Alberta Energy Regulator is taking action to implement the recommendations.”

Frank Oberle, Minister of Energy

Mitigating Flood Damage

“We support the Auditor General’s recommendations with respect to protecting Albertans from natural disasters as it relates to development in floodways. Work on this important recommendation is already well underway and we expect to have regulations that address existing and future developments in our province’s floodways completed later this year.”

Diana McQueen, Minister of Municipal Affairs

“Major flood events can be very unpredictable. Our government has identified seven key strategies to reduce the impact of future flood events on Alberta’s people, infrastructure, economy and environment:

  • Overall watershed management
  • Flood modelling prediction and warning systems
  • Flood risk management policies
  • Water management and mitigation infrastructure
  • Erosion control
  • Local mitigation initiatives by municipalities
  • Individual mitigation measures for homes

“Understanding Alberta’s ongoing flood risk requires a means of determining the probable financial cost of future flood events that is measureable and consistent across multiple communities. Our work with the City of Calgary and with Deltares, a Dutch research foundation, will help us refine our assessment processes. To better prepare for flooding, 11 new flood-mapping studies are in progress, to complement the more than 70 per cent of Alberta’s populated areas that already have completed studies and flood maps.

“Our priority is to build safe communities, and this requires development to be restricted in areas most prone to flooding. In response to the Auditor General’s report, we are preparing regulations that strike the right balance between ensuring public safety, protecting property rights, and reducing the long-term compensation risk to taxpayers. These may include limiting new development in a floodway to a defined list of low impact authorized uses, such as public parks, green spaces, pathways, and some agricultural and utility infrastructure. Reasonable improvements would be allowed for existing floodway development in order to respect the investment of property owners, as long as the improvements are limited to the same use and footprint.”

Kyle Fawcett, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

Dam Safety

“Ensuring public safety is of the utmost importance to this government. Albertans can feel confident that dams in their province are built, maintained and operated in a safe manner, and are aligned with national and international standards and practices.

“Dams identified as ‘very high’ and ‘extreme’ consequence are inspected annually by dam owners, qualified engineering consultants and ESRD staff. If critical deficiencies are found, ESRD performs an additional audit inspection. Dam owners have comprehensive ongoing monitoring programs in place, above and beyond the regulatory requirements and Canadian Dam Association guidelines.

“While the Government of Alberta is confident in the public safety of Alberta’s dams, we must improve our transparency through more effective record keeping and reporting. The Auditor General has identified opportunities to strengthen our processes and we have already made considerable progress in addressing these recommendations.

“In response to the Auditor General’s recommendations, ESRD will undertake immediate work on establishing:

  • intended outcomes for the dam safety program;
  • a comprehensive operational plan that will include actions for improving data collection and management systems and documentation protocols for completed inspections; and
  • a framework for measuring and assessing dam risk and program results.

“ESRD plays an oversight role in inspecting and reporting on water dams, while the Alberta Energy Regulator is responsible for coal mine and oil sands tailings ponds. ESRD and the Alberta Energy Regulator will ensure that regulatory outcomes for all dams are consistent across the province, and focus on operational and public safety. The management of tailings ponds is of great interest to Albertans, which is why I will be making an announcement later this week regarding the future of tailings ponds in Alberta.

“Ultimately, oversight and accountability of regulations and inspections resides with me as the Minister. I will take a leadership role in ensuring this work is completed well and quickly to provide all Albertans the assurances they want that dams in our province are safe.”

– Kyle Fawcett, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

Alberta’s International Offices

“The Auditor General revisited earlier recommendations about effectiveness and monitoring of Alberta’s international offices. The department has made significant progress on implementing those previous recommendations and now reports on the offices’ performance annually. The recommendations will be fully implemented by 2016, including better tracking of services to business clients and monitoring of trade.

“Separately, a recent internal review identified 23 ways to improve efficiencies in the network of international offices, and on February 18 I announced that we will close three offices, suspend plans to open two others, and reduce operating expenses.

“We will use the network of offices to pursue Alberta’s global priorities in a way that provides the greatest return at the most reasonable cost, and I appreciate the Auditor’s continued insights in helping us achieve that.”

– Jim Prentice, Premier, and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations