Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia auditor general questions government commitment to her recommendations

Nova Scotia’s auditor general called out the provincial government on Tuesday, saying it has been so slow to act on her office’s recommendations that she questions whether it is committed to following through.

In a new followup report, Kim Adair said the government has implemented 60 per cent of the recommendations from audits in 2019, 2020 and 2021 — a rate she called unsatisfactory.

Furthermore, she said, the government’s response rate dropped during that period from 76 per cent in 2019 to 45 per cent in 2020 and 42 per cent in 2021.

“Lately we’ve found government implementation of auditor general recommendations is slipping,” Adair told reporters. “In fact, the completion rate has slipped so much in the past three years it raises questions about government’s commitment to get them done.”

Adair’s report is particularly critical of the Department of Public Works, which has completed just one of seven recommendations from 2019 to improve the management of bridge projects. That report by former auditor general Michael Pickup concluded the department wasn’t providing its managers with the information needed to make decisions about the replacement, rehabilitation and maintenance of the province’s 4,200 bridges.

Adair said that when the audit was released, the department promised to implement all seven recommendations within two years, including to inspect bridges as required and prioritize bridge repair and replacement with consistent criteria.

“Obviously the department missed those deadlines several times over,” Adair said.

Public Works singled out

The department now says it will have all the recommendations completed this month, she said, adding that her office plans to verify next year.

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“Because in my view there’s safety concerns with bridge repairs so we’re going to go back on that one,” she said.

In an October 2023 response to Adair’s office, the Department of Public Works said it had hired an engineer to manage structural assets, had collected, analyzed and validated bridge data, and had reviewed all bridges for ownership, inspection and maintenance responsibilities. It said it had also started to develop a new software system with accurate and accessible bridge information that was expected to be accessible by May 2024.

Meanwhile, Adair’s report also found that six recommendations are still outstanding from a 2021 audit on the province’s pre-kindergarten program, including to ensure that all staff background checks are properly completed.

Other audits she highlighted included reports in 2019 and 2020 on the QEII Health Sciences Centre redevelopment project, in which five of nine recommendations hadn’t been completed, and in 2020 and 2021 on the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, for which 11 of 22 recommendations were still outstanding.

Adair said she was at a loss to explain the reasons for the lack of government compliance.

“You almost have to look at each audit individually and the department involved. I hope that things improve and that there is a more serious commitment,” she said.

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark said the numbers released by the auditor general are concerning and are “trending in the wrong direction.”

“If the recommendations are put on a shelf and forgotten, that’s a pretty dangerous thing,” Clark said. “All governments ignore things that probably they shouldn’t and that’s no excuse, but that’s often what happens in politics.”

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