Auditor general

Auditor general’s report: good news overall, but some improvements needed

Auditor general Michael Pickup says the provincial government should be proud

Nova Scotia’s auditor general, Michael Pickup, says the high rate of completion of his recommendations is encouraging, but he is troubled by the results of some government organizations.

Pickup’s report, released on Wednesday, follows-up on recommendations made in 2013-14 to the provincial government. Such reports are part of the auditor general’s role in holding government accountable by evaluating its performance.

Auditor General Michael Pickup spoke to media on Wednesday.   Mira Dietz Chiasson

At a news conference on Wednesday, Auditor General Michael Pickup said of 321 recommendations, 72 per cent have been implemented. That’s the highest rate of completion in 10 years.

However, Pickup has some concerns about certain areas of government.  

He cited three areas that failed to implement most of their recommendations: the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and the Tri-County Regional School Board.

Health Authority

The Nova Scotia Health Authority, Pickup said, has only implemented two of seven recommendations related to long wait times for surgery, as well as operating room utilization.

According to his report, Nova Scotians wait an average of 800 days for knee or hip surgery, while the national standard is 182 days.

Pickup said Nova Scotians who are waiting for knee or hip surgery should be concerned.

“The Health Authority has no public short-term targets to inform Nova Scotians on when this will change and how,” he said. “How are you going to get from 800 days to 182 days? Set some targets to tell people, and then be held accountable.”

Health Minister Leo Glavine told media on Wednesday that there has been progress in several areas, but “while there is an improvement in the number of surgeries, there do need to be more targets.”

Nova Scotia Health Authority spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe said in an e-mail that the NSHA remains committed to dealing with the recommendations.

“The work by NSHA to establish targets for surgery wait times has started. We know that these targets will help to show where improvements are being made,” she wrote.

Tri-County Regional School Board

The auditor general also is concerned about the lack of progress the Tri-County Regional School Board has made in determining why students are performing below average on literacy and numeracy tests.

While the school board addressed seven out of 10 recommendations, it has not developed a plan to address this particular issue.

“Recently released 2015-16 assessment results show that in many cases only half of the Tri-County students are meeting provincial expectations,” said Pickup. “The Tri-County Regional School Board needs to complete this work as one of the aids to improving results.”

Jim Gunn, interim superintendent of the Tri-County Regional School Board, said in an interview on Wednesday that addressing that particular recommendation is difficult.

“It would require some pretty sophisticated educational research to get down to the variables or factors that cause the students here to be achieving less,” he said.

Gunn previously worked as a ministerial advisor and published a report in a September 2015 that dealt directly with the auditor general’s recommendations. In this report, he notes that addressing the recommendation is important, but would be a challenge in terms of human resources and time.

Gunn said currently there no formal plan to work on the assessment issue, beyond what staff are already doing.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal

When it comes to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, Pickup said “these recommendations were largely related to internal controls and realistically should have been implemented by now.”

Brian Taylor, a Transportation and Infrastructure spokesman, said in an interview that the department is working on it.

He explained that they have updated several policies, which are now being applied.

“So when our updates are taken into account, it will bring us up to 80 per cent complete, and then we’re still working to continue to address the remaining recommendations,” said Taylor.

New standard

Pickup said decision makers need to discuss why some organizations are performing more poorly than others. However, he said a 72 per cent implementation rate is something to be proud of and he expects this number to set the bar for the future.