Auditor general’s reports highlight concerns about building safety, permafrost, radon

The office of Canada’s auditor general released two audits of the Yukon government March 6, one focused on the management of government buildings and highways and the other on government transfers to societies.

The office of Canada’s auditor general released two audits of the Yukon government March 6, one focused on the management of government buildings and highways and the other on government transfers to societies.

The report on government infrastructure found that even though the Yukon government has now inspected the condition of most of its buildings, it still isn’t using that information to make decisions about upkeep.

“These assessments have identified potentially serious deficiencies, such as mould, fire hazards, and major structural concerns,” the report reads.

But because the accuracy of that data hasn’t been verified, it can’t yet be used.

Casey Thomas, principal of the auditor general’s office, said her office recommended that the Yukon government start inspecting its buildings almost 10 years ago.

“We were concerned to learn that departments were not yet using the information because the Department of Highways and Public Works had not yet verified the accuracy of the data in the assessments,” she said during a briefing March 5.

The report also found that Highways and Public Works doesn’t always spend its maintenance budget on high-priority projects. For instance, it found that a heating fuel tank was identified as high priority for replacement in 2011, but wasn’t actually replaced until 2013, by which time it was already leaking.

Thomas said $6.6 million of the $13 million spent on maintenance in 2015-16 went to projects that were not priorities.

“We did not feel that they had made the appropriate decisions,” she said.

The report also shows that the government has only investigated three of 57 buildings identified as vulnerable to permafrost melt in 2011.

It points out that the Ross River School, which was closed in January 2015 after cracks were found in the walls, had not had a structural assessment completed since 2012.

The school is “an example of the importance of monitoring buildings that have been identified as vulnerable to permafrost degradation,” the report reads.

The audit also looks at the prevalence of unacceptable levels of radon gas in government buildings, including schools and care centres.

The radioactive gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

High levels of radon gas were found in Jack Hulland Elementary School in 2016, the report finds. The Department of Education is in the process of installing radon meters in every school.

The report also notes that the health department has “no records to show what had been done to deal with the unacceptable radon levels in two residential care facilities.”

High radon levels have also been found in a number of private child care centres and family day homes. The auditor general’s office sent a letter to the health department in July 2016 with its concerns about the situation. The department has responded by saying it “would undertake further action to address this issue,” according to the report.

The auditor general’s second report looks at government transfers to societies that provide services in areas including mental health and athletics. It focuses specifically on funding provided by the departments of Community Services, Economic Development, and Energy, Mines and Resources to 24 Yukon societies through three funding programs: the Community Development Fund, the Yukon Recreation Advisory Committee and Yukon Sport for Life.

The report found that none of the three departments had evaluated the results of the three funding programs, and that the Department of Community Services doesn’t always require assessments that show whether projects that receive funding meet their objectives.

“A corporate evaluation policy would help departments measure, evaluate and report on performance,” Thomas said. “However, we found that the Executive Council Office had not developed such a policy.”

It also found that the policies governing transfers contain contradictions and inconsistencies.

“In our opinion, this could result in inconsistent funding decisions and the inequitable treatment of societies that request funding,” Thomas said.

The report also chastises the government for reclassifying a controversial $750,000 payment to the Mountain View Golf Club as an “other expense” in 2011. It had originally been billed as a government transfer.

Thomas said there are no policy requirements for “other expenses,” meaning there was no way for her office to audit that payment.

“There was no way for us to look at what rules were in place to be followed,” she said.

“Departments need to follow rules when spending public funds, so that they manage them with appropriate accountability and control,” the report reads.

In 2011, the Yukon government bailed out the golf course to the tune of $750,000, a deal it misleadingly framed as a payment for a land transfer.

The report also found that some transfers to societies should actually have been classified as goods and services contracts, because the government benefited from the payment.

For example, one society received $5,000 to install signs and maintain government-owned pools.

“In our opinion, contracts rather than government transfers might have been the appropriate mechanism,” the report reads.

In its written responses to the reports’ recommendations, the Yukon government has promised to address many of the issues raised. A government press conference is scheduled for March 7.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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