Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada: A Collaborative Report from Auditors General 2018

Climate change has been identified as one of the defining challenges of our time. The impacts of a warming climate and extreme weather events are already being felt in Canada and are forecast to become more severe and more frequent.  At the same time, Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets (the 1992 Rio target and the 2005 Kyoto target) and is likely to miss the 2020 Copenhagen target as well.

Canada’s auditors general agreed to work together to collaboratively examine government responses to climate change. This report is made possible by the substantial work of legislative audit offices across Canada and is the first time that nearly all legislative audit offices in Canada have coordinated their work in this way. The participating audit offices worked together to develop a set of common questions related to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Overall, we found that actions taken by governments to date to address climate change across the country have fallen short of the governments’ commitments. This report identifies a number of key issues that exist in many jurisdictions across the country and provides critical questions that may be useful to consider as governments across Canada move forward on their climate change commitments.

Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada: A Collaborative Report from Auditors General

Collaborative Climate Change Audit Project: Process Chronicle and Lessons Learned 2019

Follow up report on Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada: Collaborative Climate Change Audit Project: Process Chronicle and Lessons Learned

Summary: Top 10 lessons learned

The following list summarizes the top 10 lessons we learned for collaborative audits in Canada.

  1. Choose an audit topic that is important to all Canadians—one where all governments involved have made strong commitments and have plans and strategies to meet them, and where working together among jurisdictions to achieve them is necessary. The value added of collaborative work on climate change was clear to all parties in this case and was an important motivator.
  2. Obtain buy-in and commitment from the highest levels in all audit offices before proceeding. In addition to getting approval in principle, it is critical to create a project charter that commits to a vision, resources, and timelines and to have the charter approved.
  3. Begin the project early—even earlier than you think you need to. Our project started two years before the planned tabling date of December 2017, and even then it was not tabled until 2018, because several jurisdictions had to move their tabling dates for a variety of reasons.
  4. Designate clear leadership, both at a working level and at other levels. With so many participating legislative audit offices, credible leadership, vision, and commitment of resources and expertise was needed. Shared leadership during the reporting phase, where we established a communications committee composed of three auditors general, enabled coordinated and expedient decision making when we most needed it.
  5. Ensure regular and structured communication throughout the project. The project working group had monthly phone calls throughout the project. Minutes were taken and distributed by email for those who could not attend every meeting. A secure and user-friendly method for sharing information and report drafts is important.
  6. Pay attention to early planning decisions for what the audits will include, especially considering the number of participating audit offices, in order to have comparable messages. Draft an outline of the summary report early so that all can work toward it.
  7. Engage subject matter experts—The Office of the Auditor General of Canada hired a subject matter expert to advise participating audit offices on specific matters throughout the project. We also convened advisory committees to get input from other experts to help guide the project. All legislative offices benefited from this expertise, and engagement with experts helped maintain credibility.
  8. Understand differences in practices and methodology—Not all legislative audit offices do the same things in the same way. Knowing these differences and finding ways to work with them early is important. For example, the project working group consulted with legal counsel during the examination and reporting phases to help us decide what kind of information could be shared among us and when. Different audit offices have different practices on this matter, as well as others.
  9. Table the individual audits as close together as possible in order to maximize their impact.
  10. Embrace innovation and adaptability—We did not know all the answers to how this collaborative audit would work when we began the project, but we figured it out along the way owing to a shared commitment to doing something important and different. Thinking outside the box and learning as we went were critical to success.

What the Office of the Auditor General of Canada did

Project summary

The overall objective of this collaborative project was to assess whether the federal, provincial, and territorial governments had met their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Provincial auditors general partnered with the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, which carried out audit work for the three territories in its role as independent auditor for Canada’s northern legislatures. This was the first time that so many legislative audit offices in Canada coordinated their work in this way.

The offices worked together to develop a set of common questions about climate change action to be included in the auditors’ individual work. From 2016 to 2018, they carried out this work and issued reports to their respective legislatures. Each audit office performed its work independently, with overall coordination done through the Office of the Auditor General of Canada by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The results of the individual audits were compiled in a summary report called Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada: A Collaborative Report from Auditors General, which was tabled in Parliament on 27 March 2018. The summary report provided an independent review of government progress on climate change commitments across the country. It provided a snapshot of key issues and trends that are common across governments and highlighted findings and examples of climate change action from the federal, provincial, and territorial audit work. The summary report included a list of questions that legislators could ask their governments on the report’s findings as well as a response to the report from the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

The summary report was provided to members of other legislative assemblies, including Nova Scotia, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nunavut. All jurisdictions issued a news release on tabling day and a webinar was conducted, with people participating from across the country. The report was also discussed at committee hearings in British Columbia and Nunavut legislatures as well as at the House of Commons. The report is still, almost a year later, referred to in media articles and other work looking into government progress on climate change in Canada.

Exhibit 1 outlines key steps in the project’s timeline.

Exhibit 1—Project timeline


Timeline of key steps in the collaborative audit project

What we learned

Survey methodology

Soon after tabling, at the CCOLA meetings of April 2018, project working group members were asked for their perspective on the things that worked well and the things that could be improved with respect to the project. Additionally, later in June we asked the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation (CAAF) to help us survey members more formally at the working level and at the auditor general level. The CAAF prepared a list of questions to survey members from 13 June to 12 July 2018. To do so, a survey was sent to auditors and auditors general. We received responses from 10 out of 11 offices. Below are the key messages that emerged from these exercises.

What worked

Impact. The summary report provided a comprehensive view of Canada’s progress on climate change, highlighted the importance of the issue, was more credible, and had a bigger impact (including on the public and the media) than individual audits would have had. The auditors could identify common challenges and successes among governments, and Canada-wide areas for improvement. The summary report also sustained interest in the topic by referencing the individual audit office reports. Because climate change must be addressed on a Canada-wide basis, it was appropriate for all governments to participate in the audit. The webinar was a new approach that worked really well and allowed cross-Canada participation from auditors general and stakeholders.

Working together: sharing the knowledge. Some audit offices are small and have limited resources for performance audits. Working with other audit offices allowed for collaboration and sharing of knowledge related to audit approaches, the approaches each jurisdiction was taking to address climate change, and specialist subject matter expertise. Some offices told us they could not have completed an audit on this subject without the knowledge-sharing focus.

Leadership and coordination. Having one organization (the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in this case) lead the audit over the entire project was necessary for coordination and success. The Commissioner championed the project at a senior level; provided dedicated resources; provided valuable guidance documents for audit work; provided expertise in audit, communications, and editing; shared scientific and technical data; and created shared audit working documents. The project team also drafted the summary report using input from other auditors, the tabled reports, and the Office of the Auditor General’s writing style to create cohesion. For the release day, templates of news releases from the Communications team at the Office of the Auditor General of Canada shared with other offices was helpful for consistent messaging and communication.

Commitment at all levels. Having all auditors general buy in and sign off on the project worked well in creating support for the project from all the offices. Formal agreements developed and signed (including the project charter), including common audit criteria and minimum baseline audit questions that every partner would complete, should be repeated in future collaborative audits. Making regular presentations to the auditors general at their meeting, soliciting their feedback, and providing them with a summary of their comments or concerns was helpful.

Ongoing communication. The creation of a project working group, with regular meetings and status updates, and the establishment of timelines helped move the project along. We held monthly teleconference calls with all members. We took the time upfront, including an early face-to-face meeting, to get acquainted and discuss how to deal with differences in mandates, legislation, procedures, and work habits.

Flexibility. The work was flexible enough to allow each office to take the approach best suited to their context. Partners could choose additional objectives or questions based on their preferences, office standards, legislative requirements, and jurisdiction’s climate change priorities. Tailoring questions for each jurisdiction that can still be summarized to produce a cross-Canada comparison is a good use of audit dollars.

What could be improved

Drafting the summary report and comparability. Preparing the summary report took a lot of work and time to make sure overall comments reflected each audit office’s findings and results. An earlier, more detailed reporting framework could have helped with drafting the report. Having a more detailed project schedule related to the reporting, media template availability, timing of auditors general sign-off, deadlines for providing comments, and other end-of-project deadlines would have helped each office manage its own time requirements and further support completing the project on time.

Timing of the summary report tabling. The time gap between the first audit report tabling (Ontario in November 2016) and the last (Nunavut in March 2018) created some challenges, including the treatment of subsequent events. On the other hand, having some offices reporting only a few months before the release of the summary report created some other challenges in writing the summary report. Overall, having more time for the reporting phase of the summary report would have been ideal, and would have been more possible if the offices had a tighter window for reporting their results before we started working on the summary report.

Joint response from departments. Keeping CCME, or local ministers, informed a little earlier in the process would have been helpful. Guidelines could be improved for response requirements, and we could have better communicated what our expectations were for a response.