The coronavirus pandemic brought unexpected challenges to the City and its residents. The City has shown incredible resilience in adapting to continuously changing circumstances in order to deliver vital programs and services.
Like much of the City, my Office quickly adapted to working remotely from the onset of the pandemic. Because of the temporary shortage of remote network connections early on, my staff initially worked during off-peak hours (before 9am and after 5pm) to preserve the limited available teleworking network capacity needed by essential services staff. We also supported the City’s coronavirus response by redeploying three of my staff to an essential area in the City, and translating procurement documents on an emergency basis to help the City procure masks and other personal protective equipment for essential workers.
At the same time, we sped up the process of modernizing our systems in anticipation that working from home might become our new normal. We digitized our audit and recommendation follow-up processes, which streamlines our work and allows staff and auditees to share information seamlessly. And, our new Fraud and Waste Hotline complaint management system allows staff and members of the public to better provide information online, while maintaining anonymity. These initiatives allowed us to work effectively during the pandemic and strengthened our processes for the future as well.
This year also saw an important increase in my mandate: the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Public Library Boards invited my Office to include the operations they govern in my City-wide risk and opportunity assessment. We used this assessment to inform and prioritize audits included in my 2021 Work Plan. We have already started cybersecurity work at the Toronto Police Service and two key new projects are also getting underway.
Audits make a difference when recommendations are implemented. By taking action on our audit recommendations, the City has achieved savings of $385.3 million since 2016. For every dollar invested in our Office, there was a return of approximately $12.70.
In these pandemic times, the relevancy and timeliness of many of our past recommendations have been embraced, perhaps more than before. We’ve seen City staff leveraging our recommendations to maximize the benefit to both the City and to our taxpayers. For example, using vacant social housing units slated for revitalization to provide temporary emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
My staff also continued to deliver on our core mandate: performing audits and investigations to protect public funds and ensure value for money is being achieved. This year our audit recommendations focused on:
- improving the cybersecurity of Toronto’s water system
- improving contract management practices of winter road maintenance
- helping households needing financial assistance to purchase more affordable housing, and
- deterring those thinking about committing benefits fraud against the City.
Here are just some of management’s acknowledgements on the work we did in 2020:
“The Auditor General’s team brought valuable insight to Transportation Services as we instituted a complex cultural shift across our very large division with wide-spanning responsibilities. Their approach to program review, with a focus on continual improvement, has been critical to improving our business practices, our work culture, and our commitment to serving the residents of our city.”
—Barbara Gray, General Manager, Transportation Services
“…Toronto Water worked closely with your office to review and implement the critical Cyber Security measures recommended to further protect Toronto Water systems and infrastructure for Toronto residents. The entire process was proactive and collaborative with an implementation that was both efficient and extremely effective. Our sincere thanks for your professionalism and support…”
—Lou Di Gironimo, General Manager, Toronto Water
“All of the recommendations will help us focus more specifically, tying this program and the opportunity here to our affordable housing goals, it will definitely result in operational improvements for us specifically around record keeping, reporting and eligibility reviews, as well as more generally around oversight and our ability to meet targets…”
—Abigail Bond, Executive Director, Housing Secretariat
I am proud to say Toronto continues to be recognized for leading practices on the international stage. In 2020, for example, our Office was awarded the 2019 Exemplary Knighton Award by the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) for our audit entitled the ‘Review of Toronto Transit Commission’s Revenue Operations: Phase One – Fare Evasion and Fare Inspection’. The Exemplary Knighton Award is the highest award for local government audit reports in North America, and is the first time a Canadian audit office has won the Knighton Award at the highest level.
As I enter my seventh and final year as the Auditor General, I extend sincere gratitude to my staff and the City of Toronto. It takes an empowered professional audit team working to make a difference in the lives of Torontonians, the leadership of City Council, and a public service committed to continuous improvement to achieve the results we have seen year over year. Toronto is fortunate to have had all three elements in these six years that I have been the City of Toronto’s Auditor General.
Finally, I would personally like to express my appreciation for the City staff who have worked tirelessly to keep City programs and services running through these challenging times. I have every confidence that Toronto will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
Beverly Romeo-Beehler, FCPA, FCMA, CFF, ICD.D, JD, B.B.A.