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Auditor general focuses on civil service pensions, prisons in spring report

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OTTAWA - Canada's auditor general is set to report Tuesday on whether the federal government is using the right information to assess the future needs of the country's public service pensions.

Michael Ferguson's nine-chapter spring report, to be tabled in Parliament, will also release a litany of other findings, including whether Correctional Service Canada has enough space for an expected jump in the number of prison inmates.

Ferguson's pension audit focused on the retirement plans for the public service, the Canadian Forces — excluding reservists — and the RCMP, and comes as the Conservative government proposes so-called "target benefit" pension plans for Crown corporations and federally regulated firms.

Some pension experts are pushing the government to use a target-benefit model as part of an overhaul of the defined-benefit plans long enjoyed by federal public servants.

But a statement on the Department of Finance website Monday said the government has already taken steps to ensure that federal public sector pension plans, which fall under their own legislation, are more in line with the private sector.

The C.D. Howe Institute has been arguing since 2009 that Ottawa should adopt accounting rules for public servant pensions identical to those used to determine the viability of private sector plans.

The think-tank has said the rate of return calculations used to evaluate public service pensions means the government may not be putting enough money into the plans now to make them sustainable for the future.

"We examined whether the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the RCMP, National Defence, and the Department of Finance Canada . . . considered the relevant information, analyses and scenarios that could affect the plans’ costs and thereby impact their sustainability," says a preamble to the report on the auditor general's website.

Ferguson's report also examines whether the $2.1 billion Canada's correctional service has received since 2009 to expand its existing institutions and to build new ones was enough to meet the expected need.

As well, the report will contain findings on Canada's First Nations policing program, the Canada Revenue Agency's aggressive tax planning program, and whether government departments are following the rules of the integrated relocation program.

It costs taxpayers about $500 million annually to relocate public sector employees, not including the actual moving costs, with the military making up the vast majority of the nearly 20,000 employees who are moved.

The integrated relocation program contract was awarded in 2009 to Brookfield Global Relocation Services after allegations of bid-rigging surfaced in two previous contracts. But it, too, has been criticized as being unfair.

Tuesday's report will also delve into northern economic program spending, the outsourcing of government building management services and the quality of the information that Statistics Canada provides to Canadians.

Of particular note in the chapter on Statcan will be the National Household Survey, the voluntary — and much-maligned — replacement for the cancelled long-form census.

When the census controversy erupted in 2010, critics derided the government for its decision to do away with the mandatory long-form survey, which was replaced in 2011 with a voluntary questionnaire.

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