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Audit finds flimsy accounting for travel, booze at Canadian UN mission

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Canada’s diplomatic office at a UN agency in Montreal has been badly managed for years — and even managed to lose track of its alcohol and silverware.

“[T]he current method used to track alcohol consumed during hospitality events was not sufficiently reliable,” says a newly released audit of the Canadian mission to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“The audit team also identified discrepancies in the crystal, chinaware dishes and cutlery inventories after performing a physical count.”

Transport Minister Marc Garneau was warned in March 2017 of problems at Canada’s mission to ICAO in Montreal. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The report says that most of the overtime and travel claims it sampled were not pre-approved, there was no proof that goods and services paid for were actually received, five hospitality claims disappeared entirely, silverware was never counted — and at least $6,000 in travel and hospitality spending wasn’t tracked at all.

“[I]t is difficult for the audit to determine why certain travel took place,” says the highly critical document.

The audit focused on operations between April 2014 and March 2017, a three-year period that followed intense lobbying in 2013 by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to keep the ICAO in Montreal.

The UN agency, which sets global standards for aviation safety and security, came into being in 1947 and has been located in Montreal ever since. According to one estimate, the agency’s 191 member countries are bringing some $120 million in economic benefits to the city each year.

Rival bid

A rival bid by Qatar in 2013 to host the agency in Doha beginning in 2016 was dropped in the face of intense lobbying by then-Foreign Affairs minister John Baird and others. That lobbying ensured the ICAO will stay put until at least 2036.

Canada’s small mission in Montreal, with eight permanent staff and three temporary positions, devotes about half its resources to host-state duties, including securing visas and even parking for ICAO member countries.

The Liberal government was alerted to problems at the Canadian mission sometime before March 2017, when a briefing note to Transport Minister Marc Garneau warned of major “shortcomings” and the need for a full audit. CBC News obtained the note under the Access to Information Act.

The auditors ended up delivering a scathing June 2018 report, citing “haphazard” communications, “confusion” about work responsibilities, “ad hoc” procedures, “insufficient training,” a “lack of documented procedures” and missing paperwork.

The mission’s annual budget – averaging $806,000 during the audit period, and $856,488 in 2017-18 – reserves about 10 per cent for hospitality and travel.

The funding was accounted for; however, the reporting was lacking.– Transport Canada spokesperson responding to an audit of the Canadian mission to ICAO in Montreal

Among other things, the report found the mission’s accounting for those funds was flawed, citing “weaknesses in the Mission’s management controls and oversight in the areas of budget planning and monitoring, expenditure approvals, inventory management and information management.”

A spokesperson for Transport Canada, which is primarily responsible for the operation of the ICAO mission, played down the findings, saying that “the funding was accounted for; however, the reporting was lacking.”

“There was no evidence of any items that went missing, including alcohol,” Sau Sau Liu added in an email.

Performance reviews

The audit does not refer to individuals at the mission. Asked whether any staff members have been reprimanded or terminated, Liu said only that the “lack of management oversight has been addressed through the completion of regular performance reviews required within the public service.”

On April 3, 2017, the Liberal government appointed career diplomat Martial Page as the new head of the ICAO mission to help sort out the mess.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum, left, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, centre, and Jean-François Lisée, Quebec’s international relations minister, leave a ‘Team Montreal’ meeting at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters May 3, 2013. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Transport Canada declined CBC’s request to interview Page, whose three-year appointment ends in 2020. But the department says the mission has since strengthened management control, implemented new strategic and operations plans and created an inventory system.

“Transport Canada and Global Affairs Canada will continue to monitor progress in the implementation of measures identified and will work with the Mission to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used effectively,” said Liu.

The audit was conducted jointly with Global Affairs Canada, which provides support and advice to the mission.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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