On October 4, 2019, the reports from three investigations into the AER’s involvement with the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence (ICORE) were released.
- -The Office of the Auditor General of Alberta’s report
- -The Public Interest Commissioner’s report
- -The Ethics Commissioner’s report
When the reports were released, the AER’s interim board committed to implement any required actions to enhance credibility in the regulator. The new AER board, appointed in April 2020, carried on delivery of this work.
In December 2020, the Public Interest Commissioner advised that her office had completed four additional investigations into the conduct of former AER employees who had been closely associated with ICORE and the investigations did not support any findings of wrongdoing as defined under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.
Since October 2019, the AER has taken a number of steps to implement all recommendations from the original reports, as set out below, and considers all of the recommendations to be complete. As per normal process, the AER asked the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta to review the AER’s responses to their recommendations to determine if further steps should be taken.
Response to Recommendations
The former CEO is prohibited from working for, or obtaining contracts with, the AER. (Public Interest Commissioner)
- The board has declared that the AER will not rehire the former CEO or enter into any contracts with him. Our human resources software system has been updated to flag the former CEO with a “do-not-hire” status.
The AER ensure its Whistleblower Protection Policy is up-to-date and that AER staff are aware of and trained on the policy. (Office of the Auditor General of Alberta, Public Interest Commissioner)
- The AER updated its Whistleblower Protection Policy in September 2019. The updates include:
- A new designated officer (the person who investigates the disclosures): the AER’s designated officer is now the General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Law. Additionally, the designated officer is accountable to the board chair and CEO.
- New disclosure contacts: the designated officer will forward disclosures if
- the disclosure relates to the board, in which case the designated officer will forward it to the public interest commissioner
- a disclosure is related to the CEO or executive leadership team, in which case the designated officer will forward that disclosure to the board. The board may ask an external consultant to handle the disclosure, depending on the situation.
- All staff completed mandatory training on the Whistleblower Protection Policy in June 2020.
The AER investigate identified staff to determine if their activities, regarding ICORE and generally, breached the AER’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Procedures. (Ethics Commissioner)
- An independent consultant investigated the identified staff who were still employed by the AER at the time and found no breach of the AER’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Procedures. The AER board chair, CEO, and general counsel approved these findings.
The AER protect its intellectual property associated with the training curriculum developed for ICORE and related to OneStop. (Public Interest Commissioner)
- The intellectual property of the AER regarding the training curriculum developed for ICORE (NFP) and OneStop is protected through the terms of its agreements with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and with ICORE (NFP). The agreements confirm that the AER owns the intellectual property in the training courses and curriculum.
The AER evaluate whether additional funds spent on ICORE are recoverable and conduct a review of the actual time and resources expended on ICORE. (Public Interest Commissioner, Office of the Auditor General)
- The AER filed a second statement of claim against ICORE (NFP) and recovered additional funds. There are now no funds remaining in ICORE (NFP)’s bank accounts. The AER has now recovered from ICORE (NFP) a total of $ 2.86 million.
The AER assess the risk of further waste of public resources not already identified. (Office of the Auditor General)
- The AER’s Internal Audit Services will consider, where applicable, the potential for waste of public resources in the scope of their audits. The AER will continue to enhance internal policies and work to improve board oversight and corporate culture. The Internal Audit Services team will continue to routinely report to the AER board on the status of its audits.
All communication, oral or written, from an agency, board, or commission (the AER is an agency of the Government of Alberta) to the minister responsible go through the board chair, with the chair’s approval. (Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Auditor General)
- Proper communication protocols with government ministries are now in place; the Chair and CEO will be jointly meeting with the responsible ministers.
- The board and both Ministers have approved the Mandate and Roles document.
The board should improve its oversight of CEO travel expenses (Office of the Auditor General)
- The board now has oversight and approval of CEO expenses.
Obtain formal and periodic reports from management to ensure AER activities comply with Government of Alberta legislation and AER policies, including those related to conflict of interest. (Office of the Auditor General)
- The AER updated the Whistleblower Protection Policy to ensure the designated officer shares disclosures involving the CEO and members of the executive leadership team with the board.
- The AER’s Finance Branch will conduct expense claim audits and reviews to ensure employees are complying with the Travel and Subsistence Policy, which was updated in October 2019 to include tighter expense restrictions and more detailed approval processes.
- The board ensures that the assertions of AER’s management (financial or otherwise) adhere to the policies and legislation that apply to the AER. Key senior management are standing members of the board’s committees.
Ensure officers in key risk roles have the tools and skills to provide clear and complete information on AER activities. (Office of the Auditor General)
- The AER’s Internal Audit Services and the VP Finance/Chief Financial Officer now report directly to the board and CEO.
Establish processes to engage with all AER staff so that concerns are brought to the board’s attention. (Office of the Auditor General)
- Changes to the AER’s Whistleblower Protection Policy ensures the designated officer shares disclosures involving the CEO and members of the executive leadership team with the board.
- AER staff are encouraged to share concerns directly with board members.
- The board hosted formal sessions with AER staff to gather feedback on culture and corporate structure.
Ensure the effectiveness of processes regarding the evolution of corporate culture and the performance of senior leaders. (Office of the Auditor General)
- A CEO performance contract is now in place.
- All vice presidents and executive vice presidents participate in joint planning meetings to discuss corporate culture, executive performance, and operational business planning.
- The board will continue to have engagement sessions with staff.