FREDERICTON (GNB) – In his report tabled today at the legislative assembly, auditor general Paul Martin found opportunities for improvements pertaining to the oversight exercised by the Executive Council Office during the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin stressed the unprecedented nature of the pandemic emergency faced by the provincial government, noting that this was the first state of emergency ever declared in New Brunswick.

“The provincial government reacted quickly with unprecedented measures, including restrictions on gatherings, mask mandates and closures of schools and business, aimed at saving lives,” said Martin. “But prior to COVID-19, lessons learned from the H1N1 experience were not incorporated into an updated provincial pandemic plan.”

The report identified that roles and responsibilities of executive committees were not always clearly defined or documented. Furthermore, Martin found no records were maintained to support meetings of COVID Core, the group of senior officials who supported the cabinet committee on COVID-19.

The audit also made recommendations related to the decision-making process.

“The provincial government made difficult decisions, which significantly impacted the lives of New Brunswickers,” said Martin. “Expedited processes were established to increase the speed with which information was brought forward to cabinet for pandemic-related decisions. We found six instances out of 14 sampled restrictions in mandatory orders where public health measures were supported by verbal updates only.”

In addition, the audit identified some concerns with both the communication process and the government’s level of preparedness.

“The provincial government needs to incorporate lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into an updated provincial pandemic emergency plan,” said Martin.

Martin made five recommendations to address these outstanding issues in his report, which is available online.