Main Estimates 2013-14: Vote 40 under Justice

Remarks by the Information Commissioner of Canada Standing Committee On Access To Information, Privacy And Ethics

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Check against delivery

Good Afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the Committee.

I am accompanied today by Layla Michaud, my Director General of Corporate Services and the Office’s Chief Financial Officer.

Briefly, I will review my office’s achievements, our priorities for the next year and some of the challenges we face.

Overall, I am proud of the incredible work done by my dedicated staff.

In 2013-2014, we will have $10.5 million available to carry out our work. An added $2.6 million was provided to my office to cover the costs of relocating our offices next fall. We must repay this increase in appropriations over 15 years. In 2014-2015, our budget will be just under $10 million ($9.8 million), which includes a 500K reduction as a result of the Deficit Reduction Action Plan. By the end of 2014–2015, we will have fully implemented the Budget 2012 cuts, and the cost containment measures which, in total, will amount to 8 percent of our budget.

In 2013-2014, 77% of our financial resources have been allocated to our program, and 23% to our corporate services. In terms of our human resources, I have 93 full-time equivalents on staff (down from 106 at this time last year). Of the 93, 70 work for the program and 23 for corporate services.

As you know, over the last four years, I have made significant changes to streamline our entire operations. The results are very positive.

On the program side, we have closed about 7300 complaints since April 2009 including some of our oldest and most complex cases that had accumulated at the Office over the years. For a fourth year in a row, we have completed more files than what we have received during the year. Our median turnaround time is now 215 days and, more importantly, 86 days from the day they are assigned to an investigator. I have strengthened our legal capacity to assist with formal investigations and litigation, which had the net result of reducing our outsourcing costs for legal expertise.

In internal services, we are completing our IM/IT Strategy. In the last year, I have outsourced our human resources to Shared Services Canada.

As you have seen from my Report on Plans and Priorities, I have set ambitious performance targets for our Program and our Internal Services will be facing a challenging year in 13-14.

That being said my focus remains on the realization of the key results area of my Strategic Plan, which will be in its third and last year. I will, this fiscal year, renew this Strategic Direction for the following three years, to lead the OIC through to the end of my mandate in 2017.

On developing a leading access to information regime, my focus in 13-14, will be to complete our three systemic investigations into consultations, interference with the access to information process and on text-based messaging. I also plan to complete the investigation I launched in response to the environmental law clinic complaint. To coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Access to Information Act, and building on 30 years of experience at the OIC, we will issue recommendations for modernizing the Act by way of a special report to Parliament in the fall 2013.

We will continue to strive to provide exemplary service delivery to Canadians. As you saw in our RPP I have a dedicated team and we impose on ourselves difficult targets. These are to complete 85% of the administrative cases within 90 days and to complete 75% of priority or early resolution cases within 6 months. My goal is to leave, at the end of my term, a manageable and contemporary inventory of cases to my successor.

As part of our work in this regard, we will target the files in our inventory that deal with special delegation, the CBC and CRA. We will also continue to work towards the completion of our oldest files in our inventory and we will continue to closely follow the progress of our investigations.

We will also continue to seek ways to be an exceptional workplace. To that end, we will roll out a comprehensive talent management program, a new human resources plan as well as a Code of Values and Ethics, with excellence in all aspects of our work as our goal.

Our internal services will be responsible for the relocation of our office in the fall, the completion of our IM/IT strategy and for exploring further the opportunities for shared services with other Agents of Parliament.

One of the fundamental principles underpinning access to information is having an independent oversight of government decisions on disclosure. The Access to Information Act explicitly prescribes that the Information Commissioner shall receive and investigate the complaints of individuals who believe that their rights under the Act have not been respected.

Even though I was able to decrease my inventory of complaints by 28.5% in the last four years, I still have about 2000 files in my inventory. At the same time, we are receiving more administrative complaints. In the last month alone, my office registered 277 complaints. The additional efficiencies I can now make will remain marginal.

When I appeared last year on the 2012-2013 Main Estimates, I did not know if my Office’s budget would be cut. In a letter to the Minister of Justice I wrote “The overall conclusions of the review indicate that any reductions to my Office’s existing funding envelope will potentially have significant adverse impacts on program results, including eroding the significant progress made over the last two years in reducing the inventory of long standing cases and our ability to deal with the demands of our current inventory.”

Hence, if you ask me today if my budget is enough to accomplish my mandate, my answer is no.

In the coming months I will continue to work to improve our performance to meet our ambitious targets, but I will also be seeking additional funds to ensure that the Office of the Information Commissioner can meet its obligations under the Act.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My colleague and I will be pleased to answer any questions the honorable members may have.