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Senate Committee of the Whole

Address by the Interim Information Commissioner of Canada

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Thank you. I am delighted to be here today to answer your questions on my nomination as Information Commissioner.

I am honoured to be conferred this tremendous privilege of being nominated for the position of Access to Information Commissioner of Canada. I am excited about the great responsibilities and the challenges that come with the position of agent of Parliament in serving both Parliament and Canadians.

Almost a year ago, when I accepted to take on this job on an interim basis, I made a commitment to maximize the effectiveness and timeliness of our investigative function to fully meet the current needs and expectations of Canadians. Over the last year, through sustained and ongoing efforts, we have made great strides towards the achievement of this goal.

Mr. Chair, I would like to briefly talk about my career path leading up to this nomination.

I am a lawyer by training. I graduated from McGill University with a bachelor of civil law and common law. I moved to the national capital region where I practiced law as a crown prosecutor and a criminal defence lawyer. I joined the public service in 1996, with the Competition Bureau, where I have honed my skills as an investigator in both criminal and civil matters. I also assumed the role of special advisor to the Commissioner of Competition during a crucial time in the restructuring of the airline sector in Canada.

I briefly joined the Department of Justice as a legal counsel and litigator responsible for a wide variety of files related to competition matters before returning to the Competition Bureau in 2001 to join the executive ranks.

Before joining the Office of the Information Commissioner in 2007, I spent a year at the University of Ottawa in the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management where I worked on the integration of competition policy in rule making across the federal government.

I was appointed Assistant Information Commissioner, Policy, Communications and Operations in June 2007 and interim Information Commissioner in June 2009.

In summary, I have spent the last 20 years working in a variety of environments including the private sector, the public service and academia. Through my diverse work experiences, I have honed my skills in investigations, mediation, negotiation and litigation. My experience as a public servant has taught me much about policy development on complex matters and the privileged relationship that we hold with Parliament and its committees.

This experience also made me a steward of sound management practices. Over the last three years, the Office has fundamentally changed and I can honestly say today that it has come a long way – it is stronger, more accountable and more effective. I was directly involved in establishing and improving the organization’s capacity in areas such as corporate services, information management, parliamentary affairs and systemic issues. My office’s efforts at improving our financial management practices and governance were recognized last year by the Office of the Auditor General. I have also reinforced our internal audit functions to ensure that we gain maximum efficiencies and make adjustments in a timely fashion. Since joining the Office of the Information Commissioner in 2007, I have gained an in-depth knowledge of the Access to Information Act and about the institution.

Above all of these work experiences, however, the greatest strength I bring to the position of Information Commissioner is my ability to deal with highly complex matters and to find creative solutions.

Since starting my interim term as Information Commissioner, I have been directly involved in our investigations, on a daily basis. I have made full use of the powers at my disposal and the tools I have to maximize adherence to legislative requirements. My office has collaborated with all stakeholders during investigations in the search for the best resolution to complaints. However, I took a firm hand when required. I have also adopted a more proactive and integrated approach to assess compliance with our Act, as articulated in the Three-year plan.

My focus was on investigations and on the investigative function. As a result, we have closed more complaints this year than we have in the past two decades and we have made the largest dent in our existing caseload. We have also reduced by nearly one third the average time it took us to conclude investigations into our recent complaints.

If my nomination is confirmed, my leadership and my vision will be governed by excellence - that is excellence in service to Canadians, excellence in service to Parliament, excellence in stewardship of the OIC and excellence as an employer.

In practical terms, this means that first and foremost, my focus will remain on our investigations. We have made great strides this year in reducing our inventory of cases. However, we continue to deal with an important caseload and until such time as we reach a manageable caseload, dealing with investigations will be my number one priority.

I will systematically work towards improving the access to information as a whole, at all levels – in terms of requests, dealing with systemic problems and strengthening legal standards.

I do not think it is helpful to say that everything related to the federal access to information regime is broken. As my experience has taught me, it is much more productive to address specific issues with the right people, based on strong evidence. I am optimistic that with this approach, the access to information regime will become stronger.

As an ombudsperson, I see my role as a catalyst between the various stakeholders to bring about advancement in the access to information regime in Canada. I have said in the past that the Access to Information Act is lagging behind most Canadian and foreign jurisdictions. My goal is to bring about greater convergence between legal standards in Canada and those in more progressive laws internationally. As information is now flowing across levels of governments and across national and international boundaries, Canadians should not have to face varying standards and receive different responses depending on where the request is made.

I will also continue to uphold the highest standards in terms of management of the Office.

Mr. Chair, on December 12, 2006, when former Commissioner Marleau appeared before this committee to discuss his own nomination, he said the following: “When Parliament grants an agent of Parliament a trust on behalf of all Canadians, the very least Parliament deserves to receive in return is leadership that it can trust”. Mr. Chair, I am most honoured by this nomination. In the last year as interim Information Commissioner, I have demonstrated that I can lead my Office through its complex mandate in a trustworthy manner.

Thank you. I will be pleased to answer your questions.