Message from the Commissioner

Suzanne LegaultAs I reflect on the year that has passed, I can’t help but recall the positivity I felt at the close of 2015–2016.

The Liberal government was elected on a platform of transparency and accountability, and repeatedly promised to significantly reform the Access to Information Act.

Spring 2016 saw the removal of all fees related to access apart from the five-dollar application fee, as well as a pledge to release government information in user-friendly formats. In addition, Budget 2016 included funding for transparency initiatives, and the government obtained a state-level seat on the Steering Committee for the Open Government Partnership.

The Office of the Information Commissioner had a successful year in 2016–2017 thanks to the addition of temporary funding. The OIC was able to hire additional investigators and resolve a record number of complaints. We hosted the Transparency for the 21st Century Conference, in partnership with the Department of Justice Canada, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and developed the program in collaboration with others. This conference was designed to bring together the many stakeholders that work towards government transparency.

However, despite these constructive advancements and the hopeful tone I felt even into the beginning of 2016–2017, the year is ending with a shadow of disinterest on behalf of the government.

In March 2017, the government announced its plans to delay the first phase of the Act’s reform, citing the need to “get it right”. Our investigations reveal, once again, that the Act is being used as a shield against transparency and is failing to meet its policy objective to foster accountability and trust in our government.

Budget 2017 contained no funding for transparency measures and, sadly, there is no direction from the head of the public service regarding transparency, likely meaning there will be minimal impact on the culture of secrecy within the public service. To top it off, institutional performance in relation to compliance with the Act is showing signs of decline, while Canadians’ demand for information increases. 

Comprehensive reform of the Act is essential and long overdue, especially in the face of the expanding information realities of the 21st century. A lot of work needs to be done before this government can meet its transparency promises.

2017–2018 is shaping up to be a year of change and challenge. In April 2017, I announced I would not seek reappointment as Information Commissioner when my term expires, and was appointed for an interim period of six months beginning on June 29, 2017. Hence, it is not yet time for me to offer a retrospective on the last eight years or give homage to the many extraordinary people who work tirelessly to advance transparency in Canada.

In the coming months, I will continue to work with dedication and passion as the OIC prepares for this transition.

I know I can count on the support of the OIC during this upcoming year. As always, their support and loyalty are unparalleled and their dedication to Canadians exemplary.