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Collaboration Among Officers of Parliament
In the reporting year, the Officers of Parliament continued their collaborative efforts to ensure that they find ways to be good "corporate citizens" within the governmental structure, without compromising the appearance and reality of independence from government.
The first, and most important, step in this regard was the establishment of a pilot project (for FY 2006-07 to 2008-09) for funding Officers of Parliament, which involved the establishment, by the Martin government, of an ad hoc, all party advisory panel of MPs, chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The advisory panel’s role is to consider funding requests from Officers of Parliament and to recommend funding levels to the Treasury Board. Under the terms of the pilot project, Treasury Board ministers agreed to give the advisory panel’s funding recommendations significant weight.
The Harper government has decided to maintain the pilot project. This innovative mechanism has addressed the apparent compromise of independence that arises when the government of the day decides on the level of funding available to Officers of Parliament - whose role it is to investigate government and government officials. As well, the ad hoc advisory panel serves, along with the substantive standing committees to which the Officers of Parliament report, as a mechanism of accountability for the Officers of Parliament.
There are, as well, other issues, besides funding, that raise the potential for compromising the independence of Officers of Parliament from government. Being in compliance with a wide range of government rules concerning, for example, human resources, reporting, compensation, and audit and evaluation may give rise to the appearance or actuality of interference by central agencies with the independence of Officers of Parliament.
The government has a good understanding of the concerns of the Officers of Parliament in this regard, and the Treasury Board has agreed to participate in reviewing its policies and directives to ensure that they are tailored to take account of this independence concern.
The first Treasury Board policy to be reviewed was the policy on internal audit that originally included Officers of Parliament in the same manner as large departments of government. The Officers of Parliament could not accept having appointees of the Comptroller General sitting on their audit committees, having access to their investigative records, or dictating their audit priorities. However, Officers of Parliament were committed to ensuring that they had vibrant, effective, accountable internal audit capacities, including external representation on audit committees. The Officers of Parliament proposed a modified internal audit approach for them, which was presented to the Treasury Board, and which has been accepted as an appropriate approach to respecting government audit policy without compromising the independence of the Officers of Parliament (the tailored internal audit policy is available from the Information Commissioner’s website).
As well, the Officers of Parliament have developed, for discussion with central agencies, a set of principles to guide the review of the other central agency policies which, heretofore, have been applied to Officers of Parliament as if they were no different than other government institutions. Those principles are as follows:
Officers of Parliament share the view that each of their organizations should respect the principles and objectives of central agency policies related to the management and accountability of government institutions, but in a manner that respects their need to protect and maintain their independence from government and accountability to Parliament.
The Officers of Parliament have also agreed, as part of the Framework for the Pilot Project for a revised funding and oversight mechanism for Officers of Parliament, to continue to operate in a manner consistent with the Treasury Board Management Accountability Framework and the Treasury Board policies, directives, and guidelines.
There is an opportunity to collectively address the working relationships between Officers of Parliament and central agencies, as the Treasury Board has launched its "Policy Suite Renewal" and is involving Officers of Parliament in the consultation process. In addition, Officers of Parliament recently developed an approach in dealing with the new Internal Audit Policy, and reached an agreement with the Office of the Comptroller General in its application, while respecting the spirit and intent of the new policy and at the same time, protecting their independence from government and maintaining their accountability to Parliament.
The purpose of this document is to present a set of working principles whereby Officers of Parliament meet the spirit and intent of central agency policies, while maintaining their unique status of independence from government.
The tradition in Canada, at least at the federal level, has been to use the term "Officers of Parliament" to refer to those independent agencies created to assist Parliament in holding government accountable and in protecting various kinds of rights of individual Canadians, or to carry out certain functions independent of the executive.
The traditional Officers of Parliament are the ones with which we are concerned. They are:
- The Auditor General (established 1878)
- The Chief Electoral Officer (established 1920)
- The Official Languages Commissioner (established 1970)
- The Information Commissioner (established 1983)
- The Privacy Commissioner (established 1983)
Officers of Parliament adhere to sound management principles and practices and fully support the notion of strengthening the culture of accountability.
The working principles are:
- Respect the spirit and intent of government policies
Officers of Parliament respect the principles and objectives of central agency policies related to the management and accountability of government institutions, while respecting their need to protect and maintain their independence from government and accountability to Parliament.
By law, Officers of Parliament must discharge their functions in a manner which is, in reality and appearance, independent from government.
Officers of Parliament are accountable directly to Parliament. Parliamentary forums of accountability for Officers of Parliament include appropriate standing committees of the House and Senate, and the Advisory Panel of the House of Commons on the Funding of Officers of Parliament.
Officers of Parliament conduct their operations as transparently as possible, except where precluded by legislation.
In order to meet central agency requirements to report on the whole of government, Officers of Parliament provide aggregate information that is as compliant as possible with government requirements without compromising their independence and management autonomy.