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Environment Canada

Environment Canada’s mandate is to preserve and enhance the quality of the natural environment, conserve Canada’s renewable resources, conserve and protect Canada’s water resources, forecast weather and environmental change, enforce rules relating to boundary waters, and coordinate environmental policies and programs for the federal government.

Assessment: C

(Received an F in 2008–2009)

  • Although it received 26 percent more new requests in 2010–2011 compared to 2008–2009, Environment Canada achieved a solid performance.
  • Environment Canada attributes its improved performance to a number of factors, including a 72-percent decrease in complaints, a much shorter document retrieval time, a very successful personnel development initiative and improved internal processes.
  • The institution satisfactorily implemented all four of the Office of the Information Commissioner's (OIC) 2008–2009 recommendations. To prompt further improvements in performance, the OIC has issued six new recommendations (2010-2011 Recommendations).
Quick facts

2008–2009

2010–2011

Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 276 215
Number of new requests 892 1,128
Number of requests completed 914 1,171
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 134,080 163,273
Deemed refusal rate 36.9%* 14.7%*
Average number of days to complete a request 97 72
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 26
Number of consultation requests received 212 159
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC <85% >85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 54 15
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 25** 7**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 8.8 12
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Resources......................................................... Met expectations

Backlog............................................................. Met expectations

Records management..................................... Met expectations

Extension notices............................................ Met expectations

See report card text for details. For the full text of the recommendations, as well as the institution’s initial response and October 2010 progress report, go here

*   Percentage of carried over and new requests delayed beyond the deadlines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act. (See Appendix B for the formula the OIC used to calculate this rate.)

** A complaint is resolved when the OIC finds it has merit and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner’s satisfaction. The number of complaints reported here is current as of November 2011. As a result, the figure for 2008–2009 may be different from what appeared in the 2008–2009 report card.

Report card

Although it received 26 percent more requests in 2010–2011 compared to 2008–2009, Environment Canada achieved a solid performance. Its deemed refusal rate was 14.7 percent, and analysts took 26 days to complete new requests received in 2010–2011 (the rate rises to 72 days when long-standing files that were completed are taken into account).

Prior to receiving its 2008–2009 report card, Environment Canada had already implemented an action plan that gave it a head start on improving its access to information performance. Since then, Environment Canada has made significant and steady improvement.

Environment Canada attributes its performance to a number of factors, including a 72-percent decrease in complaints, which has meant more time to deal with current requests. The coordinator reported that there is now a better understanding of the appropriate use of extensions among analysts.

The institution’s document retrieval time has greatly improved, the coordinator said, now that Environment Canada has come out the other side of a significant reorganization in 2008–2009. While that was going on, it was often difficult to identify where certain documents were held and by whom. The average retrieval time is down to seven days, the coordinator said, due to a combination of institutional stability (which has made it easier to track the movement of requests within the institution), senior management support and new records management software. In addition, access officials delivered training to more than 700 employees in the last two fiscal years to emphasize the importance of responding quickly to document retrieval requests.

Environment Canada’s success with its personnel development initiative is noteworthy. Finding that recruiting employees through collective staffing was largely unsuccessful and that experienced analysts capable of reviewing files were scarce, Environment Canada decided to draw from and develop its own employees. Analysts are now recruited at a junior level and mentored by more senior analysts, gradually progressing to increasingly complex files. This results in the staff not only receiving solid training, but also in greater retention, since employees can see a clear path to advancement. Since candidates are now chiefly recruited from within Environment Canada, they arrive with valuable organizational knowledge. This curtails the adjustment period, which, in turn, increases productivity. The staffing initiative is proving successful (several employees have already been promoted through the program), yet Environment Canada expects that the initiative’s full potential will only be realized in another one to two years.

Environment Canada has also closely examined its internal practices to improve performance. These include processing more requests informally when the information has already been released, developing an intake unit to better manage the front end of the access process and streamlining approval of requests regarding environmental compliance. These requests often result in no records being located, and are generally approved by the manager of the access office, who has full delegation. Environment Canada also reported having improved communication with requesters, and providing partial releases of documents for large-volume requests, when possible.

Although Environment Canada has made progress in closing some of the oldest files in its backlog of long-standing requests, it has not yet been able to eliminate the backlog completely. However, the coordinator reported in the fall of 2011 that the majority of the remaining files were in the final stages of review and approval. The completion of this phase of the improvement plan is notable and should allow for even better results for Environment Canada in subsequent years.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued four recommendations to Environment Canada with the 2008–2009 report card. The following summarizes the subsequent developments at the institution in response. (For the full text of the recommendations, the institution’s response and its October 2010 progress report, go here.)

  1. Through its personnel development initiative, Environment Canada has been able to successfully recruit, train and retain employees for the access to information office, in line with the OIC’s recommendation that it ensure sufficient permanent resources for the function.
  2. Environment Canada implemented a solid action plan that has been instrumental in decreasing the number of requests in its backlog, as per the OIC’s recommendation.
  3. With increased stability in the institution, along with new software, training and senior management support, Environment Canada has been able to decrease its average time to retrieve documents from 26 days to 7. Document retrieval was a significant concern in 2008–2009.
  4. Environment Canada met the OIC’s 85-percent standard for acceptable performance, in terms of submitting the required notices of extensions taken for longer than 30 days.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This graph shows the sources of Environment Canada’s workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw a 9-percent increase in its workload. The number of new requests rose by 26 percent, while the number of consultation requests and requests carried over from the previous fiscal year decreased by 25 percent and 22 percent, respectively. The number of pages reviewed for requests completed increased by 22 percent.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011, the proportion of new access requests Environment Canada completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act increased from 80 percent to 93 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 147 requests in 2008–2009 and 73 in 2010–2011. It is commendable that this pool of overdue requests dropped by half; however, Environment Canada took significantly more time extensions in 2010–2011 than it did in 2008–2009.

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions Environment Canada reported to have taken in 2008–2009 and 2010–2011. The institution supplied this information in the notices it sent to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. Environment Canada submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices in 2008–2009, at which point the OIC issued a recommendation that the institution improve its performance in this area. In 2010–2011, Environment Canada submitted more than 85 percent of the required notices. The OIC notes that Environment Canada took more and longer extensions in 2010–2011 compared to 2008–2009.

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

These graphs show the number and outcome of two types of complaint registered against Environment Canada in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that Environment Canada delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about Environment Canada’s use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. Overall, Environment Canada was the subject of 72 percent fewer complaints in 2010–2011 compared to 2008–2009, including fewer deemed refusal and time extension complaints.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and outcome of complaints received by the Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered against Environment Canada in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Environment Canada has seen its complaints volume decrease 72 percent since the 2008–2009 report card. Of the complaints registered by the OIC in 2010–2011 and closed, nearly 50 percent were found to be not substantiated or were discontinued.

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 19 13 4 2 38
Refusals 6 5 3 1 15
Cabinet confidences 0 1 0 0 1
Total 25 19 7 3 54
2009–2010
Administrative 10 0 1 0 11
Refusals 1 0 2** 0 3
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 11 0 3 0 14
2010–2011
Administrative 7 4 1 0 12
Refusals 0 0 2 1 3
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 7 4 3 1 15

* Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

** The OIC began using new disposition categories in 2010–2011. There was one refusal complaint registered in 2009–2010 and closed in 2010–2011 in the new Settled category, which comprises complaints about minor errors, settled to the Commissioner’s satisfaction without a finding. For reporting purposes, this complaint was placed in the Discontinued category.

2010–2011 recommendations

Although Environment Canada’s performance was better in 2010–2011 than it was in 2008–2009, a “C” grade is tenuous and indicates that there is still room for improvement. As a result, the OIC is issuing the following recommendations.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of the Environment and the Deputy Minister of Environment Canada continue to demonstrate leadership to support the improvement efforts of the access to information office.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada (EC) supports this recommendation. The Minister and Deputy Minister of Environment remain committed to the continued improvement of Environment Canada’s Access to Information performance. The Deputy Minister is providing his full support to ongoing efforts to strengthen the department’s Access to Information capacity. Access to Information performance is reviewed on a monthly basis by EC’s Executive Management Committee.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that access to information performance be integrated into the performance management agreements of all senior management positions responsible for the access program at Environment Canada.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada supports this recommendation. Access to Information performance is included in the performance management agreements of all senior officials delegated with Access to Information and Privacy responsibilities.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada review and document the criteria it uses for extensions to ensure that they are reasonable and legitimate.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada supports this recommendation. The Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) office is currently developing a number of internal procedures and guides for departmental use. As part of this project, detailed guidance will be developed to enable ATIP staff to better assess and document the need for extensions.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada continue to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada supports this recommendation and has been working diligently towards a zero deemed refusal goal. Despite a continued increase in the volume of requests, EC’s compliance has improved over the last two years. Through continued emphasis on developing staff and streamlining operations, EC anticipates that this trend will continue in the coming years. 

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada continue with its plan to eliminate the backlog of access requests.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada supports this recommendation and has been working systematically towards eliminating the backlog of requests. EC will place continued emphasis on addressing the backlog over the next year.

6. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada report on its progress implementing these recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: Environment Canada supports this recommendation and will report on progress in its Annual Report to Parliament on Access to Information.