2010-2011 IV. Looking ahead
Our efforts in the coming year will be geared toward improving the timeliness of our investigations into refusal complaints and their outcome in terms of disclosure. Efficient strategies and processes, targeted training and legal expertise will be critical enablers to achieve this goal. We will also complete our systemic actions on delay-related issues and ramp up our benchmarking activities to pave the way to restoring a leading access to information regime for Canada.
As Canada's 41st Parliament begins its work, we look forward to providing assistance and expertise to parliamentarians and all stakeholders to enhance federal institutions' transparency and accountability. Modernizing the access legislation and improving its administration are crucial to meeting citizens' expectations for faster and greater disclosure of information.
The federal open government initiative is an important step in the right direction and we will closely follow its implementation in the coming year. By facilitating timely sharing of information, collaboration and content creation, greater proactive disclosure of government information can enable public service renewal and promote innovation at a time where fiscal restraint and growth imperatives call for new ways of doing business within government and with other economic players.
Our strategic plan will guide our priorities for 2011–2012 and the subsequent two years as we further improve our investigative performance, provide the expertise to foster a leading access to information regime and implement talent management as a foundation for effective governance.
Addressing refusal complaints
Our first priority will be to effectively tackle our large number of refusal complaints, notably those dealing with national security issues. In doing so, we will benefit from the internal audit of our investigative branch that was initiated in March 2011. This audit aims to assess the extent to which business processes, performance metrics and information for decision making support efficient and timely investigative case management. The results and subsequent management action plan will be published in the fall of 2011.
We will continue to provide investigators with customized training and tools to help them fully understand the ever-evolving technicalities of the case law associated with access to information and to quickly pursue the necessary and relevant lines of inquiry. Our goal is to achieve faster results while encouraging greater disclosure for the benefit of access requesters.
On the systemic front
This year, we will conclude our first three-year plan for report cards. Activities include a detailed follow-up of the progress achieved by the 13 institutions that performed below average in the 2008–2009 survey as well as the 5 institutions from the same cohort that were considered at risk of underperforming. We will pursue our systemic investigation on delays resulting from mandatory consultations and matters of interference with the access to information process.
Following on our previous report on a case of political interference, a second report will address allegations of interference in a broader context within Public Works and Government Services Canada. A third report will include findings from the investigation of interference as a systemic issue causing delays.
All this information will complete the diagnostic of the extent and sources of delay that we have been preparing to help Parliament, central agencies and individual government institutions improve the timeliness of responses to access requests.
Bolstering legal capacity
We must also strengthen our legal capacity to effectively deal with complex and contentious cases. These cases often require the use of formal investigative powers and are more likely than others to result in litigation. They may involve exemptions and exclusions introduced by the Federal Accountability Act that have yet to be tested, as illustrated by current proceedings with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canada Post Corporation. Our oldest inventory also includes contentious cases that may result in further court proceedings.
The test set out in the Supreme Court of Canada's May 2011 decision on the control of documents in ministerial offices may lead to additional complexity for investigations and further increase the risk of litigation. We also expect a number of section 44, third-party proceedings in which we may have to intervene to influence the jurisprudence in favour of disclosure and protect the public's right of access.
Efforts to address these challenges will include seeking adequate funding for specialized legal and investigative services while taking into account the current context of fiscal restraint.
Expertise for legislative review
Two streams of activity will help us muster the necessary expertise to assist Parliament should it decide to review the access legislation. We will continue to document legislative shortcomings as they are revealed through our investigative work. We will also conduct a broader exercise of national and international benchmarking of various oversight models for access regimes—from order making model to ombudsman—starting with counterparts in the Canadian provinces, as well as in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.
Embracing talent management
Over the last two years, we have conducted a successful recruitment campaign to fill positions and meet business requirements. As a result, only one employee in five has been with the organization for more than five years. Among investigators, 57 percent have fewer than three years of experience with us. Taking into account the makeup and requirements of our workforce, we will develop a new integrated human resources and business plan as well as a talent management framework, which will initially focus on training and knowledge transfer.
International Conference of Information Commissioners
A key initiative for 2011–2012 will be the Seventh International Conference of Information Commissioners, which we will host in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association and other partners from October 3 to 5, 2011. This conference will provide an excellent platform to share information on forces of change and best practices worldwide. It will also contribute to maximizing synergies here at home to bring about greater government transparency and accountability and re-establish Canada as a centre of expertise on access to information.