Letter to ETHI: Funding mechanism (May 2023)

May 5, 2023

John Brassard, M.P.
Chair of the Standing Committee on
Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Chair:

I am writing to suggest the addition of a specific recommendation regarding the need for an independent funding mechanism for the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) to your committee’s final report of its study on the Access to Information and Privacy systems.

As I have mentioned in previous appearances before your committee, the manner in which my office is funded must reflect my independence, which given the role I play within the Access to Information regime is at the very heart of the OIC’s credibility.

As you are aware, under the current model, it is the government of the day, and not Parliament, which sets funding levels for my office and considers my funding requests. This has very real implications for my operations. It means that I am required to submit requests for additional funding through a minister in charge of a department over which I have an oversight role. Such requests are currently required to include language on how this will contribute to “Government priorities” and other considerations that should not be determining factors in granting such funding. Whether or not these requests are granted is secondary to the real issue; i.e. the optics of needing to work through central agencies in order to secure funding may create, in and of itself, the appearance of a potential or real conflict of interest in the conduct of my investigations. 

An independent funding model for my office and other Agents of Parliament is not an innovation. Indeed, some of my fellow Agents already operate under such a model, and they have amply demonstrated that, by incorporating the highest standards of stewardship of public funds and by including the necessary safeguards, they can ensure value for money. 

Moreover, this is not the first time that this issue has been the object of Parliament’s attention. The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics of the 38th Parliament issued a report in May 2005 recommending the creation of a parliamentary body as the budget-determination mechanism for the funding of all Agents of Parliament.

Subsequently, the Advisory Panel on the Funding and Oversight of Officers of Parliament was convened under a multi-year pilot project to review funding requests from Agents of Parliament, including the OIC. The 2008 Corbett Report recommended that this model be made permanent, but unfortunately, it was not implemented.

In 2019, Agents of Parliament revisited this issue in a joint letter to Michael Wernick, then Clerk of the Privy Council. Efforts to engage with the Clerk on the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons’ mandate letter commitment to “ensure that Agents of Parliament are properly funded and accountable only to Parliament, not the government of the day” also failed to yield anything concrete.

Clearly, in the current context, with the various challenges currently plaguing the access regime, a robust, independent parliamentary watchdog accountable only to Parliament is a necessity. As long as my funding depends on the goodwill of the Government, one may question to what extent the OIC is independent.

I trust you will agree that when it comes to the funding model for my office, the status quo must be challenged. Nearly two decades ago, the ETHI Committee’s report made the case for change very clear:

There is no doubt that the current budget determination process for the funding of Officers of Parliament raises serious concerns. The Committee feels that the status quo is unacceptable. At the very least, it raises the perception that the critical functions of these Officers could be impeded by budgetary restrictions imposed by the very body whose actions they are charged with scrutinizing.

I therefore respectfully suggest that the final report of your study highlight this needed change, in the interest of the right of access and the credibility of our democratic institutions.


Caroline Maynard
Information Commissioner of Canada

c.c.:   Ms. Iqra Khalid, First Vice-Chair
         Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

         René Villemure, Second Vice-Chair
         Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

         Ms. Nancy Vohl, Clerk
         Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethic

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