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PACP Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE NINETEENTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH

INTRODUCTION

Since the Auditor General of Canada's (AG) November 2003 report, the government has undertaken a number of significant initiatives that it reported on in its responses to the ninth and tenth reports of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. These initiatives continue to be relevant and are referenced in the individual responses to the recommendations on the management of public opinion research (POR) in the Committee's nineteenth report. The government is confident that the measures now in place and those introduced in this response will ensure effective and transparent management of the POR function and value for money from this important activity.

RECOMMENDATION 1

That the government adopt guidelines that instruct public servants on the identification and avoidance of conflicts of interest and appearance of conflict of interest in the awarding of public opinion research contracts.

The government notes that it has already undertaken a number of initiatives that support the recommendation. No further action is needed at this time.

Federal public servants must abide by the Values and Ethics Code of the Public Service that was instituted in September 2003. The Code serves to maintain and enhance public confidence and the integrity of the Public Service and is a condition of employment for public servants. Breaches of the Code could subject public servants to a variety of disciplinary measures, up to and including their termination.

The Code requires Public servants to report, within 60 days of their first appointment or any subsequent appointment, transfer or deployment, all outside activities, assets, and direct and contingent liabilities that might give rise to a conflict of interest with respect to their official duties. To this end, a Confidential Report must be filed with their deputy head.

Every time a change occurs in the personal affairs or official duties of public servants, they must review their obligations under this Code. If a real, apparent or potential conflict of interest exists they must file a new Confidential Report with the deputy head.

As well, when negotiating financial arrangements with outside parties that involve public funds, public servants must comply with the Conflict of Interest Measures that form part of the Values and Ethics Code. When in doubt, public servants must immediately report the situation to their supervisors in order to seek advice or direction on how to proceed.

RECOMMENDATION 2

That the government demand a full list of firms involved in any consortium bidding for government contracts including public opinion research contracts.

Currently, bid solicitations administered by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), where bids are anticipated to be submitted from consortia, must include a clause that requires a bidder to provide specific information regarding the members and nature of the consortium.

PWGSC will henceforth include the clause outlined above in all of its POR bid solicitation documents. The result will be that whenever a consortium submits a bid for POR services it will be required to identify all of its members and its structure. Thus the Crown will be able to obtain details related to consortia with greater reliability and consistency for POR activities.

RECOMMENDATION 3

That requests for proposals be drafted in a way that does not unnecessarily exclude potential bidders.

The government concurs with the recommendation but notes that government procurement policies and international trade agreements are based on principles of openness and transparency, as well as fair and impartial treatment of suppliers. The procurement policy indicates that departments must clearly describe the work to be performed and all tests of competence related to the requirement, and must establish the right balance in terms of quality, experience, track record, risk, impact on asset base and price or costs in tendering and evaluation processes in order to achieve value for money.

PWGSC's current procurement policies and procedures are designed to facilitate supplier access to opportunities to compete for federal business. The process is premised on fair competition that takes place on a level playing field, where rules are clearly articulated at the outset and adhered to throughout the process.

New procurement instruments for public opinion research were implemented in May 2004, following extensive consultation and unanimous support of the major Canadian research associations. These new instruments were established through a fair, open and transparent solicitation process. Under the system now in place, for a period of three years, all of the successful firms are able to participate in the federal government's public opinion research activities, either through sharing in the business resulting from call-ups issued under standing offers, or through the opportunity to compete for requirements handled under the supply arrangements.

As well, PWGSC continues to contract for public opinion research services by publishing opportunities on the Government Electronic Tendering Service (GETS).

RECOMMENDATION 4

That, as recommended in its 9th Report of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, administrative penalties up to and including dismissal from the Public Service of Canada be established to discourage non-compliance with contracting rules and regulations.

The government notes that it has already undertaken a number of initiatives that support the recommendation. No further action is needed at this time.

Both before and after the coming into force of the Public Service Modernization Act, there has been a comprehensive administrative framework in the Public Service of Canada that governs discipline, up to and including termination of employment (dismissal). This framework allows management to deal with all situations of misconduct, which includes situations of non-compliance with contracting rules and illegal activities.

Prior to the coming into force of the Public Service Modernization Act, paragraph 12(1)(c) of the Financial Administration Act authorized each deputy head to establish standards of discipline and set penalties, including termination of employment, suspension and demotion. Generally, disciplinary sanctions should be progressively more severe for repeated incidents of misconduct. However, termination of employment may be considered from the outset in cases of very serious misconduct. Allegations of misconduct are investigated and employees are provided an opportunity to explain their actions. Management must be able to demonstrate cause for any disciplinary decision it takes and employees have the right to grieve the action, if they believe it to be unwarranted. While the Minister does not intervene in the disciplining of public servants, the deputy head is accountable to the Minister for the proper discharge of his or her responsibilities.

With the coming into force of the Public Service Modernization Act, responsibility and accountability to apply disciplinary measures is vested directly with deputy heads (this authority previously rested with the Treasury Board but was delegated to deputy heads).

The Treasury Board Secretariat provides advice and support to departments and agencies in dealing with disciplinary situations. It has also issued Guidelines for Discipline, which provide a detailed description of the disciplinary process and disciplinary measures that can be used when misconduct occurs. These guidelines assist deputy heads, who are ultimately accountable, in applying a fair, consistent and coherent approach to discipline across the public service.

The administrative framework reflects the well-accepted labour relations principle that discipline is to be corrective, rather than punitive. Its purpose is to motivate employees to accept rules and standards of conduct, including those that are contained in the Value and Ethics Code of the Public Service, that are desirable or necessary to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization. However, in advance of corrective measures, proactive preventative measures can be invoked to motivate desired behaviours.

RECOMMENDATION 5

That all departments submit written reports on all public opinion research, including public opinion research delivered orally as per the new Public Works and Government Services public opinion research guidelines.

This recommendation has been implemented. The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada: Procedures for Planning and Contracting Public Opinion Research, amended in November 2004, requires final reports of public opinion research to be submitted in writing, in either electronic or hard copy format. Oral reports alone are not acceptable.

RECOMMENDATION 6

That the Treasury Board reissue its written policy prohibiting the government from purchasing public opinion research providing electoral voting behaviour information.

This recommendation has been implemented through a series of measures instituted by the Treasury Board Secretariat and PWGSC.

The Treasury Board policy guidelines referred to in the Auditor General's report have been reissued, including the injunction against using public funds for public opinion research on electoral voting behaviour. The Treasury Board Secretariat issued policy guidance advising all departments and agencies of the principles to be applied when contracting for public opinion. The guidance clearly stipulates that: “Public funds should not be expended on public opinion research concerned with monitoring electoral voting behaviour or the image of political parties.” This is the precise language of the former Treasury Board policy guidance mentioned in the Auditor General's report.

Heads of communications in departments and agencies were also informed of Treasury Board's policy guidance on public opinion research. The guidance document is posted with the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada on the TBS Web site.

In addition, since May 2004, PWGSC has required all contracts for public opinion research to include a clause specifically excluding information related to electoral or voting intentions. The following clause now appears in all government contracts for public opinion research: “No Reporting on Electoral or Political Party Voting Intentions of the Electorate – The Contractor shall ensure that no written, verbal or electronic reporting to Government of Canada clients will contain information on electoral voting intentions, political party preferences or party standings with the electorate in any jurisdiction in Canada.”

These measures effectively reiterate the Treasury Board policy guidelines that prohibited the use of public funds for public opinion research on electoral voting behaviour and party image.

RECOMMENDATION 7

That political polling be prohibited after an election writ has been issued and, that there be no reporting on polling results during an election period for public opinion research work begun before the issuing of the writ.

The Canada Elections Act provides restrictions on the conduct and reporting of election opinion surveys and, in any event, election opinion surveys by government department and agencies are not authorized, by government policy, at any time.

RECOMMENDATION 8

That the Treasury Board issue clear guidelines on focus groups or real time research to ensure that it provides feedback on government policies only without encroaching into the realm of political opinion and party preferences.

With the clause that is now a condition of all government contracts for public opinion research, together with the policy guidance issued in April 2005 by the Treasury Board Secretariat (as noted above in recommendation 6), the government believes the objective of this recommendation is being met.

RECOMMENDATION 9

That Public Works and Government Services Canada ensure 100% compliance with the public disclosure requirement and that it report on its success in its departmental performance report.

The responsibility for public disclosure of public opinion research lies with the deputy heads of departments and agencies, and not with PWGSC. Nevertheless, the government agrees on the need to report on compliance with the public disclosure requirement. Therefore, in its Annual Report on Public Opinion Research, PWGSC will include information on the number of final reports on POR contracted by PWGSC on behalf of departments and deposited with the Library of Parliament and Library and Archives Canada, as required under the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

PWGSC has sent out reminder notices to departments and agencies and will continue to do so on a regular basis.