Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss the main estimates for the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. I would also like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the recent accomplishments of my office and outline my priorities for this fiscal year.
I am joined by Deputy Commissioner René Leblanc, and Mr. Bruce Bergen, senior counsel.
The total for the 2013-14 main estimates for my office is $4.4 million. It is made up of $4 million, comprising the salary envelope and other operating expenditures, as well as $0.4 million for the employee benefits plan. I have no discretion regarding the employee benefits plan, which is a statutory vote; therefore, I have $4 million to deliver my mandate. I have a complement of 28 employees.
Even though the reference level for my office has remained constant since I became commissioner in July 2008, we absorbed the impact of the cost containment measures announced in Budget 2010. The cost containment measures meant that my office had to absorb the growth in salary costs from the ratification of collective agreements for the last three years. This has put pressure on my budget, particularly on the salary envelope. In addition, starting this year, my budget is now reduced by 5% as a result of Budget 2012.
The Registry of Lobbyists is at the core of the regime for ensuring the transparency of lobbying activities. Currently, there are more than 5,000 registered lobbyists. The registry contains information on about 3,000 active registrations. These figures have remained fairly stable since 2008.
A budget of $812,000, including salaries for seven full-time employees, is dedicated to maintaining the registry, providing guidance and technical support to registrants, and responding to inquiries.
During my last appearance on the main estimates in 2012, I explained how I would implement a 5% reduction in my budget. I mentioned to this committee that I would first defer development of the lobbyists registration system and, second, hire a system specialist to reduce my dependency on system consultants. This explains that a full-time employee was added to this program although this year's budget has decreased. Although system development will be deferred, essential maintenance work will continue. I have full confidence that the registry will continue to meet the needs both of Canadians and of lobbyists in ensuring transparency of lobbying activities.
Considerable work was done last year to upgrade key features of the system, focusing in particular on search and reporting capabilities. These features were launched in September 2012 and in February 2013. Users have told us that it is now a lot easier to mine the wealth of information that resides in the registry.
In 2012-13, an internal audit of the lobbyists registration system was conducted to examine the management controls and practices of the system. The scope of the audit included a range of activities: the governance of the system, the registration and reporting processes, registration staff training, and IT security. The audit concluded that appropriate measures were in place to support the lobbyists registration system. This means that the information provided by lobbyists is accurately captured in a timely and reliable manner.
Opportunities for improvements were found in the management of IT services in support of the registry, and this will be my focus in 2013-14. Our policies, directives, and procedures regarding IT management will be reviewed and revised as required. This will ensure that the integrity of the system will continue to be protected as we move forward. Moreover, the system documentation will be reviewed and updated, and a process will be established to ensure the documentation remains current in the future.
Let me now turn to education and research, which is another key component of my mandate.
The Lobbying Act is a fairly complex piece of legislation. The time and resources I invest in outreach are essential to fostering compliance. I allocate $810,000 of my annual budget to public education activities, including salaries for seven full-time employees.
In 2012-2013, my staff and I met with more than 900 individuals, including lobbyists, public office holders, as well as parliamentarians and their staff.
Interestingly, I am frequently asked to address academics and students for various Canadian post-secondary institutions who want to know more about our regime and its impact on transparency.
During the last fiscal year my office started reaching out actively to new registrants. When a lobbyist registers for the first time with my office, a registration adviser contacts the new registrant to provide personal assistance and offer guidance and training on the registration system. This approach resulted in increased efficiency and accuracy when inputting the requested information into the system. It is also an excellent way to ensure greater awareness of requirements of the Lobbying Act, which translates into better compliance.
In addition to administering the act, I am also responsible for ensuring compliance with the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. The code is important because it ensures that lobbying is done with the highest ethical standards. The lobbying legislation has been reviewed several times in the last decade, yet the code has remained unchanged since it was instituted in 1997.
The act states that I shall develop a lobbyists’ code of conduct. Based on my experience in administering the code, I felt it was time to review the code to ensure that it was clear for the lobbyists who must be in compliance with it. I plan on launching a consultation this fall to help inform my review of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Next year will be dedicated to sharing the results of the consultation and to proposing amendments, if any, to the code. I plan to consult with stakeholders on any amendments. I will keep the committee members informed as the process is progressing.
I would like to now turn to my office's compliance function.
Review and investigation activities are allocated $1.1 million including salaries for the equivalent of eight full-time employees. This year, I submitted two reports on investigation for tabling in Parliament. I also continue to refer files to the RCMP when I have reasonable grounds to believe that a breach of the act has occurred. For the first time since the coming into force of the Lobbying Act, charges have recently been laid against an individual for a breach of the act.
Overall, the number of administrative reviews that I close continues to keep pace with the number that I open. When I became Commissioner on July 2, 2008, I inherited a caseload of 40 administrative review files and six investigation files. I have dealt with all of but two of them. Since becoming Commissioner, I have initiated 101 administrative review files and completed 105.
During 2012-13, a new approach was developed by my office to determine the priority level of each file. The new process is designed to help manage the workload in the office and to estimate file completion dates. As new cases are opened, the priority standing of existing cases is reassessed, based on a range of factors, with a view to avoiding any given file becoming too old. The objective is to ensure that priority cases are dealt with in a timely manner and to reduce the inventory of older files.
In addition, in the coming year it is my intention to develop a more strategic approach to compliance verification. The current compliance monitoring practices will be improved by introducing a risk-based approach that includes in-depth analyses of registration behaviours within selected areas of the economy, or related to specific issues. This will assist in determining where resources need to be allocated in terms of either education or compliance.
Internal services are allocated about $1.7 million, including salaries of six full-time employees. Given the small size of my office, my approach is to acquire the majority of internal services from other organizations.
The service arrangements I have put in place are working well. They provide me with access to the broad range of expertise I need in corporate services to meet my accountabilities as deputy head, at an affordable cost.
Work was done to establish a program evaluation function over the last year. My office will continue to implement this program in the coming year. It is a critical component in my ability to offer further evidence of the effectiveness of our activities. This will also help me to identify where further improvement can be made in order to become even more effective.
As you may know from my presentation, I have managed to put in place the appropriate structure to mitigate the impact of the budget reduction on my ability to deliver on my mandate. As I mentioned at last year's appearance on main estimates, my office is a lean organization. My focus is on the priorities necessary to deliver on my mandate, which I have outlined in my opening remarks. Should the government decide to make changes to the Lobbying Act in the coming year, I will need to adjust my priorities accordingly.
I am looking forward to the activities and opportunities that this year will bring.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks. I look forward to answering any questions you and the committee members may have.