I call this meeting to order.
This is meeting number 35 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
I'd like to remind committee members that today's meeting is going to be webcast and will be available via the House of Commons website.
Today we're studying the main estimates 2021-22, including vote 1 under the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying and votes 1 and 5 under the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada.
Today our witness to carry us through the first hour is Caroline Maynard, who is the Information Commissioner of Canada. We'd like to welcome the commissioner and turn it directly over to her to begin with an opening statement, and then we'll have some questions from members.
Thanks so much for being here.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today.
It has been over a year since we last spoke, and I am pleased to be here to answer questions about my Office's portion of the main estimates.
Generally speaking, in the past, our figures have not changed that much from year to year. However, you may notice that this year there is an increase to my permanent funding. I received this as part of the supplementary estimates (B). This has made a significant difference to the Office of the Information Commissioner's operations.
In past years, the temporary nature of the additional funding granted to my office annually to address the backlog of complaints has prevented me from permanently staffing a number of positions on my investigations team. Year after year my predecessor and I were forced to request the funding anew.
Permanent funding has at last allowed me to adopt longer-term approaches to human resources planning in order to ensure stability within my office and contend with the volume of complaints that we are investigating. We are capitalizing on this opportunity.
I have used this funding to begin staffing processes that, once concluded, will result in a net gain of 26 full-time equivalents, 21 of whom will be working in the investigations and governance sector. Some of these new employees have already started on investigations at the OIC. Others will soon be joining us. I look forward to welcoming them to my team.
Together we will continue to work to uphold the right of access, which is compromised due to the pressures we see within the system, a situation I highlighted even before the pandemic but one which I believe, with strong leadership and bold actions, including voluntary disclosure and proper information management, we can address.
I would just end with the assurance to you all that my Office's commitment to transparency and fair and efficient investigations endures. We could always do more with more resources, but we have proven to be innovative with what we have and we have demonstrated great adaptability, particularly in this time of upheaval.
It is a great source of pride to me that since the very beginning of the pandemic, the Office has been able to maintain its operations, and indeed continue to innovate, even as we all dealt with the restrictions imposed upon us.
This bodes well for the future of the organization.
I am happy to stay and I will answer the questions you have for me today.
Sorry. I didn't think I put myself on mute.
Mr. Gourde, it's not better than before, but it's not worse either.
I am pleased that we have been able to keep up the pace at the Office. We have received over 4,000 complaints again this year and we managed to close 4,060 files, despite the fact that we have all been working from home since March of last year.
My goal was for the backlog not to increase. So I tried to keep the number of outgoing files equal to the number of incoming files. Ideally, we would have completed more. But as you know, while I have received additional resources, this has not necessarily been the case for the other agencies. Our investigations are actually limited by the speed at which those agencies can respond to our requests for representation. This year, our ability to close the files was impacted.
Despite this, I think we are on the right track.
Yes, definitely. The pandemic forced us to adopt new ways of working.
We were fortunate that all my employees had access to their computers at home and everyone has been connected since last March. In addition, we have learned to live with new ways of working, including electronic signatures and electronic mail. Many documents are now sent electronically. This has made our job easier. We are realizing that we are able to work from home, and my employees have told me in several surveys that they would like to have that flexibility when we get back to normal in the next few months.
We will probably offer some flexibility, a hybrid work arrangement. Some days we will work from home and some days from the office. This will allow us to have some collegiality and to meet together. We miss that very much. The work itself and the efficiency of the employees have not changed.
We were going to be short in location for 27 new employees, so we were looking at having extra rental space. However, because of the hybrid possibility and the flexibility that telework and working remotely are giving us, we see that we won't need the additional rental space, so the money will be able to be spent on people and on innovation in technology.
We are definitely moving to a cloud environment at my office so that we can have easy access to all of our documents. We're scanning all the files so that we don't have paper anymore and so that people can work from home easily.
It also is going to give us the flexibility of hiring people outside of the national capital region, which is great, because we've always had difficulties recruiting in this field. Now we can have people in Toronto, Vancouver and London, Ontario. This has been a great opportunity for my office in terms of hiring and retaining all these people.
As for the $3 million we received permanently, I was getting it every year for the last five years, but, as I said earlier, it was always a temporary measure. Now we finally are able to invest long term in our employees and in our infrastructure so that we will definitely be getting some long-term gain.
We're definitely looking at all of the different options.
Right now we're not looking at getting more buildings or rental space, because people are enjoying working from home. However, I am told as well that people are missing their colleagues, the coffee talk and the lunches, and being able to to look to the colleague beside them for help sometimes. Right now it's a little bit harder. You have to call people. You have to send them an email or do a live chat.
We're looking also at using Zoom or Teams meetings—video conferencing, and all that technology—to help everybody learn and be more efficient and be happy working from home or at the office. I think having both will be a positive thing.
Good afternoon, Commissioner. I am pleased to see you again and, especially, to speak to you in French.
Today, we are fortunate to have a forum to talk about certain things.
I find it reassuring that your budget has been increased and that you have been able to hire 27 new employees, including 21 investigators.
I also find it interesting that you have been able to process 4,060 complaints that were backlogged.
You have now received funding, and performance is often said to depend on funding. In practical terms, in order to do as much as you can and ensure that backlogged complaints are processed, what is missing in your organization?
I know you have a number of suggestions for us, so I'll turn it over to you.
I thank you for that. It is really important that you are able to make those systemic investigations, because I know that RCMP has come up a number of times with red flags for non-compliance or very slow responses, so I'm glad to see that.
I'm interested in the issue of the percentage of cases that are immigration cases for ATI. You mentioned something earlier on, and I want to drill deeper into that. Should we be setting up an alternative system so that people can get information on their immigration file and are not using the access to information system and burdening it down?
The access to information system, I believe, should be about getting political information and for journalists. It should be for getting a broader picture on the details of how government operates, as opposed to dealing with individual files that people need help with. Is there a better system for them to get help?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the commissioner for your good work, particularly during the trying times we're all facing this year.
You mentioned something in your opening that I found quite interesting. You said that because of the pandemic, there have been some positive effects. As an example, you may not need further real estate and office space because of the efficiencies of people being able to work at home. I think [Technical difficulty—Editor] constituents and the people of Canada, the better it is.
I was just wondering if you are able to track these efficiencies. Can you give us an idea of how many more hours your employees are able to put towards complaints and resolution of issues?
Now I can, yes. It was very choppy, so it was difficult to understand your questions.
I think you wanted to know if we have ways to find efficiencies or how we calculate the efficiencies that were gained during the pandemic from working from home.
Mr. Colin Carrie: Yes.
Ms. Caroline Maynard: It's not something we've done specifically. We made sure our files were still moving. We were not actually looking at particular tasks yet, because we were still adjusting to working from home.
As I said earlier, two years ago, the maximum my office was able to do was about 2,000 to 2,300 files per year. Last year we did over 5,000 cases, and this year it was 4,000 while working from home. I do believe we would have been able to do more if our institutions had been able to respond to our requests. We were often stopped in our steps forward because of the institutions' inability to work from home or their inability to respond to investigations because they didn't have the resources that we had in my office. When we saw that, we moved towards other files that were a little more complex or we reassigned files.
I think that in the next year we're going to see a huge improvement, because now the departments are all set up. They're working from home and have access to their files. A lot of them have also moved to digital documents instead of paper files. That is going to be really helpful in our investigations in the next year.
Ms. Maynard, in an article in La Presse on May 11, a reporter by the name of Marquis stated that access to information requests in French take longer to process than requests in English. I'm sure you've heard about this.
My two questions are very simple.
Are you aware of what was mentioned in the May 11 article about the commitment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to respond just as quickly in English as in French?
If you are aware, do you know if this is a problem elsewhere?
I am the poster child for togetherness. My colleague Mr. Fergus can attest to my concern for fairness. For me, it's not just a matter of legislation, it's a matter of fairness.
I read the article too, Ms. Gaudreau.
I have not seen any complaints about that, but I would not be surprised if that was the case elsewhere. It is not always easy to find bilingual people, people who speak French in the federal government. Especially when it comes to finding people from a particular region, as we said earlier.
We really need to create positions and find employees who speak both languages.
Once again, it is very difficult to find people who want to work in access to information. It's a very demanding position. You're dealing with requesters who are eager to get the information, but you're also dealing with a department that doesn't want to respond, doesn't have time to respond, or has other more important things to do. It's not an easy job.
Service delivery in both languages has always been precarious in the government.
Thank you, Madame Maynard.
We received a letter this week from a Conservative MP, Mr. Kmiec, who said that he had 18 outstanding access to information requests to Global Affairs, Public Services and Procurement, Innovation Canada, and the Department of Finance that were being ignored. He said they disregarded his requests, they refused to acknowledge requests, and they declined to provide documents.
I'm trying to get a sense of whether that is a pattern that you're seeing. Are you dealing with these kinds of complaints more and more, or is this a one-off?
I have to say that I have only intended to order the release or the treatment of a file twice so far. I've never had to go that far. People know that we have the authority. Just knowing that we can do it is a big advantage in our dealing with the institution.
The other authority we have now that is a tremendous advantage and that has had a huge positive impact is the publication of our reports. When we can publish a report that explains the position of the institution and our position, it really helps later on in guiding other requesters and institutions in understanding the act and understanding its application when they see files that are similar.
At this point, I actually prefer the authority to publish. As I said, I haven't used the ordering power. I will use it when I have to, but I prefer to resolve things informally if people are satisfied and you get the result you want faster that way. If I issue and order to an institution, the institution can then contest it in court, so there's another step, and it could lead to more delays. Therefore, I prefer if we can do it informally.
I invite you to go on my site and see some of the reports we've published. I think we're going to see more and more of those in the next year.
Thank you, Ms. Lattanzio.
Commissioner Maynard, thanks so much for your testimony this afternoon. I thank you for making yourself available and I look forward to hearing from you again in the future. Thanks so much for answering the questions that we had.
Colleagues, I will suspend the meeting now to allow for Madame Bélanger to be added to the exchange, as well as other members. We'll call this meeting back to order right on the 2:00 mark.
Again, thank you, Commissioner.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair. I believe this is the first time we meet.
Committee members, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on the main estimates. I am pleased to speak to you about my office's accomplishments over the past fiscal year and our plans for this one.
I want to start by saying that I am so very proud of the way my staff responded with innovative thinking, adaptability and resolve over the past 14 months. Part of this success is due to thoughtful planning during our move in 2019, when we ensured we had the tools and commitment we needed to be a modern and mobile workforce.
That decision paid huge dividends when we suddenly shifted to telework in March 2020. As a result, my office was able to face its busiest year and deliver on the three areas of my mandate: maintaining the registry of lobbyists, ensuring compliance with the Lobbying Act and the lobbyist code of conduct, and fostering awareness of Canada's lobbying regime among all stakeholders.
I will begin with the Registry of Lobbyists.
When individuals, corporations, and organizations lobby the federal government, they must file a public registration that contains specific details about their lobbying activity. They must also report certain oral and arranged communications with high-level decision-makers in monthly communication reports.
The past year brought records in several areas. We saw the highest monthly average of active lobbyists and a record of 6,435 in March 2021. There were 2,457 new registrations. This reflects an increase of 41% from the previous fiscal year. With respect to monthly communication reports, we also saw record numbers with a total of 28,919 for the year.
Our activities to ensure compliance also increased: 28 preliminary assessments were initiated, almost twice the number of the previous year. During the last fiscal year, six preliminary assessments proceeded to the investigation stage and 12 were closed. I suspended three investigations after referring them to the RCMP. I also recently tabled one investigation report in Parliament. My office had 24 preliminary assessments and four investigations ongoing at the end of the last fiscal year.
On the outreach front, we shifted to a completely virtual model. The team averaged more than one presentation per week, reaching more than 900 stakeholders. I also participated in several virtual events at the international level to speak about the Canadian experience with lobbying regulation. As you know, many other jurisdictions view the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct as models that they aspire to emulate.
While Canada's legislation delivers on the goal of fostering transparent and ethical lobbying, there's always room for improvement. Therefore, upon your request, I submitted a report called “Improving the Lobbying Act: Preliminary recommendations” to this committee in February. It outlines 11 areas where I believe that improvements to the legislation would enhance transparency, fairness, clarity and efficiency. I look forward to discussing these recommendations with you.
Last November, we launched a public consultation to seek input from stakeholders on potential changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. The office is currently revising the code for the purposes of further consultation. I expect that I will be able to refer to you, the committee, a new and updated Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and publish the final version in the Canada Gazette before the end of this fiscal year.
Other key initiatives for this year include enhancing the usability of the Registry of Lobbyists and making it easier to enter and find information. We will also explore ways to improve efficiencies in compliance work and expand awareness and understanding of the act and the code by using stakeholder feedback to help us focus outreach activities.
All of this work is being performed by a very small team of 28 employees. It is important to recognize that more often than not, they are asked to go well beyond what is required of their position.
My total budget is approximately $4.18 million, excluding employee benefit payments. More than three-quarters of my total allocation goes to salaries and benefits, leaving me with an operating budget of about $1 million. About half of that amount is spent to obtain corporate services, such as human resources, from other government institutions. The Office’s budget has not changed substantially since 2008.
That is why I am pleased to say that we received a positive answer to our request for additional funding. Budget 2021 allocated a total increase of $4-million over the next five years to help ensure that the Registry of Lobbyists and the Office's information management and IT systems remain modern, reliable, secure, and accessible. The increase will mainly serve to hire five additional information management and IT employees.
I would like to conclude my remarks by thanking each and every member of the Office. I want to recognize their dedication, professionalism and excellence in delivering on our mandate despite the challenges of the last year.
Thank you, and I'm happy to answer your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank you, Commissioner, for being here today.
I was wondering if you could comment on subsection 14.1(1) of the Lobbying Act. It recommends that a comprehensive review take place every five years. The last one was done in 2012, which means the review should have been done in 2017. It's almost four years later, and the review has not taken place.
I was wondering if you could comment on that, and if you think a review at this time is urgent.
We have a team of 28, with a very big mandate, so we're already extremely efficient. Working from home has probably helped us to be more digitized, with electronic signatures and being paperless. These are all very good things.
We are extremely productive, but at the end of the day, their productivity in the circumstance of working from home has a cost. People are tired. I'm not certain if we've gained that many efficiencies. You start a meeting, and someone's Wi-Fi turns off, and then somebody else leaves because their VPN broke down. Then you need to repeat everything that was said previously when they can join again. It's hard. It takes time.
It was a difficult year, but people are resilient. I am so proud of them. We were as productive, but on efficiencies, I'm not so sure.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I hope my connection is good and my questions are clear.
First, Commissioner, welcome back. It's a pleasure to see you again.
The last time I had the opportunity to meet you, when I was Parliamentary Secretary, you proposed a departmental plan that included an increase in your budget.
In budget 2021, an additional $4 million was allocated to your Office so that you could improve your IT capabilities and systems.
Can you talk a little about what you plan to do with that additional amount? How will you use the money to better serve Canadians?
I can tell you that the team was absolutely thrilled to see that these funds were given to us in the budget. We are in the process of finalizing the submission.
For this year the amount is about $620,000 and for subsequent years the amount will be $780,000. We will use the funds to hire five new employees. Currently, in the area of information management and information technology, we have three employees from the CS group, Computer Systems Administration, working on the Registry of Lobbyists.
We rely heavily on consultants, who are fantastic. However, we will need a few more staff to work on the registry to improve its accessibility and usability for those who need to report. Several things can be done to make the registry a little more user-friendly. So the funds will be used to hire five employees.
We also requested about $158,000 per year to update our tools. We have a lot of nice things, but licences and computers cost more. Everything costs more.
This year, we requested $175,000 to evaluate the possibility of using cloud computing, which the government recommends. We really can't afford it and I didn't even get the opportunity to evaluate it. We hope to be able to do that this year and then determine what the cost of using cloud computing would be.
We will be improving the Registry of Lobbyists and also trying to integrate our systems. We use three or four internal systems that are not really interconnected. So we're hoping that our staff can work on that to improve efficiency for those using those systems.
Thank you for the question.
I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing my employees in person. You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to it.
People have found ways to work from home, despite all the challenges that come with it, especially for those with young children. We start our days not sure when they will end. I mentioned earlier that we've been very productive, and that's because we've been working longer hours to try to cope with the situation. We can't step out of our office to go discuss a case with someone, for example.
I had already put together a reintegration plan for September of last year. So I already have a plan, but obviously it's going to have to be updated as the situation progresses. I'm going to do what our public health officials tell us to do. They will say what is acceptable and what is not. I'm sure that arrangements will be made so that people can continue teleworking.
I will also ask people to come in to work from time to time, if only for mental health reasons. People clearly need to see people other than those they live with. Casting the slippers aside, seeing colleagues, discussing cases and getting things done are all going to do everyone good.
In a few words, we will have some telework, but I expect some people will also return to the office. I feel that's important.
Good afternoon, Ms. Bélanger.
I'm pleased to speak with you for a few minutes. This is the second time we've met.
Again, I think you need to have worked through more than one term of government before you can say you have experience.
So my questions are going to be more about operations. I will use an example. As parliamentarians, we meet people who, in some cases, have official lobbyist status. I have not read your 11 recommendations, but I know as we review the Act, much can be done to avoid all of the things that we've experienced over the past year.
What obligation do parliamentarians have to check who they are talking to? What steps need to be followed?
I know that, in principle, we have access to the registry to find out who we are dealing with and who we have worked with. Since I don't have enough experience with this, I'd like you to elaborate on it.
Thank you very much for the question.
Currently, the Lobbying Act does not require members of the House or any other designated public office holder to take notes or learn about lobbyists. However, I strongly recommend it.
When you're scheduled to meet with people, ask your staff to check the registry. It contains a lot of information about what these people are interested in. Among other things, it shows who they have met before you. That information can make you better prepared.
You're under no obligation, but certainly you are my first witnesses when I do an investigation. If I need to contact you to find out if a lobbyist or someone who should be in the registry is not, it would be really helpful if you have some information for me. If you have taken accurate notes, you could tell me who you met and when.
You are, however, required to respond to me when you receive some sort of automated form in which you are asked to confirm a meeting with a lobbyist who has listed the meeting in the registry for a particular month. So it's important that you keep accurate notes of who you are meeting with and when.
So, you have no further obligations except to respond to me when I contact you.
All my life, I have been transparent, and my first big observation is that there are grey areas in this confederation. I have found that it's easy to slip through.
As I tell my kids, we need rules to tell us what to do and what not to do, because otherwise anything not specifically forbidden is considered to be permitted.
So we need to impose rules here too, in an effort to maintain voter confidence in a Parliament intended to be honest and neutral.
I look forward to your 11 recommendations, I will pay close attention to them, and I hope there will be a twelfth that will talk about reform to make sure that if we haven't done it, we will have to look at how to legislate it. At the end of the day, this is taxpayers' money, so we need to be worthy of their trust.
Thank you so much, Commissioner, for coming. It's a pleasure to have you back. I share your sense of urgency. We really need to get the government to direct our committee to look at the Lobbying Act.
Normally the questions I bother you with are questions of loopholes and gaps in the act, because we need clarification. For example, when Mr. Kielburger spoke to our committee, he said that it was legally impossible for him to register to lobby. We asked questions about the multiple meetings the Kielburger group had with government regarding the millions of dollars in contracts, and he said that as a co-founder volunteer, it was legally impossible; he couldn't register.
You sent me a letter on March 19 of this year confirming that there's nothing in the act to preclude someone like Mr. Kielburger, as an individual, from registering, and that he could do so for the purposes of transparency. Would that be a correct interpretation of the act?
Okay, so there was nothing to legally stop him. It was certainly possible.
The question of payment is interesting, because one of the arguments the Kielburger brothers used was that they were just volunteers and they didn't get paid, so they were like any other volunteer who knocks on an MP's door.
We just read the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's report, and he states, “any decision made by Mr. Morneau that could further the private interests of WE would be made improperly since it would also further the interests of its co-founder, Mr. Kielburger.” He goes on to state, “WE was the lone administrator of the CSSG and would have acquired a significant financial interest for its role. ... [The Kielburgers'] involvement in WE's day-to-day operations is so prevalent that the organization's interests are also those of its co-founders.”
Would you say, from that interpretation of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's findings, that they would have been in a better position to register to lobby because of their direct financial interest?
It's not that difficult.
I was interested, because you were saying that most lobbyists thank you. It's a pretty straightforward thing. For me, it's about a level playing field and making sure that everyone has the same level of access, and not unfair access.
I know you don't want to talk about individual cases, but in November and December 2017, the finance minister held his budget consultations in the offices of WE, and they were promoted by WE. Mr. Morneau called on the parliamentary secretary to attend the meeting, and she asked why she needed to be there. This is all according to the findings. They said that “he”, Craig, “has been [very] good to us,”—that's the finance minister's office—“so [we] want to keep him happy”.
I found that to be extraordinary. It seems to me that the finance minister's office was setting up meetings to keep Craig Kielburger happy, yet none of this was registered.
Wouldn't that put other groups that are trying to lobby fairly, and filling out all the forms, at an extreme disadvantage?
Madam Commissioner, thank you for being with us today.
My question is about the record number of registrations in the Registry of Lobbyists this year. The pandemic has made it more difficult for lobbyists to meet with us, to meet with public officials, leaders, and public office holders.
What, then, might explain the record number of registrations?
I'm currently preparing our annual report. Over the course of the year, the lobbyists we've contacted have said that all parliamentarians have been very accessible.
Lobbyists had to change the way they worked, and they held a number of meetings with the Zoom platform. These meetings had to be recorded in the Registry of Lobbyists, because they were arranged in advance and oral presentations were made. The explanation I was given was that because members don't spend as much time travelling, they have become more accessible thanks to the tools in place for parliamentarians.
In addition, several groups had to talk to all of you about programs that need to be in place during the pandemic. People wanted to know what the priorities were and what was being done to ensure that Canadians survive the year, which has been very difficult for everyone.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome, Commissioner Bélanger.
I took a look through the 2021-22 departmental plan. I had a chance to read it over in the last little bit. Perhaps I will go from that angle, because I think my colleagues have asked other questions and I don't want to repeat.
On literally page 1 in the key highlights—and I'd like you to expand, if you could—it states,
enhancing the Registry of Lobbyists to make it easier to use—from entering data to finding information
compliance work that fosters [transparency]
Can you expand on what that actually means or what the intent is, please?
Certainly. The registry is an automated system that, in the last year, wasn't really accessible through a mobile, so now we've done that.
When our registrants go into the system, they have to enter the data all the time. One of the things we're looking for is maybe having a system in which they could use the data they've entered before rather than having to re-enter information.
We are looking at possibly doing drop-down boxes of the names of designated public office holders. Right now, when they start typing a name, a name will pop up and they'll pick it, but then if someone misspells or something, there could be an error in the system in how a name is displayed.
We're looking at ways for individuals to be able to issue reports a little bit more easily. A lot of journalists use our registry, so we're trying to look for ways to enhance how they can report on the registry.
There are a lot of little things we can do to make it even more user-friendly, and that's what we're looking at.
If you want to me address enhancing awareness—
Mr. Francesco Sorbara: Please.
Ms. Nancy Bélanger: —in the last year, we have updated our registry. We're always looking for ways to improve our tools and the documents that we provide. We have just set up a little survey to ask people how they find our material, whether it's useful, and what else we can do.
We never say no to any invitation. I'm doing one at six o'clock in the morning at some point next week, I think. We never say no. We have done an average of one per week.
Because we're so small, we're trying to find ways to be more proactive, but it is so difficult, because we're much more transactional and reactionary than being able to be proactively out there. One of the priorities this year will be to come up with a communication plan so that we can possibly reach out to even more Canadians so they know the Lobbying Act and what we do, and they can use the tool of the registry to see who's talking to their members of Parliament.
There's always work to be done, but we have to take it one step at a time because we're still small. We do what we can.
I want to thank you for what you do. I can understand the 24 planned FTEs for the next three years, from 2021 to 2022 to 2023 to 2024.
I'm glad to hear of the increased digitization, at least for the information you would collect on that basis. This is my second term as a member of Parliament. Even in my first session—I sat on the finance committee—I think I was the third most visited MP at the time. I really enjoy meeting with stakeholders because I get to learn, right? You learn. You learn about issues. Whether they are mortgage brokers, chicken farmers or a business association, you do get to learn, and you understand the issues that different parts of the economy are facing, different sectors and everything. I've always thought of that aspect of being a member of Parliament, especially as a policy wonk or someone who likes to learn policy, as being very important, but there's a flip side to that, which is that these individuals, because of our roles, need to register.
I do find the balance to be a good one, if I can say that. My interactions, if I can personalize it, with the office have always been great—and I'm going to keep it that way, of course—and productive, but at the same time, all of us have a duty of responsibility to maintain as office-holders.
In terms of teleworking, because you comment on it in the departmental plan, how has it changed your work? Has it made it more productive? Are you finding your employees overworked or stressed? We've been hearing, especially for professionals, that emails keep going at all times of the day.
In the last year we doubled the preliminary assessments. This assessment is that first stage of whether or not we go into an investigation. The workload is heavy, and I only have a team, with the director, of three investigators and two supports for the investigation team. One of them takes care of all the exemptions. It's a small team.
I am looking at the workload right now and seeing if I can move resources around to make sure that we can continue to be efficient. We are planning, in the next year, to map out our processes to see if there are some efficiencies to be gained.
Of course, an investigation is an investigation. We need to get the documentation. We need to do interviews. We need to analyze.
I have a great team of investigators and the staff in that compliance directorate, plus I have two wonderful lawyers who support them. Of course, I'm very much involved.
Could we have more staff? Obviously, but I'm limited in the budget that I have, and we move things around as much as we can.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll take it up.
I do thank Madame Bélanger for being here. I remember that when I first became a member of Parliament, it was the lobbying commissioner at the time who was giving us orientation, and it was a little scary.
I believe this is in your recommendations. The idea of trying to allocate a certain portion of the time that somebody spends actually speaking to members of Parliament had something to do with proportionality. Otherwise, it's every person who walks into my office who is potentially a lobbyist, and like Madame Gaudreau, I would feel obliged to.... I mean, I want to know if you're registered or not.
Can you speak to us about that?
Currently, even if everybody we speak to is a lobbyist, that's okay. They have the requirement to register.
Right now what's happening is that organizations and corporations don't need to register if it's not a significant part of their work. In order to register, they need to calculate whether or not they've spent about 30 hours in a month preparing and meeting with you. For me, whether it's two hours, one hour or 10 minutes, it's the substance of that conversation that matters. That should be in the registry for transparency so that Canadians know who is meeting whom about what. If the threshold is that if you talk to them, you register, the obligation will be on them. It's not that difficult to register. You don't need to calculate whether you spoke to them 10 minutes, 20 minutes, a half-hour. You should take note of whom you met so that if I ever reach out to you to confirm the information, you have it at hand. However, the obligation is on the lobbyists to make sure that they are transparent about the communications that they have with Canadian decision-makers.
I don't always have the order of them perfectly in my mind, but yes.
The problem right now with the registry is that corporations do not have to list employees who lobby less than 20%. In other words, in the registry, an organization has to list everybody who lobbies, but a corporation does not have to list those who lobby less than 20%. What that means, the impact of that, is that those individuals who are not in the registry are not subject to the code of conduct of lobbyists, and that's a problem.
It's not difficult. It's just this: List all of the names of those who lobby on behalf of the corporation and organization. The organizations have to do that. I don't know why corporations don't. That's not a very difficult change to make.
Thank you. Your time has now expired.
Commissioner, thank you for being here. We certainly appreciate you answering our questions. We're thankful for the work that you do and for continuing to report back to us. I thank you on behalf of our committee.
Colleagues, we will vote on the estimates at our next meeting, which is not this week, but in a week. The following Monday is a holiday, so it will be the next Friday before we can come together again, and we will have the Ethics Commissioner with us. Mr. Dion will join us for that meeting on Friday, May 28, at which time I would recommend that we vote on all the estimates, and that will allow us to report back to the House of Commons before the deadline.
Colleagues, if there is nothing further, I will adjourn the meeting.