Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Mary Dawson
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Mary Dawson
2013-05-06 15:31
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today as the committee considers my office's budgetary submission for the 2012-2013 main estimates. As you said, with me this afternoon are Lyne Robinson-Dalpé, Assistant Commissioner for Advisory and Compliance, and Denise Benoit, Director of Corporate Management.
To provide some context for my remarks, I will begin by reviewing briefly the organization and operations of my office. Then, I will outline our budgetary requirements for the current fiscal year and discuss any relevant considerations.
To fulfill my mandate as effectively and efficiently as possible I've organized my office into five divisions. We're fully staffed and maintain a stable staff complement of 50 employees. Advisory and compliance is the largest division, accounting for about one-third of my staff. This group provides confidential advice to public office holders and members of the House of Commons about their obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. It reviews their confidential reports of assets, liabilities, and activities; maintains internal records of this information; and administers a system of public disclosure.
Our primary goal is to help public office holders and members meet their obligations under the act and the code through education and guidance. Our advisory and compliance services are complemented by a range of education and outreach activities coordinated by our policy, research, and communications division. It also contributes to policy development, compiles research, conducts public communication and media relations, and coordinates our dealings with Parliament.
While the major focus of my office is on prevention, we also investigate possible contraventions of the act and the code. Our reports and investigations division leads our investigations and coordinates the preparation of our annual reports. Legal services also plays a critical role in our investigations and provides strategic legal advice on all facets of our work.
Our corporate management division oversees the development and implementation of all internal management policies and the delivery of services and advice on human resources, finance, information technology, information management, and the management of office facilities, including security. It also administers our shared services agreements with the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament in the areas of information technology, security, and financial services, and with Public Works and Government Services for compensation services.
Finally, my own team within the commissioner's office provides general administrative and logistical support for the office. For the past five years I've maintained the same operating budget of $7.1 million. My budgetary requirements for 2013-14, which I will review with you in a moment, are sufficient to discharge my mandate in its current form. I know, however, that both the Conflict of Interest Act and the conflict of interest code for members are under review. Any resulting changes could have resource implications for my office. We would have to review any amendments to access what, if any, resource adjustments they might entail. Most of the recommendations that I've made are resource neutral and the ones that are not are unlikely to have a major impact on our resource requirements.
This year, in keeping with the current climate of fiscal restraint, we are proactively offering a reduction to our operating budget. I expect my office to be able to fund its operations with a reduced budget of $7.035 million in 2013-14. In 2012-13 we conducted a spending review that identified opportunities for efficiencies. These include using e-mail rather than letter mail to communicate with some of our many stakeholders, and restructuring the delivery of some of our internal functions. We also reduced the amount set aside as a reserve to cover unexpected situations. As a result, I was able to reduce the non-salary portion of my 2013-14 budget by $190,000, which is equivalent to 3% of the 2012-13 total budget.
This reduction, however, is partially offset by a requested increase in our salary envelope of approximately $90,000 to cover the economic increases that came into effect in 2013-14. The economic increases are in line with the results of collective bargaining in Parliament and the public service.
I note that in the fiscal year just ended we absorbed within our existing salary budget the payment of severance allowances for some employees. This is the reason for the overspending in last year's salary budget. This was absorbed through the conversion of non-salary funds rather than by requesting additional funds.
We remain cognizant of the ongoing need for budgetary restraint and for good financial management and internal controls. We regularly and carefully monitor our spending and ensure that our financial practices adhere to standard government practices. We have, for example, documented our internal financial management processes, identified potential risks, and ensured that internal controls to address those risks are in place. Although we have no legal obligation to do so, we follow the practice of proactive disclosure and publish reports of spending on travel and hospitality on our website.
I'm also pleased to report that for the second year the annual financial statements for my office were audited independently, and we again received a positive opinion. We continue to follow good management practices in other areas of our operations as well. Priorities for my office are identified each fall at a strategic planning session of senior management and refined through the fiscal year as appropriate. My office has a strong policy framework in the area of human resources that in 2012-13 enabled us to put in place policies and guidelines on specific issues. For example, this year we instituted a guideline on job shadowing to support and encourage the career development of our employees as well as a policy on workforce adjustment that is similar to policies in Parliament and the public service.
The policy on workforce force adjustment was not developed because of any current plan to downsize, but rather proactively to put in place appropriate mechanisms should we be faced with such a situation in the future.
Other policies and guidelines under development address such topics as occupational health and safety, and disability and duty to accommodate. We have also updated our terms and conditions of employment to reflect similar changes made to leave provisions and severance pay in Parliament and the public service. Although there are strong indicators that the office is a healthy workplace, including the now stable staffing levels and very low turnover, we've contracted with an independent third party to conduct an employee satisfaction survey later this spring. We're developing a performance measurement strategy to demonstrate the effectiveness of my office in fulfilling its mandate.
In the area of technology, we have invested in a new application to manage the content of our website because the current application has reached its full capacity. We expect to deploy it in the near future. This improvement follows the launch in April 2012 of a new integrated case management system.
I also regularly share best practices and exchange information with my provincial and territorial counterparts. This will be a particular focus of our activities in September when I host the next annual meeting of the Canadian Conflict of Interest Network here in Ottawa.
Detailed financial and other information is available on my office's website and in my annual reports.
Again, I thank the committee for inviting me to discuss the main estimates today. I look forward to answering your questions.
Jerome Berthelette
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Jerome Berthelette
2012-10-29 15:34
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman
I would like to thank you for inviting the office to speak about Bill C-27, an Act to Enhance the Financial Accountability and Transparency of First Nations.
With me is Ronnie Campbell, Assistant Auditor General, who was formerly responsible for first nations' audits.
Since 2000, the office has tabled 16 chapters that address first nations and Inuit issues directly, and another 15 chapters that deal with issues of importance to first nations people.
In 1996, we tabled a study entitled “Study of accountability practices from the perspective of first nations”. We noted that the relationship between the first nations and the federal government had evolved from direct service delivery by the department to service delivery by first nations. As a result of this evolution, the issue of accountability presented difficulties for both parties. In particular, the accountability of that government to Parliament became more complicated as departments were no longer directly responsible for the delivery of programs at the community level.
At that time, we met with first nations and were told that they were willing to explore ways to ensure that the information needs of Parliament were met, and they stressed the importance of internal accountability. From their perspective, accountability is non-hierarchical and is based on shared objectives.They stated that the reporting framework was of limited value to them, was onerous, and did little to enhance accountability to the community.
In 2002, based in part on what we had learned from the 1996 study, we proposed our definition of accountability: a relationship based on obligations to demonstrate, review, and take responsibility for performance, both the results achieved in light of agreed expectations and the means used. We defined five principles that support an effective accountability relationship: clear roles and responsibilities; clear performance expectations; balanced expectations and capacities; credible reporting; and reasonable review and adjustment.
We noted that delivery of programs through partners creates new and complex accountability relationships. In these arrangements, accountability is shared. With respect to reporting, we suggested the need to be clear about the measurement strategy as well as the required information and how it is to be collected, verified, and analyzed, and by whom and when.
In this work, we also stated that transparency is the sustaining element of accountability; transparency implies that one can see clearly into the activities of government. Transparency and accountability mean stronger institutions and more credible government.
Also in 2002, we tabled a study on first nations reporting. We stated that reporting needs to provide meaningful information to first nations and to the federal government and that fundamental change was required to reduce the burden on first nations.
In 2011, we identified four structural impediments that limit the delivery of public services to the first nations and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves: lack of clarity about service levels; lack of a legislative base; lack of an appropriate funding mechanism; and lack of organizations to support local service delivery.
We strongly support the principles of accountability and transparency. We hope this background on accountability will be useful to the committee as it reviews the proposed legislation.
Mr. Chair, we do not feel that our office can comment on the merits of Bill C-27. That being said, we would like to make a few remarks on some technical aspects of the bill.
First, subclause 5(1), on how first nations are to maintain their accounts, contains the expression “generally accepted accounting principles” and a reference to the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants handbooks. There are currently no accounting standards in Canada that explicitly mention first nations. Although the handbooks referred to in subclause 5(1) are generally pertinent to the activities of first nations governments, they have not been designed or amended to take those particularities of the first nations situation into account.
Second, under subclause 5(2), when auditing the accounts of first nations having transactions that do not easily fit a particular standard, the auditors must assess the acceptability of the accounting framework, including the reasonableness of the accounting policies adopted by these first nations. Different auditors may come to different conclusions for similar transactions.
Third, in clause 6, the requirement for an audited or reviewed schedule of remuneration is unique. This information is normally provided as a note to the financial statements or as supplemental information in an annual report. There are no accounting standards made applicable to the preparation of this schedule of remuneration or to the auditor's report or review engagement report. Also, it is not clear who would decide, and on what basis, whether the schedule is to be audited or reviewed. This ambiguity increases the risk of confusion and inconsistent practices.
Finally, the definition of remuneration in clause 2 combines both salary and reimbursement of expenses. When other levels of government report salary and reimbursement of expenses, they do so separately. Among other things, this ensures a clear distinction between official salaries and wages and the reimbursement of travel and other expenses. For example, at the federal level, there are separate disclosure requirements for salaries and for travel and hospitality expenses.
Mr. Chair, this completes my opening remarks. We would be glad to answer any questions the committee members may have.
Casper Bloom
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Casper Bloom
2012-05-28 16:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the committee today about the Public Service Labour Relations Board. I'm accompanied by Mr. Guy Lalonde, the executive director of the board.
I'd like to begin by describing who we are and what we do. The board is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal. We are mandated by the Public Service Labour Relations Act to administer the collective bargaining and grievance adjudication systems in the federal public service. We are also mandated by the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to perform the same role for the institutions of Parliament.
Established on April 1, 2005, the board replaced the Public Service Staff Relations Board, which had existed since 1967, when collective bargaining was first introduced in the federal public service.
We provide three main services: adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research services.
Our adjudication function sets us apart from other labour relations boards in this country. We are unique. We are one of the few bodies in Canada that combine both adjudication services—that is, we hear and decide grievances—and impartial third-party services in the collective bargaining process. That is, we certify bargaining agents, manage complaints, and deal with the conciliation or arbitration of labour disputes.
Through our mediation services, we offer timely, impartial services that help the parties reach mutually acceptable solutions to their issues. What I would like to mention that's not in my notes is that the jurisdiction we cover is from one end of the country to the other. Some 350,000 public servants fall under our jurisdiction.
Our compensation analysis and research service, or what we commonly refer to as our CARS program, responds to the government's need for an accurate, impartial comparison of federal government employee compensation and that of other employers across the country, both public and private. To date, we have put in place the necessary tools, processes, and systems to ensure that we are in a state of readiness to conduct surveys and studies.
The government itself recognizes the importance of this service in supporting the collective bargaining and compensation decisions in the public service and the future requirements of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. We will be able to provide these impartial compensation comparative analyses when the board receives appropriate funding for the data collection.
The government further expanded our mandate under the Budget Implementation Act of 2009, which transferred the responsibility for public-sector pay equity complaints from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to our board. As a result, we deal not only with complaints that were, or could be, filed with the Human Rights Commission, but also with those that may arise under the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act when it comes into force. We are awaiting rulings in those matters.
We accept our various mandates, and indeed we have successfully confronted the challenges they have presented to us. The five-year review of the Public Service Modernization Act supports our position. The report describes the current regime as adequate, and that it provides an appropriate framework for people management in the federal public service.
I can also point to our 2010 Client Satisfaction Survey results, which demonstrate that our board has consistently met both its mandated responsibilities and its clients' needs—be it the Treasury Board, the Canada Revenue Agency or Parks Canada—or the various bargaining agents such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, or the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
Our survey revealed that clients were satisfied with our ability to improve labour relations, not only in terms of the everyday work that we do but also with the quality of assistance, reports and tools that we provide. Specifically, about 80% of the respondents said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the PSLRB's services overall.
While we are progressing well in terms of meeting our mandate in clients' needs, we continue to find innovative ways to help us manage our robust and increasingly complex caseload. Since the beginning of my tenure in 2007, I have witnessed a steady increase in the volume of cases that are referred to the board. More than a decade ago, there were about 1,200 cases in our registry. Today, that number has grown to nearly 6,000. Rest assured, however, on average we are able to close about 1,500 cases per year, which is an excellent effort, but we need to go further and use analytics and strong case management tools to cater more specifically and efficiently to the needs of certain parties.
For example, I note that, of all the grievances currently before the Board, 55% have been filed by employees of the same occupational group. In other words, this equates to one grievance being referred for every three employees in that bargaining unit. Since over one-half of the board's workload has been filed by a single group, our board has established a special task force to address the particular needs of those parties. This includes grouping the grievances together, dealing with policy issues by priority—the latter of which provides a benchmark for dealing with similar grievances—and consistently appointing arbitrators or mediators who have experience with the parties.
As well, we are investing in a more robust and thorough case management system that will enable us to cross-reference cases and deal with similar cases in a similar fashion.
But we must do more than focus on closing case files. We continue to review, analyze, and streamline our adjudication and mediation processes to optimize our resources and enhance our efficiency. From the moment we receive a grievance, we move into proactive case management mode. Often this means we aim to resolve matters brought before us through mediation. There are three-quarters of our cases in collective bargaining disputes referred to mediation that are resolved through our mediation interventions. That's almost 85% that we resolve through mediation.
This success of our mediation program and the calibre of our mediators are also supported by our client satisfaction survey results.
We also seek to make our hearings as productive and efficient as possible, through the use of pre-hearing conferences in which procedural matters are dealt with, and by dealing with hearings through written submissions or early analysis of the underlying issues.
It goes without saying that our ongoing efforts are particularly important in the current economic environment. Although we weren't asked to identify specific reductions in the government's strategic operational review, we nevertheless took it upon ourselves to thoroughly examine our operations, identify efficiencies, and look for cost-saving measures where possible.
Of note, over the past few years we have engaged in partnerships with other independent federal tribunals. The board currently provides certain corporate services—IT, web, finance, compensation, and HR services, and use of its library—to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, from whom you've just heard, and other similar smaller tribunals under formal shared services agreements.
I am pleased to report that we continue to enhance our efficiency in the daily management of our hearings. Only one adjudicator hears a case, without the support of staff, and he or she travels to a location near the workplace, which limits the need for the grievor and witnesses to travel. Other tribunals use three-person panels, but we rely on a single member. We also use the hearing rooms of the Federal Court, and other administrative tribunals, whenever possible to minimize our costs.
Throughout the years we have demonstrated a proven record of success that has resulted in an enviable reputation in the labour relations world. What sets us apart, I believe, is our unique role and mandate of independent adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research that we uphold. To do so, we work closely with federal workplace parties and support their efforts. In fact, just this morning we met with our client consultation committee, composed of employer and bargaining agent representatives, to discuss among other things hearing postponements and their regulation, which are an unproductive use of the board's resources.
In conclusion, we have the necessary experience, dedication, and commitment to continue our work and to meet the challenges before us. Our ability to resolve labour relations issues in an impartial and efficient manner will ensure that the delivery of programs and services to Canadians is not compromised.
That concludes my remarks. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.
Thank you.
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