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Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 10:59
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss accountability and access to information. Canadians have a right to request information from government through access to information requests to federal institutions. This is a quasi-constitutional right.
The right of access and the need for transparency have not been suspended during the pandemic. On the contrary, in this current extraordinary context, transparency and the well-being of the access system are more important than ever.
Major decisions with huge budget implications are being taken every day. New measures and programs related to the economy, public health and safety are being implemented on an almost daily basis. Canadians require information about how issues, policies and programs are being managed and developed in order to hold their government accountable.
Given that the Office of the Information Commissioner operates within the federal public service, I am very aware of the operational challenges the pandemic poses to federal institutions. Nevertheless, because transparency is the foundation of trust and because the access system is a pillar of government accountability, Canada’s leaders must take all necessary measures to ensure they are mitigating the impacts of the pandemic on the right of access. This includes ensuring a properly functioning access to information regime where decisions are being properly documented, information is well managed and access requests continue to be processed. I would like to outline for you just some of the factors that are creating barriers to the functioning of the system during the pandemic.
Most public servants have been working from home since the middle of March, not always by choice, and many have limited access to the networks or tools they normally have to do their jobs.
Providing access to information is not treated as an essential service to Canadians in almost all of the institutions' business continuity plans. In this situation, it can be challenging to manage information, capturing it and storing it in government repositories, especially when access to the network is limited for non-essential staff.
In many institutions, the transfer of information is outdated. Documents are still being sent by mail, CD-ROM and other mainly paper-based processes, which require access to scanners and photocopiers.
While some ATIP units are now fully operational, others have suspended operations completely. Most units are positioned somewhere between these two extremes. Such limited operations fundamentally restrict the government’s capacity to respond to access requests and to respect their new legislative obligation to proactively disclose some information.
There are other factors at play, but these are the major limitations that cannot be ignored, as they significantly affect transparency and delay, compromise and ultimately erode the government’s accountability to Canadians.
Although the pandemic has brought many new challenges, it has also created a window of opportunity to bring essential changes to the operating model of government and the culture that underlies it. I will continue to press the government for tangible action and results on this front.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that openness and transparency in government have never been more important than they are during the pandemic. The government needs to commit to proper resources and innovative solutions to ensure the right of access for all Canadians
Let’s not forget that access delayed is access denied.
Those are my opening remarks. I will be happy to respond to your questions now.
Thank you.
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Madam Maynard. As this week is National Public Service Week, I want to acknowledge the great work that all of our public servants are doing, as well as the great work that you and your team are doing.
I have three questions. I'll try to make them short and stay within my five minutes.
In the OIC 2020-21 departmental plan, there is discussion about a five-year strategic plan, which came into effect April 1, 2020. Can you quickly highlight the key components of the five-year strategic plan?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:09
Yes. We decided to separate our strategic plan into three pillars.
We're spending a lot of effort on making sure that my office is the best place to work and is a good environment for our employees, with retention policies and a harassment-free environment, so there is an HR component and a resource component.
There's also an innovative component, because we, as with any other institution, have been struggling in making sure we are up to date on all of our software and in our processes.
The last pillar is transparency and credibility. I want to make sure, when I issue recommendations, decisions or orders, that people ultimately trust we are doing this on an unbiased basis and that our investigations are faster than they've ever been. As I said earlier, access delayed is access denied. The information is relevant now. If my investigations take years to be completed, there will be no trust in my own agency. I want to make sure that we're up to date on everything so that Canadians trust my work too.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-03-11 15:33
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for inviting me here today.
I am pleased to be able to speak to you about my role and to meet some of you for the first time.
I have been the Information Commissioner of Canada since March 2018. With two years under my belt, I feel that I am in a good position to provide some perspective on my mandate, and offer you some insight as to what’s on the horizon.
I expect your analysts have already provided you with an overview of the mandates of the officers of Parliament relevant to your committee, so I’ll speak briefly on my mandate and my office, followed by my priorities. I will then touch on some of the changes that have been front and centre at the Office of the Information Commissioner, or OIC, as well as some of the challenges we face as an organization.
At the outset, let me emphasize an important point and a frequent source of confusion. The overall administration of the Access to Information Act and the policy instruments and tools that support its administration all fall under the authority of the Treasury Board Secretariat. This means that the TBS oversees the handling of access to information requests within the federal institutions.
My role is to investigate complaints relating to these requests, normally because the institution is late in responding or because requesters are not satisfied that they have received all of the information they are entitled to.
While my office receives thousands of these complaints a year, I also have the power to initiate a complaint myself. In addition, I can initiate and intervene in court proceedings when necessary. My office has done this a couple of times.
As an agent of Parliament, I report annually on my activities, and I can also issue special reports to Parliament in respect of important issues that fall within my powers and functions.
The commission has approximately 120 employees, with about 70% of them working in investigation and governance. I am supported by three deputy commissioners, responsible for the following sections: investigation and governance; corporate services, strategic planning and transformation services; and legal services and public affairs.
My goal is to maximize compliance with the act using the full range of tools and powers at my disposal.
The role of the office is of critical importance, because Canada's freedom of information legislation gives Canadians the right to access information about their government—the activities it undertakes, the decisions it makes and the money it spends. The Supreme Court of Canada has called this right of access a quasi-constitutional right.
You won't be surprised to hear that Canadians are submitting more and more requests because they want to know how decisions in government are made and how the government is using public funds. This knowledge promotes trust in our institutions and their leaders. I can attest that the thirst for this knowledge will not be going away.
I will now speak briefly about the four priorities that have been the focus of my first two years of my mandate. They form the basis of my soon-to-be-launched strategic plan, which will carry me through the rest of my seven-year term.
My first priority is to optimize openness and transparency within my own organization. One of the ways we've done this is by publishing guidance regarding our investigations so that complainants can understand how and why we are reaching certain conclusions. We now have a searchable database of decisions as well. Both the database and the guidance documents are available on our website.
Another priority for me has been to foster collaboration with stakeholders. With complainants specifically, I have worked diligently on ensuring timely communications, which has led to a better understanding of their needs and what they are seeking, and ensuring better follow-up on their files. We have made some progress, but we have a long way to go.
I also meet regularly with the federal access community. These are the public servants who process requests within federal institutions subject to the act. I consult with them and encourage them to flag issues and present new ideas for innovation. In addition, I meet regularly with the heads of institutions and their senior management teams. I let them know what is working and what is not working in their approaches to managing access requests.
My third priority has been to implement recent changes to the Access to Information Act. The act came into force in 1983. Amendments passed by Parliament last June included important modifications. These amendments gave me additional tools. For example, I now have order-making powers. This means that I can order an institution to take specific actions, including disclosing more records, when I find that the complaint is well-founded. I can publish these orders and my recommendations in all of my final reports on my website. In fact, the first final report was published just last week.
Institutions can also now seek my permission to decline to respond to a request that is vexatious, made in bad faith, or otherwise an abuse of the right of access. As the bar for approving this type of application is high, I have granted it only once to date.
Last, but certainly not least, it has been my priority to tackle my office’s inventory of active complaints. The inventory has proven to be quite a challenge. Even though we are closing more files and reducing the inventory of old complaints, there has been a marked increase in new complaints. By this time last year, we had received about 2,200 complaints. This year so far, we have received 5,900 new complaints. Importantly, while we have closed more than double the number of files this year, our inventory keeps increasing rapidly.
This leads me to another significant challenge facing the OIC: our funding. We are grateful for the $1.7 million that we received when the amendments to the act came into force last June. However, every year, for the last four years, the former commissioner and I have had to ask for more funding to deal with an ever-increasing workload for our investigators.
While temporary funding has been helpful, it has also resulted in staffing challenges for my office, as we are not able to offer permanent jobs. We find that we invest resources into training new recruits and hiring consultants, only to lose them to offers of more permanent positions elsewhere. It makes planning difficult and sustaining any momentum impossible.
ATIP units within federal institutions are also faced with their own resource challenges. Staff turnover in this field is high. They need additional resources. It is a very difficult sector to work in. They need the additional resources to deal with the ever-increasing number of requests and to be able to respond to the demand from my own office.
I stress that additional resources are required across the system, if Canadians are to be well served by their access to information regime. If the government is serious about its commitment to transparency, as highlighted in ministerial mandate letters, the access to information system, which plays a key role in ensuring government transparency, must be supported and prioritized.
I want to assure you, however, that the employees at my office are dedicated and are doing amazing things despite limited resources and an ever-expanding workload. They believe in the work they do and I feel very supported.
This concludes my opening remarks.
I would like to leave you with the message that my door is always open to you and your staff. I will be pleased to appear before you whenever I am called. I am very open to meet and engage with you in individual or group discussions.
Access to information is a critical component of government openness, transparency and accountability. It promotes trust between our institutions and our citizens.
Thank you.
I will now answer any questions you may have.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
You've noted that your funding is obviously essential to doing your job, and you do a lot with a small but determined team. This work is important for Canadians. I certainly appreciate your work and, as I'm sure we all agree, it's very valuable.
How are your resources concentrated to ensure that the most number of Canadians receive the best quality of information?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-03-11 15:47
Currently, in a budget of $13 million a year, $11 million is spent on salaries and 70% of that is all on investigation. Less than 20% of our expenses are spent on internal services, such as corporate services, HR, finance. We also have a small amount on legal services and communication outreach. The majority of our spending is on hiring investigators. We currently have, I think, 69 investigators full-time.
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
BQ (QC)
Based on what I have heard, then, because of the increased number of complaints in recent years and the 30-day time limit, the current problem is staffing. You spoke earlier about turnover.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-03-11 15:59
Treasury Board statistics indicate that over the past six years, access to information requests have increased by 225%. Last year, the government received approximately 120,000. One institution has already received 120,000 since the start of the year, which will mean a doubling in demand. Access requests have increased by 225%. Complaints to us are also continuing to increase. Yes, there is a correlation. However, resources have not kept pace. There is therefore a need throughout the entire system.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2019-05-14 15:32
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. I am pleased to be here with you today.
As you said, Mr. Chair, I am joined by France Labine and Layla Michaud.
I now have 15 months under my belt as the new Information Commissioner, and at this point in my mandate, I see very positive signs of progress but also some challenges that lie ahead.
I am very grateful for the $3 million in temporary funding announced for my office in budget 2019, which was sought to allow me to maintain the momentum of my complaint inventory reduction strategy. I will be devoting this money to hiring new investigators, just as I did with the $2.9 million of temporary funding allocated in last year's budget.
This is the fourth consecutive year that my office is requesting and receiving temporary funding. Note that these requests for temporary funding were stopgap measures in anticipation of a more permanent solution. Improved funding is key to enhancing the OIC's capacity to fully and effectively fulfill its mandate.
My team makes the best use of every dollar we receive. We are reviewing and improving the investigation process. We use technology to innovate and speed up tasks and processes. We collaborate with institutions and requesters as much as possible with a view to completing investigations effectively and efficiently.
Our results speak for themselves. The number, the quality and the timeliness of completed investigations have dramatically improved. My team closed more than 2,600 complaints in 2018-19. This is 76% more than the previous year. It's a record for this organization. Two-thirds of these investigations resulted in requesters receiving more information and faster responses from the institution.
However, despite our best year ever, I foresee trouble on the horizon. I started the first year of my mandate with an inventory of approximately 3,500 files and I received more than 2,500 new complaints in 2018-19. This large number of new files meant that despite my team's excellent performance, I was barely able to make a dent in my inventory. At this rate it will take us decades to clear our backlog.
Simply put, my allocated resources of $11.5 million in the main estimates and 93 approved full-time equivalents are stretched extremely thin by the enormous caseload, which has increased by 25% in the last six years. Without the additional funding I could have in the neighbourhood of 5,800 old and new complaints in the books this year.
On top of this, the proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act currently before Parliament will have operational and, therefore, financial impacts on my office—potentially significant ones.
At the time Bill C-58 was introduced, the then President of the Treasury Board stated that the government would also be increasing the Information Commissioner's resources by $5.1 million over the next five years and $1.7 million on an ongoing basis.
While this additional $1.7 million will be very welcome should Bill C-58 be adopted, it will not be sufficient for my office to meet the requirements of the bill in its current form.
Looking ahead, operating year by year with temporary funding is both inefficient and unsustainable. This is my number one complaint. It does not allow me to plan for the medium or long term. Insufficient funding means that I am unable to maintain momentum in completing investigations and ensuring that Canadians' right of access to information is respected.
I can assure you that I will continue to use my current resources to the greatest effect. I will also continue to take every step I can to find efficiencies in my operations, but frankly, there is only so much that reviewing processes and streamlining can achieve. This is why it is a priority for me this year to secure adequate permanent resources that will account for all the work my office has to carry out under the act.
With more ongoing resources, I could increase the size of my investigation team permanently, to not only complete more investigations each year but also get moving on new ones more quickly.
Permanent funding would also be required to allow me to operationalize the amendments to the act and to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.
These are the results I would like to achieve for Canadians.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I would be pleased to take your questions.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2018-05-08 10:02
Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I am pleased to appear before you today for the first time since my appointment as Information Commissioner of Canada.
Joining me are Layla Michaud, Deputy Commissioner of Investigations and Governance, and Gino Grondin, Deputy Commissioner of Legal Services and Public Affairs.
Let me first thank you for placing your confidence in me to carry out the duties of the Information Commissioner. It is an honour to serve Canadians in this role, and I look forward to the next seven years of working to ensure openness and transparency at the federal level.
My first two months on the job have been very busy and an interesting time of learning. I met with each and every employee at the office during my first two weeks. It did not take long for me to see that I have an excellent and experienced management team, as well as a very dedicated and professional staff. My meetings with employees and managers allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the work done by my office. I also gained a greater appreciation of the 35 years of institutional knowledge that my office holds, and the strong foundation I have to build on.
In addition, I became more familiar with the challenges and the opportunities that the organization faces. This has allowed me to determine where to focus my efforts in the coming months and years.
I have four priorities that I would like to share with you.
My first priority is to address the inventory of complaints my office has yet to complete, while investigating new complaints as they arrive. I will also work with my team to improve operational efficiency and streamline the investigation process to reduce delays when possible.
My second priority will be to take steps to implement the anticipated amendments contained in Bill C-58. These proposed changes present potential operational challenges for my office. For example, if the bill is enacted as currently drafted, my office will have to manage, potentially for a number of years, three distinct complaint and investigation processes due to transition periods in the bill.
My third priority will be to ensure that the day-to-day work of my office is open and transparent. I will also stress these values in my interactions with institutions, members of Parliament, and Canadians. In addition, work is already under way to enhance and refresh my office's web and social media presence.
My goal is to make the complaint process simple and transparent for Canadians. I also want to provide more guidance to both complainants and institutions on the investigation process and the decisions taken, and more timely updates on access to information news and activities.
Finally, my team will work closely with institutions to help them meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act, and we'll address systemic issues. In the coming months, I intend to personally meet with access to information coordinators and the heads of a number of institutions to reinforce the importance of this collaborative approach and promote openness and accountability.
I will embrace every opportunity to collaborate with you and with Parliament as a whole, with institutions, and with other stakeholders, including the Privacy Commissioner. I will also emphasize the importance of sharing best practices. Canadians deserve to have institutions that are open by default and that make access a priority.
For the coming year, and just like the last six years, my office's main estimates are $11.4 million, and I have 93 approved full-time equivalents. Approximately 80% of this funding will go to deliver our investigations program. The other 20% will be dedicated to our corporate services, such as finance, information technology, and human resources.
As you likely know, the government announced $2.9 million in temporary funding for my office in the 2018 federal budget. I plan to use these funds for the resolution of complaints. In particular, I would bolster my investigations team for 2018-19.
I would fill vacant permanent positions and rehire the experienced consultants that my office engaged in past years. This would be good news for Canadians. My office would be able to complete more investigations in the coming year because of this additional funding.
Ideally, however, my office would be provided with permanent funding to allow me to permanently increase the size of my team and bring stability to the office. The volume of complaints my office receives is increasing. My team registered nearly 2,600 new files in the year that just ended on March 31. This is a 25% increase over 2016-17. As more and more Canadians submit requests under the act, the number of complaints will keep growing. I'm very much of the view that temporary funding and temporary staffing will not address the challenges my office faces. To meet this demand, my office needs more permanent funding.
I am pleased that the President of the Treasury Board announced last June that my office's resources will be increased on an ongoing basis in response to the adoption of Bill C-58. However, this funding will not be sufficient to meet the growing demands on my office and serve the needs of Canadians.
In closing, I wish to emphasize two aspects of the positive impact an increase in permanent funding would have for my office. First, as I've said, it would bring stability to the organization. I could hire enough employees to ensure the act is appropriately applied and respond to complaints in a timely manner. I could also retain these employees from year to year, providing needed continuity. Second, I could pursue innovative options for making the investigation process more efficient. I would like to capitalize on technology to enhance my office's service to Canadians.
That being said, thank you, again, for inviting me to appear today. I look forward to further opportunities to report on the progress I am making against my priorities and on my statutory mandate.
I would be pleased to take your questions.
Layla Michaud
View Layla Michaud Profile
Layla Michaud
2017-11-29 15:57
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My name is Layla Michaud. I'm the deputy commissioner, investigations and governance. I'm also the chief financial officer for the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.
I'm here to seek the approval of the committee for supplementary estimates (B).
The Access to Information Act establishes the Information Commissioner as the first level of independent review of institutions' decisions on disclosure in response to access requests. Requesters who are not satisfied with how institutions responded to their access request have the right to complain to the OIC.
The Commissioner is required by law to investigate all complaints within her jurisdiction. These investigations are conducted in an efficient, fair, and confidential manner. For the past few years, we have been of the view that the current funding levels for the OIC are insufficient for the office to properly fulfill its mandate to protect Canadians' access to information rights.
Underfunding of this office has been endemic for years. We have made repeated requests for additional permanent funding. To date none have been accepted.
Last year this committee approved temporary funding for the office of $3.4 million for one year. This funding was a fit-gap measure put in place pending the adoption of Bill C-58. With this funding we resolved 2,245 complaints. This was the highest number of complaints resolved in any year of Commissioner Legault's mandate.
Last year the Office of the Information Commissioner made another request for funding but this request was not included in budget 2017. However, since the office lapsed a portion of its funding in 2015-16 and in 2016-17, we now seek your approval through supplementary estimates (B) to reprofile this lapsed funding in the amount of $1.8 million. With these funds, the $1.8 million, we plan to hire 14 consultants and resolve a total of 1,900 complaints.
The office senior management team will closely monitor results. Our performance is also followed by our external audit and evaluation committee on an ongoing basis. However, this request is again a fit-gap measure and will not resolve the office's ongoing funding issue.
For this reason, a permanent funding solution continues to be needed for the office to properly fulfill its mandate and provide the independent oversight Canadians deserve. Hence, we will continue to work with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Department of Finance to ensure Canadians' access rights are protected.
In closing, I ask that you approve this request to re-profile the $1.8 million in lapsed funding, through Supplementary Estimates B.
Once again, thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to discuss our request for funding and I hope we have the opportunity to discuss a more permanent solution for the office's funding in the future.
I would now be pleased to answer your questions.
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