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Michel Doiron
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Michel Doiron
2015-05-26 8:48
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Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Chair, members, mesdames et messieurs.
As the chair said, my name is Michel Doiron and I am the assistant deputy minister for service delivery at Veterans Affairs. With me today is my colleague Bernard Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of policy, communications, and commemoration.
I wish to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on an issue of importance and great interest to veterans and their families, and that is those elements of the government's response to your committee's report of June 2014, titled “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, that are contained in economic action plan 2015, or Bill C-59. The legislation, if passed, will amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly known as the new Veterans Charter, to address a number of the concerns and gaps that have been identified.
There are essentially five legislative amendments/provisions contained within the bill.
The first provision introduces a purpose clause “to recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada” and further provides that the “Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled”.
The second significant provision enhances Veterans Affairs Canada's ability to support transition to civilian life. It authorizes Veterans Affairs Canada to provide information and guidance to Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans on the benefits and services that may be available to them in order to help them transition and to make decisions on applications for benefits and services prior to release.
There are three additional amendments that effectively create new benefits for veterans. These new benefits will strengthen the government's support provided to seriously disabled veterans and their families through the new Veterans Charter.
The first benefit, known as the retirement income security benefit, RISB, would provide moderately to severely disabled veterans—those who need it most—with continued assistance in the form of a monthly income support payment beginning at the age of 65.
The second benefit, the family caregiver relief benefit, would provide eligible veterans with a tax-free annual grant of $7,238 so that their informal caregivers, often their spouses or other devoted family members, will have flexibility or relief when they need it while also ensuring that veterans' care needs are met.
The third benefit, the critical injury benefit, or CIB, would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
These new benefits will complement the existing suite of services and benefits available through the new Veterans Charter and add depth to the supports available both to those injured in service to their country and to their families from the Government of Canada.
As announced in the budget, additional staff will also address delays in service delivery, especially for the most seriously disabled and their families. We will hire more than 100 permanent case managers for improved one-on-one services. More than 100 new disability adjudication staff, temporary and permanent, will improve the processing time for veterans who submit an application for a disability benefit application. This is part of the department's commitment to service excellence.
Thank you for listening.
I will now open the floor, Mr. Chair, to any questions the committee may have for Bernard or for me.
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Michelle Doucet
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Michelle Doucet
2014-04-01 8:47
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to speak to you today.
I am accompanied by two colleagues from the Privy Council Office—Mr. Ward Elcock and Ms. Karen Cahill. As you may know, Mr. Elcock is the special advisor on human smuggling and illegal migration. As such, he coordinates the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling. Ms. Cahill is the executive director of the finance and corporate planning division of the corporate services branch in the Privy Council Office. In this capacity, she is also the deputy chief financial officer for the department.
My introductory comments are about the 2014-15 main estimates for the Privy Council Office (PCO) as well as its report on plans and priorities for the same year.
The PCO is seeking $118.8 million in the 2014-15 main estimates. This is an overall reduction of $4.6 million from the amount the PCO sought in last year's main estimates, which was $123.4 million.
The PCO's main estimates for this year are mainly related to the following.
A decrease of $4.4 million in savings was identified as part of the budget 2012 spending review. The PCO contribution to this exercise will total $9.2 million in savings, taking full effect today, in 2014-15. The PCO is one of many federal organizations that undertook this review with the goal of returning the government to balanced budgets, while at the same time improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs.
To support these objectives, the PCO has undertaken several deficit reduction measures, including: transforming business processes across the department to achieve administrative efficiencies, further integrating the intergovernmental affairs function within the department, modernizing and streamlining the government communications function, and streamlining the cabinet system to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making.
The vast majority of PCO expenses consists of salaries and associated operational costs. As a result, most of the savings needed to be generated by having fewer employees within the department. These reductions were achieved through a fair and transparent workforce adjustment process where all affected employees were treated with respect and every possible effort was made to identify the best possible solution for each individual.
There is also a decrease of $1.4 million related to statutory authorities mostly related to contributions to employee benefit plans, which was made pursuant to Treasury Board Secretariat instructions.
In addition, there is a decrease of $0.3 million related to three efficiency exercises. The first one is the continuation of the consolidation of pay services to PWGSC's Centre of Expertise in Miramichi, New Brunswick. The two other efficiency exercises are for measures announced in Canada’s economic action plan 2013: namely, the consolidation of the procurement of workplace technology device software and the reduction of travel costs.
These decreases are partially offset by an increase of $1.2 million for activities related to the continued implementation of Canada's migrant smuggling prevention strategy, headed by Mr. Elcock. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Elcock's mandate is to coordinate the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling.
In the last two years, Canada has successfully secured cooperation in transit countries in Southeast Asia and west Africa. The PCO works closely with four other federal agencies to further Canada's objectives on this important initiative. Approved funding of $1.2 million for 2013-14 was sought through the 2013-14 supplementary estimates (B) and presented to this committee during the PCO's last appearance. Funding for 2014-15 is now included in our main estimates.
An increase of $0.4 million represents the portion of wages and salary increases to be paid to employees during fiscal year 2014-15, in accordance with specific collective agreements that took effect last year.
This completes the explanation of PCO's 2014-15 main estimates.
I will turn now to PCO's report on plans and priorities for fiscal year 2014-15 to give you an overview of PCO's planning highlights.
To begin, it is important to note that the PCO's sole strategic outcome is to ensure that the government's agenda and decision-making are supported and implemented and that the institutions of government are supported and maintained.
In this regard, the PCO will continue to play a central coordination and advisory role within the public service to support the government in achieving its stated objectives for the year. The PCO plans to successfully meet this strategic outcome by focusing on four key operational priorities during the year. None of these are new priorities, but some of them have been updated recently to better highlight the importance of certain areas of the department's work. For example, you will note under priority one that the PCO is now reflecting its advisory and support role for portfolio ministers, in addition to the Prime Minister.
This role has always been done in the past and has always been reported under the plans for this priority, but the revised priority now accurately reflects that the PCO supports the Prime Minister and the portfolio ministers in exercising their overall leadership responsibilities by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support on the entire spectrum of the government's policy, legislative, and government administration priorities. This includes, among other things, advice on social and economic affairs, regional development, foreign affairs, national security, defence, Governor in Council appointments, intergovernmental relations, and the environment.
The second of PCO's priorities will be to support the deliberations of cabinet and its committees on key policy initiatives and coordinate medium-term policy planning. This priority has also been updated for this year to better reflect the importance of the advisory and support roles PCO has always played for cabinet and its committees.
What that looks like is that PCO manages the day-to-day activities that support the work of cabinet and its committees, such as scheduling and support services for meetings, as well as the distribution of cabinet documents.
PCO will work throughout the year to provide guidance and a rigorous challenge function to departments to advance policy, legislative and government administration proposals that are high quality, prepared in a timely manner and focused on addressing priority areas identified by the government.
The PCO's third priority is to enable the management and accountability of government. The PCO provides strategic advice on whole-of-government transformation initiatives, public service renewal, and other management reforms, which will ultimately contribute to sound government administration, enhanced productivity in the public service, and improved services to Canadians.
To this end, the PCO will support the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Deputy Minister Board of Management and Renewal in the identification of whole-of-government proposals to advance the government's priority for improved efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, the PCO will actively engage and collaborate with implicated departments and other central agencies in the implementation of these proposals.
In 2013, the Clerk of the Privy Council launched the Blueprint 2020 engagement process. As you may know, this process sought the input of all public servants on a clear vision for the future of the public service, and to determine what changes were necessary to make that future a reality. PCO will continue to support the clerk in order to achieve this vision, both across the public service and within PCO itself.
In addition, PCO will continue to provide advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council on the human resource management of senior leaders. This includes supporting the learning and development of senior leaders, undertaking succession planning and performance management, and supporting the Deputy Minister Committee of Senior Officials.
In keeping with the major transformational initiatives taking place across the public service, PCO's fourth and final priority is to strengthen the department’s own internal management practices.
During the year, the PCO will continue to support the Government of Canada's human resources modernization initiative, which aims to consolidate and enhance the delivery of human resource services across the government. This will be achieved in large part through the adoption of common human resource business processes and the implementation of further process improvements to deliver better human resource services to clients.
In addition, PCO will continue its efforts to implement the new directive on performance management to ensure that PCO has a high-performing and adaptable workforce. PCO will also support the Government of Canada's efforts to enhance information technology through the modernization of computer desktops, the implementation of the email transformation initiative, the establishment of government-wide secure network connectivity, and the consolidation of Government of Canada data centres. To that end, PCO will be working closely with its key IT business partner, Shared Services Canada.
Finally, PCO will implement the Government of Canada’s shared travel solutions initiative, as well as undertake a review of the department’s financial processes in order to align them with the Government of Canada’s financial business process modernization initiative.
In conclusion, it is through these initiatives and activities, done in support of PCO's four organizational priorities, that the department will be able to successfully fulfill its overall strategic outcome.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to explain the initiatives related to PCO's 2014-15 main estimates and our report on plans and priorities. We would be pleased to address your questions.
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Gregory Thomas
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Gregory Thomas
2013-05-29 16:43
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank you all for allowing me to join you today. I'd also like to thank Brent Rathgeber for proposing Bill C-461. Mr. Rathgeber has shown character and courage in standing up for his beliefs and to his caucus when he has nothing to gain politically or personally by supporting this bill. This is evidence that principles are still alive and well in the House of Commons, and this gives us at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation hope that this bill will lead the government in the right direction.
My name is Gregory Thomas. I am the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We are a federally incorporated, not-for-profit citizens' group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste, and accountable government. We represent over 84,000 supporters across Canada. I am here on behalf of our Taxpayers Federation and our supporters to defend the current iteration of Mr. Rathgeber's bill.
We believe that all governments should stick to their founding tenets: transparency and accountability to the people. When administrations base their governments on these two seemingly simply ideas, it benefits them, their supporters, and everyone in between. More accountability to the public gives taxpayers the rights they deserve—to know who is being paid with their tax dollars and how much of our money they receive.
Bill C-461 would cause the government to disclose all earnings above $188,000. We believe this is a necessary shift in federal disclosure policy. Although in a perfect world every penny paid out by the government would be public information, we believe Mr. Rathgeber's bill pushes the government away from its self-imposed opaqueness and pushes the government into disclosure policy that will greatly benefit all Canadians.
This bill in its current state, we feel, does not go far enough, but the enthusiasm and hard work put in by Mr. Rathgeber makes up for this and gives us hope that other MPs will push for further reforms in the future. That being said, there have been criticisms of these amendments from all sides of the House, and I would like to address each of them.
First, there is concern regarding the number of people who would land above the $188,000 salary disclosure limit. Their concerns have centred on the number of people whose salaries would be disclosed. We believe this is a non-issue in this discussion. Government employees are all accountable to the public precisely because we sustain their salaries. To suggest otherwise takes away from the real issues affecting Canadians: government accountability and transparency.
We hear this from the government, and, quite frankly, it confuses us. I'm not the first one, nor will I be the last, to reference the current Senate expenses scandal involving former Conservatives Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, and former Liberal Senator Mac Harb. If the government allowed us access to the records and documents relating to their expense claims, this wasteful, unaccountable spending could have been nipped in the bud before it spiralled out of control into a $90,000 cheque with many reputations tarnished.
The same will go for this bill. If we see what government employees are earning, we can stop unreasonable salaries, benefits, and pension entitlements before they spiral out of control. It should be clear that this would help any government avoid embarrassment and scandal, while ensuring taxpayers are being treated with the respect they deserve.
The other major criticism relates to the effects of this bill on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Again, we believe this takes away from the real issues surrounding the amendments. The CBC is not the only affected crown corporation. All crown agencies, from the Atlantic Pilotage Authority to VIA Rail, are covered in this bill. In fact, there is a specific provision in this bill that would allow the CBC to withhold information that threatens its independence, and it would be subject to a test that could be tried in the courts.
We believe there are plenty of members in the official opposition, as well as the Liberal Party, who genuinely support the spirit of this legislation. I would simply plead with you not to get caught up in the sideshow that relates to the CBC, but rather focus on the real issue, which is accountability, transparency, and waste.
Now, you may be asking yourself, how exactly does federal disclosure policy help the average taxpayer, the average citizen? The fact of the matter is this: if we can see what crown CEOs are making and what their job descriptions are, we can avoid potential scandals before they spiral out of control.
You may believe that not every Canadian pays attention to the salaries of government officials. It's a valid assumption, and I don't deny it. However, we still owe it to taxpayers to treat their dollars with dignity. Even if every Canadian on every main street isn't going to file an access to information request, you can be assured that the Taxpayers Federation, as well as other advocacy groups for free press or free media, will be watching vigilantly to see how taxpayers' dollars are spent.
We're here to ensure that the government operates within reasonable limits. The day we stop respecting a person's money because they don't have the time or resources to be involved in the same manner you are, I believe, is the day we lose our moral authority to levy taxes.
I hope my testimony has shed some light on this issue. Canadians deserve the best from their government, and we believe the public's concerns, until this bill arrived, have been falling on deaf ears.
We commend Mr. Rathgeber and all members who support this legislation. You are the people who listen to Canadians and who are working for positive change in the stewardship the government shows over our tax dollars.
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Stephen Taylor
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Stephen Taylor
2013-05-29 16:50
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The National Citizens Coalition is a supporter-based organization founded in 1967 and counts tens of thousands of supporters in its ranks. Our organization is founded upon the principle of more freedom through less government. We advocate on issues regarding the reduction of waste in the public sector for the more efficient delivery of services to Canadians.
Government accountability is very important to our supporters, and indeed to all Canadians. Whenever taxpayer dollars are in the mix, we believe on a philosophical level that Canadians deserve transparency for where those tax dollars go and accountability by those who spend them.
Recent scandals in the Canadian Senate with regard to how our senators are spending their housing allowances serve to underscore the need for transparency and accountability in our public institutions. Canadians lose faith in their institutions when those institutions abuse the public trust. Since human fallibility seems to be fairly consistent, the system must account for it, and accountability measures must be built in. We are here to provide testimony in support of Bill C-461. The CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act is an important piece of legislation to bring transparency and accountability to the spending of public dollars at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC is the recipient of over $1 billion taxpayer dollars every year.
Section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act is deficient, in our view, because the CBC has used it as a blanket exclusion to allowing oversight of how it spends public money. The Information Commissioner, the Federal Court, and the Federal Court of Appeal all agree to the limitations of section 68.1 as written. Further to the changes to the Access to Information Act, the legislation also makes other important changes to current statutes.
Canadians have been well-served by the so-called “sunshine list” in provincial jurisdictions, which list salaries and expenses of public servants. Unfortunately, such a list does not exist federally, and this legislation does not go far enough, in our view, in establishing such a list. Mr. Rathgeber's middle measure, however, is to provide specific salary figures and expenses on an individual on the federal payroll upon request.
Also troubling is the proposed amendment by this government to raise the threshold for the reporting level. In Ontario, for example, we benefit from disclosure of salaries of $100,000 and above. Mr. Rathgeber suggests a federal list should require disclosure at or above DM-1. We implore the members of this committee to resist pressure to raise the threshold from Mr. Rathgeber's proposed figure. Ideally, though, we'd like to see the disclosure set at around $100,000—perhaps wishful thinking.
Also less than ideal is the per request mechanism. We hope the committee will see the benefit of full and automatic disclosure of salaries, expenses, and bonuses on a public website in a machine-readable format. The world is moving to the open data model of governance. I note that Canada has fallen to 55th place in the world for freedom of information.
Canada is watching what its legislators do in this place. As scandal looms regarding the abuse of taxpayer dollars, some have suggested abolition of the Senate. Transparency provides an automatic mechanism that helps protect against those who would abuse the public's trust. Such transparency does not exist at the CBC.
The National Citizens Coalition's view is the privatization of the CBC. This isn't a big secret. I know this view is not yet shared publicly by many in this room. However, if the CBC is to receive public dollars, it suffers a legitimacy gap when it refuses to disclose how those dollars are spent. For those who do believe in a public broadcaster, you bring legitimacy to it as a public institution when it is accountable to the public for how it spends our money.
Regarding the CBC-related amendment to this legislation, that is, to include an exclusion for journalistic source protection while allowing for an injury-test exemption on programming-related information disclosure, this sounds acceptable in principle. However, the CBC has acted in bad faith on previous access to information requests, claiming blanket exclusion under section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act. The Information Commissioner has taken the CBC to court at least twice on this matter. We are concerned that the CBC will use any loophole to protect against reasonable disclosure.
We believe that the voting public is the best judge for how its money is spent. We do believe in less government; many of you believe in more of it. However, shrouding this information from the public view is not an honest mechanism for protecting government largesse. Indeed, it delegitimizes the view that advocates for it in the absence of such disclosure.
Government members may be looking to amend this legislation to raise the reporting thresholds and ranges for disclosure with respect to public sector salaries and bonuses. This will put more data out of reach of the public on how public dollars are spent on public services.
l'm told that this legislation will pass with such an amendment. Indeed this bill faces a fork in the road. If this legislation fails because it lacks this particular amendment, it will be scandalous for the majority governing caucus. This is legislation that calls to the very heart of the conservative base. Such transparency is a core theme of why conservatives elect Conservative Party candidates to serve in Ottawa.
If this legislation is amended to raise the disclosure limit and passes, it will be a watered-down, paler version of itself. I implore the government members to resist amending the disclosure threshold, because recent troubles facing this government on accountability issues provide the impetus for passing the legislation that we small-c conservatives desire.
With that, I welcome your questions on this presentation.
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View Brent Rathgeber Profile
Ind. (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to assure the members that if they don't have sufficient time to question me on this important piece of legislation, I'd be happy to return at any time.
Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee, it is an honour for me to appear before your committee this afternoon to speak to private member's Bill C-461. I have provided committee members with a backgrounder describing the contents and the need for Bill C-461, the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act.
Members, the bill has two purposes. The first is to correct a deficiency within the current section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act, which provides an exclusion for information under the control of the CBC relating to journalistic, creative, and programming activities. However, this exclusion is then subject to an exception for matters of general administration.
This confusion of an exclusion thereafter limited by an exception led to litigation between the Information Commissioner and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal siding with the Information Commissioner, reaffirming her right to review decisions regarding access. The courts indicated that the drafting of section 68.1 was “not a model of clarity”, and moreover was a “recipe for controversy”.
I agree with this assessment, and so does this committee. In March of 2012, this committee tabled a report after a study of section 68.1 of the access act, and accepted the Information Commissioner’s recommendation that section 68.1 of the access act be repealed and that the exclusion be replaced with a discretionary exemption.
Private Member's Bill C-461 reflects the recommendation of this committee by providing a discretionary exemption on an injury- or prejudice-based test. Accordingly, any Canadian Broadcasting Corporation document that, if released, could reasonably be expected to prejudice the corporation’s journalistic, creative, or programming independence ought to be exempt from disclosure.
At second reading on this bill, members of the official opposition claimed that this legislation was somehow an attack on CBC.
Members, I assure you, it is not. In fact, this legislation is not about the CBC so much as it is about transparency and accountability.
The discretionary exemption based on an injury test approach expressly acknowledges that a public broadcaster must enjoy a degree of independence from government. But the Information Commissioner is not part of government; she is an officer of Parliament. I fail to see how allowing her to review decisions of the CBC regarding access to information requests constitutes an attack on the broadcaster. Similar to our collective roles as members of Parliament, the Information Commissioner plays an important role in holding government to account.
The second purpose of the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act makes a substantive alteration to the Privacy Act. In removing the words “range of” before the word “salary” in the definition of exempt “personal information” in the Privacy Act, this legislation, if adopted, will allow for specific salary disclosure for the highest wage earners in the federal public service.
Currently only ranges of salaries are subject to disclosure, which is, I submit, adequate for low- and middle-income levels, but at the highest levels of income, the increments become so large as to become virtually meaningless.
For example, I have been advised that the current CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earns in the range of $363,800 to $428,000. That range is $64,200, larger than the average taxpayer’s salary, and therefore, in my view, does not constitute meaningful disclosure.
Accordingly, if Bill C-461 is adopted and not amended, the specific salaries and responsibilities of upper management—defined in this bill as the lowest level of deputy minister, DM-1, and higher—will be subject to access to information requests, specifically salary disclosure.
This is important: this change would apply to the entire federal public service, all government institutions that are subject to the Access to Information Act. CBC is in no way being singled out.
The bill also expressly provides for disclosure of reimbursed expenses for all employees in a government institution.
Mr. Chairman, the government has signalled its intent to amend Bill C-461. With your consent, I would like to address both proposed amendments, although I appreciate that they have not yet been tabled.
The first is with respect to journalistic source protection. Some have argued that journalistic source protection is so sacrosanct that an absolute exclusion must be maintained.
I absolutely agree that it is important that a public broadcaster, any broadcaster, be able to assure its confidential journalistic sources that their identity will not be disclosed. But I dispute that an absolute exclusion is either appropriate or practicable.
Firstly, the Information Commissioner has unlimited power under section 36 of the Access to Information Act to compel production of such documents and things as she deems requisite to the full investigation and consideration of the complaint. Moreover, under subsection 36(2) of the access act, it provides that no document can be withheld from the Information Commissioner for any reason.
Accordingly, I am skeptical that an exclusion can be drafted that could coexist with the Information Commissioner’s seemingly unfettered powers to compel document production. Members will recall that the current attempted exclusion in section 68.1 was the basis for protracted litigation between the Information Commissioner and the CBC.
Moreover, as the Information Commissioner herself testified when she appeared in front of this committee on March 8 regarding the estimates, journalistic source privilege is not absolute. The Supreme Court of Canada said so recently in its 2010 decision of R. v. National Post. The court held that journalistic source privilege is not a class privilege; it is fact-specific and therefore must be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine if and when it applies.
Who is to determine if Professor Wigmore's four-pronged test, which has been supported by the Supreme Court, is satisfied if the CBC is to be granted an absolute exclusion? The obvious answer is nobody. Is CBC to be made both judge and party to access to information requests? Certainly not.
As the Information Commissioner testified here two weeks ago, decisions of information officers must be reviewed, and as the Federal Court said in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation v. Canada (Information Commissioner), “Disclosing records to the Commissioner does not amount to revealing them.” This is an important point. Members should not be misled into believing that having the Information Commissioner review documents will somehow lead to their disclosure. The Information Commissioner will recommend against disclosure when CBC has been able to demonstrate injury or prejudice.
The second matter that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice signalled the government wanted to amend was the benchmark at which federal public service salaries would become subject to disclosure. The parliamentary secretary indicated in the House that the government believes that the highest level of DM-4 would be a more appropriate benchmark than the lowest level of DM-1. In real dollar terms, amazingly this would move the disclosure benchmark from $188,600 to $319,900.
However, this is not the entire story. As senior public servants are entitled to maximum performance awards, otherwise known as bonuses, it is conceivable that at the DM-4 level, the said mandarin could earn a maximum performance award of up to a further 39%—although it would be discretionary. According to my math, if a DM-4 earns $319,900, plus a maximum bonus of 39%, which is $124,761, his entire compensation would be $444,661. However, if the government is successful in amending this piece of legislation, taxpayers will only be mindful that the DM-4 earns in the range of $272,000 to $319,900.
Members of this committee should ask themselves, does this constitute meaningful disclosure? In my view, it does not, and I strongly recommend that members resist the government’s attempt to gut this bill.
Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, Canada has had access to information legislation in force since 1983. Canada was once a leader in providing access to government information and documents, but sadly, we are becoming laggards. Internationally, we are currently ranked 55th out of 93 countries in terms of our access laws. Moreover, the Centre for Law and Democracy, a think tank, says that Canada is falling behind all of the provinces and ranking behind most of them in terms of openness. Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia all have salary disclosure legislation that is more transparent than this proposed bill, even if you pass it unamended.
Mr. Chairman, in March 2004 a former government announced new policies that mandated publication of all contracts with the federal government over $10,000. I find it irreconcilable that proprietors and companies who contract with the Government of Canada for as little as $10,000 will have their names and contracts published on a public website, but that a senior federal executive or public servant earning over $440,000 is protected by Canada's privacy laws.
Members, again, I invite you to resist the government’s attempt to remove both the heart and the teeth of this private member's bill.
Transparency and disclosure allow taxpayers to compare the performance of an organization to the compensation given to the senior people running it. It allows taxpayers to know how their tax dollars are being spent. By allowing disclosure, the public will serve as a critical check on government expenditures and an effective deterrent to any government department or official tempted to treat taxpayers disrespectfully. Transparency, admittedly, is seldom in the interest of the government; however, it is always in the interest of the taxpayers whom we, as members of Parliament, represent.
Bill C-461, the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act, promotes open and transparent government and holding government to account. It is also a small step, albeit a very small step, in improving the federal government's growing reputation for opaqueness.
Exclusions for government information prevent Canadians from holding their government to account, which is fundamental to democracy. Knowledge is power, and holding government to account demands that knowledge and information be available to Canadians. Holding to account leads to the establishment of trust—trust that there is proper stewardship over public resources. Opaqueness, however, leads to mistrust, or at the very least suspicion that there is not proper stewardship of public resources. Accordingly, any attempt to weaken this bill and its attempt to increase access to information and transparency will lead to mistrust and suspicion.
As U.S. Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis famously said that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Mr. Chairman, Canadians deserve to have the light shone on government and government information, and I encourage all honourable members of this committee to pass Bill C-461.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to members' questions.
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Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2013-05-02 11:45
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Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I am very pleased to be here on your invitation to discuss our main estimates for 2013-14 as well as our recent achievements. I am accompanied by our Executive Director, Ms. France Duquette.
You may recall that my first involvement with the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner dates back almost two and a half years ago, first as Interim Commissioner and then as Commissioner on a seven-year appointment approved in Parliament in December 2011. The office was created in April 2007 as part of the Accountability Act and I am only the second person to hold this position.
Our dual role under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is to receive and deal with disclosures of wrongdoing allegedly taking place within the federal public sector and to handle complaints of reprisals sustained as a result of having made a protected disclosure. While public servants may blow the whistle within their own organization, they often come to us as we are independent. However, we are the only ones responsible to investigate allegations of reprisals.
The number of disclosures made to my office has doubled in the last three fiscal years, and I believe that this is attributable to our increased profile, as well as to the growing sense of confidence within the public service—and, hopefully, the public sector at large—as to our professionalism, discretion, and efficiency.
The office currently employs 28 public servants, and we also retain private sector resources from time to time to supplement our expertise. As of now, since the inception of the office, we have received close to 450 disclosures of wrongdoing and over 150 complaints of reprisal. Our current budget is sufficient to meet our workload, but based on intake trends it is quite possible we will one day have to ask for additional resources.
When we receive a disclosure or a complaint of reprisal, my role as commissioner is to first decide whether the case warrants a full-fledged investigation, and after one has been launched and concluded, whether on the balance of probabilities a wrongdoing has been committed, or in the case of an allegation of reprisal, whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that reprisal action has taken place.
In the last 13 months, we have tabled five cases before Parliament following a finding of wrongdoing involving staff at HRSDC, the Laurentian Pilotage Authority, CIDA, CBSA, as well as the former chair of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. We have also referred three cases of reprisals to the special tribunal created by our governing legislation. As of March 31, 2013, we were actively investigating 22 allegations of wrongdoing and seven complaints of reprisals, and I aim to complete all of these investigations by the end of the year.
Since my appointment, we have focused on recruiting a sufficient number of competent employees to fulfill our mandate. Our positions are currently staffed with highly skilled individuals, and last year we experienced a perfectly normal rate of attrition. This explains why we were able to complete 38 investigations in 2012-13, as opposed to a total of 22 in the first five years of the existence of the office.
We have recently adopted formal service standards guaranteeing—barring exceptional circumstances having to do with complexity or scope—that we will make decisions whether to launch an investigation within 90 days and no more than 90 days, and that all investigations will be completed within one year of being launched.
It's important that people who come to us, as well as those against whom allegations are made, find out in a reasonable period of time the outcome of our work. I'm sure you can appreciate that blowing the whistle requires a lot of courage, and that being the subject of an investigation is often a stressful experience; hence, the need to act expeditiously but with rigour.
I am proud to have been chosen as leader of a dedicated group of employees who are committed to the implementation of the will of Parliament and to the contribution of the enhancement of public confidence in the integrity of the public sector. I believe we are starting to demonstrate—in conjunction with senior officials across the system—that the act can work. We are dealing with a complex piece of legislation and often with sensitive situations requiring a lot of skills and attention. I hope you share my sense that things have improved significantly over the last two years, as well as my confidence in the future of the office.
Seven provinces have now adopted similar legislation. This is also a recent trend across many nations in the world. The full potential of whistleblowing regimes will only be achieved over time and after several cultural, legal and organizational obstacles have been resolved.
I look forward to your questions and comments.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2013-05-02 11:51
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Thank you for that very clear answer.
In addition, you have taken upon yourself to make certain backroom operational savings. One could argue that of all the things and all the budgets that should be maintained, a budget dealing with the transparency and accountability of the public service is something that should be maintained. Your resources in the grand scheme of things are pretty minor compared with those of other commissioners or other departments in the public service.
Has this request to lower your expenses put into question your ability to treat cases of wrongdoing in the public service?
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Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2013-05-02 11:52
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As I pointed out during my opening remarks, we currently have enough resources. We did contribute a 5% reduction. It will kick in during 2014-15 and it will amount to $286,000. But there is still flexibility. We are able to cope with the caseload as it exists today. We have no control over the quantity or the quality of what comes our way. We receive disclosures, we receive complaints, but at the present time I am very confident that we will be able to cope in 2014-15, even with a slight reduction of 5%.
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for being here and appearing before the committee for what I think is an important statutory review of the Conflict of Interest Act.
One of the things we're finding out as a committee is that there are some similarities and also some conflicts and differences between the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act. I'm going to assume that both of you learned gentlemen are familiar with both pieces of legislation.
The committee has found that the term “designated public office holder”, which is housed within the Lobbying Act, has many similarities to the term “reporting public office holder”. If they were to be more aligned, if we were to get a better definition so that they were covered in both acts, which act do you believe would maintain a better single, symmetrical definition of those individuals?
Do you want to start, Mr. Giorno?
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Guy Giorno
View Guy Giorno Profile
Guy Giorno
2013-02-25 16:38
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Thank you.
The CBA's position, under both the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, is that post-employment restrictions should be harmonized for the reason the member alluded to, so there's greater understanding and clarity administered by a single person. That said, and there's always a “but”, the task of harmonization is actually quite challenging and difficult.
The Conflict of Interest Act right now imposes restrictions not just on paid lobbying but on unpaid lobbying for a shorter period of time. The Lobbying Act imposes restrictions on all lobbying, but it has to be paid for a longer period of time, and then it exempts people who work for corporations and who don't lobby 20% of their time. A decision has to be made as to whether, in harmonizing, it is more important to go after the paid lobbying for the longer period or unpaid lobbying immediately after you leave.
“Designated public office holders” is in fact the wider class. “Reporting public office holders” includes only public servants who are appointed by order in council. That's deputy ministers and people with the deputy minister rank, whereas the designated public office holder position goes to the level of assistant deputy minister.
The CBA actually has no position on how to harmonize, but I do stress that the DPOH, the so-called designated public office holder, category is broader, so it would cover more people. While there is no official CBA position on this, obviously, in the interest of covering more...harmonizing, in one way, would cover fewer people and therefore be less likely to achieve the purposes of either statute.
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Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2013-02-06 15:31
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Thank you very much for this opportunity to testify on one of the most important democratic good government laws that exists in any country, including in Canada, namely the Conflict of Interest Act. I welcome this opportunity, slightly overdue, for this five-year review of the act.
First, just to anticipate questions that I usually get when I appear before a committee, and so we don't have to spend time answering them later, I'm here as a representative of the Government Ethics Coalition. It's a coalition made up of just a bit more than 30 organizations from across the country. The total membership of the organizations is over three million Canadians. We've been working together as a coalition now for more than a decade pushing for changes both to ethics rules and lobbying rules. As some of you will likely remember, I was here almost exactly a year ago testifying on the Lobbying Act.
As with the Lobbying Act, I see that the committee and the government has a simple choice. We're recommending 30 changes to the act. You will not have received my brief. Essentially I took a bit longer with the brief because I wanted to review the Ethics Commissioner's report, which was not short. I just got the brief in to the clerk yesterday, but you will receive it soon. You'll see that I and the coalition address in the brief not just the act but also the MP's code and the senator's code and also related laws like the Lobbying Act because they are all interrelated in terms of setting standards and enforcement systems to ensure democratic ethical good government.
The simple choice in terms of the committee making recommendations and the government making changes is either to make what the coalition sets out as 30 much needed changes to the act and the codes and another 14 changes to the related laws, or leave loopholes open and enforcement weak and ineffective, which essentially allows for unethical decision-making and unethical relations mainly with lobbyists by everyone involved in federal politics. Even the Ethics Commissioner, who has been mostly, from our perspective, an ineffective lapdog for the past five and a half years, has made 75 recommendations for changes to the act, most of them to strengthen the act, a few to weaken it.
I think there's a general consensus that the act is a bad joke. The act and the MP and senator ethics rules are so full of loopholes they should really be called the “almost impossible to be in a conflict of interest rules”. Even worse, the rules don't apply to some cabinet appointees, some ministerial staff and advisers, nor do they apply to the staff and the advisers of MPs and senators. So there are lots of people in federal politics who have no ethics rules that they have to follow at all.
The Ethics Commissioner's recommendations, 75 of them, didn't even address the two biggest loopholes in the act. Because of these huge loopholes, which also exist in the MP's code and senator's code, the act and the codes do not apply to 99% of the decisions and actions of the people covered by the act and codes. You currently have a law and codes that only apply to 1% of what people do who are covered by those codes. I'll talk about that a bit further.
The ethics rules that federal politicians have imposed on public servants through the values and ethics code of the Treasury Board and the conflict of interest policy do not contain most of the loopholes and flaws that are in the rules for politicians and their staff and cabinet appointees, so they're much stronger. Also, the Prime Minister has set an accountability guide for ministers that does not contain these loopholes. The MP's code and the senator's code have principles and purpose sections that are unenforceable, but if they were made enforceable most of the loopholes and flaws would be actually closed and we'd have meaningful ethical standards that would apply to 100% of what people do, not 1%.
An overall easy fix to the act and the codes would be just to take these rules from the public servants' codes, which politicians have imposed on them, and impose them on yourselves. Make these enforceable rules. In other words, the standards are already there, and they're in print; they're just not enforceable and not applicable to everybody.
There are also many enforcement problems. The cases of dozens of cabinet ministers and MPs being let off the hook with no penalty since 2007, along with many others who have escaped accountability for unethical behaviour in the past decades, show just how much the federal ethics rules and enforcement system are an ongoing bad joke. In the past 20 years, about 50 cabinet ministers have violated federal ethics rules, and only two have been penalized in any way: they were kicked out of cabinet. That's not a great enforcement record.
The Ethics Commissioner is a major part of the problem with ethics enforcement. Since 2007, she has rejected at least 80 complaints filed with her without issuing a public ruling. There could be more, because she didn't even disclose the total number of complaints she received in 2008-09 or in 2010-11. There is a total of 100 situations that she mentions in her annual reports, and she has issued 17 rulings, but that means there are 83 secret rulings at least. We don't even know how much she might have covered up, and there's good reason to suspect that she has covered up some cases, as she has repeatedly interpreted and applied the act and codes in very narrow, bizarre, and legally incorrect ways since 2007 and has let dozens of people off the hook.
A lot of the Ethics Commissioner's recommendations don't really have to be implemented. All that has to happen is for her to reverse her bizarre rulings and start enforcing the act and codes properly, legally, correctly, and in the spirit of the act and the codes. The real intent is to prohibit anyone from making a decision or undertaking any action if they're in any type of conflict of interest, real, potential, or apparent.
However, because of these loopholes and flaws, because the government has ignored recommendations over the past five years from the Ethics Commissioner and from others, including the Oliphant commission, and because the Ethics Commissioner shows no signs that she will reverse any of her bizarre rulings, there are 30 changes needed to the act and the codes, and another 14 changes, to actually clean up federal politics after the more than 145 years since Canada became a country.
There are no valid excuses for failing to close the loopholes and strengthen enforcement. It's really just a choice. If you as a committee don't recommend closing these loopholes and strengthening enforcement, you'll essentially be confirming that you think unethical decision-making and unethical relations by everyone in federal politics is just fine.
You face the same choice that past committees have faced. None of the committees has made the recommendations, and governments haven't made the changes, even though both the Chrétien and the Harper governments promised ethical decision-making and relations in federal politics. This is the 10th time that I've testified in the past 20 years. I'm hoping finally that it will have some effect and that we will finally get these changes that will make corruption effectively illegal.
We should be trying to match not just the standards that the Supreme Court of Canada has set out in several rulings but also those of the UN, the OECD, the World Bank, and the IMF. Every international institution says that if you don't have a democratic good government in which unethical decisions and relations are prohibited, you do not have democracy.
Therefore, I appeal to you to think about yourselves, to look in the mirror or look at your kids and your grandkids, and to think about whether you want to tell them in the future that you had an opportunity to push to close loopholes to end unethical decisions and relations in federal politics but that you did nothing.
Hopefully you will do something, as you did with the Lobbying Act. I think the committee made a good try. The minister rejected most of them. There were some loopholes the committee didn't address, but it was definitely a step forward, and hopefully the minister will respond more favourably in the future.
I will turn to the recommendations of the coalition.
First, as I mentioned already, ensure that everyone is covered by ethics rules. Some people are not, currently, but everyone should be, including the MPs' and senators' staff and advisers. We need to extend the codes to cover them.
Second, enact a general ethics integrity rule, essentially an anti-avoidance rule, such that if someone tried to exploit a technical loophole, they would not be able to but would still be found to be guilty for not maintaining high ethical standards and acting in a way that shows integrity. This rule already exists for public servants, so apply it to everybody else.
Third, enact an honesty in politics rule that everyone is required to comply with at all times. This rule already exists for public servants. It's also set out in the accountability guide for ministers and in the MPs' code in the principles section, so just apply it to everybody and make it enforceable. To paraphrase Gandhi, a lie for a lie will make the whole world dumb. As long as we allow lying in federal politics, we're going to continue turning off most voters. It's the number one hot button issue that Canadians want accountability for. Again, it's already in the rules; just make the rule enforceable.
Fourth, enact a rule prohibiting everyone from being in an apparent or foreseeable potential conflict of interest. Again, this rule already exists for all public servants, except the most senior people, who are covered by the act. This rule is in place for B.C. politicians in their act. It's also, again, set out in the principles in the accountability guide for ministers, in the MPs' code, and in the senators' code. Just make it enforceable. There has to be an apparent conflict of interest standard in force.
The huge loophole that exists in the act and in the MPs' and senators' codes is that you cannot be in a conflict of interest if you are dealing with a matter of general application. Ninety-nine per cent of what you do involves matters of general application. This loophole has to be eliminated, or the act and the codes will continue to apply to only 1% of what federal politicians, their staff, cabinet appointees, and advisers do. There's no reason to have that law if it's only going to apply to 1%.
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View Denis Blanchette Profile
NDP (QC)
View Denis Blanchette Profile
2012-02-27 16:27
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I think that templates and reference frameworks could be helpful in this. If we took that route and made a decision on the best templates and reference frameworks, do you think it would be difficult for an organization as huge as the public service to fall in line with it?
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
By staying focused on balancing the budget and reducing the debt, we aim to keep taxes low and promote long-term economic growth.
We want to ensure Canada continues to be a place where people invest their money and grow their businesses. We want to ensure Canada will offer Canadians opportunities to work and contribute to their communities. These are the objectives driving us. And despite the large injection of stimulus funding we made over the past two years, I am pleased to say we are on track to balancing the books by 2014-15, a year ahead of the plan outlined in March.
Our government's commitment to this goal is clear in the responsible spending plans set out in the 2011-12 main estimates and supplementary estimates (A). The main estimates currently total $250.8 billion in expenditures for operating and capital costs, transfer payments, and the public debt charge. This represents a reduction of $10.4 billion in planned spending from the 2010-11 main estimates.
Also in the main estimates, program and operating votes are down by about $720 million, or 1.5%, from the 2010-11 main estimates. This amount is accounted for mainly by the winding down of the infrastructure initiatives we had under the economic action plan. The reductions also include a $3.4-billion decrease in planned statutory spending on interest and other costs.
Also shown in the main estimates is a $1.1-billion decrease resulting from the implementation of the harmonized sales tax.
The 2011-12 main estimates are in line with decisions from budget 2010 and previous budgets. Budget 2010 outlined our three-point plan to balance the budget. The first part of that plan is the winding down of the stimulus. The second part includes a number of measures to ensure the government lives within its means.
These include a freeze on the operating budgets of departments, and many other measures to restrain the growth of spending. But they do allow for some flexibility to implement budget priorities, among other things, and to accommodate cost pressures related to essential services.
Essentially, we have taken the same approach to balancing the books as Canadian families have. They have looked at their expenses and set priorities. They expect their government to do the same, and that's what we have been doing to great effect.
The third part of our government's plan to balance the budget includes continuing the strategic reviews on all of our program spending. This process requires departments to assess whether programs are achieving their intended results, are effectively managed, and are appropriately aligned with the priorities of Canadians and with federal responsibilities.
In 2010, the last year of the first four years of strategic reviews, 13 organizations were involved. They identified savings of more than $500 million annually. Together with measures to restrain the growth of national defence spending, this first cycle of strategic reviews resulted in $11 billion in savings over seven years, and more than $2.8 billion in ongoing savings.
Eliminating the deficit will also require new actions planned in the most recent budget, including the strategic and operating review. This process will involve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs in order to ensure ongoing value for Canadians. We will put about $80 billion of direct program spending under the microscope. The goal is to find at least $4 billion in ongoing annual savings by 2014-15. Every organization will be asked to develop two scenarios: one representing a 5% reduction, and one representing a 10% reduction in their spending. Unlike strategic review, the spending base will include all operating expenditures, including wages, salaries, and professional service contracts, for example, as well as grants and contributions, capital, and payments to crown corporations. Indeed, about two-thirds of the review base is represented by operating expenses. With this approach, we are taking a page from the private sector, which regularly conducts operational reviews to find areas for cost savings and productivity gains.
This is the first time in 15 years the government has conducted a review of the scope, and we believe that challenging times like these can also be opportunities to look critically at the programs and services we provide, their relevance, and how best to deliver them.
Let me also take a moment to describe the highlights of supplementary estimates (A), both government-wide and TBS-specific. Supplementary estimates (A) are part of the normal parliamentary approval process to ensure that previously planned government initiatives receive the necessary funding to move forward.
Specifically, the government-wide Supplementary Estimates (A) support the request for Parliament's approval of $2 billion in expenditures in 19 organizations. This amount is within the spending level specified in Budget 2010. In the Treasury Board Secretariat Supplementary Estimates (A), we are seeking $1.3 billion. This amount results from the Secretariat's role in funding a cash-out of severance pay for public service employees. This is happening in accordance with the collective agreement for three occupational groups, signed on March 1.
All these measures are part of the government's larger commitment to the prudent management of taxpayer dollars.
Mr. Chair, I'm proud of the government's economic record and its plan to ensure Canada remains at the forefront of economic growth and job creation. These main estimates and supplementary estimates (A) show the government is on track to implement its freeze on operating budgets.
As I mentioned earlier, program and operating votes are down by about $720 million from the year before. Also, if you compare spending in the estimates tabled to date for 2011-12 to total spending put before Parliament for 2010-11, you actually see a $2.7 billion decrease, excluding transfer payments and public debt.
Mr. Chair, we are also committed to improving the accountability and transparency in reporting to Parliament, and have been so for some time. For example, there are changes to the format of the 2011-12 main estimates. Part I now includes the trend of the budgetary main estimates accounts for the last ten years. In part II, for each department and agency we have added a brief description of the mandate or purpose of the department and the department's explanation of the major reasons for a material change in requirements from the previous year.
This change to the format of the main estimates is on top of improvements we have made over the past decade to supplementary estimates documents. These include a listing and description of horizontal initiatives requesting funding through supplementary estimates, and that means initiatives involving two or more organizations; an expanded introduction that includes descriptions of the largest dollar-value items; and summaries of authorities by ministry.
In addition to my responsibilities as President of the Treasury Board, I am also the minister responsible for FedNor, the Government of Canada's economic development organization serving northern Ontario. It's a position I've held proudly since 2006. In this regard, I'm joined today by Industry Canada's assistant deputy minister for regional operations, Mitch Davies, and at the back, FedNor's director general, Aime Dimatteo, should be around here somewhere, I hope.
Since April 2006, FedNor has invested more than $263 million in over 1,240 projects to benefit northern Ontario's economy. Our goal is to ensure that these investments and projects are having a positive impact on the economy of northern Ontario communities.
I was pleased to see that budget 2011 included a further commitment to northern Ontario of $4 million over three years to establish a cyclotron laboratory in Thunder Bay. This investment, through FedNor, will help create medical isotopes for early detection of cancer cells. The Government of Canada is pleased to support the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute as it continues to develop new leading-edge technologies and products in medical science and research that will benefit the world.
Starting this August, we'll be taking another step to improve accountability and transparency in reporting to Parliament. We will require federal departments and crown corporations to prepare quarterly financial reports and to make them public. This will allow each department to provide a window into its own financial situation on a quarterly basis and give parliamentarians and Canadians enhanced information on government spending. It will facilitate timely oversight by parliamentarians of government expenditures and it will complement other information currently provided by the government, such as departmental performance reports and the annual public accounts of Canada.
I’m joined by the Secretary of the Treasury Board, Michelle d’Auray, and by other officials here, Bill Matthews and Christine Walker, and I previously introduced Mitch. At this point we are certainly here to take your questions.
Thank you, Chair.
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