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Michel Doiron
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Michel Doiron
2015-05-26 8:48
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.
Suzanne Legault
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Suzanne Legault
2013-04-24 15:31
Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation to appear in relation to your study on my annual reports for the years 2010-11 and 2011-12. These two years represent the first two years following my official nomination as Information Commissioner, on the heels of having served in the position for an interim year in 2009-10.
Preparing for this appearance caused me to reflect on the work the OIC team has accomplished in the last three years. It also caused me to review the conditions that existed at the time I took the helm of the office, conditions that have informed and guided my actions since then.
Let me review these briefly.
First, when I took over as interim commissioner in 2009, the OIC was literally crippled by an unprecedented inventory of old cases, dating as far back as 2002. The number in the inventory at the beginning of that year stood at over 2,500 cases. This is compounded by the fact that the OIC has received in the last four years an average of 1,600 additional cases a year. The average turnaround time for a case at that time was around 450 days.
Second, the Federal Accountability Act had recently come into effect. It brought 69 new institutions under the purview of the act, most notably, as you know, a number of crown corporations, along with new exclusions and exemptions, which added a new level of complexity.
Third, there had been a steady decline in two key performance measures in accessing federal government information. In terms of timeliness, only slightly more than half of all requests made to federal institutions were completed within 30 days. In terms of disclosure, less than one-fifth of all requests resulted in all information being disclosed.
Fourth, the open government movement was developing rapidly at the time, in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
And fifth, the office's corporate governance was in need of a serious makeover.
Given these challenges, I set out a clear direction in 2010-11 in the OIC Strategic Plan, which has three key result areas: exemplary service to Canadians, a leading access to information regime, and an exceptional workplace. The annual reports of 2010-11 and 2011-12, as well as the upcoming 2012-13 annual report, highlight our achievements in addressing these key result areas.
When I first took on the role of information commissioner, I made a commitment to maximize the effectiveness and timeliness of my office to meet the needs and expectations of Canadians. As the annual reports show, we have made great strides towards the achievement of this objective through sustained and ongoing efforts.
Let me give you some of the key numbers.
Our inventory now stands at—and allow me to do this—1,796 files. I know people tell me I'm not supposed to use exact numbers, but if you lived in my world, one less file is one more accomplishment. That amounts to a reduction of 28.5%.
We've had close to 7,300 complaints since April 2009, including some of our oldest and most complex cases that had accumulated in the office over the years.
Our average turnaround time is now 380 days, which is just slightly over 12 months. More importantly, if you take out the outlier, which is the old cases that we are continuing to close, our median turnaround time now stands at 215 days.
The one measure I'd like you to keep in mind for my next appearance on the main estimates is that our median turnaround time, once a case is actually assigned to an investigator, is now around 86 days. That means that when I have somebody to assign a case to, people can expect a result in 90 days. Unfortunately, I don't have sufficient people to assign all the cases to at this time.
One of the challenges we now face is the changing composition of our complaints. Our caseload is almost exclusively composed of complex refusal files. Really, about 88% of our files are now complex files, a large proportion of which deal with issues of national security and international affairs, complaints against the Canada Revenue Agency, and complaints against the CBC.
During the period of time under review, we dealt with some key investigations, such as the first referral to the Attorney General under section 67.1 and the special report dealing with interference in the processing of access requests.
During that time, we also had some key court decisions, such as the Bronskill decision, clarifying cases dealing with national security. There was also the Federal Court of Appeal's decision confirming the commissioner's authority to compel the production of documents under the control of the CBC. In addition, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision stating that ministers’ offices are not part of the government institutions for which they are responsible. These decisions are now being applied through our investigations, and our upcoming annual reports will shed light on their implications for requesters' rights.
On the key result area of a leading access to information regime, we have been active on several fronts. It is, of course, not a secret that I am a strong believer in the need for the Access to Information Act to be reformed. But the focus of our activities for the period under review was on the overall performance of the access regime and on open government.
During this period I completed the three-year plan on report cards, which specifically looked at timeliness. In the course of this project, we reviewed 32 institutions among those that receive the most requests.
We made a number of recommendations, both at the institutional level and at the Treasury Board Secretariat, the body responsible for the administration of the act. Most of these recommendations have been implemented and have achieved positive results, the most noteworthy being the collection of detailed statistics with a view to better diagnosing the problems in the system and the various modifications to Treasury Board policies dealing with delegation of authority in mandatory consultations.
The scrutiny of this committee over the years has also played an important role in prompting institutions on to better compliance with the act. I have asked institutions in the most recent report cards to report their progress in implementing our recommendations in their mandatory annual reporting to Parliament under the Access to Information Act. That request was granted by the Treasury Board Secretariat, which, to my knowledge, is going to require that institutions indicate their response to our recommendations in their reports to you.
It is my hope that this committee will review these reports and follow up on them as you see fit, to ensure ongoing scrutiny of the performance of institutions in meeting their access to information obligations under the act.
We also completed the investigation into the coordination of access to information request system, called CAIRS, where I recommended to the President of the Treasury Board that all federal institutions post the summaries of completed requests on their websites, and that a central search feature be enabled to allow the public to search the lists of requests.
Since January 2012, all federal institutions have to post this information on their website, and the government is planning to have searchable summaries by next year.
During the two years under review, I spent considerable effort on promoting the benefits of the open government movement—in speeches, before this committee in 2012, and through a joint resolution of all information and privacy commissioners in 2010, which called on all governments to embrace open government principles for greater transparency and accountability.
I was really happy to see that the government adopted an open government platform in the spring of 2011.
On behalf of all the information and privacy commissioners of Canada, I also sent a letter to the President of the Treasury Board last year to provide recommendations for the government's action plan for its work as a member of the open government partnership. The key recommendation, which was supported by all commissioners across the country, was to update the Access to Information Act.
In the fall of 2011, I hosted the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association. This was the first time that the conference was held in Canada. This event brought together more than 250 participants, including 36 international, provincial and territorial commissioners. The conference culminated in the release of a joint resolution signed by commissioners of 23 countries, calling on governments to enshrine the right to information in national laws.
On the key result area of an exceptional workplace, we focused on developing an integrated human resources plan and modernizing the corporate governance of the office with the leading initiative of modernizing our IM/IT systems. This five-year strategy started in 2009 and is slated to finish in 2013-14. So far we are on time, on target and on budget.
This is but a snapshot of the work conducted at the OIC during the period of time under review today. As you can see by now, I'm actually very proud of everything we have accomplished. However, as you will see in my upcoming annual report for the year 2012-13, which will be published likely in June, much remains to be done, especially since the modest gains at the system level, which I reported upon in 2011-12, appear to have disappeared. After all, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the Access to Information Act, the key driver of democracy, transparency, and accountability. Let's make sure that we actually have cause to celebrate.
You will find in the package that was distributed a number of documents that provide a lot of additional information on the work of the office. I hope these documents will actually be helpful in answering your questions this afternoon.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'm ready to answer your questions.
Jamie Kneen
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Jamie Kneen
2012-05-30 20:57
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation.
I am here today as a representative of MiningWatch Canada, a national non-governmental organization—not a charity—and as co-chair of the environmental planning and assessment caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network, which brings together some 60 groups and environmental assessment experts from across the country.
I'm here to urge you to ensure that the environmental provisions of Bill C-38 are given proper consultation and debate.
Part 3 of C-38, with which we are concerned today, is seriously flawed, and in our view, to allow it to proceed without very major amendment would be irresponsible. With all due respect to the experience and knowledge of this committee, there is simply no way of adequately addressing part 3 as part of C-38. These provisions must be separated and debated on their own, and if need be, removed and resubmitted to a new legislative process.
The government is arguing that the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, CEAA 2012, and related measures must be passed as part of the budget process, because they are urgently required to protect and promote investment and development.
The urgency is clearly manufactured. The existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was referred for review by Parliament two years ago. The government did nothing for 16 months, and it had actually dropped efforts by the minister's own regulatory advisory committee, as well as the caucus, to prepare for the review going back several years before that.
Just as importantly, these measures are more likely to exacerbate uncertainty and delay, which will ultimately put development projects at risk and drive away investment.
I would like to focus on three key problems in the new act: the abdication of federal responsibility over the environment; the abandonment of the principles of sustainable development and the integration of those principles into decision-making; and the serious diminution of public participation and the opportunity to fulfill government's obligations towards aboriginal peoples. I am not here to speak for aboriginal peoples, and I will not focus extensively on those issues, but both MiningWatch and the caucus have serious concerns in this area.
In place of a positive assertion of a federal role in EA, the act explicitly limits federal authority to specific regulatory jurisdiction, as in proposed paragraph 5(1)(a). This flies in the face of the Supreme Court's rulings in Oldman and MiningWatch, and ensures that federal environmental assessment will have no meaningful relation to ecological or social reality. This will make it all but impossible to establish any kind of consistent national practice.
The substitution and equivalency provisions do precisely what the caucus and others have studied and warned against. It will create a patchwork of inconsistent EA application, both within the federal government and between federal and provincial processes. Rather than seeking to use the federal regime as a backstop for coordinated and harmonized processes, it is to be broken up among agencies with different mandates, structures, and capacities—the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the NEB, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission—and will be further devolved to provincial and land claims mandated processes that have little in common with each other. The contrast between the federal and the B.C. assessments of the Prosperity mine project, which should have undergone a joint review, provides an excellent case study.
By weakening the federal role and splitting up federal assessments among several federal agencies and provincial and territorial EA processes, CEAA 2012 actually balkanizes EA across about 19 very different processes. It's certainly no longer a one-window approach. And given the weakness of its transboundary and regional assessment provisions, it's also doubtful that it will result in having “one project, one assessment”.
In terms of integrated decision-making, while the designated project list approach to triggering an environmental assessment is not necessarily a bad thing, the way it is used in this act is problematic. It's one thing to focus assessment efforts on larger projects with potentially more significant impacts, but in our view, it is a mistake to do so without making any effort to ensure that there are mechanisms to ensure that smaller projects are tracked, monitored, and, as necessary, assessed. At the same time, rather than integrating sustainable development, the screening process and the layers of discretion on whether an assessment will actually be undertaken and what its scope will be will tend to relegate environmental assessment to the margins of decision-making, both for projects and for regulators.
In addition, any mention of strategic environmental assessment—the assessment of policies, plans, and programs—has disappeared completely.
With regard to public participation, that is a key element in environmental assessment. Here, it is curtailed by the restricted number of projects being assessed, diminished opportunities for public participation, and artificially imposed timelines. If you recall, the Supreme Court did back MiningWatch in its decision on the Red Chris mine review, which was based on the guarantee of public participation in comprehensive studies under the 2003 CEAA amendments.
The new act promises public participation, but it provides no criteria and no guarantee that this promise will be carried into substitute processes. It contemplates participant funding only for panel reviews. Regardless, the arbitrarily compressed timeframes imposed under the new act will make meaningful public participation almost impossible. It's important to note that while the act imposes strict limits on the time available for public involvement and specifies only limited options for federal agencies to extend their time, it places no restriction whatsoever on the time a proponent may take in responding to information requests, or to change and resubmit project plans, which they do quite regularly.
In addition, and in combination with the inconsistency created by substitution and equivalency provisions, artificial timelines will make it very difficult for aboriginal communities to fully participate in environmental assessments, in recognition of their constitutionally protected rights. In short, even giving the most generous benefit of the doubt to both the formulation of the act's absent schedules and regulations, and the application of ministerial and bureaucratic discretion—in the general absence of useful criteria, I might add—the key features of this act cannot produce robust, effective, and efficient environmental assessment.
In its key aspects, it makes the process significantly less predictable and consistent. It limits its utility as a forum for establishing a social licence to operate and for fulfilling the Crown's obligation to obtain the free, prior-informed consent of aboriginal peoples for development projects affecting their lands and livelihoods.
The public has an expectation of fair treatment before the law. I would not be the first to note that in the absence of a public process that is perceived to be fair and that allows for the fulfilment of aboriginal peoples' rights, people will tend to take matters into their own hands. Lawsuits and direct action will also create greater uncertainty and unpredictability, and can reasonably be expected to more than counter any anticipated efficiency gains.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that faced with complex legal and jurisdictional questions, and under pressure from the provinces and some industry sectors, the government has chosen to basically throw up its hands and walk away from all but its essential legal obligations. That is simply not acceptable.
Thank you.
Paul Thomas
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Paul Thomas
2012-05-07 17:03
At some point you have to cut off debate. The government's entitled to have a vote on its money. It's not entitled to get its money, necessarily, but it's entitled to have a vote. I don't think you want the spectacle that you have in Washington where you're going month to month with extensions of temporary estimates, or something like that, and public servants are worried about whether their paycheques will arrive. That would not add to the reputation of Parliament if you got bogged down in that way.
A long time ago, in 1968, they did away with unlimited debate on supply on the floor of the House of Commons. Many people say that was the death knell of parliamentary democracy, but in fact it was used as a gimmick by the opposition parties in particular, singularly and collectively, to withhold approval for other actions that the government wanted to take, like integration of the armed forces, which was highly controversial. It was delayed for months simply by prolonging the supply debate.
No attention was being paid to the actual spending that was being approved; it was all about using it as leverage. You just lined up MPs to speak on the estimates, even though they were not making any contribution to more meaningful financial accountability.
I think there has to be a limit.
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2012-03-27 12:16
Thank you.
This is of central importance to me, because this is the first time we've had a minister found guilty of being in conflict of interest, of putting himself in conflict. In fact, it's the first time we have a sitting cabinet minister who has been found in breach of the law. These are very serious issues, because if unchecked they will speak to underlying potential corruption in government.
You said: ...facilitating access to decision-makers or those who may influence them is captured by the Act’s prohibition against providing preferential treatment. Ministers are in a position of power and have a special responsibility to ensure that that power is exercised fairly and in a way that is open to all Canadians.
This didn't happen in the case of Mr. Paradis. I'm concerned about the delays and the stalling that may have happened with witnesses and documents, because there was an election in between. If Canadians had known that Mr. Paradis was guilty of this kind of behaviour, they might have been able to make a choice. But he was allowed back into cabinet and is now in a senior position. The Prime Minister doesn't seem to think it takes any action.
If we had managed to get this settled in a timely manner, do you think Canadians would have been better represented?
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