Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Original signed by
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Information Commissioner of Canada
I am pleased to present the Office of the Information Commissioner’s Departmental Plan for 2017–18. It will guide the work of the organization over the year, a time that may involve notable change.
The year that just ended was very productive for my office, and the results speak for themselves. My team resolved a record number of complaints.
Over the last few years my team and I have also built a strong foundation to prepare the organization for anticipated amendments to the Access to Information Act in the coming year. For example, we have streamlined the investigative process, encouraged and received ongoing collaboration from institutions, provided supplementary training to investigators, developed advisory notices in consultation with institutions and, as a result of supplementary resources in 2016–17, hired additional investigators to reduce the growing inventory of complaints.
In 2017–18 my office will continue to conduct objective and confidential investigations into complaints about institutions’ responses to access to information requests.
In that context, a comprehensive departmental plan is all the more important for providing the direction forward. I have organized my office’s plan around four strategic priorities.
First, my office will continue to protect the information rights conferred under the Act, as currently drafted; doing so is at the core of this organization’s mandate.
Second, promoting information rights helps give those rights meaning and advances the cause of access here and abroad. The purpose of access to information legislation is first and foremost to facilitate democracy – citizens need to have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.
To achieve these goals, and carry out the specialized and demanding work necessary to deliver my mandate, the organization must continue to embody an exceptional workplace.
A final priority—ensuring sound governance—responds to the government’s increased emphasis on the transparency of operations. As a champion of openness and transparency myself, I welcome any efforts to provide citizens with the information they need to hold government to account.
The next year is shaping up to be one of promise and challenge. By following the plan set out here and with additional and stable funding, I am confident that my engaged and knowledgeable team and I can build on the momentum achieved in 2016–17, and promote the enhancement of openness and transparency across government.
Protect Canadians’ access to information rights
As noted in the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to both the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, it is a priority of the government to enhance the openness of its institutions. This openness and transparency should be reflected in the way institutions respond to access to information requests.
In 2017–18, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) will continue to work with all parties to carry out efficient, fair and confidential investigations into complaints about federal institutions’ handling of access to information requests. The OIC will further improve its processes to maximize information disclosure and resolve complaints more quickly. The OIC will continue to use its successful interest-based negotiation and mediation to focus on the information sought and determine the most effective approach to resolving complaints.
With further temporary funding in 2017–18, the OIC could build on the momentum gained in 2016–17 for a second year and further reduce its complaints inventory. This would help better position the OIC for the transition to any new business model that results from anticipated amendments to the Access to Information Act.
Promote Canadians’ access to information rights
Responding to any proposed amendments could be a priority for the OIC in 2017–18. The changes may affect the Commissioner’s powers and the coverage of the Act. The Commissioner would stand ready to provide to Parliament, as it considers any draft amendments, the benefit of her expertise gained from resolving more than 13,000 complaints during her mandate.
Ensure sound governance
An important ongoing activity for 2017–18 will be to ensure sound stewardship of the OIC’s resources so the organization can continue to protect and promote information rights to the greatest extent possible.
The Audit and Evaluation Committee plays a key role in ensuring sound governance for a small organization such as the OIC. In 2017–18, the OIC will draft an audit and evaluation plan for the next three to five years, and carry out succession planning for the position of committee chair.
Foster an exceptional workplace
In 2017–18, the OIC will continue to implement activities and training to fulfil its leadership commitment to engage staff in building a healthy workplace, with a focus on the mental health, safety and well-being of employees.
Ongoing training for investigators will help further develop employee expertise and ensure a consistent and high-quality approach to investigations.
For more information on the OIC’s plans, priorities and planned results, see the “Planned results” section of this report.
The Information Commissioner of Canada reports directly to the House of Commons and the Senate. The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada ensures that the rights conferred by the Access to Information Act are respected, which ultimately enhances transparency and accountability across the federal government.
The OIC is an independent public body created in 1983 under the Access to Information Act. The primary responsibility of the organization is to conduct efficient, fair and confidential investigations into complaints about federal institutions’ handling of access to information requests. The OIC strives to maximize compliance with the Act, while fostering disclosure of public sector information using the full range of tools, activities and powers at the Commissioner’s disposal.
The OIC primarily uses negotiation and mediation to resolve complaints. In doing so, the OIC gives complainants, heads of institutions and all third parties affected by complaints a reasonable opportunity to make representations. The OIC encourages institutions to disclose information and to respect Canadians’ rights to receive information, in the name of transparency and accountability. It brings cases to the Federal Court to ensure the Act is properly applied and interpreted.
The OIC also supports the Information Commissioner in her advisory role to Parliament and parliamentary committees on all matters pertaining to access to information. The OIC actively makes the case for greater freedom of information in Canada through targeted initiatives such as Right to Know Week and ongoing dialogue with Canadians, Parliament and federal institutions.
For more general information about the OIC, see the “Supplementary information” section of this report. For more information on the government’s commitments in the area of access to information, see the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to both the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General on the Prime Minister of Canada’s website.
The Prime Minister’s commitment in his mandate letters is to “set a higher bar for openness and transparency.” This is expected to be a major factor affecting the OIC’s operating environment over the next two years.
In the government’s response to a study of the Access to Information Act by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the President of the Treasury Board acknowledged that the Act is due for reform and has set out a two-phase approach for carrying out such change. The first phase is expected to comprise amendments to the Act and the second, beginning in 2018, a comprehensive review of the law.
The Prime Minister’s mandate letters also touched on ensuring that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released. The letters also directed that the Act apply appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.
Any of these changes would affect the OIC and its work. The organization would need to analyze and respond to any legislative changes quickly in order to continue to effectively investigate complaints. Granting the Commissioner order-making power would alter the OIC’s business model. Given her experience in resolving more than 13,000 complaints during her mandate, the Commissioner could also be asked to provide her advice and expertise to Parliament as it considered any amendments.
Other developments in the federal domain, such as the changes to the Main Estimates process and the introduction of the Policy on Results, in addition to the review of the funding and accountability of agents of Parliament, may have an impact on how the OIC carries out its role, and measures and reports on its performance.
The OIC continues to be challenged by the rate at which information and datasets are generated and used, sounding the call for governments to develop innovative approaches to providing access to such records and to ensure that access legislation supports such releases when appropriate.
All the while, the OIC’s workload continues on a general upward trend, but with the added challenge that the workload for any given year is unpredictable.
Information rights will be further eroded as a result of an upward trend in workload and limited capacity to respond to it
Together, these activities will allow the OIC to best protect and promote information rights as effectively as possible, as measured by the amount of information released and the number of complaints resolved.
Compliance with access to information obligations
Government-wide priority: Openness and transparency
Demographic factors, the mobility of access to information subject-matter experts within the public service, and an increasing workload will lead to instability in the workforce
Together, these activities will help maintain stability in the workforce by addressing the factors that are within the OIC’s control.
To be a fully effective part of a healthy federal access to information system, the OIC needs to have a well-trained and competent workforce that has the appropriate tools at their disposal to carry out their responsibilities in the most efficient manner possible. The OIC has streamlined its investigative processes and, with the additional temporary funding provided by Treasury Board for 2016–17, it has achieved notable results.
Given the specialized nature of the OIC’s work, and the demands of carrying out investigations, the OIC is very aware of the need to not only maintain continuity in the workforce but also to take steps to ensure employees’ well-being and work-life balance. Staff members have positively received the OIC’s new workplace mental health initiative. The organization will build on that work in 2017–18, and also continue to focus on training and professional development.
The Access to Information Act is the statutory authority for the oversight activities of the Information Commissioner, which are: to investigate complaints from requestors; to review the performance of government institutions; to report the results of investigations/reviews and recommendations to complainants, government institutions, and Parliament; to pursue judicial enforcement; and to provide advice to Parliament on access to information matters. The Office of the Information Commissioner supports the Commissioner in carrying out these activities.
The OIC strives to protect the rights the Act confers by ensuring that federal institutions comply with their obligations under that law. The OIC does this by investigating complaints about federal institutions’ handling of access to information requests, and by pursuing unresolved matters and questions of interpretation through the courts.
In 2017–18, the OIC will continue to carry out efficient, fair and confidential investigations into complaints, with the goals of maximizing information disclosure and resolving complaints more quickly—all to enhance openness and transparency.
The OIC will also work to further improve its results against its performance targets. These remain unchanged from the 2016–17 targets for several reasons: They are effective measures of the service Canadians can expect when working with the OIC and take a realistic approach to performance measurement. In addition, the anticipated amendments to the Access to Information Act may require a change in the OIC’s business model, and thus indicators, in the near future.
The OIC always seeks to improve its service to Canadians. To that end, and to meet the government’s requirement that organizations take new approaches to their work, the OIC will identify and implement improvements to its investigation process and enhance its use of interest-based negotiation and mediation to determine the most effective approach to resolving complaints.
OIC officials will also review the inventory of complaints to develop strategies for grouping incoming complaints by subject matter or institution. Finally, the OIC will continue to promote the collaboration of institutions with investigations, to the benefit of all parties.
The OIC will publish advisory notices to clearly set out for institutions and complainants the OIC’s approach during investigations.
The OIC also promotes information rights. In 2017–18, the organization expects that a large part of its efforts in this regard will be responding to the draft amendments to the Act expected in the winter of 2017. The changes are expected to affect the Commissioner’s powers and the coverage of the Act.
In anticipation of these amendments, the OIC has been working to reduce its inventory of complaints as much as possible to smooth the transition to any new business model that may result from the Commissioner’s powers being expanded or changed. The OIC received temporary funding in 2016–17 to help with this effort and with further temporary funding in 2017–18, could build on the momentum gained in 2016–17 and further reduce its complaint inventory. In 2017–18 the OIC will also prepare for the second phase of legislative reform, which is expected to comprise a comprehensive review of the Act.
* Measured from the date a file is assigned to an investigator.
Internal Services are those groups of related activities and resources that the federal government considers to be services in support of programs and/or required to meet corporate obligations of an organization. Internal Services refers to the activities and resources of the service categories that support Program delivery in the organization, regardless of the Internal Services delivery model in a department. The service categories are: Management and Oversight Services; Communications Services; Human Resources Management Services; Financial Management Services; Information Management Services; Information Technology Services; Real Property Services; Materiel Services; and Acquisition Services.
2017–18 will see the OIC complete its response to its 2016 information management and information technology security audit. The aim of the audit was to ensure that the organization could continue to effectively protect all its information holdings, in particular the sensitive information belonging to other organizations the OIC gathers during investigations.
The Audit and Evaluation Committee plays a key role in the governance activities of a small organization such as the OIC. In 2017–18, the OIC will establish an audit and evaluation plan for the next three to five years, and carry out succession planning for the position of committee chair.
In the fall of 2016, the OIC’s leadership team committed to engaging staff in building a healthy workplace, with a focus on the workplace mental health, safety and well-being of employees. This commitment is in line with the Clerk of the Privy Council’s emphasis on workplace mental health and is of particular importance to the OIC, given the demands of the organization’s investigative work. In 2017–18, the OIC will offer regular activities and training to staff focusing on workplace mental health and well-being.
OIC officials will continue to work to resolve problems associated with the Phoenix pay system and put controls in place to monitor the salary budget. Another important focus for 2017–18 will be ensuring that the OIC complies with revised Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat policies and updates any internal policy instruments accordingly.
Finally, as part of its commitment to develop and implement new approaches to its work, and to enhance communications with complainants, the OIC will test, as part of a pilot project, the online form it has developed for submitting complaints and adjust it as necessary, based on feedback. This form will be integrated into the investigative process, thereby creating efficiencies at the intake stage.
This bar chart shows the OIC’s six-year spending trend in thousands of dollars from 2014–2015 to 2019–2020, in three categories: sunset programs (anticipated), statutory and voted. In 2016–2017, the OIC had $3,131,113 in spending associated with sunset programs and none in any of the other years. The OIC’s statutory spending is shown as follows: $1,283,887 (2014–2015), $1,105,580 (2015–2016), $1,585,033 (2016–2017) and $1,246,826 for each year from 2017–2018 to 2019–2020. The OIC’s voted spending was $10,486,921 in 2014–2015, $9,731,667 in 2015–2016 and $10,443,027 in 2016–2017. Voted spending is expected to be $9,946,659 in each of 2017–2018, 2018–2019 and 2019–2020. The total spending for each year is as follows: $11,770,808 (2014–2015), $10,838,247 (2015–2016), $15,159,173 (2016–2017), and $11,194,485 for each of 2017–2018, 2018–2019 and 2019–2020.
Figure 1 illustrates the OIC’s spending trend from 2014–15 to 2019–20. Spending decreased between 2014–15 and 2015–16, primarily due a reduction in salary-related expenditures.
The forecast spending for 2016–17 is higher than either the previous or subsequent years largely because of temporary stopgap funding the OIC received through the Supplementary Estimates to help reduce the inventory of complaints pending amendments to the Act.
The OIC plans to spend $11.2 million in 2017–18 and ongoing years to carry out its program and meet its strategic outcomes, assuming permanent funding remains constant. However, the OIC expects to review its resourcing requirements during 2017–18 in light of the anticipated legislative amendments that could change the organization’s business model. Additional temporary funds for 2017–18 would allow the OIC to continue to close files in its inventory prior to the amendments’ coming into force.
The Commissioner has committed to ensuring that the financial resources will be used in the most strategic and responsible manner to continue to improve service delivery and ensure that investigations and other activities aimed at enhancing government openness and transparency have the most impact.
Delays in staffing actions to fill vacancies led to the reduction in the full-time equivalent count in 2015–16. The current count and the split between the program and internal services will remain constant through 2019–20.
The OIC was able, with its temporary funding, to hire supplementary human resources in 2016–17 to help with inventory reduction. Further temporary funding again for 2017–18 would enable the organization to retain the services of the high-performing members of this group. Figures associated with these resources are not included in the above chart.
Although the addition of extra staff has strained the capacity of the Corporate Services group, in its role providing human resources, finance and information technology support, the OIC has been able to absorb this extra workload thus far. It will monitor this situation, and, should supplementary resources be granted for 2017–18, adjust its staff complement accordingly.
For information on the OIC’s organizational appropriations, consult the 2017–18 Main Estimates (under Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada).
The Future-Oriented Condensed Statement of Operations provides a general overview of the OIC’s operations. The forecast of financial information on expenses and revenues is prepared on an accrual accounting basis to strengthen accountability and to improve transparency and financial management.
Because the Future-Oriented Condensed Statement of Operations is prepared on an accrual accounting basis, and the forecast and planned spending amounts presented in other sections of the Departmental Plan are prepared on an expenditure basis, amounts may differ.
A more detailed Future-Oriented Statement of Operations and associated notes, including a reconciliation of the net cost of operations to the requested authorities, are available on the OIC’s website.
The variance between the forecast 2016–17 results and 2017–18 planned results is mainly due to sunset funding of $3.1 million received in 2016–17 to reduce the inventory of complaints and the $0.5-million Operational Budget Carry Forward from 2015–16 to 2016–17.
Appropriate minister: Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Commissioner: Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada
Ministerial portfolio: Department of Justice Canada
Enabling instrument: Access to Information Act (R.S.C., 1985, C-1)
Year of incorporation / commencement: 1983
Other: For administrative purposes, the Minister of Justice is responsible for submitting the organization’s Departmental Plan and Departmental Results Report.
The OIC’s Strategic Outcome and Program Alignment Architecture of record for 2017–18 are shown below:
1. Strategic Outcome: Rights under the Access to Information Act are safeguarded.
1.1 Program: Compliance with access to information obligations
The following supplementary information tables are available on the OIC’s website.
The tax system can be used to achieve public policy objectives through the application of special measures such as low tax rates, exemptions, deductions, deferrals and credits. The Department of Finance Canada publishes cost estimates and projections for these measures each year in the Report on Federal Tax Expenditures. This report also provides detailed background information on tax expenditures, including descriptions, objectives, historical information and references to related federal spending programs. The tax measures presented in this report are the responsibility of the Minister of Finance.
Acting Assistant Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer
Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
30 Victoria Street
Gatineau QC K1A 1H3
Any authority of Parliament to pay money out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
budgetary expenditures (dépenses budgétaires)
Operating and capital expenditures; transfer payments to other levels of government, organizations or individuals; and payments to Crown corporations.
Core Responsibility (responsabilité essentielle)
An enduring function or role performed by a department. The intentions of the department with respect to a Core Responsibility are reflected in one or more related Departmental Results that the department seeks to contribute to or influence.
Departmental Plan (Plan ministériel)
Provides information on the plans and expected performance of appropriated departments over a three-year period. Departmental Plans are tabled in Parliament each spring.
Departmental Result (résultat ministériel)
A Departmental Result represents the change or changes that the department seeks to influence. A Departmental Result is often outside departments’ immediate control, but it should be influenced by program-level outcomes.
Departmental Result Indicator (indicateur de résultat ministériel)
A factor or variable that provides a valid and reliable means to measure or describe progress on a Departmental Result.
Departmental Results Framework (cadre ministériel des résultats)
Consists of the department’s Core Responsibilities, Departmental Results and Departmental Result Indicators.
Departmental Results Report (Rapport sur les résultats ministériels)
Provides information on the actual accomplishments against the plans, priorities and expected results set out in the corresponding Departmental Plan.
full-time equivalent (équivalent temps plein)
A measure of the extent to which an employee represents a full person-year charge against a departmental budget. Full-time equivalents are calculated as a ratio of assigned hours of work to scheduled hours of work. Scheduled hours of work are set out in collective agreements.
government-wide priorities (priorités pangouvernementales)
For the purpose of the 2017–18 Departmental Plan, government-wide priorities refers to those high-level themes outlining the government’s agenda in the 2015 Speech from the Throne, namely: Growth for the Middle Class; Open and Transparent Government; A Clean Environment and a Strong Economy; Diversity is Canada's Strength; and Security and Opportunity.
horizontal initiatives (initiative horizontale)
A horizontal initiative is one in which two or more federal organizations, through an approved funding agreement, work toward achieving clearly defined shared outcomes, and which has been designated (e.g. by Cabinet, a central agency, etc.) as a horizontal initiative for managing and reporting purposes.
Management, Resources and Results Structure (Structure de la gestion, des ressources et des résultats)
A comprehensive framework that consists of an organization’s inventory of programs, resources, results, performance indicators and governance information. Programs and results are depicted in their hierarchical relationship to each other and to the Strategic Outcome(s) to which they contribute. The Management, Resources and Results Structure is developed from the Program Alignment Architecture.
non-budgetary expenditures (dépenses non budgétaires)
Net outlays and receipts related to loans, investments and advances, which change the composition of the financial assets of the Government of Canada.
What an organization did with its resources to achieve its results, how well those results compare to what the organization intended to achieve, and how well lessons learned have been identified.
Performance indicator (indicateur de rendement)
A qualitative or quantitative means of measuring an output or outcome, with the intention of gauging the performance of an organization, program, policy or initiative respecting expected results.
Performance reporting (production de rapports sur le rendement)
The process of communicating evidence-based performance information. Performance reporting supports decision making, accountability and transparency.
planned spending (dépenses prévues)
For Departmental Plans and Departmental Results Reports, planned spending refers to those amounts that receive Treasury Board approval by February 1. Therefore, planned spending may include amounts incremental to planned expenditures presented in the Main Estimates.
A department is expected to be aware of the authorities that it has sought and received. The determination of planned spending is a departmental responsibility, and departments must be able to defend the expenditure and accrual numbers presented in their Departmental Plans and Departmental Results Reports.
The articulation of strategic choices, which provides information on how an organization intends to achieve its priorities and associated results. Generally a plan will explain the logic behind the strategies chosen and tend to focus on actions that lead up to the expected result.
Plans or projects that an organization has chosen to focus and report on during the planning period. Priorities represent the things that are most important or what must be done first to support the achievement of the desired Strategic Outcome(s).
A group of related resource inputs and activities that are managed to meet specific needs and to achieve intended results and that are treated as a budgetary unit.
Program Alignment Architecture (architecture d’alignement des programmes)
A structured inventory of an organization’s programs depicting the hierarchical relationship between programs and the Strategic Outcome(s) to which they contribute.
An external consequence attributed, in part, to an organization, policy, program or initiative. Results are not within the control of a single organization, policy, program or initiative; instead they are within the area of the organization’s influence.
statutory expenditures (dépenses législatives)
Expenditures that Parliament has approved through legislation other than appropriation acts. The legislation sets out the purpose of the expenditures and the terms and conditions under which they may be made.
Strategic Outcome (résultat stratégique)
A long-term and enduring benefit to Canadians that is linked to the organization’s mandate, vision and core functions.
sunset program (programme temporisé)
A time-limited program that does not have an ongoing funding and policy authority. When the program is set to expire, a decision must be made whether to continue the program. In the case of a renewal, the decision specifies the scope, funding level and duration.
A measurable performance or success level that an organization, program or initiative plans to achieve within a specified time period. Targets can be either quantitative or qualitative.
voted expenditures (dépenses votées)
Expenditures that Parliament approves annually through an Appropriation Act. The Vote wording becomes the governing conditions under which these expenditures may be made.