Commissioner’s opening remarks to ETHI on the 2019–20 Main Estimates
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Check against delivery
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. I am pleased to be here with you today. Joining me are two of my deputy commissioners, France Labine and Layla Michaud.
I now have 15 months under my belt as Information Commissioner, and let me begin by saying that at this point in my mandate, I see very positive signs of progress, but also some challenges that lay ahead.
I am very grateful for the $3 million in temporary funding announced for my office in Budget 2019, which was sought in order to allow me to maintain the momentum of my complaints inventory reduction strategy. I will be devoting this money to hiring new investigators, just as I did with the $2.9 million in temporary funding allocated in last year’s Budget.
This is the fourth consecutive year that my office requests and receives temporary funding. Let me underline that these requests for temporary funding were stopgap measures in anticipation of a more permanent solution. Improved funding is the key to enabling the OIC to fully and effectively fulfill its mandate.
My team is making the best use of every dollar we receive.
We are reviewing and improving the investigation process.
We are innovating with technology to speed up tasks and processes.
We are collaborating in every way possible with institutions and requesters with the goal of completing our investigations effectively and efficiently.
Our results speak for themselves. The number, quality and timeliness of completed investigations have dramatically improved. My team closed more than 2,600 complaints in 2018–19. This is 76 percent more than the previous year; a record for the organization. Two thirds of these investigations resulted in requesters receiving more information or a faster response from an institution.
Despite our best year ever I see trouble on the horizon. I started the first year of my mandate with an inventory of approximately 3,500 files and I received more than 2,500 new complaints in 2018–19. This large number of new files meant that, despite my team’s excellent performance, I was barely able to make a dent in my inventory. At this rate, it will take us decades to clear our backlog.
Simply put, my allocated resources of $11.5-million in Main Estimates and 93 approved full-time equivalents, are stretched extremely thin by the enormous caseload, which has increased by 25 % in the last 6 years. Without the additional funding, I could have in the neighbourhood of 5,800 old and new complaints on the books this year.
On top of this, the proposed amendments to the Bill currently before Parliament will have considerable operational and financial impacts on my office. At the time Bill C-58 was introduced, the then-President of the Treasury Board stated that the government would also be increasing the Office of the Information Commissioner’s resources “by $5.1 million over the next five years and $1.7 million on an ongoing basis.”
While this additional $1.7 million will be very welcome should Bill C-58 be adopted—it will not be sufficient for my office to meet the requirements of the Bill in its current form.
Looking ahead, operating year-by-year with temporary funding is both inefficient and unsustainable. This is my number one concern. It does not allow me to plan for the medium and long term. Insufficient funding means that I am unable to maintain momentum in completing investigations and ensuring that Canadian’s right of access to information is respected.
I can assure you that I will continue to use my current resources to the greatest effect. I will also continue to take every step I can to find efficiencies in my operations. But, frankly, there is only so much that reviewing processes and streamlining can achieve.
That is why it is a priority for me this year to secure adequate permanent resources that will account for all the work my office has to carry out under the Act.
With more ongoing resources, I could increase the size of my investigation team permanently, to not only complete more investigations each year but also get moving on new complaints more quickly.
In addition, an increase in permanent funding will also be necessary to allow me to operationalize the amendments to the Act and to ensure an effective transition.
These are the results I would like to achieve for Canadians.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would be pleased to take your questions.