Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss the 2008-2009 Main Estimates for my Office.
First, I would like to introduce two of my officials who are here with me: Ms. Denise Benoit, Director of Corporate Management, and Mr. Simon Coakeley, Deputy Commissioner.
Before commenting on the new fiscal year, I would like to say a few words about the fiscal year that ended on March 31.
As you know, the Conflict of Interest Act came into force on July 9, 2007. I was appointed to the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner on the same date. I inherited an office that had been in existence for a number of years, initially as part of Industry Canada and since May 2004 as part of the Parliament of Canada.
Not only is the Conflict of Interest Act new, but the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons was also revised last June by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to take into account the creation of the new office and to adjust some of its provisions based on MPs' experience with the first version of the code.
This means that 2007-08 was very much a transition year for the office on a number of fronts. The transition work will continue into 2008-09. The office's mandate has been expanded in a number of areas—for example, I am now able to conduct examinations into alleged breeches of the act by a much larger group of people than was the case in the past. Previously, only ministers, ministers of state, and parliamentary secretaries could be the subject of an examination. Under the new act, all current and former public office holders could be the subject of an examination.
In addition, the move from a prime ministerial code—the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code of 2006—to an act of Parliament on conflict of interest requires a more rigorous approach. As I mentioned during my appearance before your committee last November, it's imperative that I apply both the new act and the revised MP code consistently and that I'm clear in the advice I give.
As we begin to apply and interpret the new act, we've often found a need to review the office's position on certain issues that were developed under the old code for public office holders, to ensure they're still appropriate. Furthermore, minor wording changes can have a significant impact on the interpretation. On some issues, guidelines will have to be developed and communicated, adjustments will need to be made to enforcement mechanisms, and staff training needs to be undertaken.
There's also been a fairly significant degree of staff turnover in the office, especially at senior levels, as is often the case when an organization goes through a period of uncertainty and undergoes a major transformation. Several key positions remain to be staffed. Meanwhile, we've hired a few term employees to fill in our immediate needs.
Prior to my arrival, the office had done a considerable amount of work to prepare for the coming into force of the Conflict of Interest Act, and staff in the office and officials at the Treasury Board Secretariat made a number of assumptions about the amount of work and about the resources required for implementing the new act. So in addition to inheriting the staff of the former office, I also inherited the 2007-08 main estimates, which were established by my predecessor in the fall of 2006 under the former regime.
Shortly after my arrival in July 2007, my office submitted a request through the supplementary estimates process for an additional $627,000 for 2007-08. Again, this amount was primarily based on assumptions made before the real impact of the new legislation was clearly known. As months progressed, it became evident that some of the predicted activities, including staffing, would have to wait until I had a better appreciation of the office's work and priorities.
Therefore, I should indicate to you that, in all likelihood, when I table my upcoming Annual Reports, I will be reporting a lapse of slightly less than $1 million for 2007-2008.
For the 2008-09 fiscal year, the office has been allocated $7.1 million in the main estimates in order to complete the transition to the requirements of the new act and the revised MP code. The ongoing transition work will require additional resources, but it's still too early in our process to determine our final ongoing requirements.
I will briefly describe the main areas of our activities and explain why there is a need for increase resources.
The single largest item of expenditure is for salaries and employee benefits. We're projecting an expenditure of $4.5 million in salaries and slightly less than $1 million in employee benefits. The main reason for the growth in the salary envelope is the additional workload brought on by the new act and a decision I made early in my mandate to create a small in-house legal services group; while many of the staff in the office have some legal training, the new act makes it critical, I believe, to have a dedicated legal services unit to guide us in interpreting the act.
As part of Parliament we must have independent legal advice, and of course we cannot seek the services of the Department of Justice. As well, given the nature of the MP code, the provisions of the act that are applicable to ministers and parliamentary secretaries, and the independence of my office, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask the parliamentary law clerk and his officials to provide my office with the type of legal opinion I'll be seeking.
Finally, while there are a number of very good law firms here in the national capital region that would be willing and able to provide this sort of service for a fee, I believe it really is a wiser use of taxpayers' dollars to develop the expertise on the day-to-day issues in-house and only resort to the private bar in exceptional circumstances.
As we move forward with the continuation of our transition, and particularly with the staffing of several key positions in the office, we are adopting a prudent approach in shaping the organization. Assessment and review of the structure and the resource expenditures is ongoing. We want to make sure they reflect the most effective way for us to deliver on our mandate.
In the non-salary envelope, the office has memoranda of understanding with other entities in Parliament and with Public Works and Government Services Canada in an amount totalling $650,000. These MOUs are all in the corporate services area and allow us to benefit on a cost-recovery basis from the expertise that already exists here in Parliament. The major areas covered by these MOUs are information technology services provided to us by the House of Commons and financial services provided to us by the Library of Parliament.
I'd like to express my appreciation to our colleagues in Parliament for the assistance they've given us in these areas. It would have cost us considerably more to develop and maintain the necessary expertise within the office.
The rest of our non-salary envelope, just over $1 million, is for normal day-to-day operating costs of the office, such as telephones, security, office equipment rental and purchase, books, periodicals, travel, supplies, and training and development of staff, as well as for a number of special projects we need to undertake in the upcoming year to complete the transition work in the office.
In this regard, we need to redesign our website to improve the information that's available to clients and members of the public, upgrade our online public registry for public office holders, implement a new online public registry for members of Parliament, and begin the redesign of our internal case management system.
Work has already begun in each of these areas and will continue at least through this fiscal year.
As I mentioned, this past year has been a transitional year for the Office, and there are continuing challenges to be met to create an efficient and well-functioning organization. I am confident that, with our dedicated staff, we will make good progress towards that goal in 2008-2009.
We will be pleased to answer your questions. Thank you.