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Evidence of meeting #35 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was budget.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Karen Shepherd  Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
René Leblanc  Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Angus, your time is up.

I will now give the floor to Mr. Del Mastro for seven minutes.

May 1st, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Madam Commissioner, and Monsieur Leblanc for your appearance here today.

I'm encouraged by your presentation here this morning, Madam Commissioner. I think you described your operations as lean, efficient, and effective. I think this is something that we should strive for in government. You talked about how your focus this year will be on upgrading accessibility of information for Canadians. Could you expand a little bit on that? Are you seeing a lot of traffic from Canadians, for example, who are seeking to find out more about who in fact is talking to government, who government is talking to, opposition members, everyone here in this place? Are you seeing more requests, online requests, or traffic in that regard?

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

Yes, there's a wealth of information on the registry in terms of who is lobbying federal public office holders and on what, especially now with the monthly communication reports. What we have found is that our focus this year is on putting out research that is easier to understand to get at the information that's being used. The media uses the registration quite a bit but we're also getting academics and other Canadians looking at the system and asking for downloads of sources.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Very good.

I've noticed, and perhaps other members have been receiving this as well, that I'm now receiving from your office a confirmation list. Essentially it's a list of individuals or groups that have indicated that they've met with me and you're seeking to confirm that it is, in fact, accurate, that those are the groups that have met with me in my office or had scheduled meetings with me.

Is this something that's relatively new? Is this newer? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember seeing them before the last 12 months or so.

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

When the act came into force in 2008, I was given the ability to verify communications and we've been doing roughly 5% a month. So what we try to do, when there are a few communication entries, is to verify with the designated public office holders once. I think you got quite an extensive list of meetings.

So we've been doing it for a while.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Copyright will do that to you.

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

I was surprised to see my name on the list. I think I was somewhere in the top five for offices that had the most appointments. I decided after that I was glad that copyright was through committee.

You talked about the 5% reduction that we contemplated and looked at throughout government. Indeed, it's always easier to add money. It's always more difficult to find savings. I think Canadians find that in their households as well.

You indicated that the 5% reduction will lead to a delay in the rollout of new technologies. What kind of technologies, specifically, are you indicating would be delayed, and what would be the real impact of that on everyday Canadians?

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

It would be mostly for the registered lobbyists who are coming into the system. When I look at the money, we have money for maintenance and that's critical. I need to ensure that the system is reliable, that it's accessible, and that downtime is kept minimal if not non-existent.

With the developmental things being deferred.... Technology is changing all the time.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Right.

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

There are always new things to maybe make it easier to operate, to put into the system that would give it more functionality. So the system will still work. Individuals will still be able to register. This year we're putting the money into the search function, so that will be there. It's just that if any new technology comes up, we'll have to defer any of the developmental costs.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Okay. So there may not be a BlackBerry app until 2015?

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

It's something along that line.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

All right. I got you.

I'm looking at your actual forecast spending specifically on education and research. I think this is a really important part of your mandate. I think all members here at the committee would acknowledge that most folks—an overwhelming majority—who are working in government relations and outreach or who are lobbying do in fact want to abide by all the rules. I think parliamentarians want to make sure they're abiding by all the rules.

What kind of demands are you seeing on your office for education and research? Are registered firms and lobbyists actually contacting your office quite a bit? Are you initiating some of this outreach? Is it a bit of both? Can you enlighten us a bit on that?

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

In terms of lobbyists it is a bit of both. The registration side is actually looking at some of their clients, and if there are either requests or issues they are putting the program in place and are meeting with the lobbyists.

This year we focused a lot on upgrading our website and making it easier to use and manoeuvre, and that has been receiving positive comments. People are looking at the website to get information. That's our most effective tool.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Okay.

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

In terms of meeting with public office holders, we're doing some outreach and responding to requests as appropriate. This Thursday, for example, I'm meeting with the staff of the parliamentarians.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Will the recommendation or the requests you have made specifically to undertake or to have the opportunity to impose administrative monetary penalties cost your office? Would you need additional staffing, for example, to undertake something like that, or do you have the resources today to actually oversee that kind of operation?

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

It would depend on the regime that the government actually puts in place. As I said, I'm operating a very lean operation. In order to ensure I had the competencies I needed, and to hire the new competencies, I had to restructure and eliminate positions.

When I look at administrative monetary penalties, I can see probably a one-time cost for the registration system. For due process and fairness there has to be some kind of appeal mechanism, so that will mean probably having an additional counsel on staff. Maybe some people could comply on site, but that would depend on the regime we put in place. So the short answer is yes.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

So the “net net” on this could be that ultimately you would probably need some additional resources to do it, but we'd likely find savings elsewhere, for example, or efficiencies in the system of actually following up on some of these incidents where you determine it's appropriate. In other words, other agencies wouldn't necessarily have to be involved. You can handle it all in-house. That's an efficiency.

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

That's the idea, yes.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Del Mastro, your time is up.

I will now give the floor to Mr. Andrews for seven minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, folks, to our committee.

It was just pointed out that you said you were operating a lean and efficient operation, as it was currently operating. Do you find it bizarre that you were operating a lean and efficient operation but are still asked to cut your budget by 5%? Does that come at you as strange?

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

The government was asking all its departments to live within the intent and spirit of the cuts. I was looking at some of the changes in the registrations, because my focus has always been to look at whether there are ways for efficiencies. Some of the things.... I would maybe not have given up the developmental function, but as to trying to reduce the fees I was spending on consultants. I was looking at doing something there anyway.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

As Mr. Del Mastro pointed out, we should all strive to do that. When an agent of government strives to do that, don't you think you're being penalized for being mean and lean and efficient, if you are asked to take a 5% cut when there are other departments out there that are not striving to be lean and efficient get a 5% cut as well? Maybe they should have an 8% or a 9% cut.

I just find the whole aspect of doing a 5% cut across all government as a way to try to balance things to be not very productive.