Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I'm pleased to be here today to discuss the main estimates and outline the priorities for the coming fiscal year. I'm joined by Charles Dutrisac, director of finance and acting chief financial officer.
My mandate has three components. The first is to maintain a registry of lobbyists. The second is to develop and implement educational programs to foster awareness of the Lobbying Act. The third is to ensure compliance with the act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.
Overall, the 2017-18 main estimates for my office provide for about $4.4 million, which is essentially the same amount as last year. I have a complement of 28 full-time employees, and salaries continue to represent about two-thirds of my expenditures.
As I have previously said before this committee, I run a lean but effective organization. In past years I was able to streamline operations without compromising the effectiveness of my office and my ability to deliver on my mandate.
Some of the accomplishments I want to highlight for last year include an increased number of new registrations in the registry. This is partly the result of the Office of the Commissioner's outreach and education activities over the years. There are more registrations, and the registrations are disclosed on time.
Another achievement I am proud of is my office’s entry onto social media platforms. Using YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn is valuable for reaching out to more people.
Finally, three individuals were convicted in court this year of offences under the Lobbying Act, demonstrating that there are significant consequences to breaching the act. This brings the total to four individuals convicted under the Lobbying Act.
Looking to 2017-18, I am pleased to share our plans for this fiscal year. My focus continues to be on initiatives that offer value for money to Canadians and on improving the efficiency of our operations. I have chosen to expand the use of technology to improve services and enhance transparency in a cost-effective manner.
The first program I want to talk about is the registry of lobbyists. The registry is the primary source of information on who is lobbying federal public office holders and the topics addressed. A team develops and maintains the online registry. A dedicated team also provides guidance and advice to support registrants. I've allocated seven full-time employees and about one million dollars to this program.
One of the priorities this year is to improve the accessibility and usability of the registry of lobbyists and my website. This year we will lay the groundwork to make both work better on cell phones and tablets. Part of the website renewal includes a content review and incorporating more plain language into the site. New features will be added to the registry, including better search functions.
Reaching out to lobbyists, public office holders, and other stakeholders to educate them about the requirements of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct is an important component of the work conducted by my office. I believe individuals are more apt to comply with the act and the code when they understand their obligations. As public officer holders are the targets of lobbying, the program also provides outreach to them to ensure that they are aware of the lobbying regime and their obligations.
My staff and I conduct a wide range of outreach and education activities, including group presentations, individual meetings, and webinars for new registrants. These online presentations are a cost-effective method to reach people, particularly when they are located outside of Ottawa.
I also publish interpretation bulletins on the act and guidance on the code on my website in order to provide clarification to stakeholders. I continue to look for ways to make outreach and education activities more effective. The evaluation of my outreach and education program is under way and should be completed by the summer. This evaluation may offer new ideas and avenues for improvement.
One tool that I improved is the website. As I mentioned earlier, I'm laying the ground work to update and renew our website, incorporate more plain language, improve the accessibility and usability of the site, and incite greater compliance.
A budget of about $900,000, including salaries for seven full-time equivalent employees, has been allocated to the outreach and education program.
The third component of my mandate is to ensure compliance with the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. My team conducts administrative reviews and investigations into suspected or alleged breaches of the act or the code. Suspected breaches may be identified internally through the review of media reports and other public sources of information. Allegations may also come from complaints I receive from external sources.
I take all allegations seriously and will initiate an administrative review to find out more about suspected breaches. When an allegation is founded, I decide on the appropriate compliance measure, including whether a formal investigation is necessary. Since becoming commissioner, I have initiated 173 administration reviews, have tabled 10 reports on investigation in Parliament, and have referred 14 cases to the RCMP.
My office also reviews requests for exemptions from the five-year post-employment prohibition on lobbying. I grant exemptions when doing so would not be contrary to the purposes of the act. Since the coming into force of the act in 2008, my office has completed 79 exemption reviews, and I have granted 38.
My investigations directorate continues to leverage technology to improve compliance monitoring and verification activities. This coming year, we will roll out a new automated system to verify the accuracy of monthly communications reports. Designated public office holders will be able to review selected monthly communication reports quickly by confirming their accuracy directly in a web browser.
A budget of about $1.1 million, including salaries for eight full-time employees, has been allocated to manage the compliance and enforcement program.
Finally, a range of internal services support the programs I've just described and enable me to meet my corporate obligations.
A budget of about $1.4 million has been allocated to internal services. This amount includes the salaries for six full-time employees. It also covers the cost of agreements I have with other organizations to provide services, such as staffing and other human resource services, financial management, and support for the information technology infrastructure.
Approximately two-thirds of the operating budget allocated to internal services is spent to acquire services from other government institutions. This approach has been adopted by most small organizations, because it provides access to a broad set of expertise in a cost-effective and timely manner. It also allows me to meet my accountabilities as deputy head under the Financial Administration Act.
In 2017-18 my office will continue to strengthen its management accountability framework. My office will also continue to collaborate with counterparts and other agents of Parliament.
In 2016 the office expanded its service agreement with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with respect to hosting IT services. The office will implement its IM/IT strategy to streamline internal operations and procedures and support more efficient and effective delivery of my mandate. This will help to establish a strategy to improve business intelligence opportunities and support reviews and investigations through a better integration of the case management system with other office activities and applications.
I would like to conclude my remarks by confirming that I am able to meet the demands of my mandate with my current funding. I do this by making the appropriate trade-offs to deliver on my mandate effectively and efficiently.
This may become more difficult to do in the near future. Over the years there are fewer discretionary funds available. Increased pressures, such as demands by government departments to contribute to central services, the relocation of the office scheduled for 2019, or changes to the act following a legislative review could impact my office's ability to deliver on its mandate.
My seven-year term ended in June 2016, but I've been commissioner for almost nine years. My appointment has been extended twice, until June 2017, to allow for the selection of a new commissioner.
I am proud of all that I have accomplished. I have built a strong team of professionals that is committed to upholding the Lobbying Act. My accomplishments have only been possible thanks to their dedication and professionalism.
Mr. Chair, I welcome any questions you or the committee members may have.