Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss my request for additional funding that was included in supplementary estimates (B), tabled on October 26. I am joined by Charles Dutrisac, acting director of Internal Services, and chief financial officer.
As I have mentioned in previous appearances 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.
However, I stressed last May, during my appearance on main estimates 2017-18, that while I am able to meet the demands of my mandate with current funding by making appropriate trade-offs, this may become more difficult to do in the near future. Over the years, there have been less discretionary funds available to deal with increased or unexpected pressures. For example, in 2016-17, the lapse was 3%, or $130,000.
I am faced today with an unexpected pressure in the form of a legal challenge. In May 2017, a legal challenge to my authority to open an investigation and to compel the attendance of witnesses was launched in the Federal Court. My office had to retain outside legal counsel in order to defend this challenge. It is imperative that the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying respond to the court challenge in order to defend the commissioner’s authorities derived from the Lobbying Act. It should also be noted that other federal legislation provides for powers similar to those being challenged in this court case.
Since 2008, my office has spent less than $5,000 per fiscal year on legal costs, other than the salary of the office's senior counsel. For 2017-18, as in previous years, I planned for potential legal costs and put money aside. In the course of the year, money in the legal reserve was reallocated to other projects. Once the court challenge in the Federal Court was confirmed last May, priority projects were placed on hold to ensure that my office would have sufficient financial resources to pay the legal costs. These include information management projects, as well as upgrading the website and the registry of lobbyists to meet the latest accessibility requirements and respect government standards.
I am asking the committee today to approve my request for additional funding of $400,000, as included in supplementary estimates (B). This request for additional funding is the first time that I have requested extra funds.
The court case presents an unprecedented resource demand on an organization that has about $300,000 discretionary funds each year.
The funding that is subject to approval today is to be allocated to legal costs in relation to this legal challenge. This special purpose allotment is to be applied this fiscal year and can be carried forward to the next fiscal year under the operating carry-forward provisions. I would like to stress that this funding is not being added to my budget of $4.4 million. These are funds that I can access, as required, to pay for legal costs, while allowing me to continue to deliver on my mandate. I would like to note that before making this request for additional funding, I undertook a strategic resource review. However, no significant potential for internal reallocation was identified.
The reason I have been able to run an efficient and effective organization is that I regularly hold priority-setting exercises with the management team to look at available resources and priorities and to reallocate funds when required.
In conclusion, if the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying does not have the financial capacity to meet the legal challenge in court, future enforcement of the Lobbying Act and of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct is in jeopardy. If the case cannot proceed due to lack of resources, or is not properly defended and is lost, precedents for other legislation may be created.
This additional funding will supplement the resources required to defend the legal challenge in court and thereby ensure my ability to ensure compliance with the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. It will also ensure that my office can deliver on its day-to-day business, as described in the Departmental Plan 2017-18.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to elaborate on the need for the funding requested in the supplementary estimates (B).
I welcome any questions you or the members may have to assist the committee in making this decision.