Evidence of meeting #93 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was commissioner.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Caroline Maynard  Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

I call the meeting to order.

I want to thank everybody for coming to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. This is meeting number 93.

Pursuant to standing order 111.1(1), we are studying the certificate of nomination of Caroline Maynard to the position of Information Commissioner, as referred to the committee on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

Please go ahead, Ms. Maynard.

8:50 a.m.

Caroline Maynard Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I am honoured to appear before you today and I feel very privileged to have my application for Canada's Information Commissioner considered.

I am particularly honoured to be nominated, given the importance to Canadians of the role of the Information Commissioner in protecting and promoting access to information, a right that has been recognized as a core principle in a functioning democracy.

The challenges and the changes ahead cannot be underestimated. However, as a jurist with 20 years of experience in oversight agencies, I cannot hide my enthusiasm in being considered for the position of the commissioner responsible to oversee the implementation of the proposed new legislation, Bill C-58.

Building on the Office of the Information Commissioner's 34 years of knowledge and experience, I would make full use of the current and proposed powers to provide a fair and efficient independent review of government decisions relating to access requests to increase both transparency and accountability.

Before I discuss in greater detail how I envision fulfilling my duties as an agent of Parliament, let me introduce myself.

First all, I was born and raised in Saint-Hyacinthe, in the province of Quebec. I graduated in civil law from the Université de Sherbrooke. In my final year, I met my husband, who, at the time, was also studying law, but in Alberta. In 1993, we moved to the Outaouais. We have been married now for 20 years. I am also the mother of three boys, between 13 and 18. When I am asked how I spend my time after work, I say that I am a licenced chauffeur, a 24-hour convenience store operator, and a hockey mom.

After a brief period in the private sector, I joined the federal government. My public service career has been spent largely in agencies responsible for providing an independent review of grievances submitted by members of the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces. Whether I was acting as legal counsel, director general, general counsel, and recently as the chairperson of the military external review committee, I have always been guided by the same values: integrity, excellence, fairness, and timeliness.

My leadership style is based on the same principles. My employees would tell you that I am a very open and reasonable person who recognizes a job well done, and promotes innovation and efficiency.

When I began with the external review committee in 2006, it was a relatively new tribunal. The committee is responsible to provide an independent review of military grievances referred by the Canadian Armed Forces. It issues findings and recommendations to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who is the final authority of that grievance process.

As a civilian oversight of military grievances, the committee had to work very hard to build its credibility. Collectively with management, and in consultation with employees, we worked diligently to find ways to improve our internal process. Through teamwork, innovation, and determination, we reduced the average time spent on files from nine months to four months, while increasing the quality of our findings and recommendations.

We showed that a civilian oversight agency could provide significant value added to the administration of military affairs. As a result, I am proud to say that the committee's portfolio has increased from receiving 40% of all grievances at the final authority—mainly mandatory referrals—to now receiving 95% of all grievances, because it includes files that are sent on a discretionary basis.

I have been working in complaint resolution for almost two decades because I know that we are able to change things. I am motivated by the fact that my organization is full of competent officials, who care about what they do, and about the impact they have on Canadians. I have spent my whole career making sure that the rights of those without representation are respected and that the decisions that affect them are justified and reasonable.

Should I become the next Information Commissioner, this is the spirit I would bring to my duties. I see this opportunity as a logical progression in my career in the public service. I am more than ready to report to Parliament on how I would oversee the access to information regime.

That leads me to explain to you my particular interest in the position of Information Commissioner, as well as my vision and what I believe to be the greatest challenges I will have to face in the event that you approve my application.

In Canada, access to information about government decision-making is a well-known and well-established right that is almost constitutional. That statement is supported by the growing number of requests made each year, as reported by the Treasury Board Secretariat. The office of the commissioner's website also tells me that the number of complaints increases each year. In addition, given the new amendments to the act and the recent launch of the electronic form, it is reasonable to assume that the number of complaints will continue to grow.

Should I be appointed, I can assure you that my first commitment to Parliament and to all Canadians will be to tackle the current backlog of complaints. From the report submitted by the current commissioner, I understand this has been one of her main concerns as well, and obtaining additional resources is listed as part of our office's priorities. In this regard, I know that the president of Treasury Board has committed to providing further funding for the implementation of Bill C-58, and this is very encouraging. Also, with the lessons I have learned in streamlining the committee's grievance review process, I'm confident I would bring a critical eye to the commission's internal processes that could help optimize efficiencies.

Addressing backlog issues is a necessity, as I truly believe that Canadians are entitled to have their complaints dealt with in a timely manner. Access delayed is access denied. That being said, success relies on a change of culture, a change of culture towards access rights within the federal institutions subject to the act. I can say from my own experience that, even though the access to information legislation was enacted 34 years ago, there appears to still be an impulse for exemptions and exclusions rather than transparency.

We need to give meaning to the concept of open government. It has to become part of the fellow institutions' day-to-day practices and approaches. It is only when the access right becomes a foundational right and principle, like the respect of our official languages now ingrained in our society, that Canada will reassert its leadership as an open and transparent government that is a model for all democratic nations.

In consultation with the commission's stakeholders, I believe our efforts must be geared towards the promotion of disclosure and transparency. I'm pleased to see these efforts will be supported by the new wording of the purpose found in Bill C-58, which clearly states that the goal is "...to enhance the accountability and transparency...in order to promote an open and democratic society....” This is, in my view, a clear message that there is a commitment to hold federal institutions accountable with respect not only to their decisions, but also their obligations under the act. This expressed intent, in addition to the new powers provided to the commission to issue and publish orders, suggests that accountability and transparency are to be taken very seriously.

Before closing, I must recognize the important work and the undeniable devotion of Commissioner Legault and her employees in championing and promoting access legislation in Canada. The expertise acquired by the office of the commissioner over the last 34 years provides a solid foundation on which I commit myself today to carrying out my mandate, if Parliament sees fit to honour me with the position of the next Information Commissioner.

I also pledge to act with integrity and to the best of my abilities and to serve Canadians and Parliament with the highest degree of independence.

I thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members, for considering my nomination.

I am now ready to answer your questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Ms. Maynard.

The first up is Monsieur Picard.

February 27th, 2018 / 8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning.

Welcome; as the mother of three boys, you are a brave woman. That is surely a feat in itself. How do you manage to balance family and work?

8:55 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I am not sure I do manage, but I try.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

You used a cliché that we hear in the context of a lot of programs, a lot of applications and a lot of discussions. This is the famous “culture change”, the need to change the culture. What in our culture is not working?

8:55 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

In the field of access to information, even with legislation that has promoted the right to access for 34 years, there is still fear, or reluctance, surrounding the idea that people should know everything that is happening in an organization. Sometimes, even managers hold information back, as if doing so allowed them to maintain control.

However, my experience has allowed me to realize that, the more access to information people have, the more they trust their managers and their organizations. That is why information has to be sought out and why transparency has to be promoted.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

How do you see the role of commissioner and of the commissioner's office?

You say that people tend to hold information back and that it is a form of control. Not sharing information probably provides a feeling of power. They might well think that some people “can't handle the truth”, as it were.

Where do you stand in a decision, a choice, to communicate all information without exception and to answer all requests without necessarily trying to find out whether it is appropriate?

Are we going to consider and filter the information before providing it, or, again, are we going to choose complete openness?

9 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

One of my priorities is to give meaning to the expression “open government”. That has to become more than just a slogan; people in organizations have to believe in the power of sharing information. It is clear to me that it will take time. After all, the Access to Information Act has its limitations. I feel that the role of the commissioner's office is to make sure that decisions are made consistently and that the guidelines that have to be used when those limits apply are well enough known.

Currently, I see that little information is shared about decisions or investigation, given that the office of the commissioner can only write annual or special reports. The new legislation allows the office of the commissioner to issue orders.

In the coming years, if I become commissioner, I would like to explore the possibility of doing more than that. Issuing orders seems very negative in that we are forcing people to abide by the law. Why not also publish best practices, exemplary practices, and decisions in which organizations are encouraged and congratulated for the work they have done. I would like to work with institutions, with Parliament, in order to determine how to implement best practices and to encourage people to disclose information, rather than forcing them.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

You mention issuing orders, but is there not a danger there?

Could that not be trying to be more transparent than transparency itself?

The information is there. I am not talking about attacking the reputation of the person or the group identified by the order, but would the disclosure not have a negative impact on the people's lives in areas other than the ones intended by the order? A person could be affected economically, professionally, through their family, or even their friends, regardless of the specific points covered by the order.

9 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

The goal is not to make people uncomfortable or to cause difficulty for organizations. In my opinion, the point is rather to make sure that people can be aware of the results of investigations and can know whether the commissioner's office, in certain situations, considers the decisions to be justified, reasonable or subject to discretion, and whether or not that discretion was used reasonably. The goal, in a way, is for the orders to play an educational role.

Of course, before an order is given, there is a process and an exchange of information. We try to negotiate, to mediate, to come together. Ultimately, I still believe that information is relevant when it is asked for. If the decision is too long coming, the information is no longer relevant. So I find that, when it is clear that there is no meeting of the minds, an order is needed to make sure that the disclosure takes place.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

I still have one minute.

You talked about the growing number of requests and complaints. That is not surprising, perhaps, but you see technology also increasing the number of complaints that the commissioner's office will receive.

Is technology becoming a burden for you? Do you have any technology solutions yourself to help you deal with the increase in these requests?

9 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

Absolutely.

One of my priorities is to see how the commissioner's office works. We have a backlog of 3,000 complaints, as I understand it, according to the information available. The number of complaints increases each year.

So there has to be room for technology in the investigations. We have to see whether it needs better time management and whether standards have been established. We can implement all kinds of lessons we have learned. Often, the employees themselves have solutions. By having discussions with the people in the commissioner's office, we will certainly find ways in which we can deal with the backlog.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Thank you very much.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

I'll just make it clear to everybody in the room that this is not in camera, although we are recording. We're having problems with our signage, but the media in the room should know that this is a public meeting and they're all okay to be here. I just wanted them to know that.

Next up is Mr. Kent for seven minutes.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you for being with us this morning and for your introductory remarks.

In recent months it's been customary for us to ask officer of Parliament appointees about the appointment process itself. I wonder if you could tell us when it began for you. Did you apply for this position, or were you recruited?

9:05 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

The journey started in November. I was invited to attend mandatory training for new GIC appointees. As acting chair, I decided to go, because I thought it would be a good thing for me to tell the new chair, him or her, what this training was all about.

At the training, I met people from Treasury Board and PCO. I had some questions with respect to terms and conditions for new members who were going to be appointed to my committee, where I'm working now. The lady from PCO who was there followed up with me a week later. During that conversation, she asked me if I would be interested in applying for a position of agent of Parliament. There were two positions at the time, Ethics Commissioner and Information Commissioner.

I was very flattered. I have to say that at that point, I was in a situation where I was getting ready for the new chair at the committee, so it was not something I'd thought about. But it was something that, for my own progression, I was definitely curious about. I looked into the mandate. I spent a week looking at what the commissions do. I realized it was very similar to what I've been doing for 17 years.

Those opportunities come only once every seven years, so I decided to apply. I applied online on November 20. I remember that, as it was the day after my birthday. It was a big decision. I did the interview on December 1. I did the psychometric testing. Then there was a recess during Christmas. We didn't hear anything until January. I was called by the chief of staff of the Treasury Board to make sure I was still interested, which I was. Then I was told that the consultation process was going to start.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thank you.

Well, as this process was under way, you must have been aware of your predecessor's unprecedented report, titled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. Essentially Commissioner Legault characterized Bill C-58, which is now before the Senate—it passed through the House against the wishes of the opposition—in this way, making three key points:

The government promised the bill would ensure the Act applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices appropriately. It does not. The government promised the bill would apply appropriately to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. It does not. The government promised the bill would empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of government information. It does not.

Now, there were some changes before the bill was passed, but just last week the departing commissioner did an interview in which essentially she reiterated her original statement, saying that rather than advancing access to information rights, Bill C-58 instead would result in a “regression of existing rights”.

What are your thoughts on this as you are about to—presuming this meeting goes well—assume the office?

9:05 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I definitely read with interest all the reports and a lot of information that is available on the website. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to compare and contrast myself with Madame Legault's opinion. I can tell you, from my own perspective, that when I read the new Bill C-58, any new amendment that limits or potentially would delay access is a concern, and any new amendment that increases accountability and increases access is progress, in my view. Bill C-58 contains both. At the end of the day, I really think that no matter how great legislation could be, for the people who are applying the act and who are trying to access the information, if the culture doesn't change to give them access, we're not reaching the goal of having access and promoting access and transparency and democracy. That's why I think there's progress in Bill C-58. I'm happy that the act will be open for review in a year, so if I do become the next commissioner, I'll have way more information and I will be a lot more confident in reassessing those concerns that have been raised by Madame Legault and a lot of stakeholders, and I will be happy to report back to Parliament on what my personal views are and where we are and whether or not we have achieved progress.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

In addressing culture change and working with regard to the concerns that Commissioner Legault raised and which you may have in varying forms, will you be a public advocate for changes or for improvements, not only in changing the culture but also with regard to what Commissioner Legault had characterized as a very large step backwards, in terms of Canada's access to information laws?

9:10 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

As an agent of Parliament, I find I have to be careful with use of the word “advocate”. I like to use the word “promotion”, upholding rights and making sure that the statute is respected. I will definitely not take the role of legislator. I will bring you all information that is available to me to make sure that Parliament and legislators are aware of what is out there and what the concerns are and what the issues are, but I will make sure that I stay independent and I will apply my mandate as the statute is providing me my rights.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thank you.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Kent.

Next up, for seven minutes, is Mr. Angus.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madame Maynard. I'm very pleased to meet you. Your role will be very important for our democracy. There's nothing theoretical here; this is very political.

Your predecessor, Madame Legault, was a paragon of integrity and political virtue; someone who really understood the issue of public accountability in the service of the public. So when Madame Legault states publicly that she's concerned that government is sliding into more secrecy, I take that as a real warning sign. I want to know, if you're going to step into this role, whether you believe you have the tools to ensure that government doesn't drop the cloak of secrecy? Do you have the power and the willingness to stand up for those who will be wanting to look into the windows of government? My colleague Mr. Picard was very concerned that the act could be used to embarrass politicians. Well, that's the point of the act. That is the fundamental point of access to information. The Supreme Court states that the role of access to information is to facilitate democracy by ensuring politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.

Do you have the tools to fulfill that job?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I take exception to that, to embarrassing politicians. I'm sorry, but I said to embarrass any person touched by

the order in question. I will not tolerate people making insinuations about what I said or did not say.