Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today as the committee considers the 2022-2023 main estimates for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
To begin, I will share some brief background information about the office for those of you whom I have not previously met in my four years as Commissioner.
Our main goal is to help regulatees, namely public office holders and members of the House of Commons, know and follow the rules of the two regimes the office administers: the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
We fulfill this mandate through our experienced staff. There are slightly more than 50 people who work for the office, and our budget is devoted mostly to paying their salaries. In fact, 82% of the budget goes towards salaries.
You were likely in communication with an adviser from the office, as all the members who completed their initial compliance process were in contact with an adviser from the office.
In addition to advisory services, which are the most visible part of what we do, all of the work of the office supports regulatees, directly and indirectly, and builds an understanding of the rules.
Employees provide communications, outreach support and investigative services when allegations of possible issues are made, and they also provide legal expertise to me in conducting all these activities. They maintain the technical and financial framework for the office's operations and assist me directly. Nearly 70% of the budget is dedicated to program-related functions.
It was a busy year in 2021-22. The advisers' workloads increased by 43% in this fiscal year over the previous one. This is a natural outcome following an election, of course. It requires additional work under both regimes, such as completing the initial compliance process for all MPs, newly elected or re-elected, and for new ministers, new parliamentary secretaries as well as new ministerial staff. As you know, there is a significant turnover of ministerial staff after an election.
Prevention is the major focus of the regimes that the office administers, and education is key to prevention.
In the past fiscal year, for the first year ever, we surveyed public office holders to help us better understand their needs. The response rate was high and yielded positive responses. The analysis is nearly complete, and we will not only use the results to better align our business approaches, but we will ensure it's made public to support transparency in our work. We plan to conduct a similar survey of members of Parliament, this time under the code, in this fiscal year.
I believe that the vast majority of regulatees are honest people who want to follow the rules. My role and the role of my office is to provide what is needed to achieve and maintain compliance. I believe regulatees are accountable for their own compliance with the rules and must develop a reflex to act ethically and educate themselves in order to ensure compliance. The office will continue to strengthen its focus on education and outreach in support of this.
We have maintained our primary focus on assisting, advising and directing regulatees as well as monitoring their actions.
In the main estimates, you will see that there is an increase over the previous year of $473,000, mostly devoted to the payment of pay increases—economic increases to employees—as well as benefit plans, from the adjustment of the rate as determined by the Treasury Board.
It is also to prepare training and communications materials for our new case management system, which will come online during this fiscal year. We need to prepare both staff and users for this new system that will be introduced.
Therefore, it's benefits, salaries and making sure that people understand the new system before its deployed. The last area is to ensure that we comply with the new requirements under Bill C-81 on accessibility.
The office is already taking steps to improve the accessibility of documents used on social media and in presentations. Accessibility is not just required, it is key to meeting the needs of regulatees and the public.
I hope the committee will find this information helpful.
I'd be pleased to answer your questions.