Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
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February 26, 2004
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
(Check against delivery)
Thank you Mr. Chairman and good morning, Members of Parliament.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this Committee to discuss supplementary estimates. I am joined by Mr. Bob Hertzog, my Office's Chief Financial Officer.
I appeared before this Committee in the course of the ratification process following my nomination for this position and I take this occasion to thank you for the confidence that you expressed in me. I took office on December 1, 2003 and I immediately identified a series of priorities for the Office for the immediate future. They include, among others:
- Helping organizations implement Canada's new private sector privacy law, which came fully into effect on January 1st of this year;
- Monitoring government initiatives to ensure that they take into account citizens' privacy rights;
- Developing my Office's research capabilities to track technological trends and to help Canadians understand their potential privacy encroachments; and
- Monitoring compliance with both federal privacy laws, through complaint investigations, to ensure that citizens' rights are protected.
My most immediate priority, however, is my intention to lead the Office's institutional renewal by strengthening its management processes, particularly as they relate to human resources and financial management — planning, budgeting, reporting and control mechanisms. Without these in place, the rest of it cannot work. This renewal is the bedrock upon which my Office will enhance its effectiveness and efficiency as an ombudsman dedicated to the protection of the privacy rights of Canadians.
The plans for institutional renewal and the necessary corrective measures follow those established by Robert Marleau, the Interim Commissioner, who took over the Office in June.
As you know, the audit reports of the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission, and the work of this Committee, revealed a major breakdown of external governance and internal controls at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. They revealed significant costs associated with these problems — an incalculable human cost for the employees, which cannot be ignored, in addition to a more measurable financial cost.
It was to deal with these costs that my Office required additional funding from Treasury Board in the amount of $621,000, as published in the supplementary estimates. I am pleased to be here today to provide you with additional details related to those costs and to answer questions about them that you may have.
First of all, $272,000 of the supplementary budget estimate is to comply with the legal requirements for the severance payments for a small group of individuals who are no longer with the Office, as well as to cover costs for those who were assigned out of the Office on special leave with pay during the ordeal.
Another $189,000 of the supplementary budget estimate has been used principally for human resources and finance related professional services in order to help the Office through the transition and to begin implementation of enhanced human resources and financial controls.
The remaining $160,000 is being used for the creation and documentation of policies and procedures, staff training and enhancement of management information systems.
In the Report to Parliament on Actions Arising from the Auditor General's Report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, tabled jointly in October 2003 by the President of the Treasury Board and the Interim Privacy Commissioner, we indicated that, along with Treasury Board, we would be tabling a report by April 30, 2004 on the actions taken, on the amounts determined to be improperly retained and recovered, and future action as may be required. We hope to have completed further corrective steps and have more to report to you at that time.
In the interim, I can tell you that $151,854 has been recovered for annual leave overpayments, as per the recommendations of the Auditor General, and a further $171,681 of performance pay has been or is being recovered.
In addition to providing you with details regarding the breakdown of the supplementary estimates, I am happy to provide you with an update on the progress of other operational measures we have taken to increase our organizational effectiveness, to ensure that a management deficit of this magnitude never reoccurs. For example, we have:
- Implemented a new delegation of financial authority framework;
- Put a new strategic planning and budgeting framework into place;
- Established an External Advisory Committee that provides input on the Office's strategic directions and policy issues; and
- Appointed a values and ethics champion, as well as an internal disclosure officer.
There are also a number of corrective measures in progress. These include:
- The review of classification levels by the Treasury Board Secretariat identified in the Auditor General's report has been nearly completed;
- The Public Service Commission's review of certain staffing actions is almost complete and, as a result, one appointment has been revoked (all other staffing actions examined by the PSC to date have been upheld);
- Training on delegation and financial policies is being given to all managers and administrative staff;
- A Modern Comptrollership Plan and control framework which are being established; and
- A performance management system which is being developed for all staff, to be implemented in the new fiscal year.
I am making available to you today a one-page summary of some of the more noteworthy corrective actions that we have taken or have initiated since our last report to the Committee at the end of October to give you a sense of our progress to date in a number of areas.
You will see that this Office, which plays a fundamental role in protecting the rights of Canadians, has made significant progress, but the renewal path is long and complex.
I want to take this opportunity to commend the staff of the Office for their strength and for their patience. They have endured and continue to endure the impact of the difficulties faced by the Office. They are hard working, professional civil servants and I continue to be impressed by their commitment to the cause of privacy protection, which is at the foundation of our democratic society. They understand that the important work they do must go on.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I recognize that the role of Privacy Commissioner of Canada is a position of great responsibility, which requires the trust of both Parliament and the Canadian people. I've said before that I am committed to working with Parliament in an open and transparent manner. I thank you for your time and for inviting me to appear today. Both Mr. Hertzog and I are happy to take your questions.
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