Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Bill C-461, the CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Accountability Act

June 5, 2013
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Mr. Chair and Honourable Members, thank you for inviting me here this afternoon for your study of Bill C-461, the CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Accountability Act.

I am accompanied by Patricia Kosseim, Senior General Counsel with our Office.

Context

From the outset, I would like to acknowledge that the amendments to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act proposed in Bill C-461 raise complex and highly topical issues relating to open government.

We take it as given that most citizens would like to see greater openness in public institutions.  Accountability plays a central role in our democracy and in Canadian society.

Indeed, in September 2010, all of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial Access to Information and Privacy Commissioners signed a resolution to promote open government as a means to enhance transparency and accountability.

Privacy changes in proposed bill

As you are aware, Bill C-461 amends both the federal Access to Information Act as well as the Privacy Act.

As Privacy Commissioner, I will limit my remarks to those amendments that implicate privacy.  I understand that you have already had the opportunity to hear from my colleague, the Information Commissioner, on the amendments pertaining to access to information. 

At a high level, Bill C-461 revises the definition of “personal information” found in section 3 of the Privacy Act to specify that certain categories of information are “non-personal” information for the purposes of release under access to information requests. 

Specifically, the elements no longer deemed personal information would include:

  • the classification, salary and responsibilities of any federal employee whose salary is equal to or greater than the minimum salary of the first level of the Deputy Minister category, currently set at $188,600;
  • the classification, salary range and responsibilities of any position held by a federal employee whose salary falls under the first level of the Deputy Minister category; and
  • the details of any reimbursed expenses incurred by any federal employee in the course of their employment.

Existing practice

To better situate these proposed amendments in the broader drive for openness and accountability, I would like to briefly touch on comparable measures that already exist in various sectors and at various levels of government.

The Public Service of Canada already makes publicly available its rates of pay for all of its positions, up to and including those at the Deputy Minister and Chief Executive Officer levels.

Similarly, for Governor-in-Council appointments, the Privy Council Office web site lists detailed salary ranges for each position, which incidentally include those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has also implemented a series of measures that apply across the federal public service for the proactive disclosure of financial and human resources-related information such as travel and hospitality expenses for senior government officials, the reclassification of government positions, and contracts above $10,000. 

At the provincial level, some governments use thresholds to disclose the salaries of public sector officials.

Manitoba has the lowest threshold at $50,000, whereas Ontario and Nova Scotia adopted $100,000 thresholds, and British Columbia a $125,000 threshold. 

While Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia disclose the names and salaries of all officials and employees earning over the established threshold, British Columbia only releases the names and salaries of a public sector organization’s CEO and the next four highest ranking executives.

In the private sector, publicly-traded companies must also disclose all compensation paid to their Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and next three top-paid executives. 

This includes all shares, options and bonuses, and applies to those earning more than $150,000 in total compensation. 

Given these examples, it would appear that disclosure of salaries for individuals in leadership roles within organizations, in both the Canadian public sector and private enterprise, is already best practice.

Assessment

In the opinion of my Office, and taking into account best practices elsewhere in Canada, the disclosure of the salaries of the most senior officials in the federal public sector does not represent a significant privacy risk relative to the goal of transparency and the broader public interest.

With respect to the disclosure of position classifications, job descriptions and reimbursed expenses, my understanding is that this kind of information is already disclosed upon request in many government departments and agencies under the existing access to information regime.

Within my own Office, our Director of Human Resources and our Chief Privacy Officer indicate that were we to receive an access to information request tomorrow for an employee’s classification, salary range, work description, or reimbursed expenses, we would disclose this information. 

This would be in accordance with out ATIP responsibilities and our general commitment to transparency and accountability to Canadians.

Given current practice, and the broader public policy aim of institutional transparency and accountability, these disclosures do not represent serious privacy implications.

Conclusion

Thank you again for this opportunity to present my Office’s views with respect to Bill C-461.  I look forward to taking your questions.

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