2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Douglas Fir Committee Room
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.
Present: John Les, MLA (Chair); Doug Donaldson, MLA (Deputy Chair); Norm Letnick, MLA; Don McRae, MLA; Bruce Ralston, MLA; Bill Routley, MLA; John Rustad, MLA; Jane Thornthwaite, MLA; John van Dongen, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Michelle Mungall, MLA
Others Present: Josie Schofield, Manager, Committee Research Services
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 9:03 a.m.
2. Pursuant to its terms of reference, the Committee began its review of the three-year rolling service plans, annual reports and budget estimates of the statutory officers.
The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
• Craig James, Acting Chief Electoral Officer
• Nola Western, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer (Funding and Disclosure)
• Anton Boegman, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer (Electoral Operations)
• Bob Jasperse, Director, Information Technology
3. The Committee recessed from 10:06 a.m. to 10:25 a.m.
Conflict of Interest Commissioner
• Paul Fraser, Commissioner
4. The Committee recessed from 11:14 a.m. to 11:31 a.m.
Police Complaint Commissioner
• Stan Lowe, Commissioner
• Lanny Hubbard, Consultant
• Shelley Forrester, Executive Director of Corporate Services, Office of the Ombudsperson
• Cynthia Dyck, Director of Strategic Planning and Information Management
5. The Committee recessed from 12:03 p.m. to 1:13 p.m.
Information and Privacy Commissioner
• Elizabeth Denham, Commissioner
• Jim Burrows, Acting Executive Director, Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
• Mary Carlson, Deputy Registrar, Office of the Registry of Lobbyists
• Shelley Forrester, Executive Director of Corporate Services, Office of the Ombudsperson
6. The Committee recessed from 1:49 p.m. to 1:55 p.m.
• Fiona Spencer, Commissioner
• Shelley Forrester, Executive Director of Corporate Services, Office of the Ombudsperson
7. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 2:22 p.m.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
Finance and Government Services
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Issue No. 40
Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
Office of the Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner
Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
Office of the Merit Commissioner
* John Les (Chilliwack L)
* Doug Donaldson (Stikine NDP)
* Norm Letnick (Kelowna–Lake Country L)
* Don McRae (Comox Valley L)
* John Rustad (Nechako Lakes L)
* Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver–Seymour L)
* John van Dongen (Abbotsford South L)
Michelle Mungall (Nelson-Creston NDP)
* Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley NDP)
* Bill Routley (Cowichan Valley NDP)
* denotes member present
Josie Schofield (Manager, Committee Research Services)
Anton Boegman (Elections B.C.)
Jim Burrows (Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner)
Mary Carlson (Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner)
Elizabeth Denham (Information and Privacy Commissioner)
Cynthia Dyck (Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner)
Shelley Forrester (Office of the Ombudsperson)
Paul Fraser (Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner)
Lanny Hubbard (Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner)
Craig James (Acting Chief Electoral Officer)
Bob Jasperse (Elections B.C.)
Stan Lowe (Police Complaint Commissioner)
Fiona Spencer (Merit Commissioner)
Nola Western (Elections B.C.)
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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2010
The committee met at 9:03 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Well, good morning, everyone. Thank you for meeting this morning, in spite of the weather and other things that apparently trouble some people. We will call this meeting to order. Our first guests this morning are the Elections B.C. personnel, headed up by Craig James, who normally would be sitting here but now finds himself over there. Good morning.
the Chief Electoral Officer
C. James: Good morning, and a very strange position to be in, I must say. Thank you for allowing Elections B.C. to appear before you first in this exercise. We thought it was important, and you will learn this morning — if you don't already know — that Elections B.C. is inundated currently with a number of interesting projects.
Before you are a number of documents which I've circulated to members of the committee: the leasehold accommodation proposal, which I think is in your hands; and certainly, the budget proposal, which should be in your hands; and a very interesting sheet that I had prepared that lists all the events over a multi-year time frame that Elections B.C. is likely to be participating in. I draw your attention to the complexity, the nature and comprehensiveness of this document in terms of the work that is expected of Elections B.C. itself.
I do sit at this end of the room with some trepidation, knowing full well that over the years I have had the opportunity of serving members of the Legislative Assembly, both here and Saskatchewan, for about 33 years now. Some of you may know — but some of you probably don't — that I also perform a number of other capacities in my current and former job, that being deputy chair of the editorial board of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.
I'm also an advisory board member of the Canadian Comprehensive Auditing Foundation, and I have been part of that advisory board for about five years now.
One of my more interesting bits of work, if I could describe it that way, flows from recognition by the World Bank out of Washington, D.C., which has engaged me in a variety of services over the past six years, taking me to various parliaments and locales in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, and particularly those jurisdictions which have developing parliaments or parliaments that are in trouble, so to speak, and require some expertise from the World Bank in assisting them to provide a better financial oversight of their enterprises.
With me today are Anton Boegman and Nola Western. Anton is the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer responsible for electoral operations, and Nola is the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer responsible for funding and disclosure.
Anton has overall responsibility for the administration of electoral events, strategic planning and event planning at Elections B.C. Nola has responsibility for all aspects of political entity registration, financial disclosure, campaign spending limits and advertising rules and has overall responsibility for the funding of the office.
The material I am presenting today has been circulated in advance to members of the committee. I have also briefed the Chair on the budget requests and offered the same opportunity to the Deputy Chair, along with the official opposition critic with responsibility for Elections B.C., last week.
Every effort has been made to ensure that the written materials you received in advance contain detailed explanations of all elements of this budget request. I wanted the explanatory notes to be as fulsome as possible, and I hope they are, to avoid misunderstandings and to clarify concepts, plans and issues.
My comments today will be relatively brief. I'll start by providing you with some context to position this year's budget proposal. I'll then give you an overview of the budget components, highlighting areas of importance in the forthcoming fiscal year and identifying some of the enormous challenges facing Elections B.C. over the next few years.
After that, I welcome your questions, which Anton and Nola would be pleased to assist with as well. In the gallery are Bob Jasperse, director of information technology; Sherry Hyde, the comptroller; and Tricia Poilievre, executive services manager. As necessary, we can draw on these people as well to answer any of your questions.
Elections B.C. has a core complement of 41 permanent, full-time staff. Combined, the organization has 253 years of experience in electoral administration serving the province. Over the years, this committee and others have asked: "Why 41 people, and what do 41 people do between elections?"
Well, let me tell you. Just six months ago I asked myself this very question. Certainly, in my experience supporting the work of the committee I know this question has been raised repeatedly over the years, but when I took up my position as acting Chief Electoral Officer, as a relative newcomer to this kind of business, I learned quickly that there's a vast amount of work to be done between elections that is required under the Election Act in order to be ready at a moment's notice for any electoral event.
The workload at Elections B.C. is currently being performed by the permanent 41 full-time bodies referred to earlier. These people are dedicated, hard-working and proud to be working as an independent office of the
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Legislative Assembly. I mentioned that there is a lot of work to be done by Elections B.C. staff, and they are very busy. Here are the statistics to support that.
Between January 1 and October 31 of this year, management staff at Elections B.C. worked almost 1,500 hours over and above the regular working hours. This is an organization stretched to its limit, particularly when there is an election or other event. The cost to the taxpayer for the current permanent, full-time employees works out to be roughly 75 cents per capita. Elections B.C.'s current fiscal year core services budget comes out to about $1.80 per capita.
Comparing Elections B.C.'s fiscal arrangements to those of other elections offices throughout Canada is not necessarily a meaningful comparison, because this office's function and role is very different. For example, no other province has recall and initiative legislation. In addition, the political landscape of B.C. adds work that is unique to our province. B.C. has more registered political parties than any other province in the country — at 24. In comparison, Alberta has eight, Manitoba has five, and Ontario has 13. This adds to the office's workload in monitoring these entities.
You're all familiar with some of the work Elections B.C. does, such as general elections, referenda, initiative petitions — now an initiative vote — by-elections and recall petitions. All this costs money and takes time to plan and organize effectively, efficiently and economically. This planning and organization starts well before the event and is critical to ensure a smooth delivery of the initiative, recall or election. Elections B.C., as well, must meet all the statutory dates — for example, an election every four years. You have to be ready, and you cannot postpone planning.
I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you just a few numbers relating to aspects of Elections B.C.'s work that the public isn't always aware of. For example, based on an analysis of the first six months of 2010-11, Elections B.C. expects the following activities for just this fiscal year alone: 780,244 voter record updates — including 24,995 updates accomplished through direct contact with Elections B.C. by telephone or the on-line voter registration website — and 123,024 new voter registrations.
Between the last two general elections, staff spent more than 12,000 hours conducting detailed compliance reviews of 862 annual financial reports filed by political parties and constituency associations. Following the 2009 general election, staff reviewed 853 election financing reports. Just dealing with the financial reporting and advertising aspects of the recent HST initiative petition took 941 hours of staff time. All of this data is tracked by Anton and Nola and through the incredible computer systems that you'll learn about at Elections B.C.
Now, these figures don't include any of the administration of the petition itself or the verification — just the finances. These financial activities involve training the financial agents, providing seminars and newsletters, extensive one-on-one support by telephone and e-mail, making amendments to the reports and, finally, scanning each and every report and making it available on the Elections B.C. website. It's a lot of work.
Now that I've given you some detail about Elections B.C.'s ongoing work, I will move into the presentation of the budget. Our annual budget proposal has three components: ongoing core services budget or the operating budget, the capital budget and the electoral event budget for events that are known with some certainty. Rather than speaking at length on each line of each budget, I will provide you with some detail on the highlights or items that have changed significantly over the past year.
If you turn to your budget document, the first table you see before you is the ongoing core services budget on page 9. The first column shows Elections B.C.'s budget for the current fiscal year. The third column is the proposed budget for 2011-12. The second column shows the difference between the two in dollars, and the fourth column shows the difference in percentages. The final two columns are planned budgets for the following two fiscal years.
As an aside, you will notice on the leasehold arrangement proposal, which we have provided to the committee, that there will be an increase, in terms of actual dollars, of $394,000. Without that proposal, Elections B.C. would be bringing to this committee a request for a zero percent increase. Otherwise, it amounts to about 5 percent.
The ongoing core services budget covers the costs that are incurred regardless of whether there is an election or not. For example, it includes permanent staff salaries, office and warehouse rent, computers, telephones and amortization. Last year this committee recommended that Elections B.C.'s budget for ongoing core services be set at $7.74 million in 2011-12.
In the end, these are the taxpayers' moneys, not Elections B.C.'s — a guiding principle the office uses for every penny it spends. The office has worked extremely hard to achieve this target. Everyone has exercised considerable fiscal restraint, and hard decisions have been made — for example, running at less than our full complement of staff — in order to keep the bottom line at what this committee expects it to be.
Overall, the office's requested ongoing core services or operating budget for next year is $8.134 million. The difference between the bottom-line budget recommended last year and the amount being requested this year is exclusively due to the proposed office move which I've referred to.
I will first speak briefly on the items that have increased or decreased significantly since last year. Further detail is in the document before you.
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Amortization has increased 22 percent since last year. Amortization is another word for depreciation. It is the allocation of the costs of completed capital assets over their estimated useful life. As indicated to you in the office's budget presentation last year, amortization for 2011-12 has increased because of a necessary investment in capital assets. More will be said about this later.
Page 13 of the document, under the capital budget table, shows how amortization costs relate to capital investments over the years. As I mentioned a moment ago, the office is requesting an increase in funding for building occupancy charges. I refer you to the attached leasehold accommodation proposal, which lays out in some detail the business case for this venture.
Proceeding with the proposal will save costs over the electoral cycle by not having to lease more expensive ad hoc leased premises with the attendant cost of getting it ready — for example, wiring, telephones and so on.
Let me briefly describe the challenges the office is facing in relation to space. Elections B.C.'s current space is a tight fit for just the permanent staff already there. During the 2009 general election the office had to lease additional space in two separate locations to accommodate all staff.
Having three offices at once — each with its own meeting rooms, reception areas, washrooms and storage space — is inefficient and represents an extra, unnecessary expense. As well, the moving and setup cost for each additional office during each election cycle adds up. Finally, when staff are fragmented across three different locations, a lot of time and effort is wasted in travelling between the offices. This all adds up to a wasteful use of public funds, in my mind.
With the initiative vote on the horizon and the 2013 general election not long after that, space is once again becoming an issue, as temporary staff will soon be needed. There are other factors to consider. There has been a discussion about Elections B.C. being involved in certain aspects of local government elections. While an act has not yet been introduced in the Legislature, Elections B.C. will need to ensure that space exists and is ready for such that the office can fulfil its new requirements should that happen.
Yesterday I received an application for a recall petition. If this recall proceeds to the verification stage or if the other electoral events or other recall processes occur and overlap with each other, even more of a burden will be placed on the office in relation to space.
Now that you've heard about the challenge, I'd like to propose a solution. A space is available at 1112 Fort Street — space which has been vacated by B.C. Ferries. The landlord has presented a very competitive space offer, including $1.4 million worth of tenant improvements at their expense and also assuming financial responsibility for Elections B.C.'s current lease down the street. This means that there will be no penalties for moving out of the office's current space.
The proposed space at 1112 Fort would accommodate all of Elections B.C. staff, including temporary staff who would be required during elections and other events. You may ask: "What will you do with any extra space in the years between elections?" The fact is, temporary election staff are employed for around two years, including the pre- and post-election work that has to be done.
In addition to general elections, there are by-elections and potential initiative and recall campaigns, as has been the case this year. As well, I mentioned the future mandate for local government elections that is being contemplated, which would result in a large number of temporary staff reviewing financial reports every three years.
In short, with unscheduled or on-demand events, plus new responsibilities, the office does not anticipate having a lot of extra space in the new office at many points during the election cycle. Any space that was vacant would be put to productive use by Elections B.C. or could be subleased to another tenant.
The space on Fort Street comes at a competitive price and is reflective of current market conditions. You will recall that this space was identified through a competitive process.
The savings from the space proposal over the electoral cycle arise from the fact that Elections B.C. will no longer be required to seek out and pay for more expensive temporary space and will avoid most of the traditional fitting up of these temporary quarters. The space budget in our operating budget is going up, but we will save the temporary space cost previously included as part of the events budget.
This is a better use of taxpayer funds and a more efficient solution for the office in meeting its various responsibilities. A more detailed rationale for the office move is in the leasehold accommodation proposal document.
The next budget item I'll speak to is the voters list maintenance, which you will see has increased. This increase is for two reasons. First, Elections B.C. incurs some costs in every local government election year. This is because the office receives voter information updates, and there is an additional cost for data entry for this information.
Second, there is a scheduled replacement of the electoral information system servers that support the voters list. These servers are at the end of their life spans and must be replaced, or a risk of breakdown in one of our main systems might occur. They are not in the capital budget, since each server is less than $10,000 and is therefore considered an operating expense. The proposed operating budgets for 2012-13 and 2013-14 are $8.134 million and $8.184 million respectively.
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If you turn to page 13, you'll find the capital budget request. This is the budget for acquiring capital assets, such as computer systems and office equipment.
The office recognizes that this is a time of fiscal restraint and budget dollars are tight. Over the past several years Elections B.C. has, therefore, minimized its capital investment by using creative approaches to reduce capital costs, which also reduce the impact of amortizing on the operating budget. An example of this is the rewriting of the code behind the electoral information system, as opposed to buying a brand-new system.
Now, Bob Jasperse is in the gallery behind me, and all of this talk about computers and software and the technical components related thereto he would be very delighted to discuss with you when we get to questions.
Certain upgrades and investments in critical systems, however, cannot be delayed. The funding requested this year is absolutely crucial to ensure that projects already approved can be completed. These projects have been spoken about before this committee for a number of years, and Elections B.C. is at a critical point. Any reduction in the funding requested will jeopardize this organization's ability to properly administer its electoral responsibilities.
Our total capital budget request for 2011-12 is $1.439 million. All capital expenses this year fall under the line for mainframe minicomputer hardware and software. The largest part of this is for the electoral information system slow migration, at $750,000.
EIS is an essential system. It includes the centralized databases for the voters list, street index, candidate and advertising sponsor information, election officials, voting locations, elections results and other components that allow Elections B.C. not only to manage events but to do ongoing work as well.
As is emphasized, shown in the document in front of you, Elections B.C. would not be able to run an election without an EIS. The slow migration project was begun in 2010-11 and, as noted earlier, has been undertaken as an alternative to a more expensive full replacement of the system. The $750,000 is for the second and final year of the project and would allow the system to last through an additional two election cycles.
The next largest component of the capital budget request is the electoral geography system, at $300,000. Electoral geography system, or EGS, is the name of Elections B.C.'s replacement geographical information system. EGS will be used to match every one of the more than two million addresses in the province to GIS coordinates and to the appropriate electoral district and voting area.
This is an essential component in managing electoral boundaries and the address register. It ensures people are in the proper districts for voting. Work began in 2010-11 to replace EBC's existing system with the electoral geography system. This funding of $300,000 will allow the completion of the EGS in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
These are just some of the highlights of the capital budget request. Full details are in the budget document itself.
The next aspect of the budget we look at is the event budget on page 15. This covers expenses incurred specifically in relation to the delivery of electoral events — for example, general elections, by-elections, initiative petitions, initiative votes and recall petitions.
In the table on page 15 you will see three columns. The first column represents contingency funding for money already spent in the current fiscal year that we would like the committee to approve. These costs were not anticipated at the time the last budget was set. The second column is what will be required in event funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The third column shows the total amounts that are requested over the two years for each event.
Please note that the total shown for the HST initiative petition is not the actual total cost of the event, as some costs were also incurred in 2009-10, which is not shown.
I will highlight two of the lines from this budget. The first item I'll mention is the initiative vote. The total initiative vote budget is estimated at $30.104 million. This includes $412,000 in contingency funding required for the current fiscal year and $29.692 million in the event funding required for 2011-12.
This total budget represented here is in line with the estimate of $30 million which I provided to the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives in September as they deliberated over whether or not the province should hold an initiative vote. A more detailed description of this budget can be found on page 15 of the document.
You will also see in the event budget $981,000 for a residence-to-residence enumeration pilot. The Election Act has been amended to require a residence-to-residence visitation or enumeration before the 2013 general election. It has been more than 20 years since Elections B.C. has conducted this type of enumeration. For this reason, it is essential that the office carry out a pilot enumeration to ensure the success of the methods used when it comes time for the full enumeration required by the Election Act.
Beyond this budget request for the pilot enumeration, I'd like to bring up with you the topic of the full residence-to-residence enumeration scheduled for 2013. My position is that this type of enumeration is not necessary in order to have a high-quality voters list. In fact, there is considerable concern that such an approach will result in a voters list with lower coverage, as many people do not respond to door-to-door campaigns. The difficulty is that as long as the Election Act requires that a door-to-door enumeration be done, Elections B.C. must ensure that it is ready for this event and that the budget includes the attendant costs.
Most jurisdictions across Canada have stopped the practice of door-to-door enumerations because of concerns related to the safety of enumerators and voters, the security and privacy of voters' personal information and,
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most of all, the significant cost. A residence-to-residence enumeration in B.C. in 2013 will cost around $30 million. Compare this to the $3.8 million spent in 2009 on targeted mail-based enumeration, which achieved excellent results.
To sum up, I advocate the removal of the requirement to conduct residence-to-residence enumeration. If this were removed, the pilot would not be necessary. However, if a residence-to-residence enumeration remains in the Election Act, funding for the pilot is critical.
This brings my discussion on the budget request to a close. Elections B.C. respectfully requests $8.134 million in operating budget and $1.439 million in capital budget. The office also requires a total of $1,350,858 in contingency funding for event costs incurred in the current fiscal year and a total of $30.848 million in event funding for event costs that will be incurred in 2011-12.
Thank you very much. I'd be happy to entertain any questions you have, and most certainly Anton and Nola as well. If you have any questions about the computer system, it's a language like none other, so Bob would be very happy to appear at the table.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Craig. We have a number of questions, starting with Bruce.
B. Ralston: I want to talk about the door-to-door enumeration. First, I want to point to a couple of places in the material that we've been provided with in advance of posing my question.
I note that in the minutes of the election advisory committee, which took place on March 5, 2010 — that's a statutory committee presided over by the Chief Electoral Officer — both the B.C. Liberal Party and the B.C. NDP at page 50 expressed support for door-to-door enumeration.
Secondly, again in the material that's been provided, there was a measure of one of your quality indicators. I'm just looking for that in my material here. On page 7 is the discussion of it.
On page 10 in the service plan one of your performance measures is tracking voters list quality. You have a measure which you call net currency. Net currency is the percentage of eligible voters on the list at the right address. The target for 2010-2011 is 76 percent. For 2011-2012 it's 73 percent, then rising in the election year to 78 percent, which is basically…. A quarter of the voters list is not accurate, is what I think one can deduce from that.
Given that it is an electoral requirement now and that a door-to-door enumeration, according to the law, will have to be done…. Last year the Chief Electoral Officer stressed the necessity of the trial enumeration in order to test methods to make sure that the door-to-door enumeration was effective. This committee declined to do that. I personally supported it, but that was the wisdom of the committee.
If this test enumeration that is in the budget…. You say that it will cost $981,000. If it isn't done, what is your expectation that the full door-to-door enumeration mandated by the legislation would be effective?
C. James: I'll let Anton answer that question, if you don't mind.
A. Boegman: Thank you very much for the question. I think it is safe to say that without our ability to test procedures around door-to-door enumeration, both in terms of the procedures out in the field with the enumerators going and knocking on doors as well as our back-end procedures to take that data that comes in and effectively incorporate that into a new voters list, we would have challenges in administering a successful enumeration. It's something that this office has not conducted for 20 years.
A lot has changed in the world since the previous enumeration was conducted. We have done visitation with Elections Manitoba, which is one of the only Canadian jurisdictions to still do this, and they have suggested a number of new ways of doing things which have helped them in terms of improving their enumeration. So it's our position that if we are to do one as legislated prior to the 2013 general election, we'd be required to do a pilot.
B. Ralston: If I might, Mr. Chair, just a supplementary on this point, then. If, as the legislation requires, you do a door-to-door enumeration, that does not mean that you wouldn't do the update to the voters list that's provided — the so-called motor voter thing — to link to the driver's licence database, the link to the Elections Canada database. All these other methods of updating and making the list more accurate would still be pursued in addition to a full door-to-door enumeration. Is that correct?
A. Boegman: Well, the premise with the door-to-door enumeration is that that is used as the basis point of your list. You can maintain the list in between events in order to be ready for unscheduled events or on-demand events that may occur, such as a by-election or an event under the Recall and Initiative Act. But once you move into the event, you use your door-to-door to provide you with the most updated list.
If you have names that were on the list previously that you are unable to confirm through a door-to-door approach, those names would come off the list. So there is the risk, if it's not done properly, of having people who were previously registered but, because they could not be confirmed through the door-to-door enumeration approach, they would come off the list.
B. Ralston: A further supplemental. Just supposing that you have a driver's licence…. It's valid. Your address is current. You've kept it up to date. Yet if, in the door-to-door enumeration, you happened to be not home
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twice, you would be taken off the list. Is that what you're saying?
A. Boegman: We would leave a number of "leave behind" things for people to follow up with us on, but if you're unable to confirm through the door-to-door enumeration, the methodology requires us to remove people from the list at that time.
B. Ralston: That sort of begs the question, then, of why should the motor vehicle branch trust the declaration of the person that they live at that address if you weren't prepared to.
A. Boegman: That's a good question.
N. Letnick: Thank you, Craig, for coming, and all your staff. First I have a comment and then a question. You already talked about the enumeration, so I'll cross that out.
I'd just like to say thank you very much for producing the cost-benefit analysis of acquiring space — a leasehold accommodation proposal over the life of the lease. That helped solidify my thoughts on the matter. That you responded so quickly after getting the question yesterday to all the members was emblematic of your service. So again, thank you for doing that. I'm sure we'll get to discuss that if anybody else has any questions on the lease space. It certainly shows the support, financially, for moving forward with the lease space.
My question comes from a comment that you made during your opening remarks. You said that it "takes time to plan…effectively, efficiently and economically" any large undertaking that Elections B.C. does. As you know, we have a petition initiative that's currently scheduled for September 24, 2011. We have people all around the province who are discussing whether or not we should move that date up.
My question to you is: based on your workload that you see in front of you, how much advance notice would you require for Elections B.C. to conduct an initiative petition vote effectively, efficiently and economically? That's basically the question. How much notice do you need?
C. James: Well, I think six months is not a bad target. Perhaps Nola and Anton might differ with me on that. I think that there is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in planning and preparing for an initiative vote. The problem in answering the question accurately is that I don't know what the regulations are that would govern the conduct of an initiative vote, so I don't know how extensive that might be. A number of assumptions would be built into that answer.
The other is that if the conduct of an initiative vote was a mail-in ballot, there would be far less time and far less cost associated with it, one would think. I would think the six-month mark is not a bad number to use, perhaps five. I think four would be…. I think Anton would probably not like it if I said four.
Anton can describe the process. It is a very complicated, convoluted process to put on these events, and it is hugely expensive. If it's a typical election-style vote on September 24, 2011, it requires a lot of people. Somewhere between 30,000 and 37,000 people are going to need to be hired over various time periods up to and leading into that initiative vote and be retained afterwards.
That's a long answer to a very short question, but you can see the burden that Elections B.C. would face in terms of the amount of time.
D. McRae: Thank you very much for coming in, Mr. James. Two questions, if I may.
First of all, when we look at the initiative vote, which is about $30 million, obviously, and then the initiative petition itself is another million to sort of facilitate, it worked out in my math to about $375,000 per riding. When we have potential recall on the horizon — and I hear it might happen; I'm not sure — is there a way that you guys can sort of estimate the costs per riding of a recall, basically not just the petition process but the actual cost of doing a vote? Would it be in the ballpark of the $375,000? It's obviously a much more complicated democratic process.
C. James: Well, we discussed this matter again this morning, anticipating questions like this. I think a recall petition that would be successful through verification and subsequently a by-election would probably result in the expenditure of perhaps $1.1 million. A recall petition that would go through verification and end there — a full verification — would be around $620,000.
D. McRae: Second question. We go back to section 42 of the Election Act and the residence-to-residence enumeration. Obviously, it's the opinion of your organization that it's perhaps not the best way to basically look at the voter list. However, by doing the pilot, with its associated cost, is there a chance that you would use that as a justification not to go forward and say, "Well, we did the pilot, and this is how we compare it to our existing structure," or is it at this stage not a really valid use of time and dollars?
C. James: Well, I know my pitch this morning on the enumeration is provocative. I know the view on both sides of the House, and certainly I was in the House when the debate occurred on amendments to this particular part of the Election Act. If the pilot is approved and the committee is of the view that the door-to-door enumeration should proceed, it will proceed, and we will conduct it.
All I'm trying to do is to find ways to save money. If we feel we can save money by doing things more effi-
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ciently, effectively and with a greater degree of certainty for Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public, I think I have an obligation to do so.
D. McRae: Fair enough.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. It was very informative. I have two quick questions that are related. They relate to the circumstances of the HST and the costs that we're considering due to the decisions around the HST implementation.
The $30-odd million that's outlined on page 15 for the 2011 initiative vote. I see in the notes that $2.652 million of that is allotted to information systems. Then on page 13 you've got another $1.439 million related to mainframe and minicomputer hardware and software. So between the $1.4 million and the $2.6 million, are there any efficiencies that…? If we're spending $2.6 million on information systems related to the initiative vote, are some of those costs…? Would they be able to reduce the $1.4 million in the other capital budget?
C. James: I'll ask Anton to respond to that, if you don't mind.
A. Boegman: The vast majority of the technology costs associated with the initiative vote with the $2.65 million are associated with deployment out into the field of our information technology infrastructure that will allow the district electoral officers to run the event. This is similar to when we open up offices around the province for an election. We place computers. We place a network. We allow them access to our information systems from the field. That is where the significant portion of that would arise, so we wouldn't be able to achieve efficiencies in terms of the money identified in our capital budget.
We also would need to develop a unique module to our electoral information system that would allow us to count the ballots for the initiative vote in accordance with the legislation. Right now the system is set up to count according to election legislation, so it would need to be modified to do that.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Okay, and I just had another quick one. Thanks for that answer.
The potential recall initiatives — I guess I need a little clarification on that. There's nothing in this particular budget around that. I understand that, because there's nothing you can anticipate into the future, but you did mention the filing of documents right now. So the money that could be incurred from a recall initiative in the early winter or an account that would be required for that — that's within the 2010-11 budget.
Would you have to come back for those kinds of costs? As well, if there are recall initiatives in the 2011-12 budget, are you able to absorb those costs, or would you have to come back to the committee for that funding?
N. Western: Well, I think you can appreciate that we didn't budget for recall, because right now they're unscheduled events, or they certainly were when this document was put together last week. Yesterday we did get an application.
Yes, we would need additional funding for '10-11. If the recall petition application that arrived yesterday results in verification of the recall petition, we will need additional funding for '10-11. If there are additional recalls that go into fiscal year '11-12 and they need verification, we will need additional funding for that too.
J. Rustad: Thanks for the presentation.
I have a number of questions, if I may, Chairperson.
First of all, I just want to confirm something. You said that it would cost about $600,000 for the process of recall that ends with a verification. So whether or not they have actually achieved the threshold, that amount of money would be incurred. Is that what I'm hearing?
C. James: That's correct, yes.
J. Rustad: So if they get one signature versus 100 signatures versus 10,000 signatures versus something over the threshold, is that…?
C. James: No, this would be a full verification of all the required signatures. In other words, the proponent would be supplying what they believe to be sufficient numbers of registered voter signatures that would result in the recall being successful, so it would involve that.
I'll let Anton describe in more detail, if you like, some of that process.
A. Boegman: Certainly. In terms of if a petition is just handed in and it clearly doesn't have the necessary number of signatures to meet the threshold, we wouldn't then proceed with a verification. We would not need to do that, so there would be savings in that budget in relation to our hiring of temporary staff for the verification, the computer uplift and support that's required to support our recall initiative verification system, as well as the cost associated with a third-party verification of the signatories through B.C. Stats.
My rough estimate would be that approximately $250,000 to $300,000 would not be required if we did not go through full verification.
J. Rustad: The reason why I ask that question is…. The Recall Act, as I understand it, or the citizens initiative and recall — whatever it is…. In any case, you understand what I’m saying in terms of recall. There is no limit to
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how many recalls could be attempted. A recall could be attempted again and again and again within a particular riding if it was unsuccessful — or even multiple recalls at the same time within a particular riding, under the act.
What I hear you saying is that the minimum cost is going to be around $300,000 for an initiative that would be undertaken. And if it were to be done six times over the course of a year, which is every two months, assuming unsuccessfully over that period of time, you're saying that it could cost upwards of $2 million a year per riding if recall were to go on and on, carried out to the full extent of what it could be within the legislation.
C. James: Hypothetically.
J. Les (Chair): I would suggest highly hypothetical.
J. Rustad: Just asking — the point. I just wanted to make sure that was the case. I assume there might be some administrative savings if we're having to go over the same material over and over again. Anyway, on to my next question. Thank you for that.
The electoral geographic system, the $300,000 in the development of this — are you developing that in-house, or is that something that you've gone out and talked to other jurisdictions in Canada about, and perhaps even in the world, in terms of this type of system?
Having come from a GIS background, I know that these types of systems are in place and being utilized in many, many places around the world. I'm just wondering whether or not it's something that has to be done internally or whether you've gone and borrowed something or made a deal with somebody else with regards to it.
C. James: Well, it's really a combination of both. Actually, you bring up an interesting point. My examination of Elections B.C. and certainly the computer systems that are in place…. In particular, the EIS and the geographical system are very impressive systems. I was going to offer to this committee and generally to all members of the Legislative Assembly a demonstration in this room at some point so that you can see the various bits and pieces of the computer system that apply to everything from voter registration to identifying voter addresses and the geographic system itself.
I've asked this question and challenged Elections B.C. to see what parts of these systems that they are developing they could actually market, and as an organization to see if some money could actually be made by the organization instead of taking the plans and developments that have been occurring over the past little while and sharing them, free, with other jurisdictions.
That's sort of a rough edge to my belief that if you're doing some good work in developing these systems and if there's a prospect of being able to market these systems to your colleagues across the country and around the world, why would you not want to do that, obtain some revenue and return that to the public?
J. Rustad: I agree entirely in terms of that. I'm just wondering, because GIS has been around for 15 years or so — 20, 25 years, roughly now. Other jurisdictions are using that. For example, police and fire departments just in B.C. alone have similar types of systems. That's why I'm wondering about, in terms of what you're developing versus whether or not you've actually gone out and done any research, as to what other assistance may be available and where you may be able to partner rather than incur this internally.
A. Boegman: I would characterize our approach to the electoral geography system as being definitely looking at partnering with what government's doing now in ILMB and other areas around use of technology in systems. We're looking at using off-the-shelf systems that have been developed and deployed successfully here, rather than the custom system that Elections B.C. currently maintains, by moving forward and adopting our standards to the new technology.
It's going to save future costs in terms of our maintenance of the system. It's going to reduce risk for Elections B.C., because we're not relying on a sole-source custom contractor. It will allow us to make better use of existing technologies that are there within government.
J. Rustad: I wouldn't mind maybe talking to you a little bit about that after this.
One last question, if I may, Chairperson. That's just around the enumeration pilot project.
If you were in a position to go ahead with a pilot project in 2012-2013 budget year as opposed to next budget year, would that still give you the ability to be able to test what you need to test in order to do the door-to-door enumeration before a provincial election?
C. James: Well, I think it'd be tight, but I'll let Anton speak to that as well.
A. Boegman: I agree. It would be very tight for us. We would have to conduct the pilot almost immediately into the new fiscal year in order to be able to properly assess it and then integrate any lessons learned into our planning for a full door-to-door visitation, which would necessarily take place in the lead-up to the 2013 general election.
It would be tight. It could be done, but we'd have to do it first thing in the new fiscal year.
N. Western: Can I just add that if we did do that, I think it would cost more as well. The people that would be managing and directing the pilot door-to-door enumeration in the '12-13 fiscal year would normally be busy
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getting ready for the general election. If this is delayed, it would cost more, because we would have to backfill some of those employees.
J. Rustad: The reason why I asked that is I happen to agree with Mr. James's assessment that perhaps this is not the most efficient way to actually be doing this within the province. I would be happy to have a look at this piece of legislation in the upcoming session or sessions that would follow, rather than approve the pilot at this particular stage, which is why I was asking about the potential of going ahead if that doesn't change.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation. My question is also to do with costs and recall. Given that you've just said that your average estimate for a cost per recall, per riding, to go all the way to a by-election is $1.1 million…. Is that what you said?
C. James: Roughly, on average. Yes.
J. Thornthwaite: Okay. Also, Ms. Western's comments about having to backfill positions if you're trying to do two different things at once. What is the effect on that recall expense if there's more than one recall going on at the same time? Or does that not apply to you? You do them on consecutive times. I'm just wondering about the timing of recall.
C. James: I'll let Anton answer that question.
A. Boegman: The biggest thing is, of course, the staffing that's required to support the process. If there are multiple concurrent recalls, then obviously the cost per unique recall will go up. The increase will be able to be spread out, however, because the staffing can accomplish multiple tasks as we go forward.
If I look at the previous initiative petition that we verified over the summer — although the thresholds were lower; 10 percent versus 40 percent — it was a provincial scope for that event. We spent approximately $1.1 million to do the full verification. So the staffing side wouldn't increase. Where you would have increases would be.... You'd have to conduct a separate signatory verification survey in each district where the recall was run. For a single district that's costed at around $135,000.
The advertising would need to be unique. The statutory advertising that we're required to do for a recall would be unique to each recall petition that would take place.
The costs internally in terms of our staffing…. We would probably have to go from, say, $50,000 in staff to maybe $150,000 in staff if we had multiple concurrent recalls over a time period. But that wouldn't be the significant largest increase. It would be in each district where we do advertising and we do the verification survey.
N. Western: Also, though, if we had multiple concurrent recalls at the verification stage at the same time, each of those recalls would have their own verification team. The staff would be the same as if they were at different times. But if they're at the same time, we need additional space, and we need additional computer systems and infrastructure — you know, different networks and computers for them to be using if you've got two verification teams at the same time.
So if we went to Fort Street, we could accommodate them all in that one space, but in the space that we have now, we would have to have additional space for two.
J. Les (Chair): Jane, a supplementary question?
J. Thornthwaite: Yeah, I just have a supplement question. It would be very helpful if we could get a little bit more information on that, if you could give us a follow-up. Thanks.
J. Les (Chair): Bruce, did you have another question?
B. Ralston: Actually, Mr. Chair, two separate topics that I think should be explored here before we make a decision.
One was on the new building. I gather that that was a suggestion or a recommendation that was presented by your predecessor, and the committee declined to follow that. I gather that the building is owned by Jawl Properties. B.C. Ferries has moved into another Jawl Properties new building — the Atrium — so it's vacant, and the pencil has been sharpened up a bit there.
From what I can gather, it's the same presentation as last year. It just seemed to be that Jawl Properties is prepared to make a few more concessions as a landlord, paying for the tenant improvements and assuming the lease over at the Harbour Towers if this recommendation were to proceed.
Personally, I'm convinced of all the merits of what you say. If anything, the previous Chief Electoral Officer perhaps didn't push it hard enough and was too willing to follow the directions of the committee, I think, to the detriment of Elections B.C. Have I accurately the summarized the difference in the two proposals?
C. James: I think so. I think, as well, that one of the major differences, of course, is the nature of the work that's flowing to Elections B.C. That has really been tipping the organization over the edge in terms of its ability to live up to its responsibilities under the various pieces of legislation which govern its existence.
B. Ralston: If I might, the other area is the electoral information system. I do note parenthetically that you and Mr. Boegman do appear to be saying contradictory things. He's suggesting that it's necessary to expand the
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off-the-shelf GIS, which would be proprietary and therefore you wouldn't be able to sell, and you were suggesting that the single-source custom application on the electoral geography system might be something that could be marketed. But I'll leave you to sort that out in some internal meeting.
I wanted to look at the electoral information system, because you describe it as the "major computer application for managing" elections. Without it you can't run an election. Microsoft is no longer supporting the computer language in which it's written. So the slow migration is a compromise solution, short of replacing the whole system, which again, I think, was recommended by your predecessor.
Are you confident? Can you provide the committee and the public the assurance that the data system and the way in which it's being altered is being done in a way that will enable Elections B.C. to meet its statutory mandate of being able to carry out an election at the level and the quality and the efficiency and the fairness that everyone here in British Columbia expects?
C. James: I've asked Bob Jasperse to join the table to provide that assurance, yeah.
B. Jasperse: We looked at it in very different lights. We tried to see whether or not we could borrow somebody else's system. Elections Ontario was in the process of redeveloping their system several years ago when we already knew that we had a problem coming down the pike with Microsoft's discontinuance of the support for Visual Basic.
Unfortunately, their system didn't work out, and we had to go back to square one. We came back to the committee here with a plan to redevelop everything with a cost of about $8 million to $10 million. That was not approved, so we went back and we looked at options for: how do we do it in such a way that we can guarantee that the systems will actually run when they need to be running?
What we did first was we changed the whole technical infrastructure underneath the EIS to make sure that it was as modern as it could be. By doing that, we know from Microsoft that they will support all the components that go into EIS for ten years after the point that we put those in place. So we put in Windows Server 2008, which gives us until about 2018 that we know things will work from the infrastructure piece.
The language in which EIS is written is called Visual Basic. Right after we developed EIS back in about 1999, when we talked to Microsoft and said, "What is the best language to use, and what's going to be around for a while?" about two or three years later they decided that was no longer going to be a viable option. In 2008 they expressly told us they will no longer provide support for Visual Basic.
So we had to look at how we change the language that's in the EIS to make sure that it can still run. The most practical way was to go to the upgraded version of Visual Basic, which is Visual Basic .NET, VB.NET.
We could have rewritten everything, but we decided that we would look at some options. The option that we came up with, with our technology partner HP, was to use a translation software. What it does is actually change the code from VB to VB.NET, and then we have some other programs in between that actually clean it up to make it more usable.
So at the end of the day, we're able to do a complete redevelopment of our application in a new language and have it operational, I believe, beyond 2017, assuming that Microsoft doesn't surprise us with other changes.
J. Rustad: Thank you. Just one more quick follow-up question with regards to the initiative vote and the cost of $30-some-odd million. If that were to be held in conjunction with a provincial election, what would that cost be?
C. James: It would be significantly less, but I'll let Anton talk to that.
A. Boegman: Similar to how the previous two referendums on electoral reform have been conducted, as a thin layer over top of a general election, each one cost approximately $1 million, $1.1 million, to administer. I would think that that would be a good cost estimate for what an initiative vote would cost if run in conjunction with a provincial general election.
D. McRae: I do admire and thank you for basically analyzing the savings with acquiring a new location for Elections B.C. But just in a general sense, there's still over a million dollars a year, I think, looking like it's being spent on lease for the organization.
Has any analysis ever been done about basically purchasing and acquiring a building in Victoria to do your work? It seems like there's a lot of money basically being given to the landlords rather being used to acquire to an asset.
C. James: Certainly not since I've been there, but I'll ask Nola.
Are you familiar?
N. Western: No. We work with the accommodation and real estate services group of shared services. I seem to recall that about probably ten years ago, when we were first looking to move out of our old office in Fairfield, that was discussed, but it was way off the charts.
At that point, at least, there was no good location, like land, and I don't think that government wants to be in the business of owning the buildings.
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J. Les (Chair): All right. Are there any further questions of anyone? Are you ready to deal with the various motions that we will need here?
I'm sensing that there is general agreement on the leasehold proposal, so maybe we should do that first, as that'll impact on the budget request.
J. Les (Chair): That approval is moved by Norm.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): It was my understanding that we were dealing with all of that tomorrow afternoon.
J. Les (Chair): You're right.
A Voice: And in camera.
J. Les (Chair): That too. So we will defer decisions until we have heard from all of the statutory officers. Sorry about my overeagerness this morning to get on with it.
We will recess for 15 minutes or so until the arrival of the Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner, who is due here at 10:30.
The committee recessed from 10:06 a.m. to 10:25 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): The commissioner is here.
Mr. Fraser, the floor is yours.
the Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner
P. Fraser: Thank you, Mr. Les and members of the committee. I'm pleased to accept your invitation to appear here on my third occasion since becoming Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner.
I indicated briefly to the Chair that I was prepared to make a few opening remarks, and then we could have some questions, which I think would be, at least from my point of view, rather more exciting in this gentle lacuna of calm, reason and measured fiscal judgment in the midst of all that may be going on in this building even as we speak.
Those of you who've seen my materials will see that at the end of the representations I have made, I indicate that having given something in the last fiscal year, I'm hoping to receive something. I really wanted to start off by saying that I don't want you to believe implicitly in the Biblical expression that says that it's better to give than it is to receive.
The material that has been circulated, I think, comes to you from our office in the form of a budget proposal. Some of it will be very familiar to you; some of it may not be as familiar. I view this opportunity to meet annually with members of the House and, in a sense, provide a measure of accountability that doesn't otherwise exist in respect of officers of the Legislative Assembly and members of the Legislature who have placed us there…. So I welcome this opportunity.
I understand, as I think we all do, the reality that in a sense, accountability can't be measured, truly, in terms of what you receive or you don't receive in terms of a budgetary allotment. But I do think that as a result of these exchanges, there is a better understanding of what happens in the offices of the various legislative officers and a better opportunity — indeed, perhaps the best public opportunity — for members of the House to be able to talk to the officers.
In the material which you've got, you'll find some background information which essentially gives you a sense of the nature of the extent of the work that we do and the commitment that the office has to its fundamental and dual purpose, which is to serve and address the needs of the members and to serve and inform the public. It also describes to you, and I won't repeat it, the various priorities which we have in our operations for the coming year and what we hope to achieve. Finally, it outlines the key components of the budget request that you have before you.
I should say at the outset that it's difficult to monetize progress. It's probably difficult to monetize succession but less difficult, perhaps. The office that I have the honour to lead is an office that has been extant for 20 years. It is necessarily a small office. My predecessors were all at 50 percent of capacity, by agreement. I am at 75 percent of capacity.
We have a very small staff and always have had, but the work we do, if I may say so, is disproportionately important to the size of the staff that we have in the office.
As you see by the description of our structure and facilities, there are two offices: the one that you're all familiar with, on Menzies Street, and then a satellite and unstaffed office over in Surrey. In the Menzies Street office we have one full-time employee only, given that the commissioner is not even full-time. That full-time employee is a person who has worked in the office since roughly 1994-95 and is both the institutional memory of the place and, frankly, the horsepower that keeps it going.
In addition to that, we have on staff at the moment two people who are on contract. One is a young lawyer who works on an hourly contract on a monthly basis, and we have a person who is doing some intake, some telephone answering and a junior administrative position, who is also on a contract.
She has been on a 0.6 percent full-time-equivalency, and the researcher that we have, the lawyer who provides us with legal services, works on average, about 40 hours a month.
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I think we all agree and understand that the information architecture and technology we have in terms of managing information in this precinct…. What we manage is a precious cargo. The information and technology is really everything in terms of making sure that cargo is well-protected, well-indexed and well-stored.
We have a difficulty in that respect — one that some of you will remember from last year — in the sense that we wanted to undertake, at a difficult fiscal moment in the province's history, the first steps in terms of a digital storage system not simply because it would be convenient for all of us to have the information in that form so that there could be an interaction between us but also because, given that the staff has only one full-time member and the rest of us are part-timers, it would make it significantly easier if we had the ability to quickly call upon information that's been stored.
We weren't able to make those changes this year. We have decided that there are other priorities in the immediate future, but we continue to be committed to the notion that on an incremental basis and on a basis that allows us to effectively pay as we go, we'll make the changes that are necessary to improve the situation.
Some of you will have noticed, in terms of our obligations and services to members, that this year we came up with some new disclosure forms. We were able, with some investment of a relatively small amount of money, to get that material to you on line and to receive responses on line. But the full menu or the full buffet of services that we would like to have would largely speak to our ability to be able to respond in a timely way to requests that are made of us by members and by members of the public.
All of you understand how we become engaged in terms of either complaints or requests for opinion or private consultations with the members, so I won't bother explaining all of that to you except to say you are part of a broader constituency that we have and that we want to respond to as quickly and as capably as we can. To do that, we are only able to rely, at the moment, on people.
I suppose it could be fairly argued that there's no better reliance that one could have in any event. But we don't have the tools to give to some of the people who are instead still having to, in our case, deal with huge volumes of paper and who bring to bear to that task memories and recollections which, frankly, fade over a period of time and which speak to the whole issue, which is at the heart of what it is that we're proposing, of succession.
It's paradoxical, in a sense, that because the offices are so small, that may be one of the reasons why succession hasn't been high on the agenda in the past. At the same time, because they're so small, it's equally the case that it's the reason why succession must be — it seems to me, with respect — high on the agenda going forward.
We had an opportunity last year to discuss with the committee, and in response to Mr. Letnick's questions of me, what information we had that would tend to show what kind of performance the public and the members were getting from the office.
You'll see that there's a graph that refers to information requested, advice given to members and formal opinions. From that, you'll see that the number of people who have asked for advice — people being members — is steadily inclining over the years and that the numbers of formal requests for opinions is sporadic. It was up in 2008, down in 2009 and up again in 2010 — but at levels that are, frankly, manageable from our point of view.
The other aspect of that statistical review has to do with information that is sought from all sources, typically from the public. While we had kept empirical evidence of the numbers of advice requests and formal opinions in the past, we started — as a result of a conversation in this room last year — on January 1, 2010, to keep track of information requests.
You'll see that in the first ten months, for example, of this calendar year, there were 145 requests. We haven't, in the information that you've been given, been able to show you what the extent of the follow-up on all of those requests for information has been, and we don't have, as I point out in the material, information technology that is sensitive enough to be able to track what our response times have been.
But on an anecdotal basis, I can tell you that what the office has been striving for with respect to information requests from the public, is that those requests would be serviced within 36 to 48 hours and advice to members at about the same length of time. The formal opinions, of course, are difficult to measure, simply because it depends on the intricacy of the particular problem at hand.
I wanted to mention this particularly. There's been a certain amount of attention paid this year, as in past years, but particularly in these times, to what I refer to — I hope not too grandly — as public diplomacy. The opportunity is often there for me to accept invitations to speak to student groups, university groups, professional groups, about what it is that the office actually does.
When I have the opportunity to do that, I welcome it, as have my predecessors. But it gives to the public, through those various associations and various entities and university classrooms, an opportunity to understand that the work we do is largely preventative, that the atmosphere in which we work is not one that is charged with a lot of suspicion, a lot of concern and a lot of drama.
In fact, the reality is that in the course of the work that we do and have done in the 18 or 20 years that the office has been in existence, there has been full cooperation with the work of the office. In every case commissioners have said, annual report over annual report, how grateful they are to the members for the cooperation that we give in both the public disclosure process and in terms of the day-to-day workings of the office.
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I repeat that again. It's not the kind of information that, perhaps, it was for our office to disburse; and yet it happens to be, in very simple terms, the experience that we've had. In that sense, it's valuable that it should be shared, it seems to me, with the public.
Can I just open a bit of a parenthesis with you? This is part, it seems to me, of the conversation that we can have about accountability. To mention one thing that I'd mentioned before, but which members, I think, may be interested in knowing: with respect to these many requests for information that we get, by and large, the requests are out of our jurisdiction.
I think we all know — and you know better than me from your constituency work — that the last thing a person who is frustrated and is on the end of the line wants to hear is that we have no jurisdiction. There's a studied attempt that is made in our office to see if we can link people up with other folk who may be able to give them the answer. That, I think, is part of what we also call public diplomacy, and it seems to be working. I'm sure it works for you in your constituency work.
I'm pleased to say that, at our level, we have had calls back from people who have assured us that, because of references that we've been able to make, they've been helped.
I wanted to tell you that on the statistical front — and this is to some extent a brief repetition of what I've said before — the vast majority of calls that we receive with respect to genuine conflicts of interest on the political level have to do with municipal activity.
I think I've spoken to some of you about this individually, but I say it for the record. My great hope is, given that the office indeed has no jurisdiction in that area and doesn't seek it, that the work that has been done in the last several months, with respect to contributions of election funds and so on, apparently is going to result in legislation this spring. It's legislation that I think, in terms of a possible front-end solution to the problem, will be very helpful.
Mr. Chair, that's as much background as I think you can probably stand. The statement of operations in this current year also refers, in the material that is additionally provided, to what has happened in, really, the two fiscal years — the one that we're currently in and the one that we completed at the end of March 2010.
Not wanting to personalize this — but in a sense, I can't avoid it — I refer to the remarks that I've made about the fact that for a period of time — three months and a week in this current fiscal year and two months and a week in the last fiscal year — as a result of circumstances, when I was acting as the Privacy Commissioner as well as the Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner, it was decided, and I was advised, that the cost of my salary, my travel and some of my benefits would, as a matter of sensible bookkeeping, all be borne by the OIPC.
That's what happened, and in the result, there was a savings to my office in terms of my salary, which, as you can see from the pie chart, is principally the largest dollar commitment that the office has on an annual basis. The combined result of all of that was that in fiscal '10-11 we're expecting that we will be in a position to turn back about $40,000 as the net savings resulting from the arrangements that I've just described.
While there was a savings in terms of my salary cost in a direct sense, there was an indirect cost in the sense that other people had to have their efforts and workloads ramped up, people who are not full-time, outside of our full-time employ.
Then, in the previous year, about the same amount of $40,000 was saved. That leads me to say what's obvious. In proposing, as I am, that you fund a succession plan for the office, I'm not talking about a capital investment. I am talking about an operating investment, which would be ongoing.
The purpose of the succession plan is to, if you like, put us in a position to keep going and keep functioning. At the moment we're in a rather frail situation. Even a momentary sickness or a mild sickness, if I can characterize it that way, puts us in great difficulty in terms of trying to pick up the slack.
Long term, we're just simply not in a position, as you can appreciate, to go and hire people on an as-needed basis to take account of the ebbs and the flows of the workload in the course of the year, given the nature of the work that we do and the product that we have stored in our office. The investment is going to have to come in people, and the investment that I'm suggesting is that we begin by trying to source someone who would become the assistant to our executive coordinator, but on a part-time basis.
Gradually, as time went by, that part-time work could expand, and we would be in a position so that at the end of the day, on the basis of the human resources that we have to manage, we'd be covered. We wouldn't be facing — as, quite frankly, we are now — the reality that in the event that there was an untoward event, we would have a lot of trouble trying to put somebody in a position where they could quickly pick up the reins and carry on the very important work, principally, of maintaining the office, supervising all of the disclosure arrangements and producing the work product that we do now.
Those are all of my comments, Mr. Chair. I'm open, obviously, to questions from the members.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Paul.
N. Letnick: Thank you very much, Paul, for the presentation and the submissions that you gave us prior to that.
To paraphrase, then, if I may. If you're unsuccessful in getting the additional 9 percent increase in your budget
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that has been requested, you're saying that there won't be much change in the level of service that your office is offering. However, your succession plan will obviously be impacted. Is that paraphrasing you correctly, or are you also saying that there will be a deficit in the ability of your office to provide the services that you've been providing?
P. Fraser: Yes. I don't want to put too fine a point to it and to overstate that part of it. Certainly the last part of that equation is true in terms of the succession. In terms of the here and the now, what we're doing, frankly, is that we're having to tax people in an extraordinary way. We're having to pay, as one could imagine, a premium for overtime and that sort of thing.
We're also in a position where our response times are necessarily not as good as we'd like them to be. The level of services is at a point where we're not getting complaints. I can't imagine coming to this committee and saying, "You have to do this, or the floodgates are going to open," but I can say, quite genuinely, that I think the quality of the service that we provide — in terms of the timeliness, in terms of the complete information that we like to have in order to deliver the information and the advice that we're asked for — is suffering.
We've done what we can to address that, particularly on the research side, by making the arrangements that have now been in place for over a year. I'm pleased about that. It's getting the work out the door that's difficult. It's asking people who are already more than completely involved in the work that they're doing to leave tasks and move off into other areas in order to provide support and supplement.
N. Letnick: Just a follow-up to that, Paul. If the amount that was granted was somewhere in between zero percent and the 9 percent — let's say just halfway, 4 or 5 percent — would that do any good? Would you be able to use those additional funds to reduce the stress on your current staff by bringing in other staff, or are you saying that there's a kickoff point — that you really need the full $40,000 to hire that additional staff, and a few extra dollars won't help you?
P. Fraser: I think that's putting it fairly. I think we were last year, frankly, at the point that you first discussed in your comments now. I think now we're at the point that we actually have to have all of this money.
We could make do, but I'm not sure that it would be any more than a band-aid approach. While I know resources are limited, I think it would be a false investment.
The reality is, in pure terms, that the number of members has increased by 9 percent. Inevitably — though it may be too simple a comparison, perhaps — that brings with it, because of all of the paper that we have and all of the processes that involve each and every one of the members…. That by itself is a 9 percent increase, if you like, in the time that's necessary.
We swallowed that last year. We're now at the point, I think, where we really can't swallow it again this year.
N. Letnick: So the solution, then, is to get rid of some of the members, and that would take care of the budget issue.
P. Fraser: That's a solution that had never occurred to me. [Laughter.]
N. Letnick: I was actually thinking of other members.
J. Les (Chair): Actually, there is a process underway.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation, Paul.
I have two questions. One, I understand the arguments around the increase in budget for staff, and I see that in the budget. I'm just trying to wrap my head around the actual FTEs. Right now you have an executive coordinator full-time and an assistant part-time. So it's 1.6 FTEs right now, if I'm correct.
P. Fraser: Yes, that's right.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): So what would it be under the 2011-12 budget proposal?
P. Fraser: It would be a 0.4 FTE for a junior clerical intake person and a 0.6 for the assistant to the full-time person that we have, who is our coordinator. So it would be, in total, two full-time employees.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Two. Right. Okay. Thank you for that.
The other question I had…. You might have to help me out on this. It's the "Professional services" line item. I notice on page 7 that it was budgeted for $8,000 in '09-10 and that the actual was $40,000, approximately. It's budgeted for $55,000 this year. With your proposal, perhaps next year it'll be $50,000. Is there a reason why that hasn't returned to the $40,000 level that we saw in '09-10?
P. Fraser: Yes. Thank you. Essentially, what we did, cobbling together the workforce for this last year, was that when we took on the 0.6 junior clerical assistant, the cost of that person — who is on a contract and on an hourly basis — was slotted into, for convenience, the "Professional services" column. That isn't where it belonged, but that's where it went. It should have gone to the top line of "Employee salaries."
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Essentially, what happens, or what would happen under the new planned arrangements, is that those funds for the intake person and for the 0.6 person would go to the top line again, back up to $93,000.
If you look at page 7, you'll see that, essentially, it becomes…. If you look at the 2009-2010 budget under "Employee salaries," the actual for that period of time was $63,000. If you go down to "Professional services," you'll see that only $8,000 was allocated in that year in that budget for professional services, where in fact we spent $39,613.
Really, all we're proposing to do now is to have the budget reflect what is actually going to happen — where we have the 2.0 full-time employees, if you're pleased to give us the funding, go to the top line.
D. McRae: Three questions, if I may. The first one just sort of uses me as an example. There was very little change in my paperwork I needed to submit last year as compared to this year except for the birth of a daughter, and that was really quick paperwork.
P. Fraser: That was quite a change for your wife.
D. McRae: And for me. Diapers are a new joy.
However, it also takes, I'm assuming, myself a little bit of time to fill the paperwork out, and it takes time for your office to analyze the paperwork and respond to it. It would have been a lot easier just to basically say: "This is the paperwork you submitted last year. Do you need to add an addendum on?" For people who are rather, I guess, simple in their changes, it would make your job in your office, I think, a lot easier. Is that something that you folks considered?
P. Fraser: Yes, we did. Remember that this year we went to a new form entirely, and the form asked some questions that hadn't previously been asked. So to a certain extent, to say, as we did very early on in the form, "Has there been any change that you view to be substantial?" was a bit misleading because some of the information this year was new from the information of last year.
But speaking to your central point, our experience has been…. Senior members of the House have said to us that it's kind of a cathartic moment, if you like, every year when a person has to sit down as a member and go through this form, which I know is inconvenient and annoying, but it's not a great hunk of time that's necessary, albeit I know how busy everybody is. Some people, some members, have thought that it was useful for them, for their own purposes, to make sure that they were au fait and up to date with their changes.
Interestingly, we asked people in the form this year, "Have there been any significant changes?" and I would say that in approximately 50 to 60 percent of the times when people said no, when we sat down and went through the form at the meeting that we have, it became apparent that people had forgotten some things which were incidental. I was convinced, and am convinced now, that it was an innocent omission, but it was an omission nevertheless.
It also, I think, engages us in a discussion about what a material change is. The act isn't terribly informative about that. For some people, "change" is small; for some people, "change" is large. If we're talking about a huge transaction, then everybody gets it, but if we're talking about other things, they don't.
The material changes that members are obliged to report go to the Clerk of the House, just like the public disclosure statements do, and are the only opportunity, through the Clerk's office, for a member of the public to be able to track the change that has occurred in any member's asset and liability situation in the course of a year. So I view them as very important, and for all of those reasons, but none of them has to do with what I think are people trying to hide things, necessarily.
I think it's important that we have a form that is comprehensive — as part of, and I make the distinction, the member's confidential statement, confidential form — where we ask a number of questions that have a nexus in respect of the act, because I'm obliged by the act to find out what the asset and liability situation is for each and every member. There were a lot of questions that didn't seem necessarily to be important and, certainly, some that weren't on the form last year, but they spoke to that obligation within my mandate.
I cling to the idea that it is important, and I know that members agree, that we have these comprehensive disclosure forms and that we do everything we can to make sure that notices of material change are filed in a timely way.
D. McRae: A second question, if I may. Thank you, by the way. You stated earlier that, obviously, municipal politicians are not under your act, yet you still get a number of inquiries. Has your office ever considered the idea of putting forth a proposal, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to have municipalities participate in such a process? Something like that could actually increase your office to a critical size that would, I'm sure, allow for municipalities to pay into but would also make your organization maybe more able to deal with succession planning and such, because of more staff.
P. Fraser: Yes, thank you for that. In fact, I think it was either the first or the second annual report of the office where Commissioner Hughes made the recommendation that the office have jurisdiction and be, effectively, the conflict-of-interest office for all of the municipalities. That suggestion, recommendation, wasn't taken up. It has been repeated two or three times since over the years
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in, frankly, more reduced forms and more manageable forms, perhaps, but it has never seemed to have found favour.
I have to say to you that if we were to take on that responsibility, given the number of municipalities in this province, we would simply be overwhelmed and the office would suddenly become a very large place indeed. We're already, in terms of what, in other provinces…. One can say we're underemployed in the sense that in Ontario, for example, the conflict-of-interest or the ethics commissioner has responsibility for senior public officials, has responsibility for 125 or 130 members, has other responsibilities in terms of other expenses.
But without wanting to beat you up on this point, in terms of the staff levels that we have, they and Alberta and other places that have larger jurisdictions have, on a proportionate basis, many, many more people than we do. So our office, while it's one of the oldest in the country, remains one of the smallest. There's nothing wrong with that, in my view, catering to the jurisdiction we now have.
J. Thornthwaite: I'm going to follow up from what Don said. Don't we have to, when our situation changes…? In other words, within hours of the birth of Don's child, he would have had to submit some updated form to you. I seem to recall that when I…. My big event was that I purchased a house — well, not a house; a townhouse; actually, a condo. I live where I live. Can't afford much over there. But anyway, I'm sure I had to update my status with you within hours of purchasing that bit of property.
I'm just wondering, you know, when you're talking about these innocent omissions…. You actually know about Don's baby before he reports it on the yearly basis. So I mean, we've already got an update going on. I tend to agree with what Don said — that can't we just see last year's report sort of thing? I understand that you've got a new report this year, but maybe next year just have a tick mark spot saying that nothing's changed. That's it.
P. Fraser: I take your point, but I prefer a process such as we will have next year, when the form will be out for its second year of exposure, where people can take, as they will have, their forms from this year and be able to compare, go through them, and then tick off the boxes. I think people will find, as has been the case so far, that that produces some things that they've forgotten to report to us.
In terms of the instant reporting under the notice of material change, the act requires that those changes should be reported in a timely way. I've interpreted that to mean 30 days, which I think is reasonable. I think most members who have had a material change, to borrow that phrase, are aware of that and are alive to their obligation to report to us.
The act talks, though, about gifts, for example, having to be reported immediately to the office, which is rather unrealistic. Because I consider it to be unrealistic, the practice that we have in the office is that 30 days is what we do on a sensible basis.
But I suppose if people have something happen to them which they know materially changes their asset or liability situation, there can't be much wisdom in saying to them: "Well, you can take forever to report it, or six months to report it."
If it was the case that people were, in the public, only able to see on an annual basis what your disclosure is, that would be one thing, but the notice of change must be filed with the Clerk and must update the information already in hand. It then gives the public an opportunity to see how a person's position is indeed changing in the course of a year. I think that's a valuable piece of information for people to have.
J. Thornthwaite: One follow-up.
J. Les (Chair): Quickly, very quickly.
J. Thornthwaite: Just a quick follow-up. My other recommendation would be if we could do it over the phone. Having everybody come to Victoria…. I know that you've got the satellite office in Surrey, but I never got an opportunity to go there.
It just seems like an extreme expense for the MLAs to have to come to Victoria personally to meet with you when we could actually do it over the phone or some cheaper way of doing it. I'm assuming that doesn't come out of your budget, that it comes out of ours or the Legislature or whatever. But that would be one of my suggestions.
P. Fraser: That would have to involve a change in the act because the act is quite clear about the imperative of getting together personally. As far as sharing the cost is concerned, one of the reasons for the Surrey office was so that we would be able to be convenient to the members. Indeed, several of the members have come to the office there and have met with me.
We have tried in years past — because I take your point — to go to the UBCM. This year, unfortunately, it took a while for the new form to get through cabinet because of the summer recess, and we didn't have the form ready. In the years to come, with the form now in place, we'll go back to going to the UBCM.
I recall that in the last couple of years before this one, we were able to do 20 or 30 interviews in the course of that meeting. That's been another way of saving money. I can assure you that we do what we can to make it as convenient as we can by giving people the option to meet either in Vancouver or Victoria or in Surrey.
B. Ralston: I just had a question about something in the report. I don't want to take the time if anyone else has a question on the budget. I don't have a question on the budget.
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J. Les (Chair): I think you're the last one.
B. Ralston: Okay, then. I wanted to give the commissioner an opportunity just to comment.
Some of the comments that you make, on pages 16 and 17, about other legislative arrangements that are made to deal with what you call the two-year cooling-off period after leaving either cabinet or as a parliamentary secretary. You make reference to the federal government's new rules, and you also look at the system in place in the United Kingdom since 1995.
Just since there may…. I can't imagine why not, but not everyone might read your full report, so perhaps this might get a little bit wider exposure. I think those are good suggestions that people might want to take up in other venues, but certainly I'd just appreciate you giving a sense of your views on these topics.
P. Fraser: Well, briefly let me say this. I believe that we make it, not by design but by happenstance, perhaps too difficult for people to enter public life. Then we perhaps make it far too difficult for them to leave public life. Those people, in and out of the House, who have looked at post-employment issues have turned over in their minds how we could do a better job of dealing with the post-employment situation.
We have tracked the English process, which you alluded to, and have been attracted to it as a way of helping members and the public come to grips with what is an appropriate line of work or an appropriate occupation or an appropriate involvement for, particularly, cabinet ministers once they cease to be in the government.
The English system, briefly described, is that the Prime Minister establishes — as the English always do — something called a committee, and the committee is comprised of well-regarded citizens of the United Kingdom who have had senior experience in all facets of life.
The committee is, I think, at the moment seven people, and the committee is available to meet with the cabinet minister who is about to or has left and is wanting the committee's opinion on whether an offer which has been made should be taken up and would be appropriate.
The committee can express an opinion and does. The committee's opinion is not binding on the former cabinet minister but is made public and is then in the public domain. It's hard to imagine that someone under those circumstances would want to take up an occupation or a way of life that the committee had found to be inappropriate.
But from the point of view of the member, it seems to me, it answers the imperative of being able to have someone to talk to and some kind of a sounding board, some way of getting a reaction about whether what it is that the member wants to do is appropriate.
Now, the English system, which is continuing to evolve — with glacial speed, I'm bound to say, but continuing to evolve — initially was purely voluntary. A couple of years ago it was changed to be mandatory, and now you have to go through it. There have been other issues involving the committee — the size of the committee, how it would be appointed and so on — that have been bedevilling the process for the last little while. But I'm much attracted to that system.
At the moment, as we all know, the act is quite rigid — not as rigid as the federal legislation is, but rigid nevertheless — in saying that you cannot for a period of 24 months after you've left the cabinet do certain things that I'm sure all members and members of the public would agree would be inappropriate, in any event.
We don't have in our legislation any ability to monitor what it is that former cabinet ministers actually do, and we have no jurisdiction to, if you like, investigate or follow up and then take any kinds of steps to deal with someone who will have been, in the view of the commissioner perhaps, offside of the act. That jurisdiction, under the act as it now stands, is seated with the Provincial Court and not at all in our office.
We are not in a position, or weren't in a position when this annual report was prepared, to recommend something that we thought could be a made-in-British Columbia solution, borrowing from the English solution. I'm hoping that we may be in a position to, if not make specific recommendations in the next annual report, certainly carry on the discussion.
B. Ralston: Thank you. I think that's helpful.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Thank you very much, Paul, for your presentation today. We will deliberate later. We appreciate your advice.
We will recess for 13 minutes, pending the arrival of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
The committee recessed from 11:14 a.m. to 11:31 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): The commissioner is here, Stan Lowe.
Stan, the floor is yours. Take it away.
the Police Complaint Commissioner
S. Lowe: Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity, again, to appear in front of the committee with respect to budget submissions.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce those in accompaniment with me today. To my right is Cynthia Dyck. She is our director of planning and information
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management. To my left is Shelley Forrester, director of shared services, and to her left is Lanny Hubbard, who is working on a consultancy basis to provide some legacy background and is currently engaged in a restructuring within our office.
I'd like to begin by saying that my goal today is one of brevity as well as clarity, to seek clarification. I am mindful of the approach that has been advocated by the committee of a gradual approach to these proceedings, and it's my job to work within those expectations.
I can tell you that I will not be remaking or will not be referring to my earlier submissions of just over a month ago — rather, I find that to be redundant. I would rather tread on new ground. I will be focusing on my budget submissions beginning at page 3 of 12 on the overview.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner plays a vital role with respect to public trust and the image of policing in the communities of British Columbia. The topic of civilian oversight of police has garnered significant interest both from the media and public in British Columbia. Two recent inquiries — the Davies Commission, which is currently underway, and the Braidwood Commission — have both made important recommendations regarding the future of police oversight in British Columbia.
As this committee knows, the amendments to the Police Act that were first tabled in March of 2009 came to full force and effect March 31, 2010. The legislation significantly expanded the oversight powers and responsibilities of the OPCC, and the provisions enhanced accessibility of the police complaint process.
This, as you've heard earlier, has resulted in a significant increase in the number of complaints that we have received. We expect that the amount of registered complaints will double this year and remain at an elevated level in the long term.
In my previous budget submissions to the committee, I anticipated the costs associated with implementing the new legislation and the two new avenues of adjudication would exceed my allocation for these activities.
My current budget forecast indicates that our costs for adjudications, hearings and legal work are estimated to be approximately $320,000. This reflects a $220,000 increase over the level of dedicated funding in the current budget, which currently stands at $100,000.
We have managed, through internal restructuring and prudent fiscal management, to partially offset these costs in the current fiscal year. For the balance, I'm requesting an additional $131,000 of dedicated funding in the current fiscal year. I will expand on this area later in my submissions.
This budget submission requests a fiscal 2011-12 operating budget of $3.024 million and a capital budget of $25,000. For planning purposes it includes status quo operating and capital budgets for the following two fiscal years, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. This budget of $3.024 million reflects one of two scenarios on which I will later seek clarification from the committee.
The proposed fiscal 2011-12 budget provides for an increase of $220,000 in dedicated funding for adjudicated reviews, hearings and legal costs, which are expected to continue in fiscal 2012-13 and 2013-14. This funding is reserved for this sole purpose and if not used will be returned to the consolidated revenue fund.
I believe this budget reflects a gradual approach based on yearly assessments, as advocated by the committee in our earlier submissions. Our office continues to examine opportunities to increase efficiencies and thereby reduce operational costs.
The consolidation of our operations in Victoria and further with three other independent offices of the Legislature and our participation in the shared services models are examples of ways that we are demonstrating our commitment to achieving efficiencies and cost savings.
Moving to page 4 of our priorities for fiscal 2011-12, our goal is focused primarily to develop business practices, information bulletins and policy guidelines targeted towards a smooth operation of the police complaint system. We need to deliver on our expanded mandate of the office arising from the revised Police Act, including improvement to the contemporaneous oversight model and to develop the capacity to review and provide advice on matters related to investigation while the investigation is unfolding.
We need to develop strategies internally and externally to respond to the significant increase in the number of complaints received by the office, which includes an enhanced process to determine admissibility and improved accessibility to informal resolution and mediations where appropriate.
I am pleased to report that I have spent the last seven weeks looking at our intake and our admissibility determinations in light of the concerns expressed by the committee. I can tell you that we have, over the past seven weeks, been able to screen out, through a jurisdictional basis, a higher proportion of complaints in order to reduce the downflow to the investigation portion of our complaint system.
However, I can tell you that it is a labour-intensive process, and it's an important process. We are combining that process as well with a planned, targeted and informal or dispute resolution in hopes that that will play a more prominent role in the police complaint system.
We also need to respond to the expected increase of the number of investigations to be initiated by our office. We need to improve the profile of our office as a referral source through our public outreach activities, and we need to continue to develop and improve the capacity to facilitate the two new avenues of adjudicated review contemplated by the act.
We have been working collaboratively with police complaint stakeholders as well as community stakeholders to
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address procedural and substantive issues arising out of the act. Also, an additional goal for this year is to facilitate professional development and public outreach and information-sharing.
At page 5 of 12 of my budget submissions I have a heading set out: "Clarification of the Committee's October 7, 2010 Decision on Funding." When we last appeared before a special sitting of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on October 6, 2010…. On the 7th the committee recommended an increase of $65,000 in operational funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year in addition to $20,000 for related capital expense.
What was unclear is to what portion of time the $65,000 was contemplated to cover — whether it was on a half-yearly basis or less or more — and furthermore, whether that funding was to continue on a legacy basis with respect to the subsequent year. Assuming that, on a full-year basis, based on a six-month initial allotment, it would translate into $130,000 in operational funding for the fiscal 2011-12.
When one takes into account the salary benefits and shared services expenses, this amount would really only fund one full-time senior analyst position. I may be wrong on the duration that the committee had sought this funding to include or the amount on an annual basis.
I'm here today simply to seek clarification with respect to the intentions of the committee. We are seeking clarification as to whether this amount was intended really to reflect funding for one position or two additional positions. It's important to note that with each and every position, there is commensurate funding required for both benefits and a portion of our shared services expenses.
I'm pleased also to report that based on the allotment to date and our own planning and changes that we have undertaken internally, our civilian portion of our staff now that are in decision-making roles is slightly over 50 percent, which is a goal that I had wanted to achieve in light of the comments made in both the Braidwood Commission and the Davies Commission.
The next topic I'd wish to cover is budget expenditure and adjudications and legal expenses. In the previous year's budget request, we sought an increase of $400,000 in dedicated funding — to be returned if not expended — to address an anticipated increase in adjudicated reviews and legal expenses associated with the potential introduction of the Police Act this past year. The committee adopted a wait-and-see approach and left funding at the current level.
As raised in our most recent submissions earlier this fall, expenditures for the adjudicative reviews and legal expenses associated with the Police Act have increased substantially, as expected. Our current projection for the current year is $320,000, which is $220,000 over the allotted $100,000 in dedicated funding.
Now, I'm pleased to advise the committee that the OPCC has been able to partially offset this shortfall by $89,000 through fiscal restraint measures in our own current operating budget. What remains is a projected unfunded balance of $131,000 in the current fiscal year for which we are seeking additional funding. Given that this is dedicated funding, any amounts not expended during the year for this purpose will be returned back to the consolidated revenue fund.
To avoid this situation in future years, we're requesting an additional $220,000 in dedicated funding to address the anticipated demand in adjudicated reviews, hearings and legal expenses. I include in my submissions a chart that outlines the expenditures in this area as well as…. It sets out the forecast over the course of the past year in regard to adjudications, hearings and legal expenses.
And last, consolidation of our operations in Victoria. I'm pleased to advise that as part of our restructuring plan, we have now brought all members of our office under one roof, and as effective at the end of October 2010, we are now all located in Victoria.
This was done to obtain efficiencies both in the manner in which we conduct our business as well as to improve the communication aspect in respect of our offices. Having two operations appeared, from my review of the matter, somewhat dysfunctional. I think we're able to operate much more efficiently and effectively in delivering oversight to the province.
We were able to retire our lease obligations by paying a $39,000 fee to terminate the current lease in Vancouver, which had an expiry of March 31, 2014. This was offset in part by $16,000 in rent savings. However, through fiscal restraint within our own office and restructuring, we were able to absorb the cost internally in the current fiscal year through our operating budget.
Getting to the nuts and bolts of our submission is at page 8 of 12, and it's the "Proposed Budget by Standard Object of Expenditure." What we have set out, more importantly…. Under the heading "Fiscal 2011-2012 budget scenarios" you will see scenario 1, scenario 2 and the comparison of both scenarios.
Scenario 1 is the increase of what we estimated would be $130,000 on an annual basis as well as the increases that we seek for adjudications, legal advice and the additional space that was recommended by the committee in the past in relation to our move to the new building.
As you will see, scenario 2 proposes what it would cost to fully fund two positions, which would amount to $200,000 a year, which includes a salary, benefits and an apportionment of shared services as well as the increase in adjudications, legal advice and space. So the difference amounts to an additional $70,000 plus the amounts that we're seeking in the area of professional services.
The last area I wish to address is one of…. I think I've alluded to it earlier. In our service plan I've expanded
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on the importance of improving the civilian nature of our organization. As I've indicated in that document, we have obtained a composition of over 50 percent of civilian employees engaged in a decision-making capacity.
Those are my submissions that I have today, and I'm more than happy to answer any questions from the committee.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Stan.
First of all, there seems to be a little bit of confusion — I'm not sure why there is — around the decision made by the committee in early October. I thought we had been very clear, and I thought I'd been fairly clear in my discussion with you subsequently, that what we were talking about was two additional people.
Now, I guess where the confusion creeps in is whether the $65,000 was four months, five months, six months. But in any event, the operative concept was that it was two people to be hired in the balance of this fiscal year and going forward. I think that was also the commitment.
I don't know if that helps.
S. Lowe: It does, Mr. Les. It does. What it does is it effectively funds those two positions then, regardless of the period that was tied to it. What we did was we estimated, based on the time of our appearance, the six-month stage and just doubled it.
It's important that the committee know that to fund two full-time positions, the additional expenditure is $200,000.
J. Les (Chair): So those are very senior positions, then, that you're filling.
S. Lowe: Yes.
J. Les (Chair): My recollection was that we were talking about a five-month period at the time. It was early October when the committee made that decision. I realize…. I think it was November 2 that you got the letter from the Finance Minister saying go ahead and spend the money.
I think what was in the committee's mind at the time was that November 1 would be the effective date of those hires, if that provides any guidance. But I recall being very clear at the time that we were talking about two people, both in the short….
S. Lowe: With that tabulation, Mr. Les, that would bring us to $195,000, in addition. That basically meet our needs — close enough. Thank you.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Have we got any questions from anyone?
No, that can't possibly be.
What happens if the committee cannot find it within itself to come up with the $131,000 for the adjudicative expenses that you're proposing to spend in the current fiscal year?
S. Lowe: If we could go back and I can look at this matter historically, when I first appeared in front of the committee last year, it wasn't even determined whether the act was going to be passed. We understood at that time that it was somewhat of a bold assertion from our standpoint to ask for additional funding of $400,000 in anticipation, first of all, of the legislation coming into place and the adjudicative expenses associated with that.
We're back here in a position to demonstrate need. It was clear, with the Legislature passing the Police Act, that there would be two additional avenues of adjudicative review and that there would be a reasonable set of expenses associated with conducting those adjudicative reviews. Retired judges would be involved and, in some instances, counsel and submissions. They were an efficient and effective way to address issues, save and apart from the public hearing — which was, as we all know, an extremely expensive endeavour, and it continues to be exactly that.
So the $131,000 really now reflects what it costs, operationally, to have these two avenues of adjudicative review as well as to do the groundwork for interpreting the act, establishing the jurisdiction of the act and establishing the procedures and substantive intent of the act.
I have relied upon legal advice, in many respects, in taking a leadership role and trying to interpret the act with the benefit of legal advice and then providing our positions to stakeholders in the form of what's called information bulletins. So it has not been an inexpensive endeavour but a necessary one, in my submission to you.
These are growing pains that for the past ten years, with the previous act, had not been really fully explored and should have been explored.
Each province has a wealth now, other than British Columbia, of adjudicative history and precedent upon which to assist all decision-makers, from police chiefs to oversight agencies. Unfortunately, the groundwork has not been laid in this province.
It's my goal to lay some of this groundwork so that the expenditure now can be significantly reduced with precedent, with adjudicative guidance over the next two to three years.
I'm hoping that I could come back to the committee in two or three years and advise you that our legal expenses are significantly reduced and are primarily only for the operational aspects of the adjudications contemplated under the Police Act.
To answer your question directly now, with that background, I cannot find any more economic efficiencies in
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my operation to cover for the remaining $131,000. Next year it's anticipated that the costs for this type of adjudicative regime will be what we've estimated and demonstrated this year.
I've taken a gradual approach. I don't want to say that the sky is falling and that I need $500,000. I'm saying that this is a demonstrated need this year and that we'll take it on a yearly basis so that the committee is confident that the money is being well spent.
J. Les (Chair): Just back to the two extra positions. Have you filled those already, or are you about to?
S. Lowe: There is one that has been filled in anticipation, because we viewed it as funding for a full one, and based on the clarification today, we'll be looking to fill those other ones. Then at that point in time I'm happy to report that we are experiencing some relief in the amount of caseload per analyst.
With two more additional positions, I think that will have a profound effect. I'm happy to report back to the committee on a yearly basis as to how that is transpiring.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thank you for coming today. No doubt the lack of questions has to deal with the fact that we talked maybe just six weeks ago, extensively.
I do have one question, though, around scenario 1 versus scenario 2 on page 8, around the $130,000 increase for staff versus $200,000. I'm asking you this as a question so that you can elaborate on it. I seem to recall in previous discussions that you had presented a mix of positions, whether they were more senior positions that often were people who had a background in policing or less senior positions that were perhaps civilian background in nature. There was a cost factor in those and a differential between those two kinds of positions based on experience.
It seems that the proposed budget is now considering two of the more senior types of positions with the professional background versus the mix that you had presented before of perhaps a civilian and a person with a policing background coming in. Is that right?
S. Lowe: I can advise you, and I'm pleased to advise you, that actually we managed to achieve that mix by part of the internal restructuring. It goes back to a bit of history here. I eliminated the position of commission counsel internally, because it was a position that…. I didn't believe you could be a jack of all trades and be useful to the OPCC. In many respects, that has gone out externally to commission counsel, which is another layer of independence. The overwhelming majority of counsel I use are also special prosecutors in this process.
Having said that, with the elimination of that position and with other internal restructuring, we have managed to hire four civilians at the entry level most recently.
When I asked for two funded senior positions, these positions may be filled by…. The past positions where I've had vacancies may be filled by junior people, if I could use that term respectfully. But there is always the anticipation that as they gain experience, they will achieve the senior investigative analyst and be paid that amount. There is room to expand within those portfolios.
These two positions that the committee has allotted or funded now are targeted for senior individuals, because I think we've filled in the ground floor. What we need are people that can hit the ground running with respect to files, and to reduce the immediate file load. Then we'll see how things play out over the intermediate to long term and how these four individuals factor in.
But it's with those four individuals that our complement now exceeds over 50 percent of civilians.
J. Les (Chair): Any further questions?
I still have a little difficulty with $131,000, Stan. I really want to be upfront with you about that. I mean, we do expect everyone to manage within budget. To a degree, I see this as a bit of a straying over that line, and I just wanted you to be aware of that.
S. Lowe: I'm happy to explain that. The original budget of $100,000 of dedicated funding was within a regime in which what was only available as an adjudicative function was for public hearings. They were used sparingly and, in my view, not often enough, because as a result of their lack of use, there is a lack of precedent.
Josiah Wood, in his report in 2007, identified a need for additional avenues of adjudicative review that were both efficient and less expensive. So he created and recommended — and the Legislature adopted, pursuant to the legislation — two avenues.
One is called a section 117 appointment of discipline authority. What occurs in that process is when the OPCC disagrees with the decision of a discipline authority, we can refer the matter to a retired judge to review on a timely basis. I believe that they have nine days to render a decision, which is a vast improvement over adjudicative avenues in the past.
Having reviewed that matter, if they determine that the matter should be substantiated, they then become the discipline authority and continue through the police complaint process. If they determine the matter and if they agree with the discipline authority that it ought not to be substantiated, it's final and conclusive. So that was one avenue that provided huge efficiencies as well as provided a highly economical alternative.
The other avenue that was developed through the legislation is called a review on the record, which really reflects, in most respects, the appellant procedure. If a matter went through to a disciplinary proceeding where there had been a substantiation and the discipline au-
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thority had rendered discipline, an aggrieved party could apply to have that matter reviewed.
Now, there is an additional cost to that because instead of having to hold a hearing and calling witnesses, most of the matters are done by submission and documentary materials. But it involves lawyers usually making submissions to a retired judge as to the appropriateness of the disposition or lack of appropriateness, for lack of better terms.
What that did was provide an additional avenue of adjudicative review that involves, now, a presiding retired judge as well as legal counsel. Over the course of the past year to reflect these legal costs we have called and scheduled a number of public hearings in the public interest. A public hearing still plays a very important role when you take into account the concepts of transparency and accountability.
In my view, the way that I like to see things run is where the public interest can be served by a public hearing as well as where we can receive adjudicative guidance through that process. Then I carefully determine whether it's appropriate to arrange a public hearing, and I've done so on five occasions in the past year.
When you see those elevated costs, it's because those earlier arranged public hearings are now coming to fruition. We expect one in January to commence, another in February and another, I believe, in March. In providing that $131,000 estimate, we are recording what we expect the litigation costs to be — our best estimate.
They include commission counsel as well as the adjudicator and the traditional scheduling staff that provide the infrastructure for the hearings as well as, in some instances, the site for which hearings take place. I'm happy to announce, though, that in moving into our new space, part of the savings we will have, at least on the Island, is that we have facilities in which we can hold hearings and not have to borrow and incur any other expenses going to other sites, which we have in the past. That's one cost-saving measure.
I hope I've explained in enough detail that the increase is not only something that should be reasonably expected under the act when you create two new avenues of adjudicative review, but there are the ongoing circumstances of three public hearings transpiring this year. Those are costly endeavours.
J. Les (Chair): With respect to the last point of using your facilities here to conduct these hearings, that, of course, has somewhat limited application. I can readily say, for example, that if the Vancouver police department was involved, it would involve an additional expenditure on their behalf and on their counsel's behalf to have to travel to Victoria.
I was interested in…. I think the last time we met, it was on my way home that I was listening to several news reports where the police board in Vancouver was significantly concerned, actually, about the increase in expenditure to them of the new act. The mayor in particular had some fairly sharp views on the matter. I think we need to be mindful of that as well.
S. Lowe: I'm also pleased to report, in that vein, that under the new act it was contemplated that the contemporaneous oversight system was going to be funded by police boards. The estimate for a contemporaneous system that we earlier examined was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I'm happy to advise the committee that after working with police services, and they have been an excellent partner in trying to find some sort of computer system that would meet the needs as contemplated by Joe Wood, we found a rather inexpensive manner of using a file transfer program that we've come up with. We have been using it on an interim basis, and we are satisfied meets the spirit of what Mr. Wood was suggesting for contemporaneous oversight. I anticipate the cost savings to those police boards and municipalities will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because the initial estimate for a system that would work currently within the PRIME system was an incredible amount.
I want the public to know and I want the police boards to know that we are, within our group, examining all avenues to save money in these hard economic times. I'm happy to report to the committee that the contemporaneous oversight system is one where there has been significant cost savings to taxpayers.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Any further questions?
Seeing none, thanks for coming today and making your presentation. You'll hear from us in due course, as you know.
For the committee's information, the next presentation is at 1:15. We can have lunch moved up to 12:30. In the meantime, you can do media interviews and other things, as you like.
The committee recessed from 12:03 p.m. to 1:13 p.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): We're going to hear first from Elizabeth Denham, from the Office of Information and Privacy. Elizabeth joined us, of course, fairly recently. I'm not sure if all of the committee members have met her. She's been on the job — what? — four or five months now.
E. Denham: Five months.
J. Les (Chair): Five months. There you go.
This is your first opportunity to present to the committee. I won't say good luck. It's not nearly as intimidating as some might have led you to believe. Please, take it from here.
[ Page 1145 ]
Office of the
Information and Privacy Commissioner
E. Denham: Thank you very much. Good afternoon to the Chair, and good afternoon to the members of the committee.
You should have in front of you a copy of our budget and our service plan. Our service plan, of course, is looking to the kinds of work that we've done last year and our priorities in the work ahead.
I'd like to start my remarks today by introducing my colleagues who are with me at the table today. To my right — you've already met in previous presentations this morning — is Shelley Forrester, who's our executive director of Shared Services. To my immediate left is Jim Burrows, who's the acting executive director of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Beside Jim is Mary Carlson, who's the deputy registrar of the registrar of lobbyists.
I hope today to provide the committee with information on three things: a brief overview of what we do under the three acts that we enforce; a description of the progress that we've made from last year's priority to date; and an outline, of course, of the main aspects of the budget submission.
As the Chair said, since I'm new to the process and still relatively new to the job, I thought that you might indulge me this afternoon, and I would talk to you a bit about my management style and the principles on which I base my approach to oversight, because I really think that it has influenced our priorities for the next few years and also the budget submission itself.
I believe that securing compliance with any law requires a broad spectrum of strategies and that one of the most important strategies involves communicating regularly and respectfully with stakeholders about rights, responsibilities and alternative approaches to any access or privacy issue.
One office, especially a small office like ours, cannot enforce compliance. We really do rely on those that we regulate to understand and implement the laws within their own organizations, so government or private sector.
I also believe that the best way to achieve a cultural shift in attitude towards transparency is by taking manageable steps rather than giant leaps. For example, I am encouraging the government to take concrete actions to proactively disclose information about government actions without relying on FOI requests. This may cause initial discomfort, but I think over time this form of openness will just become a regular part of the way the government does business.
I also believe that access and privacy rights are dynamic. They're not static. We must ensure that our expertise in our office keeps pace with the changing social and technological environment that we live in if we are to have any effect at all.
Finally, I believe that in this difficult economic climate public service has to be focused and efficient, which requires ongoing evaluations and adjustments in our strategies and in our processes.
I know that you've heard from many others, including my fellow statutory officers today, that they need a budget increase to properly function. While requests may vary in size, I think that for operations such as ours, whose service delivery is almost 100 percent dependent on staffing, budget is critical.
That said, I also recognize the fiscal climate in which we all find ourselves and that the responsibilities of this committee include having regard for this fiscal climate. I am therefore not seeking any funding for full-time-equivalents. Instead, I've restructured my current staff complement to more strongly support the priorities and the needs of our office. I'm going to provide some details a little later in my presentation this afternoon.
What we do is critical to a healthy and flourishing democracy. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act — or FIPPA, as we affectionately call it — is the primary tool for citizens of British Columbia to hold government to account. Access-to-information rights are at the core of our accountable system of government, and they have been publicly recognized as such time and time again by the courts, by civil society, by elected officials and by political parties, amongst others.
There are more than 2,000 public agencies — including government ministries, school boards, universities, health authorities, municipal governments — across the province that must follow the disclosure rules that are found in FIPPA.
FIPPA essentially replaces the discretion of a public agency to withhold or disclose information with a uniform set of rules which must be applied in response to all access-to-information requests. It requires public bodies to respond fully and in a timely way. The default is openness. Requesters who are not satisfied with the response that they get from a public body may ask for an independent and binding review of that decision by the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Each year, though, across the province there are literally hundreds of thousands of access requests that are made to public bodies. I would say that the system seems to be working, because only a small percentage of those requests are appealed to our office.
Last year we received 568 access-to-information appeals, and we closed 599. Most of these appeals are really settled by sort of a shuttle diplomacy or by mediation by my office, and only a small percentage of those are actually set down for formal adjudication. We are projecting 488 public sector access appeals in this fiscal year. Already this year, we have issued 41 formal decisions or orders, which is 11 more than last year and 17 more than the year before.
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Now I'll flip over to the privacy side of the equation. On the privacy side FIPPA also sets rules that public bodies must adhere to when they are collecting, using or disclosing personal information of citizens. These rules exist as much to maximize the control that individuals have over their personal information as they are to minimize the growing appetite of public bodies to collect and use personal information in the delivery of public services.
Like access rights, the right to privacy has long been recognized as a vital component to a healthy democracy and the right to liberty. Privacy is often blamed as a barrier to greater information-sharing or as the culprit in creating inefficiencies in government service delivery. In fact, privacy is a legal right, and respect for it is critical for government to maintain the trust of citizens.
Privacy and robust security must not be set aside in the interests of government efficiency. Mitigating privacy and security risk at the outset of any new government program, and especially of any new government electronic system, is really saving the government money because they don't have to retrofit the system later, and it helps to avoid the kind of large-scale data breaches that really are a cost to the public in terms of trust. Last year my office received 573 privacy complaints, and we are projecting a similar number of privacy complaints for this fiscal.
We also oversee the collection, use and disclosure of customer and employee information held by the private sector. I believe there are about 300,000 businesses and not-for-profit organizations in British Columbia that we oversee. Our role under the Personal Information Protection Act, or PIPA, is to ensure that businesses have obtained the appropriate amount of information that they need to run their businesses while respecting and balancing an individual's right to privacy. Supporting businesses to meet their responsibilities under PIPA is a key compliance strategy of the OIPC.
Finally, and this is truly finally, I am the registrar under the Lobbyists Registration Act. The purpose of that act is to ensure that those who communicate with elected and appointed officials in an attempt to influence, among other things, the development of legislation, the awarding of a government contract or the introduction of a new government program are open and transparent.
Lobbying is a legitimate and, in fact, an inevitable activity in a democracy such as ours. But the public has a right to know who is influencing government and about what issues. In the last year our office has been developing a compliance strategy under the Lobbyists Registration Act, and we've developed a lot of tools, including a web-based registration tool and a public tool for individuals to see who is lobbying whom and on what topic. As of today there are almost 900 registered lobbyists on the registry.
Our key accomplishments over the last year are really detailed in our service plan that I've submitted to you, so I won't list them at this time.
I would now like to turn to the budget submission. This was written to support the service plan, so the two documents really complement each other.
I respectfully ask the committee to support the important work we do by approving in full the request that I will now outline for you. For fiscal 2011-2012, I am proposing $4.906 million in operating funds and $45,000 in capital funds, and for planning purposes for the following two fiscal years, I'm proposing the same amount.
Having worked in three jurisdictions, I know that OIPC is one of the leanest organizations of its type in the country, and I can't stress too much how dedicated and hard-working the staff is. Despite this, our workload is much higher than our capacity, and our backlog of investigations is deeply troubling to me. On the positive side, the queue for our formal hearings, which we call inquiries, will be eliminated by the end of the year for the first time in many, many years.
As you will see by the service plan, I have made adjustments to the existing staff complement, which I believe will have an impact on our ability to meet our statutory obligations. For the first time, I have created a policy and public education unit and have assigned two existing positions to undertake critical policy analysis and advice, to conduct systemic investigations and to engage in the kind of proactive discussions that we really need to have, especially with public bodies as they implement new systems such as electronic health records.
The investigative team who tried to fulfil these duties in addition to managing large caseloads in the past have been relieved of these proactive responsibilities, and I want them to concentrate on resolving matters at hand — complaints and reviews at hand.
I've also augmented an existing position and dedicated that person to planning and implementing public education programs, because I think that that, at the end of the day, is going to save us time and effort in investigations. To this end, I've requested a modest increase in salary and benefit dollars of $25,000, which includes this organizational realignment as well as increased benefit costs.
Secondly, I'm asking for an additional $100,000 in general contract services for securing information technology expertise. The details of this request are on page 3 of the budget submission. We simply do not have information technology and information security expertise in the office at a time when this knowledge is critical for our oversight work. There's a pressing need for information technology and security expertise to ensure that we have meaningful participation in critical privacy discussions around data-sharing, data-matching and other technical infrastructure projects.
Even more pressing is the need to dispatch our own information technology security professionals in the event of a large-scale data breach of privacy to ensure
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the independence of our office. This critical need for information technology expertise hit me, actually, on the second week of the job, when BCLC's new playnow.com site experienced a security breach which compromised the personal information of hundreds of British Columbians. An investigation like that is extremely technical, and we have had to piggyback on BCLC's resources to carry out this important audit of the site.
We need the dollars to ensure the independence of the work of this office in future investigations. More and more of our work is around reviewing and investigating and auditing electronic information systems. This money would be used to contract for security and information technology expertise.
Thirdly, as stated in my budget submission, the office continues to have significant challenges with the large and complex numbers of judicial reviews that are brought against us by public bodies and applicants. To date this fiscal, three more cases have been brought against us, and two matters are set down for judicial review in January.
Last year the committee approved a special fund of $300,000 to be used exclusively and only for our participation in judicial review proceedings, with the proviso that any remaining funds would be returned to general revenue.
We have spent approximately $80,000 in the first seven months of the year, and we are conservatively projecting spending another $150,000 of that fund on the two matters that are set down in January of this year.
This year I ask the committee to again approve this dedicated funding of $300,000 for the purposes of judicial review litigation under those same terms and conditions as last year.
I would like to turn now to my role as registrar of lobbyists. In the past eight months we have established the office of the registrar, we have developed and produced our interim policies and procedures and launched the website and the registration system. We have also conducted extensive training, and this was supported by a one-time grant by the committee of $141,000.
The office-of-the-registrar compliance strategy for the first six months focused almost entirely on education and outreach. It was deemed to be a success by the sheer number of lobbyists that registered. We had a 63 percent jump in registrations this year over last.
Although education and outreach remain the key ORL compliance strategy, full compliance requires the deployment of additional interrelated strategies, including investigations. Currently the ORL is staffed only by my deputy registrar Ms. Carlson and the registry manager, who is responsible for receiving and verifying registrations and managing the on-line data base. Investigative resources are really needed to ensure that we can carry out our compliance strategy.
To meet that requirement, I'm asking the committee to approve an additional $50,000 for the ORL budget to obtain part-time contracted investigative assistants, which will allow us to actually gauge our ultimate compliance needs.
The last thing I wish to speak to is the increased cost of our building occupancy and amortization costs in the shared services. In 2008 the committee authorized the OIPC, the Ombudsperson, the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Merit Commissioner to enter into a 15-year lease. To meet my obligations under this lease, a further $65,000 is required for amortization expenses and an additional $184,000 for building occupancy costs, both of which are beyond my control.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize to the committee that we are not asking for any additional funding for new FTEs. I've restructured my office to address current needs without the financial impact to my office. Essentially, I'm asking for a status quo budget so that we are able to maintain our responsibilities under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Personal Information Protection Act and the Lobbyists Registration Act.
Thank you very much for your attention today, and I'm happy to take any questions from the members.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Elizabeth. If I might, last year your predecessor described to us how, in some ways, government was doing it to itself, in terms of the judicial review process and the applications for same. Are we getting any better, or are we still persisting in that practice?
E. Denham: We are still at the same level as previous years. This year we've had three new judicial reviews brought before us, which is about the average that we've had over the past few years. We currently have nine active JRs against us. Six of them have been brought by public bodies.
J. Les (Chair): Okay, we still have work to do.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): That was one of the questions I was curious about, especially the three new cases and who actually brought them, public bodies — is that correct?
E. Denham: The three new cases have been brought by public bodies. One of them, though, has been brought against us both by the public body and by the applicant, so an individual as well. They're both challenging our decision.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): A couple of questions on STOB 60 on page 7. For my clarification purposes, you mentioned in your presentation the $100,000 in addi-
[ Page 1148 ]
tional cost to secure information technology security expertise. Is that part of that $150,000?
Okay, so the explanatory note led me astray, because it said for "specialized contracts to conduct information and privacy investigations and audits," when in fact it's for the information technology specialists.
E. Denham: It's for the information technology experts to be brought in to support those investigations and audits. It's $100,000 for IT, and the $50,000 is for the ORL investigative contract resources. That combined is the $150,000.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I have one final question, and you could lend your expertise to this if you think it's not the right time for this.
J. Les (Chair): Assuming I have any.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I'm curious. It's a question for Ms. Forrester. The decision around the joint use of space was taken before my time on this committee, in fact before I became an MLA. So I understand….
J. Les (Chair): You're off the hook? [Laughter.]
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Yeah, I'm off the hook.
We were filled in a little bit on that last year. But my question would be: is it within your purview, or would it be under the Auditor General and Public Accounts, to actually produce a report showing that the efficiencies that were meant to be obtained and the reasoning and the rationale for this joint sharing of space is actually getting achieved?
S. Forrester: Well, I'm working on behalf of all four officers. If that is a question that the committee would like answered, it's entirely feasible that we could have a review of that done. From my point of view, I think the officers have moved into the buildings. Shared services are now in the building. I think we are already seeing some efficient use of space.
The fact is that we're all in the one building and able to access shared services readily, which was one of the concerns put forward two years ago to this committee and one of the fundamentals for approving, I think, the proposal put before you for shared accommodation. I think we've achieved those kinds of results.
As well, we have shared office space, meeting room space. Stan had mentioned that earlier in his presentation. That's something that we've all been able to take advantage of. There are those kinds of things that are happening already.
Does that answer your question?
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Well, I'd say that, of course, I noted under this presentation that the major lift that was required to the budget was around amortization in the building occupancy. I noticed that was likewise similar to one of the other budget submissions that share this space as well.
In trying to represent taxpayers' interests, it would seem to make sense to me that people would want to know: are we achieving the objectives that were set forth in the rationalization for this sharing of space from a cost perspective, the reasons that were given to the committee? Should we not go back and evaluate whether that has been achieved or not?
S. Forrester: It was viewed in the proposal and in the business case that was made for the move that over the term of the lease, which was 15 years, there would be cost savings. That was based on a projection that we developed in consultation with commercial real estate professionals, looking ahead to the cost of continuing the leases in the buildings that we were in.
When the business case was put forward and the analysis was done, over the 15-year term of the lease we saw that there would be cost savings over that term. What you're seeing here is an increase in amortization and the cost of the rent.
For five years the capital costs will be paid for through amortization, so for the first five years we will see increased costs for amortization. After five years that will be done, those costs will paid back, and we will see a significant reduction in the space costs because we will just be paying for the rent.
The fundamentals of the business case were that there would be a cost saving over the 15-year term of the lease, and we have every reason to believe that that is still a possibility.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Are there any further questions of Elizabeth? I see one more.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I was waiting for the second round to come around.
My question is on the revenue generated from the costs that people pay for FOI requests. Do you have an idea of how much that revenue is on a yearly basis, like last year? I didn't see a report on that. I'm curious as to…. That goes directly into general revenues, then, I presume.
E. Denham: Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, reasonable fees can be charged for requests, but that money is paid to the public body, whether it's a government ministry, a municipality or a school board. Those fees go into the general revenue of those agencies. It's not a cost recovery system. There's a schedule of fees, certainly not fees that our office sees.
B. Ralston: You touched on it in your oral presentation, but I just wanted to go back to page 4, where you talk about the investigation conducted into the privacy breach at B.C. Lottery Corporation. I don't want to misquote you, so I'm just going to read, because I think you've struck a fair balance. Then I have a question.
"While I am confident in the independence of that investigation, such arrangements have the potential to create negative public perceptions and diminish public confidence in oversight and my independence." Then you go on to say that you think it would be necessary to fund any such further investigations from the budget of your office.
I'm wondering if you could just expand on that, because that's not a criticism that I was aware of or heard at the time. That may be because the issue of who bore the cost wasn't really discussed publicly. But I think it is an important point, and I just wonder whether you had anything further to add, based on what you've said there.
E. Denham: During the initial part of our investigation we were asked by the media: who was actually funding the longer-term investigation, the audit of the site? Again, it's beyond the scope of our current budget to be able to fund that.
We very carefully crafted the terms of reference of the outside consultant that's doing the audit to make sure that our office has control over what's being examined. We also get to look at all the reports of the outside expert, which happens to be Deloitte. That's in the public domain.
Deloitte is sharing all of the reports with us. We have the ability to ask Deloitte to go back and look at something else. But during the initial announcement of the breach — and it was in the public domain — we were asked quite a few times from the media: who's actually paying the bill?
It's a lot of work to make sure, as an independent officer, that we are the ones that are conducting the investigation and have full control over it. It's very important.
B. Ralston: Just if I might, as a follow-up, let's suppose…. And I don't particularly like dealing in hypotheticals either, but this is, I think, the only way to really phrase the question. Suppose a breach occurred at the Ministry of Health, some health records are…. That sometimes seems to happen, unfortunately, periodically. Are you suggesting that that sort of investigation would be something that would have to be funded by your office or under the control of your office as well?
E. Denham: There would probably be two investigations going on there. The ministry would want to do its own investigation: what happened, how can we plug the hole so this doesn't happen again? The ministry would do an investigation, but as an oversight body, if we do an investigation — and if we have to bring in experts to say, "Let's look at the kind of encryption standard that the Ministry of Health was using and whether or not that's actually up to the task of protecting this sensitive health information" — we need to have our own experts looking at that.
That's my point. Not get the money from another agency, because we have to be holding the reins.
B. Ralston: Are you confident, then, that such expertise on a contract basis is available at a reasonable price? I guess I would just be worried about busting the bank at some point.
E. Denham: I think it's a more responsible way to seek that kind of expertise. In one investigation we might be looking for a network security analyst; in another investigation we might actually need somebody who can do digital forensic work, take a record of what the computer looked like before something happened.
I think we need the flexibility to be able to go for the kinds of experts that we need. It's really difficult to have a staff person to have all that expertise. Do I think the expertise is out there? Yes. What we would do is that we would have a request for proposal, and we would have a slate of qualified individuals or companies that could help us do this work.
Certainly, having worked in other oversight offices, this kind of expertise was available to them either on staff or certainly through contract dollars. But I really think the flexibility is critical, because we're slipping behind.
J. van Dongen: It's a very relevant discussion that you're having with MLA Ralston. But I think that as long as it's clear in these sometimes one-off cases that you have control of the contractor regardless of who pays for the contractor, that to me is the relevant information or the relevant fact — that you have control of it. Whether it's media or anybody else that's asking, that's what, I think, is important — that you are able to establish that and document it.
I think that on that basis, it's totally okay to have, in these unusual and exceptional circumstances, a situation where the Ministry of Health may be paying, but you're controlling the work and you have full control of further work if you deem it to be necessary. I don't think that's an inappropriate arrangement.
I just want to double-check that you see it that way or that you are looking to staff up more specialists within your operation.
E. Denham: I'm not looking to staff up specialists. I'm looking for some dollars to be able to contract when we need it. But there are also all kinds of breach investigations that may occur with a small, small public agency or a private sector organization and, you know, they're not going to pay the bill to bring in the expertise that we need
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Much of our work is now around securing electronic information systems. A lot of our work is in…. This is the 21st century. We're not dealing in paper-based systems anymore. We really need to upgrade our ability to tap into the right expertise.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. I don't see any further questions, Elizabeth. I know you've gotten used to short interviews in this place. So thank you very much. I appreciate all the work you've done so far.
The next presentation is scheduled for 2:45. It is now just past 1:45.
If the committee wants to stand by, we'll see if we can get the Merit Commissioner to come by quickly. We'll recess for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 1:49 p.m. to 1:55 p.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Okay, we're back in session. We have the Merit Commissioner here, who fortuitously was already here to accommodate our somewhat earlier schedule.
Thank you, Fiona, for that.
F. Spencer: You're welcome, but don't feel compelled to fill up the time allotted, though, just because I'm starting early.
J. Les (Chair): I would say likewise. Please go ahead.
the Merit Commissioner
F. Spencer: Thank you very much. I am pleased to be here and make my first appearance before you as the Merit Commissioner for the province of British Columbia. I believe you know Shelley Forrester, who's been here with some of my colleagues. She is our director of corporate services.
As you know, my mandate is to uphold fair hiring in the B.C. public service by overseeing appointments to and within the public service to ensure that they are merit-based. The Public Service Act outlines my three major responsibilities: to monitor the application of merit by conducting random audits of appointments, to provide a review of the application of merit as a final step in the staffing review process and to report annually to the Legislative Assembly on the application of merit.
I am assisted in fulfilling these responsibilities by a small staff of three professionals and a support person, none of whom chose to attend here with me today. I supplement my small workforce by hiring auditors on a contract basis when we're engaged in our annual audit activity.
What I would like to do this afternoon is review briefly the results of our work, since there was a reporting to you at this time last year by the previous Merit Commissioner; provide you some general information on changes to hiring practices in the B.C. public service that affect the way we do our work; go over our service plan and priorities for the year; and review what we consider our budget requirements to address these priorities and to have an ongoing positive impact on merit-based hiring in the public service.
First, our accomplishments since last reporting to the committee. As you know, I was appointed close to the end of the fiscal year in February 2010, following the absence of a Merit Commissioner for about a four-month period. The work of the office continued during that period thanks to the commitment of the office's self-motivated and experienced staff.
You will have seen in my annual report for 2009-10 the results of our 2009 merit performance audit. So 12 percent of all appointments subject to audit were reviewed for a total of 302 appointments. The overall results indicated a 6 percent increase in the rate at which issues and problems were identified with appointments to and within the B.C. public service.
The issues and problems identified were surprisingly similar to those identified in 2007 and previous years — that is, problems with documentation, notification and assessment of years of continuous service being the top three.
The B.C. Public Service Agency has acknowledged the issues raised in this and previous audits and shares my concern about the lack of progress towards improvement. In part to address these issues identified through the work of the Office of the Merit Commissioner, the agency has introduced a fundamental change to the hiring process in the B.C. public service.
In October 2009 the BCPSA began to control all hiring by requiring that managers send requests through them. Since then, changes to the hiring process have been continually introduced, which have resulted in human resource experts in the agency's hiring centre now being responsible for the conduct of hiring processes, for maintaining documentation and for the calculation of years of continuous service. It's important to note that managers still remain responsible and accountable for appointment decisions, but it's these experts that now look after the process.
Through these changes, the agency expects a significant reduction in the procedural and process errors that we've been identifying in our last few audits.
In July 2010 the BCPSA launched a new automated recruitment system. Obviously, one important outcome of that automation is that staffing appointments will occur in a little bit more timely fashion. From my perspective, I hope that there will be a positive improvement in employees' access to information about staffing processes and their status in such appointment process-
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One other change to hiring recently introduced by the agency is pool or collective staffing processes. This was introduced initially for the administrative support group. This approach to staffing involves the creation of a pool of prequalified candidates who are considered prequalified for appointment to certain positions or levels. As vacancies occur, these employees are referred to managers for the final step in the appointment process, including the selection of a successful candidate.
We expect to learn more about these types of appointments and how the application of the merit principle may be affected by them as we begin to audit these types of appointments in the coming year.
Also included in my annual report are the results of a special audit we conducted on short-term temporary appointments — that is, appointments that were originally intended to be for less than seven months. The initial phase of this work was completed in 2008-09, the results of which were a clear signal that more detailed work was needed.
We audited appointments that had ended in June 2009 but which, despite the fact that they were intended originally to be for seven months or less, had continued for longer than one year and some substantially longer than that.
Our findings here were significant. We found that 17 percent of these temporary appointments, which were intended to be less than seven months, continued for more than two years — some for as long as four or five years. This misuse was more likely to occur in the administrative support group than any other group.
Potentially large numbers of employees have been temporarily promoted for long periods of time, without the benefit of a merit-based selection process. These employees are in a position of advantage when becoming candidates for permanent promotional opportunities.
My major concern with these findings is that managers are, intentionally or unintentionally, using the temporary appointment process as a way to circumvent the merit principle.
The B.C. Public Service Agency has taken my concerns and recommendations on this matter seriously. I have signalled to them our intent to conduct another similar audit in 2011-12 to determine if improvements have been made.
Also reported in my annual report was a matter with respect to staffing reviews. You may recall that in last year's presentation, the Merit Commissioner mentioned that far fewer requests for reviews were being received. In fact, in the 2009-10 fiscal year only six had been received — far fewer than in previous years, which were an average of about 13.
While at that time an employee survey to determine the reason for the decline was contemplated, we determined that addressing transparency issues and improving access to information should be given some priority.
In addition to what was reported in our annual report in 2009-10, seeing as it was a transition year, we devoted some time to the establishment of a new audit advisory committee, we revamped our website to enhance the availability of information for the public and for public servants, and we engaged in ongoing consultations with the B.C. Public Service Agency to understand pending changes to the hiring systems.
With respect to work that's currently underway, which we plan to report at the end of the fiscal year in my next annual report, I'd just like to mention a few things briefly.
We are currently auditing appointments that have been made since September 2010 and will continue to audit appointments till the end of December 2010. We've decided on this partial-year audit to correspond with the full implementation of changes to public service hiring processes for two main reasons.
First, to audit appointments prior to September was considered unlikely to produce results that were significantly different than previous audits. Second, measures to correct the ongoing issues that have been identified in our previous audits were being implemented by the B.C. Public Service Agency throughout the first half of the year. Therefore, it was considered that more valuable information could be obtained by examining appointments made under the new regime.
In our merit performance audit we'll be increasing sampling of appointments for audit to and within the administrative support occupational group. We chose this group for our first specific occupational group audit for a number of reasons. They are one of a number of groups where work environment survey, WES, results have been consistently below average with respect to these staffing drivers.
They are a very large group, one that is employed in every ministry and one where there is a large number of appointments being made each year. They are the first group that will be subject to pool or collective hiring practices. They are a group where, as previously mentioned, temporary appointments tend to be extended well beyond the initial duration of time anticipated. The results of this aspect of our audit will inform our audit plan going forward into future years.
We also will be completing, in this fiscal year, a special study of lateral transfers that we undertook and an analysis of data related to auxiliary appointments — the only appointment type subject to oversight by the Merit Commissioner which has not yet been studied.
Finally, to date this fiscal year we've already received eight requests for staffing review — more than we had received in the last fiscal year and about the same number that we've received at this point in earlier fiscal years.
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We believe that increased availability of information on our website has heightened awareness and accessibility, and our statistics show, in fact, that the pages on our website related to staffing review are the most visited.
So now, if I could, I'll just move to our service plan and priorities for the coming year, 2011-12 and beyond.
In general, our strategies and plans for the coming year are designed to result in new baseline data for merit-based hiring, given the new approach to hiring in the B.C. public service; to provide insight into appointments in certain occupational groups; and to examine specific appointment types which, if used inappropriately, could result in the circumvention of the merit principle. We've consulted our audit advisory committee members as we have developed our plan, and they've provided us with valuable advice in this regard.
In setting our priorities we are cognizant of the new staffing regime, our findings with respect to temporary appointments and the need to revisit this matter, the need to examine the auxiliary appointment type, the continued discrepancy between our audit findings and what the work environment survey tells us about employees' perceptions of merit-based hiring and the limited use of the staffing review process by unsuccessful applicants.
So our priorities for 2011-12 are, first, to conduct a robust full-year merit performance audit. We're planning an audit of appointments made in 2011, including an increased sampling of appointments to certain occupational groups considered at risk or of concern. I've already mentioned the administrative support group, and there may be others.
Following our 2010 audit, we'll make adjustments to our audit tool and process as required to ensure that we can capture possible issues or concerns that may relate directly to the public service's new approach to hiring.
With B.C. Stats' assistance our audit would be sufficiently large, 10 to 12 percent, to ensure a 95 percent confidence level. That is, our results can be extrapolated to the entire population with 95 percent confidence of accuracy. If appointment activity continues to increase, our audit sample in 2011 will likely be much larger than the 2009 and 2010 samples.
A new aspect to our audit activity will be that where we find that merit has not been applied in an appointment process, we'll be advising organization heads that we will be following up with them to determine what action, if any, within the ministry resulted from our audit findings.
We'll also be conducting some special audits. Given the significance of our findings last year and our recommendations to the B.C. PSA with respect to temporary appointments under seven months, we will be carrying out another audit of that appointment type. As well, following the analysis of data this year, an audit of auxiliary appointments will be conducted to determine if this appointment type is being appropriately used.
We'd also like to do a special study — one that will start to build a ministry-by-ministry history of merit-based hiring, based on data from audits and reviews over the years. These histories will be shared with organization heads to contribute to continuous improvement of merit-based hiring practices in the public service.
We'd also like to be able to, and we hope to be able to, tell some good-news stories, as well as stories that are, perhaps, not quite so good.
With respect to staffing reviews, to gain some further insight into the staffing inquiry process and how it is managed, we will be obtaining and analyzing information from organization heads as to numbers of staffing inquiries they received and the disposition of those inquiries. These insights will determine if action on the part of the Office of the Merit Commissioner may be warranted in the future.
Now, finally, my budget requirement to carry out this plan. I know that you have that in front of you. I'd just like to say that apart from previously considered and approved additional costs related to building occupancy and the shared accommodation at 947 Fort Street and the amortization of tenant improvement costs associated with that move, you will have noted from my budget submission that I'm not requesting any budget increase. I'm prepared to manage within my current operating budget allocation.
Further, should Shared Services B.C. — formerly known as ARES, the province's lease manager — be successful at finding a new tenant for our recently vacated office space, any unspent funds allocated for this purpose would be returned to the consolidated revenue fund and future budget requests adjusted accordingly.
The only other change to budget requirements you may have noticed on my submission relates to capital budget, whereby it's proposed to maintain a capital budget consistent with that allocated in 2009-10. That is $15,000.
I consider, and I hope you do, that this budget proposal will provide funds sufficient and necessary for my office to carry out an ambitious service plan for the coming and future years. We look forward to facing these challenges ahead.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Fiona.
B. Ralston: Thank you. I appreciate the work that you've done. I note that you're only paid at half-time. It sounds like you're working full-time.
Particularly, the work that you've done on temporary or, as I think they are more formally called, auxiliary employees…. That does seem to be a rather gaping hole in the merit principle, particularly some of the results that you've uncovered in your audit.
[ Page 1153 ]
Given that 80 percent — according to your charts, 79.5, 80 percent — of the employees are unionized, what consultations do you have with the union who may represent these people? Obviously, that is…. Certainly, I know that the issue of auxiliaries has been a longstanding concern over many years of the government employees union representing most of the employees that would fall under your jurisdiction.
F. Spencer: Just to clarify, auxiliary and temporary appointments are actually two different appointment types. The temporary appointments are generally appointments of public servants to positions on what could be considered an acting basis to carry out either special projects or to fill in for people who may be on leave for a period of time or to fill in a vacancy while a staffing process is underway.
Auxiliary appointments. My understanding of it is that auxiliary appointments are more like a casual employment status where people are called back in from time to time to do work or to carry out work that is seasonal in nature — that sort of thing.
You're quite right that a large number of employees are unionized, and to date, I haven't had an opportunity to meet with any of the union representatives. I would be interested in meeting with them, not so much to, perhaps, consult on their view on how I should be conducting my work, but I think my interest would be in certainly gaining their perspective on what some of the issues are with merit-based hiring in the B.C. public service.
It is on my workplan, and I'm hoping to be able to do that in the next while.
B. Ralston: If I might, then…. A further thing that I think enters into, sometimes, people's sense of grievance about whether or not an appointment is merit-based is that when one is seeking a promotion, ordinarily what's referred to is sometimes the results of annual appraisals, if they're done or not.
Do you have jurisdiction to look at annual appraisals with a view to whether they're being conducted with an eye to the merit principle or not?
F. Spencer: No, that would be a little bit beyond my jurisdiction. Where I do touch on annual appraisals is that it is a requirement that part of the assessment process be that the managers or the selection committee looks at past work performance. Certainly, one of the documented pieces of evidence that they have done that is what is called their employee performance and development plan — that it has, in fact, been completed and is up to date and on file.
It's a very important part of the selection process and one that we look at. When these are done consistently and done consistently well, they are a very valuable piece of the consideration of merit-based appointments. But in terms of whether or not individuals are doing these, if all employees have them, no; that's beyond my jurisdiction.
B. Ralston: Just one final question, then. I notice in appendix 2 that one of the organizations that is subject to oversight is the B.C. Public Service Agency itself. Did you discover if they were using temporary or auxiliary appointments improperly there?
F. Spencer: I couldn't answer that. I don't have the detailed breakdown of which organizations were using those appointments inappropriately. I'm sorry. I can get back to you with that answer.
B. Ralston: I think, given the symbolic importance of the lead agency in following the rules, that that might be of interest. If that's available, I'd appreciate it. If you could send it to the Clerk of the committee, then we can distribute it.
F. Spencer: Certainly.
B. Routley: I'm a little bit concerned about the issue of these temporary promotions or assignments that then go on to become long-term. I'm trying to understand if some of these temporary appointments were truly temporary in the first place. Or is that something that…?
Do you have any information on what number of temporary appointments are actually filling positions that were previously filled by other employees? In other words, were they really full-time positions that were filled on a temporary basis? Is there some kind of jiggery-pokery going on that one?
J. Les (Chair): That's the technical term there?
B. Routley: It's parliamentary language. We've had it checked out.
F. Spencer: Again, I'm sure I have that detail. I can provide that detail. I don't have it with me. I'm sorry. But I can tell you that there are quite a number of positions that are, in fact, permanent positions that are filled on a temporary basis for an extended period of time. The reasons why that happens are many. Sometimes the incumbent of the position may be away for an extended period of time, perhaps maternity or parental leave, or there may be long-term illness, or they may be filling in on another position, for instance, so someone is appointed on a temporary basis.
The position could be vacant, and managers are waiting to have the classification reviewed or issues around salary associated with it considered, so they fill it on a temporary basis while they're having those issues re-
[ Page 1154 ]
solved. Sometimes they just don't get around to filling the job on a permanent basis, so the temporary appointments continue, or that position may be slated to be deleted at a future point in time. There are a number of reasons, but yes, a significant number of these are people are, on a temporary basis, performing a permanent job.
I can't give you the exact number off the top of my head. But again, we do have those details.
B. Routley: I guess that leads to the question: are you satisfied with the level of deterrence that you currently have available to you or enforcement strategies to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Merit Commissioner? Or is that problematic? Is that an area where you don't have sufficient tools in the toolkit, so to speak, to deal with the issue?
F. Spencer: I don't have any power of enforcement, actually. I make recommendations, quite a number of them, to the B.C. Public Service Agency in terms of what should be done in policy terms or process terms.
If an appointment is under review and an employee requests that I undertake a review of that appointment, I can ask the deputy minister to reconsider the appointment. That's probably the extent of my power.
I should say that the B.C. Public Service Agency takes the recommendations of the Merit Commissioner very seriously and attempts to address them in different ways through policy, process and procedure.
As I mentioned, there have been some fundamental changes to the hiring process in the B.C. public service, and I think that's due in part to the findings of the Merit Commissioner over the last few years. So they're attempting to have their HR experts conduct these processes to ensure that the errors that have been occurring in the past aren't occurring in the future.
With respect to this temporary appointment audit, as I did mention, they are very concerned as well about our findings in this regard. They suspected that there were some issues. They didn't know, necessarily, the extent of those issues. But they are looking to make changes in policies and procedures to address this so that when we look at it again, hopefully in our next audit round next year, we'll see some significant improvement.
B. Routley: You obviously have the power to report these problems, so I would suggest that that is one of the tools that you have in your toolkit.
F. Spencer: Yes, okay.
J. Les (Chair): It's called a public shaming process.
B. Routley: Right, exactly.
J. Les (Chair): Doug had a question.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I do.
I look forward to some of the results around auxiliary appointments that you are going to undertake in this coming fiscal year. I see examples of that in the areas that I know, in rural areas, where there seems to be a rollover of those kinds of appointments. So I'm very interested in what you discover in those.
My question is unrelated to that. It's around the capital budget — if you could explain a little further the need for the increase in the capital budget from $8,000 to $15,000 and then remaining at that level for the next couple of years.
F. Spencer: I will give you my understanding of that requirement, and Shelley may be able to fill in some details for me if I'm unable to do that.
As you know, our capital budget in 2009-10 was at $15,000. Then there was a change to the capital budget last year having to do with the costs associated with the move to the new facility. The money that we normally would have spent last year on such things as upgrading our computer equipment — our servers, our other telecommunications equipment — was delayed, so we are now at the point where we have to make some of those changes and improvements in the coming fiscal year.
By returning to the previous budget of $15,000, we think we can cover those things off. I think Shelley has a detailed breakdown of how that $15,000 would be spent. If you'd like some more detail, I'm sure she could provide that.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I'm okay with it right now. I'm satisfied with your answer. Thanks.
J. Les (Chair): All right, any further questions? I don't see any, so I think we're done, Fiona. Thank you for your presentation, and thank you, Shelley. I guess we'll see you tomorrow.
The committee is adjourned for today. We'll reconvene tomorrow morning at nine.
The committee adjourned at 2:22 p.m.
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