The Privacy Commissioner of Saskatchewan is reportedly having to scale back services after the provincial government nixed a request for additional resources to hire another investigator. Gary Dickson's office not only administers the public sector access and privacy law, but he has to deal with the health privacy law that covers public and private sector healthcare.
I'm not sure you can truly be independent of the government if you have to go begging to it for adequate funds.
Saskatchewan privacy commissioner cuts services citing lack of resources - Winnipeg Free Press
REGINA - Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner says his office is in crisis and is being forced to cut back services because of a lack of funding from the provincial government.
Gary Dickson says surging demand for service has overwhelmed his office and the current three investigators cannot sustain the caseload.
He says despite his plea, the government's Board of Internal Economy has denied a request for $129,000 to hire another investigator and set up office space for that person.
"I've said to the board when I appeared in front of them, and I used the word very consciously, our office is in a crisis in terms of being swamped with demands for service from the people who live in the province," Dickson said Monday.
"We just cannot possibly ... respond to that demand in any kind of reasonable time frame."
Dickson says the number of reviews and complaints is up by 113 per cent over last year. Requests for advice and inquiries from public bodies and health trustees are also up.
Some people have been waiting for more than three years for a resolution to their case file, he says. The three investigators currently have a caseload of 376 reviews and investigations.
"Something has to give," says Dickson.
"So what we've decided to do is try and be transparent to the people of the province in terms of how this is going to translate into waits and delays."
The commissioner says his office will send letters to everyone who requests an investigation or review alerting them that they should not expect any action on their file for approximately 12 to 18 months.
Dickson also says all public organizations should expect significant cutbacks and delays if they need consultation on a project.
The privacy commissioner's office oversees some 3,000 bodies including ministries, Crown corporations, boards, commissions, agencies, schools, regional health authorities, municipalities, universities, colleges and health trustees.
The commissioner says the decision by the board will diminish how accountable public bodies are to the people of Saskatchewan.
"Manitoba, with roughly the same population, would have six investigators. Newfoundland and Labrador I think has more than six investigators (and) half the population. They certainly don't oversee 3,000 public bodies and health trustees," says Dickson.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan, who sits on the board of internal economy, says the privacy commissioner's budget has been steadily rising since 2002. That can't continue during tough financial times, he says.
"We're in times of fiscal restraint and we're expecting all ministries, all government agencies to try and work within existing budgets wherever they can," says Morgan.
The province is trying to cope with a big hole in last year's budget when potash revenue fell $1.8 billion.
The Saskatchewan government will deliver its new budget March 24, but Premier Brad Wall has already warned there won't be big spending increases - in fact, cuts are in the works.
Morgan said there's no way of controlling how many complaints the privacy commissioner's office receives, but he wants to cut the number if possible.
"We would like to work with the privacy commissioner to find ways that we can reduce the backlog in their office and try and find some efficiencies by having more of the requests dealt with at the ministry levels rather than through his office," he says.