With me today is Mrs. Helen Bélanger, who is the chief financial officer at Elections Canada, and Mr. Belaineh Deguefé, who is the deputy chief for electoral affairs, responsible for planning, policy, and public affairs.
I am here today to discuss the 2012-13 main estimates for my office, including Elections Canada's priorities for this fiscal year.
Following seven years of minority governments, my office is now working in a new operating environment. The election of a majority government means a fixed election date, with the next general election in October 2015. The agency now has a window of opportunity to pursue longer-term efforts to modernize the electoral process before returning to full election readiness. My office is also focused on some significant external and internal initiatives, such as supporting the readjustment of electoral boundaries, preparing for our upcoming move to Gatineau, and managing the impact of fiscal restraint.
Before I explain our priorities, I would like to provide an overview of the budget authorities under which my office operates, as well as an account of Elections Canada's response to fiscal restraint.
The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is funded by and operates under two separate budget authorities. The first is an annual parliamentary appropriation, which only covers the salaries for indeterminate positions. For these main estimates, our appropriation is $29.5 million, representing the salaries of approximately 360 full-time equivalent employees. It is this component that the committee is considering for approval today.
The second is a statutory authority that draws directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This authority funds all other Elections Canada expenditures. Our projected statutory draw for 2012-13 is $114.7 million.
As I outlined in my January 2012 letter to this committee, Elections Canada is reducing its annual operating budget by 8% starting this fiscal year. In making these reductions, we did not include expenditures that fall outside our annual operating budget, namely those related to transfer payments required by statute, the delivery of electoral events, the readjustment of electoral boundaries, and the relocation of Elections Canada's office to Gatineau in 2013.
This left an operating budget of $94.1 million, which we then reduced by $7.5 million or 8%. Elections Canada is applying these reductions in four ways.
First, we have reduced the budget available to programs for time-limited initiatives. This budget, only available to programs through a rigorous annual allocation process, is used to renew program infrastructure and carry out initiatives aimed at improving election administration.
Second, programs have been required, through a variety of measures, to achieve efficiencies and absorb maintenance costs for recently delivered information technology applications.
Third, we are extending the timeframe for the development and delivery of various programs and corporate initiatives. For example, we're now planning to conduct a pilot project on Internet voting during the next general election in 2015, rather than in a byelection in 2013.
Finally, the agency is reviewing all programs to ensure that resources are focused on the highest priorities linked to its mandate.
We will await instruction from Treasury Board about how to fully reflect information on my office budget reduction in subsequent estimates reports.
While our proposed reductions apply to statutory expenses, Elections Canada's annual appropriation, which is the one you'll be voting on today, is nevertheless affected by the 2010 budget restraint measures, which required departments to absorb the costs associated with increases in collective agreements. These measures have put pressure on my office's ability within its annual appropriation. This situation has been exacerbated by declining attrition rates.
To the extent that departments are required to continue absorbing these costs in future years, I expect that my office will not be able to manage its salary expenses within its annual appropriation by 2014.
To address this critical situation and in an effort to minimize the impact on the services we provide to electors and political entities, Elections Canada is completing a zero-based budgeting exercise. This exercise will allow my office to review its operations, to identify additional cost savings, prioritize investments, and reallocate financial and human resources.
Elections Canada may nonetheless need to apply the workforce adjustment directive to deal with the projected pressure on its annual appropriations. We'll be in a better position in the fall to provide details in that regard.
I would now like to briefly describe our priorities for this fiscal year.
The 2012–13 report on plans and priorities indicates that Elections Canada would focus on two overarching priorities; these are the electoral boundaries readjustment process and improvements for electors and political entities.
In light of recent events, we have readjusted our plans, to place a major priority on strengthening measures aiming to improve compliance with the procedures and standards applicable on voting days. Our intention is threefold: first, to review the voter registration and voting process based on what transpired in Etobicoke Centre; second, to assess the effectiveness of existing checks and balances; and third, to engage key stakeholders in implementing solutions for the 2015 election. We believe this is critical, regardless of the outcome of the appeal.
Let me now turn to the electoral boundaries readjustment. The agency will continue enabling the 10 independent commissions to conduct their work in 2012-13 by providing administrative and technical support. We will also begin the preparatory work required to implement the new boundaries.
As prescribed by the legislation, Elections Canada must be ready to hold a general election using the new boundaries within seven months after the conclusion of the readjustment process, anticipated for fall 2013.
At this time, the process is on track. Commissions are planning to complete their proposals this spring and summer, and to conduct public hearings by the fall. I will continue to update parliamentarians throughout the process.
A second priority for 2012-13 is improvements in services for electors and political entities. With a fixed election date of October 2015, my office has a two-year window of opportunity to focus on selected improvements before returning to election readiness in 2014-15.
For the 2015 election, our focus is on improving convenience and accessibility for Canadians, while ensuring that the integrity of the electoral process is protected. We are considering options for expanding the use of the voter information card as proof of identity and address, as well as expanding our online voter registration service, which was launched in April.
In addition, we will look at options for establishing new locations to vote by special ballot, such as university and college campuses, and community centres serving electors with disabilities. We are also planning to conduct pilot projects to test Internet voting as well as more efficient voting processes at ordinary and advance polls.
These pilot projects require timely parliamentary approval. I will keep parliamentarians updated through the House and Senate committees responsible for electoral matters, prior to seeking approval.
I will also continue to engage key stakeholders, including the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, as these initiatives evolve.
In the case of political entities, we are pursuing our initiatives to reduce the administrative burden and improve our services to them. These initiatives include e-filing capabilities, more efficient maintenance of registration information, and improved access to demographic data by polling division.
As Elections Canada implements measures related to fiscal restraint, it remains committed to offering career development opportunities and improving succession planning.
Lastly, we are preparing to move to a new facility in Gatineau and consolidate all Elections Canada offices in one location. This move is scheduled to occur in summer 2013.
In concluding, I would like to touch on a few other matters of interest to the committee.
First, I would like to thank the committee for its comprehensive consideration of my 2010 recommendations for legislative change. I look forward to the government's response to your report.
Second, I plan to invite the committee to Elections Canada's headquarters in the fall. This will be an occasion to provide you with an update on our key initiatives.
Finally, I would like to follow up on my previous appearance before this committee regarding the so-called robocalls affair.
During my appearance on March 29, I informed the committee that we had at that time received over 800 complaints regarding alleged fraudulent calls made during the 41st general election. The total as of this week is now over 1,100 complaints. However, the number of new complaints is declining considerably.
I also indicated during my last appearance that I would provide you with a report at the end of the fiscal year. I would like to speak briefly to the nature and scope of that report, which is not dependent on the progress or outcome of the investigation.
The purpose of this report will be to suggest improvements to the Canada Elections Act in order to deal with a number of issues relating to new technologies and social media, as well as to all political entities that communicate with electors during a general election. Among other things, it will address issues such as voter contacts, either through automated or live calls, and whether, and if so to what extent, these communications need to be regulated.
As for the investigation, I can confirm that it is ongoing and remains a priority for the commissioner. However, until the investigation has been concluded, I am not in a position to provide additional information to the committee.
I remain mindful that the committee had previously asked that I appear in June to provide a follow-up on this matter. While I am available, if the committee so wishes, I believe an appearance at this time would be premature, as it is unlikely that I will be in a position to provide any additional information on the investigation.
On this, Mr. Chair, I would like to thank you. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Preston. It's a pleasure to be here today.
It is a pleasure to be here before you again, this time to present the House of Commons main estimates for 2012-13.
The main estimates total $445,935,033 for this fiscal year. This represents an increase of approximately $4.2 million or 0.97% over fiscal year 2011-12. As you would expect, all items included in the main estimates were presented to you, and approved by the Board of Internal Economy on November 28, 2011. The House administration conducted a stringent review of requirements in preparation for these main estimates prior to presenting them to the board.
For reference purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes from fiscal year 2011-12 to fiscal year 2012-13.
I will now go over the increases, nil increases and reductions with you according to three major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; and employee benefit plans.
To begin, let's go over the board's decisions with regard to the budgets for members, House officers, and presiding officers. As you may recall, last fiscal year the board decided to continue adopting the restraints introduced in the 2010 federal budget. As such, members' office budgets, including supplements as well as House officers' and presiding officers' budgets, remained at the 2009-10 levels.
For the current fiscal year, budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers have seen increases in some areas and decreases in others.
The board approved permanent funding of over $3 million via the main estimates for 2012-13 and subsequent years to reflect contributions to the retiring allowances and retirement compensation arrangements accounts for members of Parliament. The MPRA and the RCA are non-discretionary statutory accounts. The MPRA account is established to provide pension benefits to eligible members of Parliament who contributed to the plan. The RCA account is established to provide for benefits with respect to pension credits accrued by members of Parliament that are not payable out of the MPRA account.
The cost to the House of Commons for contributions to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board based on actuarial calculations. As per the Treasury Board policy with respect to members' pension accounts, regular actuarial reviews are conducted by the Chief Actuary of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to assess these accounts and adjust contributions as needed. Some of the factors taken into account during reviews include increases to the salaries of members, the likelihood of members retiring, the rate of return on the retirement accounts, the number of pensioners, and longevity improvement factors.
Next, the board approved permanent funding of $1.3 million via the main estimates for 2012-13 and subsequent years to offset rising travel costs under the Travel Points System.
As you know, the Travel Points System ensures that all members have access to the same travel resources regardless of their constituency's location. Each fiscal year, members are allocated 64 travel points. Transportation costs for these trips are charged to a House administration central budget.
Travel under the travel point system is a non-discretionary statutory expense, as per the Parliament of Canada Act, which states in subsection 63.(1):
||For each session of Parliament, there shall be allowed to every member of each House of Parliament such actual moving, transportation, travel and telecommunication expenses as that House may, by order, prescribe.
Previous budgets were not sufficient to cover rising travel costs. In the past, a portion of the in-year operating surplus from other budgets within the statutory funding envelope was used to offset the shortfalls related to the travel point system. These surplus funds are no longer available. The cost of travel, and in particular air travel, has increased in recent years due to a number of factors beyond our control. The additional funding for the travel point system addresses these increased costs.
A budget increase of $1.2 million was approved to cover additional requirements for other personnel costs for members' and House officers' employees. Other personnel costs are a non-discretionary expenditure for which the employer is responsible. They include such elements as lump-sum vacation pay, severance pay, termination benefits, and maternity and parental leave. In this case, the budget increase is required because of an increase in payments related to the number of maternity and parental leave claims, termination and severance pay, as well as lump-sum vacation pay.
The board also approved additional permanent funding of $828,000 to align the funding for members' office budgets and members' travel status expenses account allocations with the budget allocations that are provided to members. Over the years, members' office budgets and members' travel status expenses account allocations did not match the funding requested through the main estimates because allocations were higher than the funding. Recent budgetary restraint measures have left these budgets virtually unchanged since 2009-2010, which has resulted in budgetary constraints.
Moving on to the revised elector supplement allocations, the board approved permanent funding of $452,000 via the main estimates for 2012-2013. In subsequent years the revised elector supplement allocation is based on the final number of electors published by the Chief Electoral Officer. Members who represent densely populated constituencies receive an elector supplement that remains in effect for the duration of a Parliament. This graduated supplement is added to the basic budget when there are at least 70,000 electors on the final list of electors for the constituency.
The official electoral list published following the May 2011 general election shows that 60 constituencies are eligible for either a new or a revised elector supplement.
Now, I would like to go over a few reductions to the budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers.
There's been in a decrease of $76,000 in salaries for House officers due to the reduction in the number of recognized parties following the general election on May 2, 2011. This amount also includes an adjustment to the annual motor vehicle allowance for the Speaker and the Leader of the Official Opposition, in accordance with the Parliament of Canada Act. House officers' budgets were also reduced by $3.8 million. The budgets were established for all parties based on the results of the May 2, 2011 general election, in accordance with the formula approved by the Board of Internal Economy.
Next I would like to go over a few items relating to the House administration.
In February 2011 the board approved temporary funding of $786,000 for fiscal year 2011-2012 and nearly $4 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 for the 127th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, to be held in Quebec City in October 2012. That amounts to a total of nearly $4.8 million in funding, which is shared under the usual 30-70 cost-sharing arrangement between the Senate and the House of Commons. The board also approved the carryover of any remaining funds from fiscal year 2011-2012 to fiscal year 2012-2013. The IPU General Assembly is the main statutory body that expresses the views of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on parliamentary and political issues. It meets twice a year, in the spring and fall, and brings together more than 1,500 parliamentary delegates to study international problems and recommend actions.
It is quite the honour to be a host nation, as the political, economic and cultural benefits of hosting an IPU Assembly are significant. For Canada, it will serve to underscore our long-standing commitment to the principles of parliamentary democracy, help reinforce bilateral and multilateral partnerships, and showcase Canada's rich cultural heritage and diversity. The Parliament of Canada has previously hosted IPU assemblies in 1925, 1965 and 1985.
In December 2010 the board approved permanent salary funding of $18,000 required for the House of Commons page program for fiscal year 2010-2011 and subsequent years. The increase in the annual allocation for pages is needed to ensure that the program remains competitive and capable of attracting the most qualified candidates from all regions of the country. The annual page compensation will increase by $468, from $12,890 to $13,358, an amount equal to the average increases in tuition at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. A review of this provision will take place at the end of fiscal year 2015-2016. For 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the decision was made to fund the increase internally.
Going back to December 2010 again, the board approved temporary funding of $98,000 for fiscal 2011-2012 to implement the occupational health and safety and workplace safety and insurance claims management system, as well as permanent funding of $45,000 for fiscal year 2012-2013 and subsequent years for the support and maintenance of the system. During 2011-2012 the project team completed the request-for-proposal process and retained the required resources to develop the system with the temporary funding of $53,000.
The deployment of the Occupational Health and Safety/Workplace Safety and Insurance Claims Management System will take place during the 2012-13 fiscal year. The last item under the House administration theme is the Members' Financial Portal. There is a reduction of $220 thousand for fiscal year 2012-13 for that item.
Again, back in December 2010 the board approved temporary funding of $299,000 for fiscal year 2011-12 to implement the first phase of the members' financial portal, as well as permanent funding of $79,000 for fiscal year 2012-13 and subsequent years for one full-time equivalent position.
The first phase of the members' financial portal was developed and launched by the House administration accounting officers in the fall of 2011. The pilot portion was initiated at the beginning of March 2012 with ten participating members. The intention is to progressively deploy the first phase of the financial portal to all members in the coming months.
The last item I'd like to discuss is employee benefit plans. EBPs are a non-discretionary statutory expenditure that applies to salary expenditures. For fiscal year 2012-13 the Treasury Board Secretariat has adjusted the annual rate for employer EBP contributions from 18% to 17.6%. That amounts to a reduction of more than $1.1 million for the current fiscal year. EBP contributions include the following costs to the employer: the public service superannuation plan; CPP and QPP; death benefits; and employment insurance accounts.
This concludes the overview of the House of Commons' main estimates for 2012-13. I believe these main estimates aptly represent the House of Commons' commitment to sound resource management.
The clerk and I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.