Thank you. It's always a pleasure to be in front of my favourite committee. Thanks for having me.
I am pleased to be here today, along with Mr. Marc Bosc, Acting Clerk of the House of Commons, and Mr. Mark Watters, Chief Financial Officer.
We are also joined by the other members of the House Administration's executive management team: Mr. André Gagnon, Acting Deputy Clerk of the House of Commons; Mr. Soufiane Ben Moussa, Chief Technology Officer; Mr. Louis Lefebvre, Director, IT Operations and Services; Mr. Richard Denis, Deputy Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel; Mr. Pierre Parent, Chief Human Resources Officer; and Mr. Kevin Vickers, Sergeant-at-Arms.
Today I will be presenting the House of Commons supplementary estimates (B) for 2014-15. These proposed supplementary estimates for the House of Commons total $15,913,000. I would like to note at the outset of this discussion that all items included in the supplementary estimates (B) were presented to and approved by the Board of Internal Economy.
For reference purposes, you have received the document showing the appropriations. The first line item is for $10,307,000 in funding in accordance with the carry-forward policy. This policy, which has been in place since 1995, allows members, House officers, and the House administration, to carry forward lapsed funds into the new fiscal year up to a maximum of 5% of the previous year's main estimates voted authorities. The ability to carry funds forward increases budgetary flexibility, reduces the pressure to spend at year-end, and provides an incentive to underspend budgets. The House of Commons carry-forward policy is similar to that of the federal government, except that for the House of Commons, unlike the case for federal departments, funding for the carry-forward must be obtained through the supplementary estimates and not from the Treasury Board.
The second item allocates $3,820,000 towards enhancing transparency through the Members' Expenditures Report.
Further to approving quarterly reporting and an enhanced reporting format for 2014-2015, at its meeting of April 7, 2014, the board decided that members' travel expenses incurred under the travel points system, as well as hospitality expenses, be reported in a manner similar to the ministerial-style proactive disclosure used by the Government of Canada.
As a result, the second-quarter report of 2014-2015, which will be published in December of this year, will include the names of travellers (except for dependants), the departure dates (except for regular travel points), the points of departure, the destinations, the purposes of travel, the numbers and types of points used, the total costs of transportation, as well as accommodation and per diem expenses for all regular and special trips charged against the travel points system.
For hospitality expenses, the report will include the dates, types, purposes and locations of the events, the suppliers, the number of guests, and the costs of the events. All subsequent quarterly reports will also contain these disclosures.
Increasing the disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses to the standards currently used by ministers involves significant system changes and business process improvements for members, their staff, and the House administration. The additional funding will also be used for resources to expand claim processing and verification, as well as for monthly and quarterly reconciliation processes, to respond to additional inquiries from members' offices, and to provide more assistance and training to members and their staff.
Increasing transparency has been a priority of the Board of Internal Economy for some time, and the board remains committed to finding ways in which we can continue to improve.
The next line in the amount of $1,616,000 involves severance pay for some House administration employees, more specifically the procedural clerks and analysis and reference group, which is the last bargaining unit to reach an agreement. In the summer of 2011, the Treasury Board informed the House of Commons of its intention to eliminate the accumulation of severance benefits for voluntary departures. It requested that all federal departments, crown corporations, and separate employers, including the House, address this issue with their staff. The board accordingly decided to adopt the same approach to voluntary departures.
This decision eliminates the accumulation of severance benefits, and presents employees with three options: to immediately cash out their severance, to retain the previously accumulated weeks of severance to be paid out upon resignation or retirement, or to cash out a portion of severance with the remainder to be paid upon departure.
As such, additional funding was sought through the supplementary estimates (B) in order to account for the cash-out of these benefits. As per Treasury Board directives, unlike federal departments, funding for severance cash-outs for the House of Commons must be obtained through the supplementary estimates
The final line item is funding of $170,000 for the 24th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum. The APPF is a conference for parliamentarians representing the 27 member countries of the Asia-Pacific region as well as parliamentarians from eight observer countries and members of the diplomatic corps of these countries.
According to an established rotation, Canada was expected to host in 2017, 20 years after hosting its last annual meeting. However, given that many events are planned across the country for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, Canada was able to negotiate with other member countries to allow a deviation from the normal rotation. As a result, Canada was invited to host the conference in Vancouver in 2016. This conference is an excellent opportunity to showcase Canada, foster parliamentary diplomacy, and advance Canadian objectives internationally. Funding in 2014-15 will be used to initiate the planning process for the 2016 conference.
This concludes my overview of the House of Commons supplementary estimates (B) for 2014-2015.
At this time, we would be happy to answer your questions.
If I may, I have one quick question.
During my time at Queen's Park I served on a speaker's security committee to do exactly what we're doing here now, and that's to review all of the security. One of the things we did was visit here on Parliament Hill.
Again, we had the same issue, though instead of the RCMP it was OPP and the Queen's Park security people. But there's a third component to that. In that case it was the Toronto Police. As we saw on October 22, when all hell breaks loose, all three components are now moving parts and interacting together.
Number one, can you speak to how well that worked or didn't work on October 22? Secondly, what's some of the thinking is right now about incorporating that third piece. If you're dealing with something happening here on the Hill, you can't leave it to only the Hill security folks inside the building and the RCMP on the immediate grounds. It has to involve the Ottawa city police because we're now into city streets, city property right outside the Hill. Could you comment on that sort of third component of the security pieces that come to bear to protect the Hill?
Times are changing in 2014, Mr. Christopherson. I was just over to Israel to attend an Israeli national police conference on these types of issues.
It seems to me we always think there are one, two, three, or four services doing the Hill. In fact the Americans, for example, are finding that's the reality no matter where they are. All the different agencies—the FBI, Homeland Security, and the municipal police force—have mandated roles.
Now, instead of that old question, “Who's in charge?”, the trend in security is shifting to an emergency management cell, where you have the police leaders of each respective agency in a cell working together and being able to respond.
On that day in question our director general of security, Pat McDonnell, very shortly established very close relationships with the Ottawa city police, who were also allowed to come into the building. The RCMP and the RCMP command site out on St. Joseph were all activated very quickly. When you get into these types of situations it's what we term now a management cell where you have the leaders of each jurisdiction next to one another working in collaboration in a seamless manner and dealing with these issues.