We have a very busy day today. We have witnesses right away for the main estimates; then we have another set of witnesses for our study; and then we'll be studying the plan for the question of privilege at the end.
This is meeting number 17 of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, for the first session of the 42nd Parliament. It's being held in public. Our business today is the main estimates, 2016-17, vote 1 under the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer; followed by witnesses for our study on initiatives toward a family-friendly House of Commons; and finally some committee business, primarily on the motion of privilege.
I'd like to welcome our witnesses here. Today we have a good visitor whom we see all the time, Mr. Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer, along with Hughes St-Pierre, chief financial and planning officer, integrated services, policy and public affairs; Stéphane Perrault, deputy chief electoral officer of regulatory affairs; Michel Roussel, deputy chief electoral officer of electoral events; and Belaineh Deguefé, the deputy chief electoral officer, integrated services, policy and public affairs.
Thank you all for coming. We can go to your opening remarks.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to discuss the 2016-17 main estimates for my office.
I am pleased to be here with my officials to meet with committee members for the first time during the 42nd Parliament, and I wish to congratulate all members on their recent election to the House of Commons. I will keep my remarks brief in order for committee members to have time for questions.
Today, the committee is studying and voting on my office's annual appropriation, which is $29.2 million. This represents the salaries of approximately 339 indeterminate positions. Combined with our statutory authority, which funds all other expenditures under the Canada Elections Act, our 2016-17 main estimates total $98.5 million.
During this fiscal year, Elections Canada will continue to wrap up the 42nd general election. Two of our major tasks are to audit the financial returns of political entities and issue reimbursements of election expenses, as well as to complete a series of post-election reports.
The agency is currently processing the financial returns of candidates, while political party returns for the general election are due on June 20. Despite the high number of candidates who registered for the election—more than 1,800 in total—we remain confident that we will be able to complete the audits in accordance with our service standards. This means audits will be completed before August 19 on all returns that are eligible for a reimbursement, that were filed using the electronic financial returns software within the original four-month deadline, and that contain no errors requiring an amendment. The remaining audits will be completed in the 12 months thereafter.
As members are aware, my first report on the conduct of the 42nd general election was tabled by the Speaker of the House and referred to this committee on February 5. This report is a factual and chronological description of key events during the election.
My second report, to be published this summer, will present a more in-depth retrospective of the election. Informed by a number of surveys, studies and post-mortems, it will provide a review of the election experiences of electors and political entities. It will also include the findings from the independent audit of poll worker performance and Elections Canada's response.
The conclusions and lessons learned in the retrospective report will act as a bridge to recommendations for legislative changes. I will be recommending specific changes to improve the administration of the Canada Elections Act in a report early this fall.
While wrapping up the election, we are also developing a new strategic plan to guide the agency forward based on our post-election studies and stakeholder feedback. The plan's core focus is on modernizing the electoral process to make it simpler, more effective, and more convenient and flexible for voters, while also preserving the integrity of the process.
With a majority government in place, as well as a fixed election date of October 21, 2019, there is an opportunity now to bring the electoral process, currently anchored in the 19th century, in line with contemporary Canadian expectations. My office is committed to ensuring that our services better align with those expectations in the 43rd general election. A key focus of the agency's plan is to modernize voting services by introducing technology at advance and election day polls and for voting at returning offices and by mail.
We can carry out some aspects of modernization under the current legal framework, but other aspects may require legislative changes. For example, currently electors can only vote at their designated table within a polling station. To create a more fluid and simpler process, I will be recommending legislative amendments that reorganize the duties and functions of various poll workers, enabling electors to vote at any table in their polling place. I intend to engage the committee as we advance on this initiative.
In moving forward with our plans, we remain mindful that Parliament may undertake a review of the electoral system. We will ensure that any new processes we develop will be able to accommodate any legislative changes that result from such a review. In this light, another important element of our strategic plan is to support parliamentarians with technical advice during this process as required.
I look forward to providing committee members with more detailed information on Elections Canada's plans for electoral services modernization at our informal meeting on May 3.
I want to thank you, again, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to discuss the 2016-17 main estimates for my office. My colleagues and I are happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Just to give you a pre-warning, we may have to reschedule your other presentation again, but we'll talk about that later.
I welcome to the committee Mr. Mark Strahl and Rémi Massé, and two Yukoners sitting at the back.
We'll go, for the first round of questioning, to David Graham.
I wanted to turn to your report on plans and priorities, page 7. Under the topic of risk analysis, you discuss two things that are of considerable interest to me, as they relate to the electoral reform issue, changes to the voting system. Of course, my party has consistently advocated holding a referendum on this subject. You indicate that you are not currently able to hold a referendum, and that you would require a minimum of six months to do so.
Is it the case that, additionally, legislative changes would be required? I mention this now because my impression, Mr. Mayrand, is that the government is trying to run out the clock so it can say, “Oh, we have this promise; we must change the electoral system, but we are out of time for a referendum.” I want to make sure that no impediments that they can throw out are available to them as excuses—suddenly to discover, “Oh, if only we had thought of this”.
In addition to the six months that you mention would be required for the administration of a referendum, are there any other impediments that you would face? For example, is there a need to change our referendum legislation, that sort of thing?
Right. I am assuming that you are capable of moving in the initial direction without our formal authorization. May I encourage you to try to do as much of that as you can? While this is a contingency that the government has not indicated it favours, they have also been very careful, if you look at the minister's comments, never to actually say it is absolutely, 100% ruled out. I would like to ensure that if they decide to do it—or if they want to pretend that they are willing to do it—they have no option but to actually follow through. I would strongly recommend that any updates required from your end be done so as not to let yourself become the reason why we are not having one, at least on paper.
We have two minutes left, and I wanted to ask you about potential changes to the electoral system. Another concern I've had is that the government will run out the clock to the point where the only changes to the electoral system that are still possible prior to the 2019 election are ones that involve no redistribution, and of course both MMP and STV would require a redistribution.
The question is, how long would it take to engage the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act? I assume an amendment would be required to allow it to happen out of the normal sequence, but how long would the actual process take? Then we can figure out, from our end, how much time is required to amend the legislation, before that time, in order to allow the 2019 deadline to be met.
I use these points deliberately as a segue into my next question.
Chair, I'm going to ask your indulgence to at least allow me to place the question, but I accept and respect the fact that no government member has to answer. I think I'm entitled to at least ask the question, through you. I hope you will allow it.
With that, and I'm not trying to put any colleagues on the spot, is there a government member who can help the rest of us understand what the government's thinking is around the reforms? The government has said that it's going to strike a special legislative committee to deal with this, and yet Monsieur Mayrand comes in after every election. This would now be my fifth time going through this process. And there's going to be a whole host of changes, and I guarantee you, it's a lot of work. Indeed, Chair, we will need to set up a lot of time for this if we're going to be the ones who do it. It's a very complex procedure. It's fun because we all tend to work together to try to find fairness, as opposed to winning an argument, but it's still a lot of work.
My question for the government members is, given that this work is going to come, and my experience tells me that's a very all-inclusive, encompassing process, how does that link up with the government's plan to do a complete revamp of the whole electoral system?
We have two initiatives happening. One clearly comes here, but how does this special committee link into this work, and is it going to link in? We don't want to do the same thing in two different places, I wouldn't think. That wouldn't get us anywhere. Where's it going to go? Is it going to reside with us? However, that doesn't make sense to me from a common-sense point of view. If the government is going to set up a special committee to look at everything, it seems to me that we, as the procedure and House affairs committee, might want to consider handing this off to them, if they're willing to accept it, if they're going to become the experts in this Parliament on this.
I have those those kinds of general questions, Chair. I put them out there, and I respect that the government members are under no obligation to answer, but if they can provide any guidance or enlightenment, that would be helpful.
Fair enough. That's fine. I accept that. I appreciate your responding to me.
I also wanted to tie in, with whatever time I have left, to where Mr. Reid was going. It may not be for the same purpose, but I think the process that we're looking for is the same.
Mr. Reid has been clear. They're pushing for the referendum. He was upfront about that. I'm upfront about the fact that we believe big time in proportional representation. We know the government has a favoured model, but they're going to have a bit of a problem because the whole country knows that it would skew the system in their favour, and being fair-minded folks, they wouldn't want to be stuck with that label.
I still think there's hope for proportional representation. I truly do. Is there enough time, though, for us to do a complete revamp?
We'll leave the referendum piece out for now because Mr. Reid has asked some questions on that.
By the way, Chair, a few Parliaments ago there were some of us here who spent the better part of a couple of years going through the Referendum Act and bringing in experts. I'm just saying there's a whole baseline of fairly accurate in-depth information from constitutional experts, and there are Mr. Mayrand's thoughts, and his people's thoughts.
The work is there, Chair, if we end up going down that road, but is there enough time right now for us to revamp the whole system, completely redesign it, and have it ready for the next election?
What we're looking for obviously, and I'm not trying to trap you—I wouldn't dream of trying—is the trigger point. Once we get past a certain point it's not going to be practical. We share the concerns of Mr. Reid.
What would be the time needed to do a complete revamp, such as you've heard some of us talking about, in your best estimation, sir?
Again, just to be clear, the commissioner's office was moved from Elections Canada to the DPP office. It is reporting through the DPP and through the Attorney General. It's not an office of Parliament, so it doesn't report directly to Parliament. That's one thing.
The other thing is that in terms of the effectiveness, the commissioner is still independent and has the resources to carry out investigations. I think one of the things he has repeatedly said is that it would considerably make investigations more effective and more timely if he had the power to compel witnesses, with full respect and due respect for the Charter of Rights, of course, as it exists for the federal bodies that do have the power to compel.
In future recommendations to this Parliament, we will go back and look at some of the offences and some of the mechanisms to ensure compliance. One of the considerations is that there are many, many offences that are technical and do not warrant the full load of a criminal investigation. I think that filing a return late by a month is an offence; I'm not sure it warrants a full-load investigation of that matter.
We're going to come back and propose some alternatives to enforcement mechanisms in due course.
Good morning, Mr. Mayrand.
Since I am a new parliamentarian, my questions may be very straightforward. I will put them to you.
I was wondering what the biggest challenges were for your organization during the latest election. I am well aware that you will publish another report in a few months, but perhaps you could give me a general overview of the challenges you faced.
I identified two major risks prior to the election.
The first one had to do with technology, as we made many technological changes during the last election. That risk was managed well, and there were no material consequences on the election. The other risk had to do with potential confusion among voters given the many changes made to the Elections Act and numerous public debates that I feel may have created confusion. I am talking about identification rules, among other things. Generally speaking, I think we managed to use our education and advertising programs to inform the electors, but this remains a challenge. We have a complex identification system where 44 different pieces of identification can be used, as well as combinations thereof. People are often surprised that a passport is not enough to be able to vote in Canada. So there is still some confusion, but things went fairly well, generally speaking. The electors understood the situation.
As I mentioned, according to the preliminary studies—and we have not yet completed our analyses—it is clear that some groups of voters are more affected. I am thinking of young people, among others. The Statistics Canada survey seems to indicate that mostly young people had difficulty meeting the requirements in terms of identification and proof of address. Aboriginals also had problems with that. Therefore, some groups are more affected than the rest of Canadians.
We would be looking under STV at ridings that are about four or five times the size—that's typical of STV, four- or five-member ridings—that they are now. If it's MMP, they'd probably be twice the size they are now. That gives a rough idea.
Okay, so we're not sure, but it would be some amount of time. I said about a month. Maybe that's unreasonably short.
For implementation, you indicated it would take six months. I'm going backwards: September, August.... Now we're at February 2019. Seventeen months of design puts it back to, I think, about October—maybe it's November—of 2016. The legislation that we need to set up the new system, including a change to the redistribution act, I'm assuming would take six months. Thus, we're now back to the end of the spring of 2017.
You can see what I'm trying to do: I'm trying to figure out when we have to have some kind of proposal moving forward to make sure it can actually happen, or else we have only one possible outcome, which is a preferential ballot in a single-member district.
Have I missed anything? Does that cover all the different things that have to be accomplished in order to actually have an STV or an MMP in place for 2019?
Exactly. Again, that's another interesting aspect that we would need to look at, subject to the type of reform that takes place.
Australia is a good example: ballots have to be brought back to counting centres. We don't have that in Canada. Ballots are counted at the polls where the vote took place. Again, there's a delay. Just as an example, getting back some ballot boxes from Nunavut took over three weeks this time around. It was not general in that riding, but, again, because of weather and all sorts of circumstances, they were delayed. That's the sort of thing that we, at Elections Canada, need to be concerned about and find the best way to deal with those kinds of issues. That explained a bit the time that's required to assess the best process possible and be ready to implement it.
We need to expand electronic services across the board—including for candidates, honestly. I don't see any reason in this day and age that a candidate cannot file their campaign return electronically. I think that should be a given, but it's not yet, unfortunately.
In terms of the polls—and we'll have further discussion on these things—we certainly would look to bring what we call “live lists” at the polls. You have the electronic lists available at the polls. That means that someone who is showing up at the poll shows a voter ID card. The card is scanned, their name is struck out of the list immediately, and automatically it's valid across the country, so that person cannot show up somewhere else later during the day. As a result of that, they get their ballot. We could consider entering them into a tabulator, so, again, the results would be instant on election night. Mind you, it doesn't take very long, as we speak, in our current system.
The other thing that we need to look at is automating procedures. If you have voted at an advance poll, you know that electors, when they show up, have to prove their ID, etc. Then their name has to be searched in a big paper document, and they have to enter the name and address and they have to sign. There's no reason in this day and age that it still needs to happen this way. We would be looking at automation. There are good reasons that controls are in place: to ensure that the vote is reliable. However, but I think there are big opportunities for automation and better service at the polls.
We need to reduced lineups. I think that was an issue at advance polls because more and more Canadians went to vote at advance polls. We need to find ways of alleviating the procedural burden that is in place at advance polls.
Well, a simple thing like getting rid of the register of electors at advance polls needs a change to the act. This is the level of prescription that exists in the legislation. It's the act that requires the elector to sign the register at advance polls. Automation there cannot take place without some sorts of amendments.
We also need to be able to reorganize the work at the poll. Currently the model is anchored on a ballot box, and two officers controlling that ballot box at all times. The officer cannot move around, even though it's busier next door, and electors cannot move around. Even though all the other tables are free, they still have to wait for their turn. I think we can reorganize the work differently so that we specialize tasks, which would allow more flexibility for electors to move around, and also more flexibility for officials to go where the bulk of the work is happening during the day. Again, at advance polls, I think the most telling image we have is of people all lined up at a single table. We need to get rid of that image, hopefully for the 43rd election.
There are a few things here. We did work with some 50 organizations during this election, including, yes, the AFN. With each of the organizations, all the contractual arrangements required that they be independent and impartial during the election. Yes, their members could have very different political views, like any organization, but the organization itself had no particular leaning.
The other thing is that with those organizations, not necessarily trying.... I don't want to take responsibility for turnout. But they work to make sure that electors, Canadians, whatever their conditions are, have the information they need if they wish to vote. There are certain groups that are less likely to be registered, so we make efforts to help those groups around registration. Some groups face challenges with identification, so we make sure they know what their options are if they show up at the poll.
The AFN was basically maintaining a call centre to chiefs across the country, informing them of the tools available to inform their people about how, where, and when to vote.
In our next report, I think you will see what Canadians have been telling us about the electoral process.
We already can see that Canadians increasingly want to move when and where they are ready. We've seen over the last few decades a significant increase of voter turnout at advance polls. This was initially set up as an exception, and now it's becoming increasingly the norm. This time around, 25% of all Canadian voters showed up at advance polls. That's telling us something. I cannot keep the same system at advance polls, which is billed as an exception, when an increasing bulk of electors want to use that option. Similarly, we had a 117% increase in voting by mail—in this day and age, yes. This is a channel that Canadians want to use, so I have to make sure that the channel works effectively in that regard. Canadians are increasingly upset—I mentioned it a few times now already—when they show up at the gymnasium and have to wait in line while all the other tables are free. Again, it adds up very quickly. We estimate that serving an electorate at an advance poll takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes. If you have 10 people ahead of you, and you're the eleventh, imagine the time it takes. If you see three or four tables that are free, why can't you go to them? If I show up at any store—Walmart in this country—I'll go to the checkout that is available. Why can I not do that? That's my experience as a citizen, as a consumer; I can go where I can get the fastest service.
Those expectations will be articulated better by Canadians themselves through the various studies that we've carried out in the last several months. You will be able to see them and all the background documentation there sometime in June, I hope.
Let me simply thank you, Mr. Mayrand, and your staff for your professionalism.
I really have no substantive questions with respect to the main estimates.
I want to get back to some of the issues that Mr. Reid was raising. I share a lot of his concerns, frankly, with respect to my party and our government's aggressive timetable for potential electoral reform, in particular, our commitment to ending the first-past-the-post system by 2019. It gets back to the beginning of your earlier comments about the strategic planning process for your organization, and whether you have modelled out all of the potential scenarios and can give this committee a sense of the potential estimated costs, depending ultimately on what Parliament decides with respect to an electoral reform model that will be advanced. You've given us a sense of some of the timelines but also the necessary resources, particularly in terms of sufficient fiscal appropriation, to deal with all of these potential scenarios. Are you already thinking about that within your organization, within your strategic planning process, to deal with that? I suspect that we're talking about some potentially significant sums of money.
I see the clock. I will keep this brief.
How obscene it is, though, that changes to our electoral system have to be approved by the place where they knock on one door once for life.
Speaking to the vote, the actual estimates—the reason you're here—does the $29.2 million you're seeking support for in vote 1 in the main estimates speak to your operational budget? Is that correct—it's not your election budget?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you are actually one of the few entities in government with access to unlimited money during the course of an election. If you need to spend it, you're accountable for it, but you have the authority to spend it. Do I have it right, sir?
We'll go to the vote now.
||Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$29,212,735
(Vote 1 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall I report the vote on the main estimates, less the amount granted in interim supply, to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Mayrand, for the great job you do during elections. It's unbiased and very professional. We certainly appreciate it, and I think Canadians appreciate it. We have confidence that it's done very professionally and that their vote counts that way.
Thank you very much.
We'll let you know when we may have rescheduled your next meeting to. We're discussing that later today, actually.
We'll break for a couple of minutes.
If the new witnesses could come to the table, that would be great.
I'd like to welcome our witnesses for our study to make Parliament more efficient, more inclusive of everyone representing Canada, and more family-friendly and friendly to the employees and the MPs, so that it's best for everyone's family and people who have inclusivity challenges. Hopefully you'll be helping us with that.
Our witnesses today, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), for our study of initiatives toward a family-friendly House are Thomas Shannon, president of Local 232 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Canada, and Mélisa Ferreira and Tara Hogeterp, representatives of Local 232. Then, from the Public Service Alliance of Canada we have Roger Thompson, president of Local 70390 and, for moral support, Jim McDonald, labour relations officer from the Union of National Employees.
We'll start with opening statements and after that we'll have rounds of seven minutes of questioning, which includes both the questions and the answers. We'll get as much in as we can.
Let us start with Mr. Shannon.
Thank you for this invitation. I am happy to be appearing before you today on behalf of the union that represents all the workers of the New Democratic Party here, on Parliament Hill, and in ridings.
We have a collective agreement with the NDP caucus that provides fair pay and flexible working hours.
I have with me today two mothers who have worked on the Hill and in the constituency for parliamentarians, and so from their experience they should be able to inform the committee's study of initiatives towards a family-friendly House of Commons.
I will now yield the floor to Tara Hogeterp.
Hi. My name is Tara Hogeterp. I've worked on the Hill since 2003, and in that time I've had two children. I was very grateful to have the ability to take a full year of maternity leave and be able to return to the Hill and continue my career.
Finding child care in Ottawa can be very challenging, and I appreciated having the ability to request additional leave without pay to coincide with the availability of a child care space. Both of my children attended day cares off the Hill and the Children on the Hill Day Care. The Hill day care does not accommodate children under 18 months, and therefore alternative child care is needed, if and when a spot becomes available, for your child.
Most day cares and after school programs in the Ottawa area have set pickup and drop-off times. Having working hours that allow me to drop off and pick up my child at the end of the day is crucial.
My colleague, Mélisa, will now share her experience.
I have been working on the Hill since 2011. From 2011 to 2015, I worked in a constituency office and, in this new Parliament, I have been working in Ottawa. My husband also works at the House of Commons. In 2013, we had twins. I went on maternity leave for a year, and then I returned to work at an MP's constituency office.
A flexible schedule is a must in my case, since the daycare my children attend closes very early, at 4:30 p.m. On the other hand, committee activities often wrap up very late. For example, the member I work for sat on the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. The committee's schedule was very condensed, and meetings were held in the evening.
Parents who are both working on the Hill face major challenges. As young children are often sick, we have to miss work. The fact that we are protected by a collective agreement greatly contributes to our peace of mind. We know that we are not at risk of losing our job because we have to miss work regularly.
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. We thank you for having us here.
I'm the local president of the UNE-PSAC, representative of all UNE-PSAC members employed by the House of Commons and at parliamentary protective services, the PPS group, which includes approximately 450 employees in total.
We represent House of Commons employees under four separate bargaining units: the operations sector, which includes material handling, maintenance and trades, transportation, messenger services, printing and mailing services, and food services; postal services; reporting and text processing; and the scanners department.
I'm accompanied today by Jim McDonald, a UNE labour relations officer who is assigned to assist and represent all UNE members employed by the House of Commons, as well as the scanners who are employed by parliamentary protective services.
My question is for Ms. Ferreira and Ms. Hogeterp.
I'm a former political staffer myself. I've heard from a number of staff that when they have kids, one of the things that is most important is predictability. For instance, we've been talking here in this committee about a compressed work week and potentially not having members sit on Fridays.
I have heard some of the staff saying that it would allow them a day of the week where they know that the member is not going to be dragging them to meetings, or running in the door urgently because there's a media request or something. They could then plan doctor's appointments for their kids, or the things that they need to do, on those Fridays. This would give more flexibility for parents who are on the Hill.
Has that been your experience? What would you think about that model?
When I look at the political staff on the Hill, I often see that many of them are young and many of them are single. There are not that many who have families.
In my own experience I've seen a number of political staff who, as soon as they started families, actually left the work on the Hill and went to work in other fields where they had more predictable hours.
Do you think there's a form of self-selection amongst people who choose to work in this field, where people who do have young families are choosing not to because of the hours? Are there ways we might be able to alleviate that, to make it easier, so that people with young families would be more inclined to work on the Hill?
I think this varies from one individual to the next.
Some people realize that it is difficult to balance work and family. I am lucky to have family members in the region, and my parents pick up the slack. My husband, who also works at the House of Commons, has flexibility that I don't have with my MP. Our schedule is actually planned out weeks in advance in terms of who is picking up the children and at what time, who is booking appointments, and so on.
It really depends on the person. I think it is possible to raise a young family while working in Parliament. We can be parliamentary assistants, MPs or legislative assistants on the Hill, but that requires a great deal of organization.
Well, I think what is different about us is—you're right—we are the only ones who are unionized. What that means is we have a collective agreement that we signed with the NDP caucus. It outlines flexible working hours and how much time you can take off.
It is a clear document that allows young mothers and young fathers to be able to look at it and say, “Okay, these are the hours that I must do. This is how I can be accommodated.” They can sit down with the NDP caucus to make sure that young families...because we do have quite a few young families. We have young staff and I know both the other parties have young staff.
I think it makes a difference in that there is clarity, and you can plan for the future knowing that you're not going to lose your job over the fact that your child is sick. Things can be planned out. The big difference is the clear rules that we have outlined in negotiations with management.
One of the things that's going to come up with a compressed work week is that your going to elongate the days, I presume. Then people are going to work longer days, which is going to impact both their family life and their work life. They'll be required to work an additional three or four hours every day in order to make up the day that's been compressed.
I now work a compressed week, but it can be very difficult for people with child care. Most child-care facilities operate during daylight hours only, and most of them want the children cleared out by five, or at the latest by six o'clock in the afternoon. If you're a younger family with younger kids who are in day care, that's where we would end up going.
The other issue, of course, is the additional cost to the employer through the collective agreement, because of overtime, shift premiums, and so on.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to sit in on this committee today for this discussion.
Perhaps I have a unique perspective. I was the child of a member of Parliament. I have worked both on Parliament Hill, and in a constituency office on staff prior to my election here, so I understand, I think, where you're coming from.
I would submit to you that—and I'll get your comments on this in a minute—for staff, a compressed work week is actually the worst of all possible options. As an Ottawa-based staffer, from Monday to Thursday you are expected to be supporting your member from earlier in the morning until later at night, thus robbing you of time with your family. Then on Friday you don't get to go home. You are here to work. You are in fact extending your hours. Most members of Parliament that I know will be going home to their ridings but will still expect support from their staff.
I would submit that this is bad for staff and also for the members of Parliament who have their families here, those who have made the difficult choice to relocate their families to Ottawa. Currently, with the arrangements that our House leaders have been making, the whips have votes after question period. Last night was the first time, I think, that we've had multiple votes in the evening.
Many members have been able, with that predictability, to get home to have dinner with their families or make those arrangements that you talked about.
Perhaps I could just get your comments on your expectations. Have you spoken to your employers? In the case of the NDP staff, does your collective agreement allow for...? Maybe you could walk me through how you could possibly meet all of the requirements without a significant increase in your own personal hours.
—and cost me more money.
I would say that for families with young children, especially school-aged children, the critical time for families is between pickup and bedtime, that 5 to 7 period.
Mr. Mark Strahl: Absolutely.
Ms. Tara Hogeterp: That is the time when you find out what they've done for the day; it's the time when you have dinner together and that connection, and get them to bed.
It can be the most trying time, but it's also the most important time of your day. I would hate anyone, staff or MP, to lose out on those hours.
I want to turn to Mr. Thompson, to clarify this concerning your SCI workers, just to be clear.
It's been my understanding, having worked here and now being elected here, that there are salaried members of the House of Commons staff who are here every day, regardless of whether the House sits or not. However, there are many services that are not offered when the House of Commons is not sitting, and therefore.... For instance, the parliamentary restaurant is closed when the House is not sitting. With a compressed work week, the people in that service would not get more money, because they would not be working more hours. They would in fact take a pay cut and perhaps lose their SCI status. Am I correct in that.
Another thing you have to understand about the SCI employees is that most of them, especially in food services, have two jobs. When the House is not here, they have a second job that they rely on outside, so that they can make their money. Some of them have houses and rent to pay or mortgages to pay. When the House is here, they're working their seven hours a day. When the House is not in session, it's down to five hours, or possibly 5.5 hours; therefore, they have another job.
If somebody were to compress the workload and these employees had to work longer throughout the day, how would they pick up their kids? And if they have that second job, which they rely on, they would lose that job. Therefore, when the House is not in session, what other job do they get?
Mr. Chair, I don't know when I'll be back, but I would submit that cancelling a Friday, as the witnesses have said, will be detrimental to staff. It will cost staff more money and in fact will not result in a better work-family balance for either members or staff; in fact, it would make it worse.
One has to wonder what is really behind this motivation to cancel Fridays. I would submit that it is a 20% reduction in accountability. It is not looking to make life better for a work-family balance, because all of us know that when we go home on a Friday it is not to spend time with our families: we are expected to be working, as our staff are expected to be working.
This proposal, this trial balloon that's being floated, would actually make life worse for families, and not better.
You have the three-piece suit. You could be a union boss.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is fantastic. Tom, I never thought I would see the day when you move from over there, assisting me to do what I am doing, and now you are right here as a witness. You just never know, eh?
I want to address my comments to you, as a modern-day union boss, although you sure don't look like the caricatures they paint of union bosses, I have to tell you. You have to get a little more....
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: I am on TV here, so you get too comfortable in this role.
Seriously, I want to use my seven minutes my way. I want to ask a broader question. This is an opportunity to talk about unions, quality of life, and how it fits in. I have two things to raise.
In your words, Tom.... I say Tom because I work with him all the time, and it would be silly for us to be calling each other “Mr.”
Here we are, in 2016. A lot of people believe, first of all, that unions have no place at all in modern society. Yes, they were fine back in the Depression and after the war, but not now, in a modern circumstance, and certainly not in an office setting, let alone the kind of work that some of your members do.
Could you just take a moment of my time and talk about why the union is still relevant to your members? You are a young man. Why do you care? Why are you involved? How can a union contract, given the kind of work you...? How do you do that? Explain to people how you would take work that normally doesn't fit the usual description of unions, in the old industrial-fashion way we look at it, and comment on that.
I make no bones about it, Mr. Chair. I am hoping there are staff for all the other parties on the Hill who are listening and might say, “You know what? Talk about a quality-of-life improvement. I should be thinking about this union.” That is just part of my being full-disclosure in as sunny a way as I can.
It's over to you, Tom, if you don't mind.
Thank you very much for that, David—Mr. Christopherson.
You mentioned that unions are no longer relevant, and we hear that from certain people. In the 1800s they said that. I wasn't there, but there was an article in the 1800s that asked whether unions had served their purpose; were they done? I don't think they ever end, because the idea is that management is in charge and is trying to get things done, and we need to make sure that we come together as unionized staff to make sure we are protected and that we, first of all, do the most for our members and make sure we take care of the work we're to do in the House of Commons, because we need to be healthy and we need to be well paid and taken care of.
Moving on to your question about whether we're the same as the old industrial unions, the thing is, it's the same idea. We negotiate a contract with the NDP caucus—you might be familiar with them. We sit down and we say, here is how much is in the budget. What can we do to make sure that we are paid well so that we have retention?
Generally, in the unionized environment here the New Democratic Party staff are paid more, because we are able to negotiate collectively, rather than one on one. Obviously we know that with unions there is a wide disparity.
That keeps people in their jobs, because as they maintain seniority, they get more experience, become better as staff. I know there are actually former staff in front of me right now, and they know what it is: when you first start, you're learning the ropes, you're figuring it out, and then after five years, you have it right; you're doing a great job. Pay should be in connection with the amount of time you spend working.
But it's not just pay; it's also flexible working hours. Now, in this environment—and this is just a little outside the family-friendly theme—we have an overtime policy. When we need to work late—it happens a lot that you will be asking your staff to work late—what we do is take any time that is more than the regular work week, and we're able to use it for vacation time, for time off with our families.
Saying that, though, it is tough for young mothers or young fathers to take the actual overtime off, for the reasons they already gave in response to questions from the Liberals and Conservatives. However, it at least allows flexibility such that if you need to leave early, there's a connection with how much time you spend.
The last point is that when we're talking about the Labour Code and parliamentary privilege, MPs can more or less do...I won't say what they want with their staff, but there's an opening that they can just.... Abuse is very easy to do.
Most of you would be good bosses, but if you're not, you can just fire the boss right away.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Thomas Shannon: I'm sorry; you can fire the employee right away.
You can't fire the boss. We can't fire the members of Parliament; however, you can just fire the employee, no questions asked.
We actually have a procedure we go through to ask, “Was it fair? What can we do to improve the relationship?”, because the ultimate goal in our sense—in the sense for all the staff here—is to move your party forward, your country forward, and to try to get things done for the people you represent. That way, there is a protection: we go through a process, whether it's harassment or there's a grievance. We make sure that nobody on the staff is ill-treated, because there is a process in place.
I guess that's the long-winded outline of the difference between our employees and the employees right now of other political parties.
There are at least five former staffers around this table today, so I think it's very important for us to get on the record the impact of the parliamentary lifestyle on staff. I was a staffer here for—
Mr. David Christopherson: I was too. I was a constituency assistant.
Mr. David de Burgh Graham: So there are at least six of us, then, but Mark isn't normally here.
I had a daughter while I was working as a staffer here, and then I ran a nomination campaign with a newborn. It was a bit of a challenge.
I know that this is outside of your normal duties. I really appreciate you guys coming to speak to us. I know it's probably not the most fun experience.
I've been here a lot. The one time I haven't been here is during elections. What's it like—this is especially to Mr. Thompson—during an election? What kind of impacts do elections have on the staff, the morale, the work that goes on here—especially longer ones, such as the 78-day one we just had?
In our department, we're mostly full-time employees, so we are very busy during elections. But if you're looking at the SCIs in some of these other departments that we talked about, the seasonal certified employees, you're correct that the work drops. The cafeterias are closed; the FPF, the facility the food comes from or the production facility, is shut down, and only minimum staff, probably, is working there, and maybe minimum staff in the kitchens or one or two cafeterias.
So the workload for these individuals drops. In some departments, like the one I work for, transportation, the full-time employees are busy. We're busy with the moves and all the elections and that. But when it comes to these SCI individuals, it dramatically drops. As I said, five or five-and-a-half hours is what they're given.
In our collective agreement, when you become an SCI individual, there is a seniority clause. The seniority for these individuals is based on job title. If an individual has seniority, then that individual will be working. An individual with less seniority cannot work more hours than somebody who has more seniority; therefore, if the facilities are closed, you only have a minimum number of employees who are working, so it's a big drop-off. It drops dramatically for these individuals.
If you would like my personal opinion—
Mr. David de Burgh Graham: That's what I'm asking for.
Mr. Roger Thompson: —I've never understood why they were closed, because everybody needs to eat. I never understood why we—I'm sorry, I don't mean to say this—only cater to the MPs for these things and why they shut down.
Look at Christmas time; there are employees at all of the satellite sites on the Hill, employees who work at 131 or 181 Queen Street. When the MPs are not around, these employees need to eat, and when the cafeterias are closed.... There may be one or two cafeterias that stay open, and therefore for the employees, there are not enough of them open.
To be honest, yes, they could, but I'm not in management, so I don't....
I had both my kids at the Parliament Hill day care. I actually sat on the board of the day care, so I have a little bit of knowledge about the Hill day care.
With my first child, I did not realize that I needed to put her on a waiting list when I was pregnant, so she did not get to go to the Children on the Hill Day Care until a year later. I had to find alternative care until we were able to get a spot.
Once she had a spot, her sibling, my son, was automatically put on the list and given priority, so he was able to get a spot. However, at the Hill day care, they don't have the facilities to have children under 18 months. My maternity leave was only one year, so there was a six-month gap before I could potentially get a spot. For those six months, I had to take two months unpaid, and then I found a nanny for four months. My daughter still was going while my younger child was with a nanny full-time, so we ended up paying double.
I know that if you get a spot and your spot becomes available but your child isn't 18 months yet, you are required to pay to hold your spot, or else you lose it and it will go to someone else.
It's very much “in demand” day care, and it's a lovely place, and I loved having my children there. It was so wonderful to be able to drop them off at work, and my kids still talk about “remember when I saw you on...?”—and he's, what, six and she's eight. So they still remember. My kids could pronounce the word “parliament” way before most kids could pronounce the word “boat”.
Coming here and seeing them on the Hill, it's really quite an honour to have that chance, and the day care is wonderful, but they don't have the capacity to take on more children because of the limited space. Also, for the day care to run, they need outdoor space. They're really limited.
Neither; it's a non-profit. It has a board of directors who run the day care.
I think it's at the pleasure of the Speaker that it exists. It was a long, hard-fought process by staffers—not necessarily political staffers, but people who worked on the Hill—who lobbied to have this day care created in, I believe, the eighties. I am pretty sure it was the eighties.
There are some resources provided by the House, basically to allow for the space, but everything is run by the fees collected from the parents.
Well, I think what we're experiencing with the day care is something that most Canadians are dealing with. When I went to register my son, I did it before he was born, and there was a waiting list. We checked out...I can't remember how many, but only one that we could identify that actually took a child under 18 months, which is quite troublesome when you're trying to scramble to get everything organized.
Is it the ratio that's the issue in terms of getting a provider in to look after children less than 18 months old? Is the instructor-to-child ratio the issue?
Just to pick up where Mr. Strahl left off concerning the compressed work week, for MPs it probably doesn't make much difference, but for staff, I'm assuming.... I'm just thinking as a former staffer, or as now an MP hiring staff, how I would sell that to my staff: “You're going to be here early in the morning, you're probably going to work 12 hours a day from Monday to Thursday, and then Friday you're playing catch-up, and then we start all over again on Monday.” Mr. Strahl has touched on this a bit. I'm just seeking more of your thoughts.
I don't know how it would work in an office environment, if you're dealing with managing your budget but also managing staff life. It would be quite difficult, I think, in a compressed work week.
Okay, so it's less than a quarter, or 20%. I just wanted to get a sense of how many people are impacted, because the experience of others might be quite different with respect to a compressed work week. Also, it sounds as if there are things we can do here on the Hill that will make it not so MP-centric—for instance, if we look at the staff who are here even during the constituency weeks who could possibly alleviate some of those problems.
I also want to go back to the political staff. Having worked on the Hill both in caucus research but also as a ministerial staffer, what I found was that the work day, during the days we are sitting, revolves very much around the member or the minister. For instance, ministerial staff will spend much of their morning preparing for question period. There is a lot of work that comes around that. We have staff here sitting behind us who, when we're here and we're in committee, have to be with us. They are following us around all day, but things such as correspondence and briefing notes and all those sorts of things pile up.
From my experience, had there been a weekday to be able to catch up, when you were not immediately having to respond to the member and could catch up on those things.... I often worked weekends, and I've talked to a number of the staff who are sitting right behind me, and I think a lot of staff come in on weekends to avoid.... You must have time to catch up.
So wouldn't it possibly make it easier, for the staff who are coming in on the weekends, if there were a day when the member was not here? Then they would catch up and wouldn't have to work on the weekend.
In my opinion, the time for us to catch up is when the House is not sitting.
I start my workday very early in the morning and I pick up my children from daycare at 4:30 p.m. Once they go to bed, at 8 p.m., I go back to work on the computer to prepare notes for the next day from home. Telework may be something you could consider. Your committee could think about a way to improve the conditions surrounding this way of working.
Currently, the software that enables us to have access to our data through Outlook Web Access is not the most effective way to operate, if I may say so.
And to that point, Mr. Shannon, are there any NDP staffers who are not unionized? I guess there are management layers, and so forth. In all my time on the Hill, I've never worked a week as short as the thirty-seven and a half hours that the government calls full-time. I think that's slightly understated, for the time we work.
How does it work, within the current budget context,¯for unionized political office to get all the work done that needs to be done? I'm curious to have your insight on that.
It is thirty-seven and a half full-time hours; that's what it is. However, in political jobs, people who are MPs now and people who were staff before know that there is a lot of work to get done. What usually happens is that many people here work longer. When they choose to do that because of whatever is going on, that time is given back to them at a later date. The idea is that there's a one-to-one ratio.
If you're working longer, which does happen....
You can't do that every day; otherwise you're going to destroy your life. The idea is that we're trying to make a work-life balance. You work what you can and you work your hours. If you work longer, then you can take that in times when it's less busy, which is during weeks that the House doesn't sit or in the summer, in general. That's the idea: to hold the balance and get as much done as possible within the time that we have at our workplaces, and on this earth as well.
I want to say that maybe I am more representative of the older type of union representative in both appearance and mannerisms, and how I've worked. I've been in the labour relations business for 35 years, and my career is almost split in half, with 17 years on the management side of the relationship and the other 17 or 18 years on the side of the union. There is still a need for unions for many reasons, but the more modern reason is that many new things are coming up. Mental health issues now are a big thing for us and for our members, and the cost-reduction exercises by employers trying to reduce the number of employees and the cost of an operation, and all of the associated things. The loss of benefits for the SCIs is a huge thing for us. How do you work for two years and get a decent income and full benefits, and then miss your SCI status by 20, 30, or 50 hours, and have to lose all that for a two-year period until you can re-establish yourself as an SCI employee again? It's an extremely difficult business.
I'm not sure if you're aware that the House, in various dispute resolution processes, has said on record that anybody who works prior to becoming an SCI is not even an employee, by definition. They're a person that happens to work here, and their benefits are restricted to the minimum standards of the employment standards relationships. Quite frankly, you don't keep those people around. There's no way you want to build a reliable workforce that's going to stick around for a long time and put them on that roller coaster ride. The House of Commons, in my experience since I've been involved with PSAC, has always operated in its own little bubble, if you excuse the expression. It doesn't operate like a normal employer situation, or a normal employer environment, for people who need that stability. If you're an SCI right now, try going to get a mortgage when you can't guarantee that your hours for next year are going to be the same as this year, or that you won't lose your status all together. I believe there have been situations where hours of work have been manipulated to prevent people from reaching that plateau, so they don't have to pay the benefits. There are different motivations, but I still think there's a really strong need for a union. I'm a believer in the union and what it has done for society, but unfortunately some people now are still continuing on as it was. I think we'd be in a sad state of affairs if there weren't unions around to prevent employees from being exploited.
How long do you want to go? I guess an hour is our normal time with a witness. We usually have an hour for two or three witnesses, so that would be all we need for the one.
We'll try for 8 o'clock on the Tuesday. If they're not available, we'll try for before our dinner, and you could get someone else, David
Mr. David Christopherson: Okay.
The Chair: If they're not available at all, we'll revisit it by either email or whatever.
The week we were going to have Elections Canada is the week before the May constituency week. We have an hour on main estimates on May 17, which we might be able to move to the first week back. In the second meeting that week, the last day before the constituency week, we are giving, at least for part of that meeting, drafting instructions on the interim report. We'll try to juggle all that, I guess.
One last thing before we....
Yes, Mr. Chan.
Yes, that's right. It has the potential to be televised.
I think as a matter of practice, when we're having hearings on something that's not of a purely administrative nature, when we're dealing with witnesses on any topic—the family-friendly stuff, the chief electoral officer, or whomever—I think we just should have the practice of being televised. It doesn't involve any extra work for us.
I used to do this as a practice with the human rights subcommittee when I was chairing it. We'd frequently meet in this room. It was astonishing how often people would say, “I saw you in Parliament.” And I'd say, “You couldn't have.” What they meant was that they saw me chairing one of those meetings. I got a much broader viewership than I frankly would have anticipated, for what's that worth.
I didn't realize we weren't being televised. I have to tell you that I just assumed we were, because why we wouldn't be is beyond me. We're in the room. It's the chief electoral officer. It's one of the most important issues the public would want to watch us addressing.
Like the public accounts committee, it seems to me that if we're in a room like this and doing public hearings of any sort, we should use the camera system as a matter of course, and only by exception not do so. This really should have been televised. There's absolutely no reason why not, other than our own oversight to make it happen.
Mr. Chair, in future, maybe we could ask the clerk to help us remember to do that when we're doing actual hearings and there's a clear public interest. We're in a room that already has the infrastructure.