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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much.
I just wanted to go through a couple of the items in the brief that you provided to the committee in the deck.
When you talked about impacts on the work of departments, you indicated that the Receiver General had flagged an issue with respect to the central financial management reporting system. I'm just wondering what exactly you mean by that. What's the nature of the change required, and what are some of the challenges involved in making that change?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Are there plans on the books to do that anyway?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
That's fair enough.
There was also a reference made to potential legislative amendments in order to implement program control on a wider scale. What kinds of legislative amendments would be required, and why?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Isn't that a part of the function of the contingency vote, vote 5? It's $750 million to be able to supplement any existing grants or contributions.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Yes, but if you don't have that ability because you have more restricted votes, then that would make you eligible to access funds under vote 5, would it not?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
You'd mentioned two issues, and we've talked about one, transferring between votes within a department. What's the other legislative issue you've identified?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you. I'm going to have to stop you there. I've got about 15 seconds left, and I want to move the motion I gave notice of the other day:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108, the Committee request that the Treasury Board Secretariat provide information no later than Tuesday, July 3, 2018, pertaining to the participation of employees of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in the Public Service Pension Plan, in particular an “assessment of what the cost to government would be in terms of allowing them to remain in the plan”, as was committed to by Treasury Board Secretariat officials during the Committee’s meeting of Thursday, November 9, 2017.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm moving the motion now only because it's the last meeting before summer. Members who have been following this issue may know that it's effective in September.
These workers were essentially put on course to be kicked out of the public service pension plan by the Harper government. It was a three-year term, and that's coming to fruition, as it were, if you'll excuse the word, in September. I know the government has been talking with the folks who represent these workers ever since their election.
It came up at one of our committee meetings in November. In November, we had a commitment at the time to.... The question was, essentially, how much it would cost the government to keep these workers in the plan.
Under the new public-private model that's been adopted for ACL under the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories shell company, the private contractor is required to pay for a pension plan. For the last three years, for the workers who have been there—not the new workers, but the existing workers—the private contractor, as part of their contract, has been making the employer contributions on behalf of those employees to the plan. There's no cost to government in terms of the contribution; however, there are some administrative costs. That's what the folks representing those workers and the workers themselves have been wanting to know: what exactly does the government estimate, based on the last three years of the government doing that, would be the cost to keep those workers in the plan?
We did have a commitment going back a while ago to get that information; we just haven't got it yet. Before the end of the summer I was hoping that the committee might assist those workers by essentially reiterating our request for that information to the President of the Treasury Board so they have it with at least a bit of time to consider what that information means for them and to come back to government with a proposal. I know they've been talking to the PMO and Treasury Board, and they've been talking to Minister Carr's office because Minister Carr is ultimately responsible for CNL. They'd like that information to be able to see if they can work out some kind of deal so these guys can keep their pensions.
That's really the purpose of the motion.
I won't take any more of the committee's time.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you.
If I may reply, that is a response to an order paper question that I filed on this point. I filed it after the committee meeting that the motion refers to because I didn't get an answer from the President of the Treasury Board.
What I would say is that there is a basis for calculating what the cost would be. I understand what the legislation says. I think what you'll find if you talk to those workers is that they're saying this arrangement worked well for the last three years. Also, of course, in Parliament we have the luxury of being able to amend legislation, so the fact that current laws prohibit something doesn't mean that we can't allow it by amending the legislation.
What they're interested to know is what the cost would be, because if it's a really high cost, then it might be unreasonable to expect Canadian taxpayers to subsidize their ongoing participation in the public service plan. Their estimation—they hired an actuary—is that the cost is actually very low. Government presumably has a sense of what it has cost over the last three years to keep them in the plan under the current provisions of the public service pension act. They'd just like to know what it has been costing the government for the last three years. There is a way to figure out what it's been costing per year for the last three years.
It's really hard to believe that the government went ahead and made a decision after negotiating with them for two years and, I might add, giving them the impression that this might actually be possible. They've started a campaign to try to keep themselves in the pension plan only in the last couple of months, when they started getting that answer instead of the answer they had been getting for the last couple of years, which was that this might actually be possible. I think they feel a bit led on, but they still want to work constructively with government because they are really eager to stay in the pension plan.
It's not just for themselves. I think it's also important to say that where I'm from in Manitoba, we have an AECL site that's about to move into a decommissioning phase. A lot of those workers have worked and lived in Pinawa for a long time, but some of them are 15 years, say, into the plan. Instead of sticking around for the decommissioning, they're starting to say that maybe they need to be looking elsewhere for work, and maybe they want to be somewhere else. I think that losing that kind of site-specific knowledge on the cusp of the decommissioning process isn't very good.
There's a question, I think, of a moral obligation to these folks who are in a pension plan and would like to stay in it, but there's also a logistical consideration, which is whether it makes sense to be losing people with experience and site-specific knowledge on the cusp of important projects. All they're asking for is to know what the government estimates the cost has been over the last three years to keep them in the plan, even though they weren't technically working for the government. Even though they were performing all the same work on all the same sites with all the same equipment, they were no longer technically working for government. Nevertheless, they were still in the plan.
All we're asking for is to know what the government thinks that cost has been over the last three years so that they can go back to government with a proposal. That may include some legislative amendments, but I don't think that's the end of the world. We were just talking about legislative amendments to change the control structure for votes, and nobody said that because the current law doesn't permit it there's no way we could possibly do it. Instead we had a good conversation about what kinds of amendments we might make to the law in order to enable something good to happen.
They're just asking for what it has cost. We've been doing it for the last three years. I think it's reasonable. When Treasury Board was here in November, I think they more or less agreed that it was reasonable. They said that they were looking into getting those numbers and that as soon as they had them they would share them with the committee. It's hard for me to believe the government made that decision without having the numbers, so presumably they have them. The workers would just like to have that information shared with them so that they can try to work with government to find some kind of solution.
I felt the need to respond to Madam Ratansi's citing of that order paper question. It's true that I did ask that question. I've asked that question in many forms, as many as I possibly can, and as soon as I have the answer, I can stop asking the question.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Could we have a recorded vote, please?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much.
I'm new to the committee and I haven't done a study of this before, but on the theme of changing geopolitical relationships, one of the things I'm curious to know about is the changing attitude in the United States—which continues to be Canada's long-standing ally and friend—to Russia. The President has been advocating that Russia rejoin the G7.
To what extent have Canada's sovereignty efforts in the Arctic depended upon a sympathetic United States, and what does it mean for Canada in the Arctic if there's a rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia, and they begin co-operating more closely? Is there any potential threat to Canada there, that U.S.-Russian co-operation would put the squeeze on Canadian interests in the Arctic?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much.
Mr. Steil, in your remarks I believe you suggested that not all foreign investment in Canadian Arctic infrastructure might be innocent with respect to the question of Arctic sovereignty, particularly in the Chinese context. What are some of the things that you believe Canada needs to be looking for when evaluating foreign investment in the Arctic as a red flag?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much.
Due to the time constraints, I'm going to have to divide my questions between some department-specific questions and some more general questions about the process.
This question is for Ms. Laniel, from the Department of Finance.
By what point in the year typically are the major new budget items approved by cabinet? At what point would the Department of Finance know which initiatives of the departmental ask list are going to be included in the budget and which ones are not?
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