Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a great pleasure to be here once again to present the House of Commons main estimates for 2013-14 and the supplementary estimates for 2012-13.
It's my pleasure to be here today along with the Clerk, Audrey O'Brien, and our chief financial officer, Mark Watters. We also have some others from the House administration team with us today: Stéphan Aubé, chief information officer; Marc Bosc, deputy clerk; Richard Denis, deputy law clerk and parliamentary counsel; Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer; and Kevin Vickers, our Sergeant-at-Arms.
The main estimates for 2013-14 include cumulative reductions resulting from the House of Commons strategic and operating review, along with a sizeable reduction related to temporary funding. As you would expect, the increases that are accounted for were carefully reviewed by the Board of Internal Economy.
The main estimates for 2013-14 total $428,771,000. This represents a decrease of 3.85% compared to the 2012-13 main estimates funding levels.
For references purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes between 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. I will provide an overview of each line item along four major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; strategic and operating review; and employee benefit plans.
To start, I would like to speak to the funding of $400,000 that is required to accommodate the special requirements of members. You will remember that we discussed this item in November, when I was here to present the supplementary estimates (B).
In June 2012, the Board of Internal Economy determined that as of fiscal year 2013-2014, the House administration will include the funding for the special requirements of members in its annual main estimates. This is in order to streamline the funding process and reduce the frequency of supplementary estimates requests.
You will agree that it is essential that all members of the House of Commons be afforded the required resources so that they may fulfill their parliamentary functions. We must also ensure that special requirements of members are adequately considered so that they are not inhibited in the performance of their duties.
Next, further to a board decision, you will note an annual budget decrease of $5,000 for the termination of the payment of the annual accommodation allowances for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. This is directly related to a question that came out of this committee on one of the previous visits I made.
Our next item also reflects a budgetary reduction. This reduction of $600,000 is further to a statutory pension adjustment to the members of Parliament retirement compensation arrangements account. The cost to the House of Commons for contribution to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board based on actuarial calculations. This adjustment is required to reflect the current Treasury Board estimated contributions to this pension account.
As per 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 in order to assess these accounts and adjust contributions as required.
Now I would like to cover a few items relating to the House administration. First of all, the main estimates allocated an additional $3 million in compensation for House administration employees. In keeping with the Expenditure Restraint Act, there had been a freeze on funding for salaries from 2010-11 to 2012-13. With the expiration of this freeze, the Board of Internal Economy has approved this funding for 2013-14, which will benefit unrepresented employees, as well as employees within protective services, the cleaning services group, the technical group, and the law group.
Next, the main estimates account for temporary funding for two parliamentary conferences: the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie and the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Both of these funding decisions were taken by the Board of Internal Economy, further to a recommendation by the Joint Interparliamentary Council.
Funding will be covered in the usual manner, with 30% being paid by the Senate and 70% being paid by the House of Commons.
As such, the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie requires temporary funding of $42,000 for 2013-2014. The assembly will be held in Ottawa in July of next year.
As you may know, the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie is an international assembly comprised of member sections representing parliaments and interparliamentary organizations from around the world. The annual session serves as the principal venue for members to express their views on parliamentary and political issues. The agenda is set based on the priorities announced during the Summit of La Francophonie and the activities of other groups of La Francophonie.
Additionally, the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region requires temporary funding of $35,000 for 2013-14. The event will be held in Whitehorse in October 2014. The Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region is a biannual conference with representatives from the eight Arctic countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States, and the European Parliament.
Let us now move on to the funding of $22,000 that is required for an increase to the page's remuneration under the House of Commons page program. In December 2010, the Board of Internal Economy approved permanent annual increases to the compensation for pages that are equal to the average increases in tuition fees at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. We are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest young Canadians participating in the page program each year. By linking their pay to the tuition rates, we ensure they remain fairly compensated for their valuable work and they avoid potential financial difficulties should tuition rates continue to rise. For fiscal year 2013-14, the annual compensation will increase by $477, reaching $13,048.
The next line item shows a reduction of $2.8 million for the 127th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. These were temporary funds for 2012-2013 for the IPU conference, which was held, with great success, last October in Quebec City.
Let us turn now to the reductions that are being achieved as a result of the House of Commons' Strategic and Operating Review. We did have a discussion on this exercise when we met in November. You will remember that the board approved this savings and reduction strategy in March 2012 and that it will see spending decrease by over $30 million, or nearly 7% of the overall budget.
You'll also remember that the 2012-13 supplementary estimates (B) contain a reduction of $7.4 million related to the strategic operating review from 2012-13. These main estimates include the reduction of $7.4 million from 2012-13, as well as a reduction of $9.4 million for 2013-14.
Throughout this process, every effort is being made to minimize the impacts on services to members, while also minimizing the impacts on employees of the House administration.
The reductions for both fiscal years are being achieved through reductions to House officers' budgets and operational efficiencies, reductions for committees, parliamentary associations, parliamentary exchanges, and cost savings and reductions for the House administration.
I will now briefly highlight the major reductions.
As we saw in November with the supplementary estimates (B), the board approved an annual reduction of $600,000 to House officers' budgets, which represents a $1.2 million saving for these main estimates.
Additionally, effective April 1, 2013, substantial travel savings will be achieved by requiring the use of flight passes for eligible business class travel and increased use of low-fare economy travel.
Further operational efficiencies will be achieved through a variety of initiatives. You are familiar with the savings that are being achieved through the reduction of printing of parliamentary publications. Efficiencies will also be attained through such initiatives as the renegotiation of contracts for wireless services. Depending on the service provider, the House administration has been able to renegotiate contracts in order to offer new, customized voice and data plans that better reflect the needs of users at reduced costs.
Secondly, the reductions for committees, parliamentary associations, and parliamentary exchanges will total $3.4 million, with $2.6 million for 2012-13 and $700,000 for 2013-14. These reductions are in line with measures taken by members of parliamentary committees and associations, as well as by participants in parliamentary exchanges. They will continue their ongoing efforts to limit spending and find efficiencies.
Finally, reductions for the House administration total $6.3 million, of which $3.6 million is from 2012-13 and $2.7 million is for 2013-14. These reductions are being achieved through a combination of budget reductions, administrative operational efficiencies, attrition, a limited number of workforce adjustment situations, and the elimination of some vacant positions. In the event that service delivery changes impact House administration employees, the House administration has a workforce adjustment policy in place to help facilitate continued employment for permanent employees and ensure the fair treatment of employees.
The final item that is included in these main estimates is a reduction of $452,000 for the employee benefit plans. This is a non-discretionary statutory expense that is in accordance with Treasury Board directives.
Effective April 1 of this year, Treasury Board adjusted the annual rate from 17.6 percent to 17.4 percent.
Employee benefit plan contributions cover costs to the employer for the public service superannuation plan, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, death benefits and the employment insurance account.
This concludes my overview of the House of Commons 2013-14 main estimates. I am confident you will agree that these financial estimates aptly represent the House of Commons' fiscal responsibility and commitment to cost savings.
We have focused these discussions on the main estimates; however, I will briefly mention that the House of Commons supplementary estimates (C) for 2012-13 included funding for the estimated cashout of accumulated severance pay for House of Commons employees for 2012-13, which is partially offset by reductions resulting from the reprofiling of funds from 2012-13 into 2013-14.
At this time I'd be happy to answer any questions this committee may have.
I wanted to pick up on Nathan's comments.
I want to compliment you and the senior staff, Mr. Speaker. I think you've done this well and in a collegial way. I know that my colleague who sits on the Board of Internal Economy has found it very constructive.
I don't have any questions, but when I listened to your discussion of the page program, I realized it's a neat idea the board has come up with to try to assist these young women and men with the high cost of tuition. That's a great idea.
Let's also think about the parliamentary guide program, not necessarily in terms of their salaries, as many of them are summer jobs or part-time jobs. I think they're some of the best and brightest bilingual people around. They can show Canadians their Parliament, and make them appreciate the role of the House of Commons and the work we do, together with the Senate.
My question is not about their remuneration. This is anecdotal from my riding, but perhaps it extends to other colleagues as well. I'm finding I have schools that want to come. They all want to come in June, when the weather is nice and they can organize bus trips. A number of schools from New Brunswick want to come to visit Parliament—often grade 8 classes—and they're trying to book visits depending on the bus schedules. Six or seven months before they come, they're told that, unfortunately, there's no space available. It's not possible for them to get a guided tour at that time.
I recognize it's a function of the size of the hallways and the traffic that has to be managed when people come through the building. Is it a function of the physical space of the building and the sequence of the tours, or could the problem be alleviated? I just feel bad for these students who want to come and are told in November or December that it's not possible during a certain window of time. Mr. Speaker, I'm wondering if it's a function of not having enough tour guides.
The practical reality is that you're going to get members of Parliament showing groups through themselves. You're going to find members of Parliament, me included, who are going to be trying to shepherd around 40 kids. We are not trained to do this and lack the information the guides would have. Your security personnel won't like the chaos this will cause.
Recognizing the physical limitations of the buildings, is there a way we can increase the staff available or extend the hours of the tours? I just find it unfortunate: they come to Ottawa and they see Sparks Street, but they can't get into the building for a proper guided tour. They are stuck with somebody like me trying to drag them into the library and through the lobby, which isn't the ideal way for them to appreciate Parliament.
I'm very pleased to be with you today.
I want to thank the committee for agreeing to listen to me.
The reason for my objection is very simple. From the outset, however, I would like to say that the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of Quebec has done a very good job with regard to Beauce. We went to plead our case in Lévis and to say that we wanted to keep the electoral district of Beauce intact. At the time, they wanted to take eight municipalities from us. The commission very clearly understood the matter and made sure in its report to keep those eight municipalities in the riding of Beauce.
I am here today on behalf of two municipalities that were removed from Beauce following the report: Saint-Robert-Bellarmin and Saint-Ludger. We want those municipalities to be included in the electoral district of Beauce since the central town linking those two towns is Saint-Georges.
These municipalities never had the opportunity to be heard since they were not affected by the commission's proposal in the first version of its report. They issued resolutions when the second version of the Beauce electoral map was made public. They decided that they wanted to remain part of Beauce despite the fact that they are situated in the RCM of Le Granit.
It is important to note that the commission wanted to include those municipalities in my colleague Christian Paradis's riding because they were attached to the same RCM at the provincial level. It should be noted, however, that, historically, the two municipalities have always been considered as part of Beauce and have always negotiated with the Government of Quebec to be part of the RCM of Beauce-Sartigan, which is part of Beauce.
After the latest changes were proposed, the mayors of those two municipalities sent me their resolutions, reaffirming their sense of belonging to Beauce. These people are Beaucerons and proud to be so.
Moreover, the municipality of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon, which is included in Beauce in the latest report, has expressed the wish to be included in Lévis—Lotbinière. The mayor, with whom I spoke last week, sent me a resolution that he had had passed last August stating that the municipality of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon would like to be included in Lévis—Lotbinière and that its residents were very pleased with the service MP Jacques Gourde was giving them. I hope they will be able to continue their productive relationship with their very good member, Jacques Gourde.
That said, I spoke with the two members concerned. First I spoke with Mr. Gourde about the wish of the municipality of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon to be included in the electoral district of Lévis—Lotbinière. I also spoke with MP Christian Paradis about the wish of the municipalities of Saint-Ludger and Saint-Robert-Bellarmin to be included in the electoral district of Beauce. Neither colleague is opposed to those proposals. They are entirely in favour of them.
It must be understood that Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon is a small municipality, which has ties to the central city of Lévis, not to the town of Sainte-Marie. For example, the people of Sainte-Marie and the surrounding municipalities joined forces to create a health coop. Although the municipality of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon is in the same RCM, La Nouvelle-Beauce, it did not take part in the project because the people of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon use the hospital in Lévis. Their ties are therefore with Lévis.
Of course, these changes will have a number of demographic implications. I told you about those consequences. Beauce would lose 4,547 residents, for a total of 107,967. Lévis—Lotbinière would gain 6,545 residents, for a total of 107,870. Note that the commission's target population was 101,322. So these figures are within the 10% variance. Lastly, the electoral district of Mégantic—L'Érable, Christian Paradis's riding, would lose 1,907 residents.
My objection to the proposal is not recent, since they wanted to keep the electoral district of Beauce intact at the time. I am here today to ask that these two municipalities be returned to the riding of Beauce and that the municipality of Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon return to Lévis—Lotbinière.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to me. I am prepared to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, honourable colleagues, for allowing me to submit to you today a very clear request that the initial decision of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission be respected and that Les Etchemins remain part of the electoral district of Lévis—Bellechasse.
At 2:30 this morning, the citizens of Les Etchemins rose, boarded a bus and travelled six hours in order to be here. They have come to tell you that the Etchemins region wants to remain a part of the electoral district of Lévis—Bellechasse.
I am here today with Hector Provençal, warden of the RCM of Les Etchemins, and with four mayors: Suzanne Guenette, mayor of Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, Marielle Lemieux, mayor of Saint-Magloire, Harold Gagnon, mayor of Les Etchemins, and Denis Beaulieu, mayor of Sainte-Justine.
The stakeholders of Les Etchemins unanimously request that the boundaries that have been in place since 1867 be respected. I have in my hand a petition bearing more than 1,400 names that was signed in record time, a few weeks, after the change was proposed. The commission wanted to respect that wish last fall.
There are 84 citizens of Lévis here, 200 from Bellechasse and several individuals from each of the municipalities of Les Etchemins. We have Sylvain Talbot, who is a councillor in Armagh, Josie Vermette, from Saint-Gervais, in Bellechasse, and Frédéric Aubin, from Saint-Lazare in Bellechasse, who says he thinks it is important that Bellechasse and Les Etchemins be reunited. Why? Because many institutions and organizations, such as the SADC of Bellechasse-Etchemins, are common entities.
I have in my hand a letter signed separately by 67 businesses from Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. For example, we have François Genest, president of SADC of Bellechasse, Ms. Royer, from the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi organization, and Mélanie Giguère, from Groupe Action Tandem. There are also the people from the Manoir Lac Etchemin, some of whom you no doubt know, Mr. Jacques and Mr. Provençal. from Précisions Provençal in Sainte-Rose, and Mario Provençal, "Super Mario".
If you buy waffles or molasses cakes at Le Jardin Mobile stores, you know they come from Sainte-Rose. Mario says he works with the SADC, with the people of Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. We have a common community radio station and chamber of commerce and three main roads, highways 277, 279 and 281. You have to go through Bellechasse to get to Les Etchemins. The two places are closely interlinked.
People sometimes wonder whether Saint-Léon is part of Les Etchemins or Bellechasse. The same is true of Saint-Magloire and Saint-Philémon. These communities are very close to each other and are in the same situation. The RCM of Les Etchemins has major attractions but also faces significant challenges. To do so, we believe these communities must remain part of a coherent geographic whole.
I am also very proud to have the support not only of the citizens of Lévis, Bellechasse and Les Etchemins, but also of my colleague Maxime Bernier, who was the first person who signed my notice form so that I could appear before you, and of Mr. Lapointe, who clearly said it was logical for Les Etchemins to remain in the electoral district of Lévis—Bellechasse. I want to thank Mr. Lapointe for those remarks. This is an important fact. The district is already very large, and this area in fact represents one-third of it.
Mr. Chair, I want to mention that my colleague Jacques Gourde has also supported my efforts. The parliamentarians from the Chaudières-Appalaches area as a whole support our efforts to ensure that the electoral district remains of a reasonable size. The variances are still entirely comparable. My colleague Mr. Lapointe's riding is very big and there are a lot of municipalities to cover. There, too, the variances are still comparable to those observed in the Bas-du-Fleuve region.
In closing, I ask you to abide by the commission's initial decision based on the community of interest. It is supported by the Etchemins community as a whole.
I must tell you that it is not awkward to be here today with the people from Les Etchemins who are present. Our representatives from the local press are here as well. I remind you that the people of Bellechasse and Les Etchemins have always been bound together since 1867.
I invite you to ensure that trend continues. We have a big country, but we take into account specific regional characteristics. Les Etchemins and Bellechasse are made to be together.
This will be the first time I have spoken about Les Etchemins, but that is not because we were not interested in the west side of the riding. In the first version that was presented, a number of municipalities were added to the eastern portion of the electoral district of Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup. That was in Témiscouata, not on the other side. That is why I did not run in Lévis at the time, but rather in Rivière-du-Loup to solve another problem that was going on elsewhere in the region.
I would also like to thank the commission. It divided Témiscouata right down the middle, but it was sensitive to our arguments, and one change was made that suited everyone. I would also like to emphasize that we appreciate the sensitivity the commission showed with regard to our regional realities.
I would briefly like to talk about two points: the second version of the redistribution and the name. That is the second name suggested for a possible change to the name of the electoral district of Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
This morning, we are defending a consensus view that the municipality of Les Etchemins should remain in Bellechasse. I believe we have the same copies as Mr. Blaney. We have received a lot of resolutions from municipalities and RCMs, all saying the same thing. In addition, the document from the provincial member, Ms. Vien, essentially tells the commission that the RCM of Bellechasse is intimately linked to the RCM of Les Etchemins through its economy, culture, institutions and lines of communication.
That is virtually word for word what appears in all the resolutions that were sent to us from across the region. I have no resolutions from Montmagny, our closest neighbour, but I consulted everyone at the office of the warden, including the warden himself. They are in favour of maintaining the connection between Les Etchemins and Bellechasse. They will publicly support the decision if it ever goes that way.
I think that the major argument is that there is this regional consensus on everything that might be called the eastern portion of Chaudière-Appalaches. Everyone is in agreement, but I will nevertheless take the liberty of citing a few arguments.
Do I still have two minutes?
I would like to emphasize briefly that, if we were to add a large part of Les Etchemins to my riding, it would contain 67 municipalities. A lot of elected members around the table know that the mayors start telephoning the day after a federal program is announced. In my riding, sometimes 33, 34 or 35 mayors phone the same day, and unfortunately no kind of budget is allocated to me so that I can hire someone else to ensure the quality of services rendered to the mayors. We work very hard, but if we have 170 municipalities in a large electoral district in eastern Quebec, services will ultimately suffer. I also think that what is being requested today would help strike a balance. My riding would still have 58 municipalities, and I believe there would be some 30 in Mr. Blaney's. We would not find ourselves in a situation in which we would have to respond to nearly 70 mayors the day after a federal program was announced.
We are going to talk about the name of the riding in the short period of time I have left. The first name suggested was Bernier, in honour of Captain Bernier, who is one of the great discoverers of the north. There was no consensus in my—
A voice: No?
Mr. François Lapointe: I do not even know whether he was related to my colleague, but it was not to be named for Mr. Bernier who is here today, but for Captain Bernier, who came from L'Islet. And there was a little support for the proposal there, but none elsewhere in the constituency.
In the second version, the commission suggested Montmagny—Rivière-du-Loup. Kamouraska, whose name has just been dropped at the provincial level, had the impression it was being erased from the map. They reacted very strongly to the proposal, and rightly so. We have just received the resolutions and debate was quite animated. Potential solutions were suggested, but the consensus that emerged in the four RCMs, based on the commission's regulations, is that the name should be kept if the boundaries are maintained. So there is a consensus that the name Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup should be retained. We are asking you, please, not to erase our two beautiful RCMs in central Quebec, L'Islet and Kamouraska. The name is long, but we can function with it. Moreover, the Chair can say it without even looking at his paper. I believe we have some experience and we can keep that name. There is also a consensus across the riding.