Good morning, everyone. This is meeting number 77 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. It is Thursday, March 21, 2013.
We are televised today, so I would remind all committee members and all those in the audience to please adjust their cellphones so that we don't have ringing cellphones in the middle of questions or presentations.
Today we are considering the main estimates of 2013-14.
In our first hour we have with us the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety and National Security. The minister is accompanied by his departmental officials, who will be our witnesses for this hour and also for the second hour today.
From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have François Guimont, Deputy Minister. Welcome back.
From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have Commissioner Bob Paulson. Welcome.
From Correctional Services Canada, we have Commissioner Don Head.
From the Canada Border Services Agency, we have Malcolm Brown, executive vice-president. Welcome.
From the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, we have Michel Coulombe, deputy director of operations.
And from the National Parole Board, we have Harvey Cenaiko, chair.
Our committee wants to thank the minister for making arrangements to appear before us during the estimates period. We also thank the departmental officials for making themselves available to accompany the minister today. Our committee very much appreciates that the minister and his officials all respond to our committee's invitations to appear from time to time—and indeed many times—and assist in our deliberations. Canadians are pleased and proud of all of you for the fine record of public service.
I invite the Minister of Public Safety to make an opening statement, and then we'll move into the first round of questioning.
Minister, welcome. The floor is yours.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Indeed, it is my pleasure to be here to again share an hour or so with all of the members of the committee. I want to thank my officials, both from the department and from the various agencies that I'm responsible for, for being here as well.
I'm pleased today to speak to both the 2013-14 main estimates and the 2012-13 supplementary estimates (C).
Mr. Chair, responsible governments must ensure that they use taxpayers' dollars in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner, and that's exactly what we have done over the past seven years. Since 2006, our government has acted consistently to help create jobs and spur economic growth. We have made responsible decisions that have strengthened our economy, while ensuring that we are keeping Canadians and Canadian interests safe. We believe that committee members will find this evidenced within the pages of the supplementary estimates (C) and the main estimates.
As the committee's motion specifically mentions supplementary estimates (C), I will turn first to these, which sought minor adjustments to spending authorities within three of the portfolio agencies: the Canada Border Services Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The total net increase in authorities for 2012-13 for these three portfolio organizations equals $4.2 million, or 0.04%.
Mr. Chair, this represents a small increase in the total funding approvals for the Public Safety portfolio for 2012-13. For example, the Canada Border Services Agency has sought an increase in its voted authorities of $10.3 million to support initiatives within the beyond the border action plan. There is, however, no net change in the CBSA's appropriations, as those funds have been offset by a transfer of authorities that had been previously allocated by the Treasury Board.
The supplementary estimates (C) also indicate a net total increase for the RCMP of $3.7 million, which is the result of transfers of funds to the RCMP from Public Works and Government Services Canada and the Department of National Defence.
Finally, we saw a net increase in authorities for CSIS in the amount of $550,000, or 0.1%, of its authorities to date.This amount stems from a transfer from DND to CSIS for the acquisition of technology related to the Canadian safety and security program.
Mr. Chair, let me now turn to the 2013-14 main estimates, which represent a fiscally responsible way forward in our efforts to keep our streets and communities safe while strengthening our economy and supporting families.
For the overall Public Safety portfolio, the 2013-14 main estimates represent an initial funding approval of $8.049 billion, which is an overall decrease of $322.1 million, or 4%, over the previous fiscal year. This funding will be invested into priority areas that are helping us fulfill our commitment to keep Canadians and their communities safe.
Among the overall portfolio funding increases are the following.
The amount of $329 million to the RCMP related to the renewal of the 20-year police services agreements with the provinces, territories, and municipalities.
I want to specifically thank the RCMP for its work on that file and for departmental officials who did an excellent job in working together with the provinces and the territories. These are very, very complex negotiations, but we're very pleased with the work that was done, and the cooperation we received from the provinces and the territories. I think they recognize that the RCMP is the best value for taxpayers' money, and agreed, indeed, without any concerns about that principle, that the RCMP are the best service for their money. That's a real tribute to the RCMP.
Also, $38.2 million goes to Public Safety Canada to provide funding for permanent flood mitigation measures for provinces and territories hit hard by the 2011 floods, and $24.1 million goes to the CBSA to improve the integrity of front-line operations at the border.
Mr. Chair, these increases are offset by a number of decreases, including among others a $65-million decrease to CBSA funding for the arming and eManifest initiatives, which are sunsetting in 2013-14 as part of a loan repayment schedule, and a $31-million decrease to the RCMP related to a transfer of funds to Public Works for the new RCMP headquarters building in Surrey, B.C.
Committee members will also see adjustments to the Correctional Service of Canada's spending authorities, with a net decrease of $428.4 million from the previous year due mainly to the return of funds related to projected inmate population growth, which did not materialize despite the wild predictions of the opposition parties.
You'll remember, Mr. Chair, that it was the NDP that said that, as a result of Bill and other bills, there would be an increase of $19 billion in infrastructure alone. That was clearly false. It was fearmongering of the worst kind. In fact, as you know, we returned to the fiscal framework almost $1.5 billion because of the prisons that we didn't have to build. This decrease is due to that and as well to the savings measures outlined in budget 2012.
The main estimates also include a $370.7-million decrease in the total Public Safety portfolio spending authorities, related to deficit reduction action plan savings measures announced in budget 2012.
Mr. Chair, before we turn to questions from the committee, I will touch on some of those numbers as they relate to our work to keep Canadians and their communities safe.
Looking at just Public Safety departmental funding, we are requesting increases that include $2.9 million to continue our work to make our cyber-network secure and resilient, as outlined in Canada's cybersecurity strategy, and $2.5 million to implement national security and emergency management initiatives under the beyond the border action plan.
These two initiatives remain top priorities for our government, and we continue to seek evidence of good progress in both areas. In fact, just last week I signed a memorandum of understanding with my U.S. counterpart, Janet Napolitano, that paves the way for a United States Customs and Border Protection truck cargo pre-inspection pilot project on Canadian soil.
As you know, there has been some concern about what sequestration will mean for the movement of Canadian goods into the United States. We are very concerned about that but recognize that it's primarily an American budgetary issue, which they are going to have to resolve. But this kind of pre-inspection initiative, which will help clear trucks before they get to the border and then get them through, will help us in our just-in-time deliveries.
I was told—and maybe you don't know this, Mr. Chair—that in some cases, one automobile goes back and forth across the border 40 times during its production. You can see that if you increase the delay in crossing borders from 20 minutes to 40 minutes or an hour, production is significantly impacted, with of course significant impacts upon the jobs of those in the auto sector, for one example.
The pilot project that we're working on aims to enhance our security while accelerating the legitimate flow of goods, people, and services at the Canada-U.S. border.
As I mentioned earlier, Public Safety Canada seeks an increase in its departmental spending authorities of $38.2 million to provide financial support to provinces and territories for 2011 flood mitigation. These funds are part of our government's commitment to provide a one-time, 50-50, cost-shared investment in permanent flood mitigation measures taken by provinces and territories, specifically related to 2011 flooding. Strong, resilient, and prepared communities are critical to our nation's security and economic strength, and these investments in mitigation will help to ensure that communities are able to recover rapidly after a disaster.
In addition to being prepared for and recovering from natural disasters, resilient communities are also able to identify and resist violent, extremist ideologies and have the capacity to react to events in ways that prevent further harm. As such, committee members will see a request for an increase to Public Safety Canada departmental spending authorities for $1.8 million related to funds for the Kanishka project. Launched in 2011, this five-year, $10-million initiative aims to create a network of scholars who can undertake critical research into how Canadians can prevent terrorism and counter violent extremism. Again, this is an issue and concern that I've discussed with the Homeland Security secretary and something that we share a common interest in.
Finally, the main estimates include a decrease in Public Safety departmental spending authorities of $7.9 million, which reflects the sunsetting of the funds for the ex gratia payments to the families and the victims of Air India flight 182. I am pleased that our government has been able to fulfill this commitment to these families.
Mr. Chair, in summary, our government remains committed to using Canadian taxpayer dollars in the most efficient and most effective manner, and we will do so while moving forward with our plan for safe streets and communities while focusing on strengthening legislation, tackling crime, supporting victims' rights, and ensuring fair and efficient justice.
To this point, on March 4 I was pleased to announce that our government will maintain stable funding for policing agreements with first nation and Inuit communities under the First Nations Policing Program. For the next five years I will be seeking these incremental authorities through the supplementary estimates.
Thank you. I'll be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here, and thank you to your officials as well, each of you, for being here, and to all of you for the good work that you do.
Minister, I want to talk specifically about flooding. You and I both represent ridings in Manitoba that deal with flooding. In 2011 the city of Portage la Prairie, the diversion, and many of the communities around Portage la Prairie were affected very severely by flooding, some of it natural and some of it because the province of Manitoba had to make some very difficult decisions because water was flowing in from Saskatchewan and flows in from our neighbours to the south. My riding in Portage—Lisgar experienced some very devastating flooding, some because the province had to deal with water that could probably flood a greater population in Winnipeg.
The province of Manitoba is known to deal very well with flooding. You yourself representing Provencher understand this clearly. The whole area of the town of Morris and the municipality of Morris had severe flooding as well. The interesting thing is that, after the new boundary changes, it looks like Morris will also be in the riding of Portage—Lisgar. So Portage—Lisgar will be a riding that has historically had to deal with a lot of flooding.
My concern, Minister, is that there has been a lot of snow in Manitoba. Two weeks ago some of my riding got almost 60 centimetres of snow. Just this last weekend we had another 30 centimetres. Almost every weekend there's water. Now, thankfully, a lot of that water will be absorbed but, depending on where water is coming from, whether from Saskatchewan or parts south of us, we know that there could be a lot of water coming once again.
Two fronts I want to ask you about. As it relates to the main estimates, you mentioned almost $40 million of extra funding specifically for flooding. I was very disappointed when that was not supported by the opposition. I definitely think that natural disasters and certainly flooding are not a political issue. It's our job as the federal government to support projects that mitigate the effects of flooding, and so it was disappointing not to have that support from the opposition. But I'm very grateful that your ministry, that Public Safety sees the importance of dealing with flooding in a responsible way.
I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about mitigation efforts and why you, the government, and our Prime Minister felt... He was there for 2011, he saw the flooding in Portage la Prairie and he saw the devastation of the farms that were destroyed. Would you talk about the importance of mitigation and working together with a province like Manitoba, which has done an excellent job over the last 25 years to deal with flooding?
The issue of mitigation is a very important one. It's something that we looked at after the 1997 flood in Manitoba. I was in the provincial government at that time. We worked together with the federal government at that time to bring forward a mitigation program. As a result of that mitigation program—which was essentially 50-50 funding—we were able to protect communities by way of ring dike and enhance the protection for roads and other infrastructure.
As a result, since 1997, I might be mistaken, but I don't believe that there's been one home flooded since 1997 along that Red River valley. Other damage has taken place but we've been able to protect residences.
So instead of the federal government through DFAA paying 90-cent dollars every year when the flooding occurs, we are able to ring dike those homes, those communities south of Winnipeg. There may have been a couple of homes south of Winnipeg. But that was for other reasons that they were flooded.
Some of the areas north of Winnipeg do need to be addressed in the same way and of course some of the areas in the western part of the province, including your riding.
So mitigation in the long-term benefits the taxpayer, not just the people who have been flooded, but it benefits the taxpayer that we don't have to react after a flood but that we can take proactive action to prevent the damage of flooding in these widespread areas. We've seen quite a bit of snow in Saskatchewan. I don't know what it is in North Dakota. I know a couple of weeks ago the flood forecast was fairly benign, but with some of the added snow...I think Miami, Manitoba received the highest amount of snow in Manitoba in your riding, as opposed to Miami, Florida.
But this snow will melt, will become water and we hope that the efforts of the emergency measures people will prevent damage. But in the long term, mitigation is what is going to protect these communities in a much more substantive and ongoing way.
That was essentially the money that we returned to the fiscal framework. It had been set aside for the construction of prisons because of the estimates of both my department and the opposition that there would be very substantial increases required.
I took a different view; I said we will not see increases like that, because we're not dealing with new people; we're dealing with the same old guys, who usually go out on vacation, commit a few more crimes, and get sent back to jail. It's the same old people. When you see an increase of 1,000, it's not as though we're getting many new people; it's the same old guys doing a little more time.
Basically, we just built the 2,700 units, which will all be coming on stream in this year and in 2014. At this point, we simply have....I was speaking to the commissioner just yesterday. I think he was saying that there are 300 or 400 empty beds at any one time in the overall system. This doesn't mean that there aren't pressures in particular areas because of gang issues and the intake issue, which is something that I think the commissioner is still working on. But in terms of overall beds compared with numbers of individuals, we still have some room and we still have more units coming.
I want to mention one thing. I want to thank you, first of all, Mr. Leef, for your service to the RCMP and to the correctional service. I know you come at this area from both of those. As I recall, Mr. Leef, you were a member, were you not, of Troop 4 in March 1998, when the Liberals in fact shut down the training facility? Yours was the last troop, and they actually shut down training. I was the provincial attorney general at that time in Manitoba. One half of all of the RCMP were eligible for retirement in five years, and the Liberals shut down Depot.
Can you tell us a little bit about that experience, Mr. Leef?
The first point I would make is that we look at cybersecurity in the department, and it's one of our top priorities. I want to be clear about that. That's the first statement.
The second point is that we have a strategy in place. The strategy was unveiled a year ago, plus or minus, and $155 million was put into the strategy. It has three pillars. The reason I'm putting emphasis on three pillars is that there's an understanding in the strategy that this is not only the federal government's responsibility; there is a continuum of actions to be taken in society, and there is a continuum, therefore, of accountabilities on cybersecurity.
We take our coordinating role very seriously, and we have, for instance, carried out better coordination, better action at the federal government level. Investments have been made in CSEC for better monitoring activities. We also have actions tied to specific departments, which they have to deliver.
The second pillar has to do with critical infrastructure in other sectors of society. We have 10 cross-sector tables, which we convene regularly, to see where and what people are doing on cybersecurity. We can't necessarily be in everybody's backyard telling them what to do. Banks, for instance, and other institutions have also to assume their responsibility vis-à-vis cybersecurity.
The third pillar is citizens. Such a simple thing as changing your password is something the government cannot dictate—people should see to that for themselves—or being careful about how they interact on the Internet and things of that nature.
So our strategy has three pillars.
More specifically on the U.S. side, we have also an MOU with the United States to deal with cybersecurity issues. We have an action plan, which asks for more cooperation and exchange of information.
I was there last week with the minister. I sat down with the person responsible for cybersecurity in the administration, and we undertook to meet every six months to take stock of where we are and to have cooperation between the two countries.
Taking a step back, we're taking cybersecurity seriously. It's a comprehensive approach, and it's not going to be instantaneous. It's a bit more diffuse as an issue than other programs might be, and outcomes have to be worked at more systematically.
Mr. Chair, that's almost as good, and sometimes...well, in deference to the minister I'll say almost as good. You're always thinking of my best interests. I appreciate that.
I will raise a couple of items, if I may, Mr. Chair. Through you, I thank the witnesses for appearing today.
The first item has to do with something Madame Doré Lefebvre brought up, relating to remands.
I can recall that quite a few years ago, when I was the court officer just up the creek from here in Pembroke, one of the ways the judge was able to reduce the number of people who breached his court orders.... If I remember correctly, 20% to 30% of the cases before him were for people on remand, on recognizance, or on probation. Of course, the only power courts have is over people who obey the court order. What he did was get tough on people who committed offences pursuant to their court orders.
I'll tell you what happened: the number of people on remand and the number of people who breached those things went way down. Sometimes it's not just about the government doing something; it's about the partners we work with, including judges and prosecutors.
The other thing that was brought up by the opposition and Mr. Rafferty—and because he's from northern Ontario, I know that first nations issues are important to him, as they are to all of us—because they are very important....
I belonged to an OPP unit that turned over the policing of the James Bay and Hudson Bay coast—that was the North East patrol unit—to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. And what did they say to the Ontario government and I suspect to the federal government? They said they could do as good a job, if not better, with the existing resources. So we turned over the aircraft and a co-pilot, etc.
Something must have changed in the 15 years. I don't think the funding has changed, but I know there continues to be a need. I think it's important to say that in these transitions from traditional policing towards first nations policing, sometimes organizations need to look within themselves to see whether they're doing things the right way.
Commissioner Paulson, we are looking, as you know, because you have come before us, at the economics of policing. I think I may have mentioned this, but some municipalities in Ontario have policing budgets that are 50% of the municipal budget. Is this the same experience in provinces other than those policed by a provincial police force? Is that experience occurring in the rest of Canada, to your knowledge?
Thank you very much. That's a very good question.
In the deficit reduction action plan, we've developed 14 projects or strategies in relation to providing our 10% reduction, of which 9.8%, I believe, was accepted by Treasury Board. This year it will represent the 5.5% reduction of about $2.8 million.
We've found a number of efficiencies in relation to how we do some of the work we're doing. We have a pilot project in the prairie region right now in relation to electronic files versus using hard-copy paper files, which obviously for offenders could mean volumes and volumes of documents. We are doing a pilot project with that right now. It is providing some major efficiencies for our board members.
However, the main area in which we've found additional funding is in video conference appearances versus travelling, especially in some areas, the prairies probably the most. Federal institutions are located all over, geographically, and obviously when you have to send board members and staff to attend the hearings in those areas, of course there are travel costs—hotel, per diem, food. So there are to be some major savings in video conferencing over the next two years; however, we've already increased.... The goal was to be at 20% by the end of this year, and we've already exceeded that. Some of the regions were beyond the 20% and into the 30%, and in fact even beyond the 30%.
We're really seeing a major increase in those, and there are no issues with the offenders. There are no issues in relation to having the parole officers at the other end of the video screen, either. It's been very productive and very efficient and effective for decisions and/or hearings at institutions.
The other main area where we're seeing major efficiencies is in relation to reducing quorum from two board members to one. That legislation came in last June and took effect December 1. It did reduce our quorum from two board members to one board member for all those offenders on post-release.
Let's say an offender was released from an institution, committed a criminal offence, and was sent back into the institution. Now, versus having a hearing, we have an office review done, and instead of having two board members review it, it's done by one board member. Just that alone will provide us with savings in the neighbourhood of $1.6 million per year.
These are some of the major costs we're going to be saving.
As well, the $631 in relation to record suspension—which is the new name for a pardon—was based on the User Fees Act. Through consultations that we did with the public, with NGOs, with other organizations, and obviously through the User Fees Act, the $631 amount was determined to be the administrative cost, the full administrative cost, for a pardon. Applicants pay that themselves, and thus taxpayers are not paying for a criminal offender's record suspension.