Welcome to the 10th meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
We have witnesses today from the Privy Council Office, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, and the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. We will have opening comments from each of the three agencies and then go into our usual rounds of questions.
I would point out to members of the committee that I have reserved about 10 minutes at the end of the committee to go in camera and start to discuss committee business, primarily the report of the subcommittee on agenda for our future meetings. If we can proceed as quickly as possible, my understanding, ladies and gentlemen, is that each of the three agencies before us has a few brief comments to make.
It is my understanding, Mr. Lucas, that you will start. So please, sir, would you give us your comments and also introduce the officials who may be with you today.
Thank you, and good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting us to speak with you today.
With me is Karen Cahill, executive director of finance and corporate planning, and deputy chief financial officer, corporate services, of the Privy Council Office.
I am pleased to be here today and to have the opportunity to answer your questions regarding the 2016-17 main estimates and PCO's 2016-17 report on plans and priorities.
To begin, I would like to provide some information about each of these documents.
PCO is seeking $120.7 million in the 2016-17 main estimates. This is an overall increase of $1.9 million from the amount PCO sought in its 2015-16 main estimates, which totalled $118.8 million. Here are a few examples of why there is an increase in PCO's main estimates for this year.
There are activities related to the continuation and advancement of the border implementation team in support of Canada/U.S. border-related activities; activities related to the support for the Prime Minister's official web presence, including social media accounts; and activities related to the continued implementation of Canada's migrant smuggling prevention program.
These increases are partially offset by a decrease in funding for the implementation of various government-wide initiatives, including the continued consolidation of pay services, the implementation of the Canada School of Public Services' new business model, and the 2016 population census.
I will now provide a summary of PCO's report on plans and priorities for fiscal year 2016-17.
It should be noted first of all that PCO's strategic result is to support and implement the government's program and decisions, and to provide support for the operation of institutions. In this regard, PCO will continue to play a lead coordination and advisory role to ensure that the government meets the objectives set out in its mandate.
PCO plans to meet the strategic outcome by focusing on four key organizational priorities during the year.
PCO's first priority is to support the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers in exercising their responsibilities and implementing government policies by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support on the government's policy, legislative, and government administration priorities, including on the new Governor in Council and Senate appointment process.
PCO's second priority is to support the deliberations of cabinet and its committees on key policy initiatives, to coordinate policy planning, and to provide non-partisan advice to help the government implement its agenda as outlined in the ministerial mandate letters and the Speech from the Throne.
PCO's third priority is to facilitate the management of open, transparent and responsible government, which supports the Clerk of the Privy Council as the head of Canada's public service. PCO will contribute to sound public administration by supporting the delivery of enhanced services that better meet the needs of Canadians, and also improving public service productivity. The department will continue to support the commitment of the clerk and the deputy clerk to an efficient, modern, and highly effective public service.
Finally, PCO's fourth priority is to strengthen the organization's internal management practices. This priority fosters rigorous internal management practices, which enables PCO to fulfill its mandate with excellence.
PCO will achieve this through continued compliance with Government of Canada information priorities and its modernization efforts, including digital record keeping, continuing to adopt the email transformation initiative, and improving its IT security posture.
To ensure that the department has the necessary resources to effectively support the government's program, to strengthen security, and to make the investments needed to renew the life cycle of systems and buildings, new funding is provided to the Privy Council Office in budget 2016, specifically, up to $49 million in 2016-17, and up to $50 million in 2017-18.
The funding for the current year is obtained through the supplementary estimates process. That means that we will certainly come before the committee again to discuss in greater detail the changes that PCO will implement.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to explain the initiatives related to PCO's 2016-17 main estimates and report on plans and priorities.
We'd be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to appear today.
I bring with me two colleagues who offer a wealth of experience. Mr. Jean Laporte is our chief operating officer. He's been with us since our inception in 1990 and possesses a deep understanding of our mandate and the processes we follow. Madam Chantal Lemyre is our director general of corporate services and chief financial officer. She is well placed to provide greater context and information about the financial and corporate details of our work.
I'd like to take just a moment to tell you about who we are and what we do. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, or TSB, was created in 1990 by the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act. Our mandate and our sole purpose is to advance transportation safety in the air, rail, marine, and pipeline modes of transportation that are under federal jurisdiction. We do this by conducting independent investigations, identifying safety deficiencies, analyzing causes and contributing factors, making recommendations, and publishing our reports. Put simply, when something goes wrong, we investigate to find out not just what happened, but why. Then we make public what we've learned so that those best placed to take action—industry and regulators—can do so.
It's also important to clarify what the TSB does not do. We are neither regulator nor tribunal. We do not assign fault, nor do we determine civil or criminal liability. We do not conduct investigations or audits. Those functions are left to the regulators and other organizations. Instead, we're independent, operating at arm's length from other government departments and agencies. This lets us be impartial, free from any real or perceived external influence. As such, we do not report to Transport Canada or to the Minister of Transport, but rather directly to Parliament through the leader of the government in the House of Commons.
That is why the TSB falls under this committee's mandate as regards its main estimates and its report on plans and priorities.
This past March, we completed our 25th year of advancing safety across Canada. That's thousands of investigations and countless lessons learned. A lot has changed over that time.
The world has become increasingly connected, new technologies and new tools have emerged, and the demand for information is more pressing than ever.
Last year, for example, we received notification of approximately 3,700 transportation occurrences from coast to coast to coast. We opened 41 new investigations, and we received over 1,400 requests for information from the media—reporters, editors, TV producers—and as you can imagine, they all want to know everything right away.
To deal with all of this change and the evolving expectations of Canadians, we've developed a new five-year strategic plan. This plan places a priority on modernizing much of the way we work—our processes, our tools, our training and our products, even the way we communicate—while continuing to deliver on our day-to-day mandate. But there are challenges and risks ahead. Chief among them is the need to constantly balance our workload against available resources. That's because successive budgetary freezes and cuts, as well as the implementation of new government-wide systems and initiatives, have had a cumulative impact that has reduced our flexibility.
Put another way, we're a small organization whose management team works hard to ensure good planning and oversight on an ongoing basis so that we can deliver on our mandate as efficiently as possible with limited resources. That really is the ultimate bottom line, because there's not a single person in this country whose life is not impacted by transportation safety. No matter where things go wrong—on our waterways, along our pipelines, on our railways, or in the skies—Canadians need to have confidence that we will find the answers.
They have to know that, even if things are changing and we have to adapt to new realities, we can continue our work without compromise in order to make Canada's transportation network as safe as possible.
Again, in closing, thank you for inviting us to be here today.
We're happy to answer any questions you may have. Merci.
With me is Mr. Brian Berry, who is the assistant secretary and chief financial officer.
We welcome the opportunity to appear before this standing committee. Because of the rather unique nature of the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, with your permission, I would like to give the members of this committee a brief description of who we are and what we do.
The Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat was created pursuant to a first ministers' conference, in May 1973. It was then made a department for the purposes of the Financial Administration Act, by an order in council dated November 29, 1973.
We report to Parliament through the president of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.
Although the secretariat is a federal department, in practice it is an intergovernmental agency whose operational budget is co-funded by the provinces. Our full-time employees consist of federal, provincial, and territorial public servants. The secretariat reports to all governments annually.
The secretariat is a single-program agency whose mandate is to serve federal, provincial, and territorial governments in the planning and conduct of senior level intergovernmental meetings. The organization's primary objective is to relieve federal, provincial, and territorial clients of the numerous administrative and technical tasks associated with the planning and conduct of such conferences. This enables government departments to concentrate on the substantive issues.
These meetings are a key instrument for consultation and negotiation among governments, and are a critical component of the workings of the Canadian federation.
The agency serves conferences in virtually every sector of intergovernmental activity, and its services are available across Canada.
I would also add that the Secretariat is responsible for a unique collection of intergovernmental documents from all the meetings it has helped organize for over 40 years.
Its value as a unique archive has been recognized by Library and Archives Canada.
It is important to note that the secretariat does not convene conferences. We respond to decisions taken by governments to meet on national or specific issues, as we were asked to do with respect to the recent first ministers' meeting which was held in Vancouver in early March.
Decisions concerning the location of such meetings, their frequency in a given year, their timing, and their duration are all factors beyond our control. These factors, however, have a direct impact on our level of expenditures for every fiscal year.
The secretariat served 114 conferences in 2015-16, of which 40 were teleconferences and two were by video.
The Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat 2016-17 budget of just under $6 million remains approximately the same as in the previous year.
This funding will allow the secretariat to address the following priorities: enhance and expand strategic partnerships; continue to ensure a client-focused, responsive service delivery model, in step with rapidly evolving technologies, for example; maintain the effective and efficient use of resources; and cultivate a continuous learning environment for our staff.
The agency is very much in line with the transformation agenda of Blueprint 2020. We are proactive in evaluating and implementing efficient and innovative conference solutions that help contain or reduce costs.
The Secretariat continues to transform its back office by consolidating human resources and financial systems to increase efficiencies.
Security is a priority for the Secretariat, both physical security and with regard to information technology. It is an integral part of the organization's strategic frameworks, its daily activities, and the conduct of its employees.
In closing, the agency, by skilfully executing the logistical planning and delivery of senior-level intergovernmental meetings across Canada, not only relieves governments of an administrative process burden, but more importantly, allows them to greatly benefit from significant cost efficiencies and economies of scale. Thank you.
The Privy Council Office is investing in technology and people to support the ability of the Prime Minister through his official Government of Canada website and social media accounts such as Twitter or YouTube. Our purpose is to provide information to Canadians 365 days a year, on a 24-7 basis, using innovative tools such as interactive approaches, and up-to-date and more rich digital content videos, and other means of conveying important information on government programs, services, and major events.
In addition, the support enables us to have, behind the interface, a web content management system that allows the curating of, and access to, these materials for Canadians on an ongoing basis. In addition, because it's an official Government of Canada website, it needs to respect the policies of the Government of Canada, including with respect to official languages and accessibility. It's to that end that these investments are helping provide information on an around-the-clock, year-round basis to Canadians.
I would like to welcome the three witnesses representing federal agencies and thank them for appearing before us today.
First, I would note that some aspects of the request seem very worthwhile, especially improving the situation at the border with our American partners and the strategy to limit illegal immigration.
On the other hand, I was surprised by the work that Treasury Board must do and the additional funding requested for the media presence.
My first question is for Mr. Lucas.
Since you represent the Privy Council Office, could you tell us the size of the budget, within this funding envelope, that is earmarked for the Prime Minister's Office?
We completed our investigation into the accident at Lac-Mégantic in August 2014. Further to our investigation, we made five recommendations, one of which the government has acted on. There are four more recommendations, one relating to the tank cars used to transport oil and petroleum, as well as the need for risk analysis when rail companies transport oil.
Two further recommendations pertain to Transport Canada's oversight and the need to prevent runaway trains. The TSB has evaluated Transport Canada's response. In fact, we re-evaluated it one year after the measures had been taken. These measures are ongoing and we will continue to verify the measures taken by the government until the recommendations are fully implemented.
There are other recommendations, including the training of regional rail company employees, about which we had expressed concerns. We will also continue to verify the measures taken by the government in this regard.
Thank you for the question.
The reason for this is that before 2004 we used to go almost regularly to Treasury Board to obtain supplementary estimates, because we never had enough money to be able to serve all the conferences that were coming our way, so the decision was taken to finance us at a level that would permit us to do 100 face-to-face conferences.
If there is a surplus, that really goes to the consolidated revenue fund. It has actually saved us a lot of bureaucratic processes, because the money is there, and at the end of the year we lapse, and then it goes into the consolidated revenue fund.
Currently we have no pipeline investigations ongoing. Last year we completed two pipeline investigations.
The way we proceed for pipelines is that because there are very few occurrences that we investigate, we allocate a notional amount that covers the salaries of two investigators who are dedicated to pipelines so that we have the capacity, the readiness. Then, in the year when we launch an investigation, we reallocate money between programs—i.e., from aviation or from marine to pipelines—to cover the cost of the investigations as the costs are incurred.
So that we don't have money that's sitting there unused, we reallocate and move money around, as required.
Certainly. Perhaps starting with your first question, I think you met with Minister Brison, who spoke to his mandate commitment and approach to having greater clarity of reporting to Parliament and looking for opportunities to work with Parliament to harmonize the budget and estimates process. That is an area of commitment of the government that he will be proceeding with and I'm sure he would be pleased, along with his officials, to speak further to the committee about.
In regard to your question pertaining to the additional funds proposed by the budget for PCO, it addresses a number of areas that required investment. One is to upgrade IT systems, both hardware and software, and ensure that they meet security compliance standards at different security levels, given the nature of our work.
There's also support for the buildings to ensure there is a safe and effective workplace and security, and then support for some of the new functions of the government, including in regard to the 's role as Minister of Youth, strengthened intergovernmental focus, and the focus on results and delivery for [Inaudible--Editor] Canadians.
I think—and again I can only answer part of that question—from the finance side of things, it's a little bit more.
With with respect to audiovisual services and items like that, we do actually use the private sector for that, but when it comes down to the discussions in the room, the impartiality and the neutrality of our staff versus using somebody from the private sector, I think these are the issues that need to be offset.
Also, there are the translation and interpretation services that we use. We are using shared services through the Translation Bureau for those, and we don't set those rates. That amounts to a significant part of the costs of what we do.
Mr. McCauley, we are out of time, unfortunately.
Before we go to Mr. Grewal, I have one quick extemporaneous comment to Mr. Berry, to underscore what Mr. McCauley said. In one of my former lives, I was a partner in an event management company that had done work with the federal government. I would be very interested to see any kind of analysis you may have as to the secretariat's cost for arranging meetings, major conventions, and conferences, as opposed to private sector firms that may be out there. That is just a personal curiosity item.
I believe we have Mr. Grewal, for five minutes, please.
I think the Prime Minister needs to get Snapchat.
According to the 2016-17 reports on plans and priorities, PCO supports “the Government of Canada’s efforts to modernize information technology (IT) through enhancements to the department’s IT networks, systems and processes.”
Now, I am sure there is a huge program to upgrade the Government of Canada's IT departments, specifically for members of Parliament and our offices, and anybody looking to save money.
To build upon the earlier point made about meetings, video conferencing is something that is not utilized enough. We have such a vast country, and we also deal internationally with a lot of different stakeholders. What are we doing to ensure that video conferencing is more accessible for everybody in government, and to ensure we can save money for our taxpayers by doing more video conferencing and less travel and face-to-face meetings? Not to say those will all be extinct, but there should be a more efficient way of running our government.
The government is continuing to do work on advancing trade through co-operating on such initiatives as Beyond the Border and others with the United States.
At the March 10 meeting between the and President Obama, they looked at the importance of border modernization and work to advance key trade policy and trade commerce issues including border trade facilitation, strengthening supply chain benefits, applying innovation and innovative technologies, and addressing cybersecurity implications.
A couple of key outcomes of that were the commitments to move ahead on pre-clearance for air, land, marine, and rail and to support entry-exit information. The Privy Council Office provides a supporting role working with other government agencies in terms of the border implementation initiative.
As was noted in the Speech from the Throne, the government is committed to this area, given its recognition of the strong and critical relation with the U.S. as our friend, ally, and largest trading partner.
What I would say, perhaps starting with the final point you made, Mr. Chair, is that fundamentally Destination 2020 is about continuous improvement in the public service of Canada to support the government and Canadians, to be more innovative and agile, to harness technology, to have a modern and effective workplace.
To that end, a number of key actions have been undertaken. One of them at the Privy Council Office, as a support across government, was launching the central innovation hub to enable public servants to learn more about new tools and approaches, such as the use of behavioural economics or data analytics to develop program and policy solutions to better serve Canadians.
We're working with the provinces and territories with regard to innovative approaches to policy challenges. We're using online tools; for example, through the Public Service Commission for language training. We have broader, government-wide ways of sharing information now through tools such as GCpedia, basically a Wikipedia to enable people to collaborate across government, breaking down silos between departments.
Through a number of these initiatives, we believe we're making progress on the aspirational goal of being more effective, enabling young recruits to contribute and to break down barriers to enabling the timely provision of advice to ministers in the government.
I have to say that I agree with the need to update the digital presence. Some prime ministers get earned media and some others choose a 24-7 reality show.
More seriously, based on your three priorities but mainly on the second one, in which you stated, Mr. Lucas, that the role of PCO is to support the deliberations of cabinet and its committee on key policy initiatives, and the third priority, to enable the management of open, transparent, and accountable government, how does it work when mandate letters have gone off to each minister and have been posted online for the first time in Canadian history? How do you translate the mandate letter into management practices? How do you measure quantifiable metrics based on the results of each department's ability to enact those mandate letters? How does it work with the new assistant secretary to the cabinet on results and delivery?
Can you explain the process for me, so that I can get a better understanding?
I think in the first instance that the public mandate letters, as part of the commitment to openness and transparency, define the objectives of the government in a summative form as articulated in the Speech from the Throne.
A number of aspects associated with them will require decisions by cabinet to enable a policy decision. If there are funding requirements, they are proposed through a budgetary process and spending authorities are approved by the Treasury Board before they're presented to Parliament.
What we're trying to do in focusing on results and delivery through the role of my colleague, Matthew Mendelsohn, the deputy secretary for results and delivery, is fundamentally to ensure that at the front end of the policy development process, we are focusing on what outcomes the government is trying to achieve; the plan to get there; and then how we know whether we're going to get there, which are the indicators or the targets.
For example, in the case of an initiative of government over the past number of months, it set the goal of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, so there was a clear target. Benchmarks were set up of how many refugees per week, as well as ongoing monitoring of that, including through an ad hoc committee of cabinet, to be able to track that progress and report to Canadians.
In this the government is sharpening the focus that governments have had on results, to move that up in the policy process to have it defined at the front end, and then to be able to communicate with Canadians what its trying to achieve and the progress en route to achieving that.
Hello, everyone. I would like to thank all the witnesses for being here today.
My question is specifically for the representatives of the Transportation Safety Board.
There was some question of a reduced budget for investigations into pipelines. In your report on plans and priorities, you mentioned communications a number of time. First of all, what is the link between investigations and communications when the goal is to improve oversight of safety and prevention?
Moreover, aren't investigations and prevention part of the same administrative unit? If so, can you elaborate on this? If not, I'd like to know what the link is.
Finally, did the communication process mentioned in your report already exist or is it something new?
First of all, our mandate is to investigate incidents. Other agencies are responsible for the oversight of the pipeline network and other modes of transportation. In the case of the pipeline network, the National Energy Board is responsible for oversight and protection.
Our contribution to prevention is after the fact. When an accident occurs, we investigate to determine what happened and why, and how we can prevent the same thing from happening again. We make recommendations or issue safety advisories.
We use different formats and methods, including safety advisory letters, safety bulletins, and recommendations in order to communicate with the industry and with regulatory bodies in a timely manner. So we don't necessarily wait for an investigation report to be presented.
In the case of less detailed investigations, we can issue safety bulletins. We observe the situation in the field, do a summary analysis and communicate our findings so that corrective measures can be taken.
So there is a combination of methods.
As I said, over the course of the year, we share the resources among our various programs depending on the number of investigations required. If fewer investigations are conducted in aviation, more resources will be allocated to the pipelines or rail sectors. We redistribute the funds.
The figures in our annual departmental performance report always differ from those in the report on plans and priorities. We cannot accurately predict the number of accidents and investigations that will take place. So we redistribute our funds if necessary to make sure we have sufficient resources to do the work as the need arises. We also have a mechanism in place to obtain additional funding, as was the case with the Lac-Mégantic disaster or other major incidents.
We have not analyzed the link between communications and the number of accidents. We can say, however, that we follow up on all of our recommendations and all our safety bulletins. We report our findings in our departmental performance report. We also produce a separate report, our annual report to Parliament, as is required under the act, in which we indicate the results achieved. We try to close the loop and report on results.
Transport Canada responded very quickly to the recommendation that rail companies have assistance plans in the event of leaks or loss of dangerous goods, especially oil and gas. There was no such plan before the Lac-Mégantic accident. The minister at the time responded to this recommendation immediately, and we determined that the response was fully satisfactory.
We are however still waiting for action on the four other recommendations. The first pertains to class 111 tank cars. For years, the TSB has said that these tank cars are not strong enough to contain their cargo in the event of an accident. Last year, Canada and the United States introduced stricter standards, but it will take some time for all these tank cars to be replaced. We determined that this response was satisfactory. These people have a good plan, but we are still concerned about the time it will take to implement these new regulations.
The second recommendation pertains to the risk analyses that rail companies must produce when they carry large quantities of dangerous goods, including flammable liquids. Here again, Transport Canada has required companies to produce risk analyses.
Transport Canada's response to this recommendation was also deemed to be well-intentioned, but we will once again wait to see how things develop.
We are concerned about the standards. For companies with at least 10,000 cars per year travelling on a rail line, Transport Canada wants to know their contents. This standard would not have helped the situation in Lac-Mégantic because MMA had fewer than 10,000 cars using that rail line per year. So we were asked to review these numbers.
As to the two remaining recommendations, one pertains to prevention for cars that are not sufficiently secured and can run away on a hill. Our first evaluation of the response to this recommendation was that it was only partially satisfactory because we had questions about the application of the new regulations. We actually just repeated this evaluation and our determination was the same.
The fifth recommendation pertains to oversight by Transport Canada of the safety management systems. We determined that Transport Canada's plan was satisfactory but we want to see the actual results.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you for what has been a very informative testimony from all the witnesses here gathered. Let me just say that I am very impressed by the professionalism of the work you are doing. You are each three very different organizations, but the professionalism and indeed the non-partisan nature of your work does you credit.
I have the privilege of sitting on the public accounts committee, so it could be that we'll be seeing each other in a different venue and a different way when we're looking at outcomes, when we're looking at past projects and the Auditor General's report.
In that vein, in this morning's Auditor General's report Mr Ferguson spoke to an overall theme. I think this theme would apply here today. It is the quality of data collection within organizations, agencies, departments in the public service and the difficulty the agencies would then have in using that data, either because of the quality of the data, because of its accuracy, or because of legacy systems that just weren't providing accurate data to allow organizations to then make solid, evidence-based recommendations and policy decisions, which would, I would think, affect you in your work in developing your estimates. That's really what we're talking about here today, so that you can continue your good work.
Maybe a little bit of time for each one of the organizations would be appropriate.
Indeed, that is an important area of focus and part of the focus of the government, as I said in response to a previous member's question, on outcomes for Canadians and really focusing on the implementation of initiatives. Critical to knowing whether you are actually on the path towards achieving the results or outcomes you've committed to for Canadians is having the data to tell you whether you are on track, whether in a case pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions, the number of refugees, or the number of innovative companies in the economy.
Indeed it is a priority of the government and a focus to identify data sources for those key indicators that can be reflected in reports on plans and priorities, with the results then reflected in reporting to Parliament. This will take effort from across government, working with provinces and territories and other partners as well, working with Statistics Canada in terms of its data collection and indeed in some areas with international partners.
Mr. Chair, if I may, as an aside I want to correct the record concerning the support through the Privy Council Office of the process for the independent advisory board on Senate appointments. The secretariat will have five people in it.
I thank all the witnesses for being here today and providing valuable information to our committee members. I would remind some of our witnesses that in response to a question or two, I believe you suggested that you would be providing updated information to the committee. You can, of course, get that directly to our clerk.
Thank you once again. I appreciate your attendance, and you are dismissed.
We will suspend for a few minutes and come back in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]