Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. My name is Michelle Doucet and I am the assistant deputy minister of corporate services at the Privy Council Office. I'm here today with Madam Karen Cahill, who is the deputy chief financial officer and the executive director of the finance planning and administrative directorate at PCO. We're delighted to be here. We look forward to answering your questions.
I'm going to begin my remarks with some context by briefly explaining the mandate of PCO and its three principal roles. The mandate of the Privy Council Office is to serve Canada and Canadians by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support to the , the ministers within the Prime Minister's portfolio and cabinet. The Prime Minister is responsible for this organization.
PCO supports the development of the Government of Canada's policy, legislative, and government administration agendas, coordinates responses to issues facing the government and the country, and supports the effective operation of cabinet. PCO is led by the Clerk of the Privy Council. In addition to serving as the deputy head for PCO, the clerk also acts as secretary to cabinet and the head of the public service.
PCO has three main roles.
First, we provide non-partisan advice to the , portfolio ministers, cabinet and cabinet committees on matters of national and international importance. This includes providing advice and support on the full spectrum of policy, legislative, and government administration issues faced by the government.
Second, PCO is the secretariat to cabinet and all of its committees, except the Treasury Board, which is supported by the Treasury Board Secretariat.
Third, PCO fosters a high-performing and accountable public service.
We deliver all three roles to our people who provide advice, coordination, and support. Unlike many other departments, PCO doesn't deliver programs. We spend the funds that Parliament appropriates to us on salaries, operating costs, and services received from other government departments. As such, PCO is governed by the same financial and administrative requirements under which all departments operate.
I would also add that, like the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat, PCO is something called the central agency, and as such, has the central coordinating role across the government to provide advice to the Prime Minister and cabinet and to ensure policy coherence and coordination on their behalf.
Now I'd like to give you some details on PCO's supplementary estimates (C) for the current fiscal year. In these supplementary estimates, PCO is seeking $4.2 million for the following items: $1.6 million to both complete the work related to the coordination of a government-wide communications approach for Canada's economic action plan under the former government and to begin to modernize the 's digital presence.
Of that amount, $1 million is for the operation of what was the communications component of the economic action plan, which ended following the 2015 election. The EAP funding would support a team of five public servants within PCO. The focus of their work since the election has been on properly archiving the appropriate records, both digital and analog, and on closing out the EAP. As well, this team continues to provide support to the communication of government priorities.
The second portion of that funding is $0.6 million, and that's for activities relating to support of the 's official web presence. The Privy Council Office provides support for the maintenance of the Prime Minister's Government of Canada website as well as all publishing to that site, and to the Prime Minister's Government of Canada's social media accounts.
The requirements for the site and those accounts have grown and become more complex with steady increases in volume and new features such as video, richer digital content, live streaming, and enhanced social media. These represent an additional pressure for PCO's web operations and associated IT support. The funds will be directed to meeting these requirements in support of the 's web presence.
PCO is seeking $1 million for activities related to the continued implementation of Canada's Migrant Smuggling Prevention Strategy. The Special Advisor on Human Smuggling and Illegal Migration took office in September 2010 and was charged with coordinating the Government of Canada's response to mass marine human smuggling ventures targeting Canada. Canada has implemented a whole-of-government strategy to prevent the further arrival of human smuggling vessels.
This is a priority national security file. Budget 2015 approved funding in the amount of $44.5 million over three years to continue Canada's coordinated efforts to identify and respond to such threats. Reporting to the National Security Advisor, the Special Advisor's mandate consists in the coordination of the Government of Canada's response to marine migrant smuggling. This includes working with key domestic partners to coordinate Canada's strategy, working with key international partners to promote cooperation, and advancing Canada's engagement with governments in transit countries and in regional and international fora.
PCO is also requesting $0.8 million for activities related to the continuation and advancement of the Border Implementation Team in support of the Beyond the Border Action Plan. By way of background, in February 2011, Canada and the U.S. issued a Declaration on a Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. The declaration established a new long-term partnership accelerating the legitimate flow of people and goods between both countries, while strengthening security and economic competitiveness.
It focused on four areas of cooperation: addressing threats early; trade facilitation, economic growth and jobs; integrated cross-border law enforcement; and critical infrastructure and cybersecurity. This led to the announcement of the Beyond The Border Action Plan in December 2011. Consequently, concrete benefits have begun to accrue to industry and travellers through an increasingly efficient, modernized and secure border. Continued central coordination and oversight of Border Action Plan implementation has been important for ensuring its success.
PCO is seeking $0.2 million to support the creation of a new non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointment process. In December 2015, the government announced the establishment of a new, non-partisan, merit-based process to advise on Senate appointments. Under the new process, an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments was established on January 19, 2016, to provide advice to the on candidates for the Senate.
The Independent Advisory Board is guided by public, merit-based criteria, in order to identify Canadians who would make a significant contribution to the work of the Senate. The criteria will help ensure a high standard of integrity, collaboration, and non-partisanship in the Senate. The government is moving quickly to reform this Senate and the new appointments process will be implemented in two phases.
In the first phase which is transitional, five appointments will be made to improve the representation of the provinces with the most vacancies, i.e., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The second phase will implement a permanent process to replenish the remaining vacancies, and will include an application process open to all Canadians.
The funding for PCO allows it to support the operations of the Independent Advisory Board and its secretariat in its work during the first transitional phase to provide advice and recommendations to the for his consideration.
In addition, PCO's statutory forecast increases by $0.1 million for the salary and motor car allowance for the .
Following the election, the Honourable Maryam Monsef was appointed to the position of Minister of Democratic Institutions. To reflect the addition of this full ministerial position that includes both the salary and motor car allowance, a new item was included under PCO's statutory forecasts.
This completes the explanation—
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you.
I am pleased to introduce Omer Boudreau who is our corporate management vice-president at the commission.
We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Public Service Commission's departmental performance report for 2014-15 and supplementary estimates.
The mandate of the Public Service Commission is to promote and safeguard merit-based appointments, and in collaboration with other stakeholders, to protect the non-partisan nature of the public service. While the Public Service Employment Act gives appointment authority to the PSC, the legislation also calls for this authority to be delegated to deputy heads.
In a decentralized system based on the delegation of authorities, the commission fulfils its mandate by providing policy guidance and expertise, conducting effective oversight, and delivering innovative staffing and assessment services. We also work with departments and agencies to promote a non-partisan federal public service that reflects Canada's diversity and draws on talents and skills from across the country.
We report independently to Parliament on the overall integrity of the staffing system and non-partisanship of the public service. To that end, our 2014-15 annual report, which I notice is in front of you, was tabled in Parliament on February 23. We would be pleased to be back in front this committee to discuss it, should the committee wish us to do so.
Today, I will be focusing my remarks on three areas. First, I would like to highlight some of the key achievements found in our departmental performance report 2014-15. Second, I would like to speak to some of the areas of our supplementary estimates (C). Third, I would like to conclude by providing you with an update of the efforts that we're making to modernize our approach to staffing.
Mr. Chair, a non-partisan public service is one in which appointments are based on merit and are free from political influence and where employees not only perform their duties in a politically impartial manner, but are also seen to do so. As part of our responsibilities, we communicate with public servants about the value of non-partisanship and remind them of their rights as well as their legal responsibilities with respect to political activities.
Any public servant who is interested in becoming a political candidate in a municipal, provincial, territorial or federal election must first obtain the permission of the commission, following its review. We approve these requests if the employee's ability to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner will not be impaired or be perceived as being impaired. In making this decision, we consider factors such as the nature of the election, the nature of the employee's duties in the organizational context, and the level and visibility of the employee's position. Approvals are often subject to conditions such as taking a leave without pay in order to seek nomination to be a candidate.
I'd like to turn to the staffing system which accounts for the majority of our activities and resources. We provide guidance, tools, and support services to enable hiring managers and human resource advisers to staff effectively while meeting the intent of the Public Service Employment Act.
We also administer programs that recruit qualified Canadians from across the country. This involves extensive outreach and increased collaboration with departments and agencies, such as participating in career fairs and information sessions with academic institutions across the country. For example, over 39,000 applications were submitted under the fall federal student work experience campaign and over 6,500 students were hired.
We work closely with partners, including the office of the chief human resources officer, to create pools of qualified candidates that are available to federal organizations across the country. This collaboration helps to reduce duplication of efforts across the public service.
We continue to expand our use of new technology. Online testing now accounts for 72% of all the tests administered by the PSC. More than 92% of the PSC's second language tests were completed online. Unsupervised online testing continued to increase, representing nearly 42,000 tests in 2014-2015.
These tests allow applicants to take a test at a location of their choosing and to have greater access to public service jobs no matter where they live. This testing also helps to reduce barriers for persons with disabilities by allowing them to take exams from home using their own adaptive technologies.
Our most important platform for recruitment is our site called jobs.gc.ca. In April 2015, the system provided Canadians with a single portal to access public service jobs. Nearly 8,800 internal and external job advertisements were posted, resulting in over 530,000 applications.
We continue to look for ways to further modernize the system and support in order to improve the user experience. This is a good segue to the funds that are in supplementary estimates (C), as departments and agencies contribute to the cost of operating this platform, which explains the transfer you see in the estimates.
This consolidated system also provides the foundation to support the implementation of the Veterans Hiring Act . On July 1 last year, the legislation came into force providing medically released veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces greater access to public service jobs.
We provided training and new tools to raise awareness of the skills and competencies that veterans have to offer to the public service. We ourselves at the commission have hired two veterans to serve as navigators in guiding their colleagues through the priority entitlements and staffing system. To date, more than 94 veterans have been hired, including 15 under the new statutory entitlement which gives the highest priority to veterans who have been released for medical reasons attributable to service.
As part of our efforts to continuously improve our system, I would like to speak about changes that will come into effect on April 1 to simplify the staffing process. These changes build on the reforms introduced and our experience gained since 2005, with the goal of modernizing while ensuring the overall health of the staffing system.
Based on our observations over the past 10 years, we believe the staffing system has matured, along with the human resources capacity in departments and agencies. As such, we are streamlining our policies to remove duplication, going from 12 policies to one.
This single policy will more clearly articulate expectations for deputy heads and reinforce their discretion and accountability. As a result of these changes, departments and agencies will have greater scope to customize their staffing based on their operational realities and needs. Hiring managers will also have more room to exercise their judgment in their staffing decisions, and will also be accountable for their decisions.
Mr. Chair, this context in which the public service operates is constantly evolving. Departments and agencies need to be able to respond effectively to ensure that they attract the right people with the right skills at the right time.
To that end, the commission will focus on integrating its guidance and support to respond to the unique needs of organizations, while also promoting best practices across the system. We will be reducing the reporting burden, in line with the recommendations of the Auditor General's report of 2015. Deputy heads will remain accountable to the Public Service Commission for the way in which they exercise their discretion, and we will continue to oversee the integrity of the staffing system through audits and investigations.
However, we will be adjusting our oversight activities to be more nimble in order to support continuous improvement. For instance, audits will shift from reviewing individual organizations to taking a system-wide approach with a focus on areas that need attention.
Mr. Chair, for more than 100 years, the Public Service Commission has been entrusted by Parliament with the mandate of safeguarding merit and non-partisanship in the public service. We will continue to foster strong collaborative relationships with parliamentarians, deputy heads, bargaining agents, and other stakeholders so that Canadians continue to have confidence in their non-partisan and professional public service and to benefit from the skills and competencies to deliver results.
We'd be pleased to take questions at this point. Thank you.
The ease of access was facilitated through the fact that we integrated a single window. That basically made it very clear. Having a single window that Canadians can all go through to see what jobs are available in the public service is definitely a benefit.
Now, we are actually in the process of reviewing, once you know where the single window is, how easy it is to actually enter into the system. We recognize at this point in time that it could be a better user experience. As I was saying, we are looking at better ways of improving that system which was put in place in 2015, but we are also looking at what it would mean to actually do the system from the user perspective, as distinct from the government perspective.
We're looking at continuous improvement, facilitating easier language, trying to get rid of a lot of the very bureaucratic language, and seeing whether we can do a system that would, by the criteria the potential candidates could put in, more easily direct them towards jobs that would be suitable for their skill sets.
The system works well. Every department is using it. As well, we're asking departments to monitor a lot more the activities they have within that system. But we always recognize that it should be a bit more user-friendly, and we're going to be testing that in the months to come.
One thing we've also done is we've streamlined a lot of our policy requirements. We were an extremely rules-based system. As of April 1 we're really going back to the basic intent of the legislation, which was very clear and gave a lot of flexibility. One thing we're going to do is adapt that system so that it removes any extra information that is no longer required on the basis of policy.
There is part 7 of the legislation that we administer, which is very clearly dedicated to political activities and candidacy.
Over and above all of this, we are doing a lot of work with Treasury Board in the context of values and ethics. There's a very fine line when it comes to values and ethics, and also partisan activities per se.
When these things happen, we do a lot of work within the system to actually analyze what constitutes a political activity, and whether or not there's somebody who has been seen as not being able to continue to exercise their duties.
That's where the difference lies. When there's a group activity, there are a lot of things that are related to the values and ethics aspect, which basically falls within the scope of the deputy head to continue to brief and to educate the staff.
We do that as well. What we've done is gone back, and working directly with PCO have looked at continuing to inform public servants of the duty they have to act in a non-partisan manner.
When we have egregious cases, or when there are obvious...or we can identify individuals, we do have the possibility of conducting investigations to see whether or not there has been an issue of conduct and take the corrective measures that are necessary at that point.
Thank you for the question. It's a good question.
Most of us increasingly live our lives through technology and on the Internet. Government has to work hard at staying relevant and being able to connect to Canadians. Technology evolves far more rapidly than we could ever keep up.
One of the pieces the Government of Canada has had to get its head around, especially in the last five or six years, is how we harness what we used to call web 2.0 technology and social media, and imbed that in the Government of Canada context. It's different in the public sector. We have obligations that reflect our values and ethics, like official languages and accessibility. If you have a handicap, say you can't see or hear, we need to make sure that as the Government of Canada that is accessible. Security matters and privacy are important considerations.
As we build the digital presence, we work within that operating framework, in that we're trying to satisfy Canadians' thirst for information and for knowledge. In the past it used to be that a lot was print media, but now they want to see it. Sometimes they want videos. Some people get all of their news via Twitter. I'm not a Twitter person, but I can assure you that many of my colleagues are Twitter people. My children live on YouTube. They will often report to me what they hear about what the government has done because they're watching YouTube.
The challenge for us is how to have a Government of Canada display on YouTube, on Twitter, or on Facebook in a way that respects the values and ethics of the Government of Canada.
We had an external panel who came in and did a review of some of the processes with us to see where we could increase our capacity or better our processes. Right now we are in the process of reviewing those. We are doing a lot of process mapping to see where we could improve our procedures.
The other aspect is we're doing a lot more outreach to departments to make them understand, and a lot more education about what constitutes fraud. We demonstrate what best practices departments should use to avoid fraudulent behaviour in the context of staffing. That in itself has proven to be of benefit. We are doing a lot more outreach when it comes to prevention in the context of the system.
We are going to continue to look at different procedures that can be used to shorten.... Not everything has to be done through a full-fledged investigation. For instance, in the past, if somebody were to admit to a fault committed, an investigation was the standard way. Now we have shorter processes when we have people who admit to having committed fraud, for instance. We are taking more diverse measures.
The important thing is that when we operate in the context of investigation, we fully recognize the importance of balance and the rights of all individuals to be heard and to be able to give their cases. We are looking for judicial fairness in the context of the processes we use. Sometimes these investigations are harder and more complex, and involve more people, and sometimes it's a one-on-one situation. Others involve a number of candidates in a broader process, which takes more time.
It varies because it is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all type of process, but at the same time, when you look at the number of appointments that happen within the public service in general, the number of investigations is minimal, which means that the system is actually doing very well and is very healthy. The investigations are still there to allow us to ensure that we are dealing with the most egregious cases.
Yes, in a very general way.
I said in my opening remarks that one of the roles of the Privy Council Office was to house Michael Wernick, who is the head of the public service, and to foster a high-performing public service.
In PCO we actually have one of our branches that is called the business transformation and renewal secretariat. Its mandate is to take a whole-of-government approach, which is to step back and see what's happening across the government, whether it be with respect to recruitment, to management mechanisms, or to compensation mechanisms.
We have a very important governance housed in that, and that is the management committee of deputy ministers, who meet on a regular basis to consider how the totality of the public service is operating. They're supported by very important departments, such as the Public Service Commission, the office of the chief human resources officer, and by other portions of the Treasury Board Secretariat. To answer your previous question, they will have a look at how many public servants we have in the regions and whether there is balance across the country. What is, to speak to Madam Ratansi's question, the balance in diversity? Are we getting the kind of talent that we need? Is there a problem in recruiting, for instance, women into the technology category, into the CS category? Does that go back into the university recruitment level? It's to dig through that.
In short, yes, but it's at what I would call a very high senior executive level.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to talk about that, because as the ADM of corporate services, I am uniquely positioned to do so. As we said before, our main function at the Privy Council Office is to provide advice and support and coordination. We do that for fairly senior level decision-makers—the Prime Minister and his portfolio and the Clerk of the Privy Council.
We take an approach that we want those folks to focus on their work, on their day job, and that we support them on a corporate services basis completely. My colleague who runs the secretariat that I just discussed, the business transformation renewal secretariat, doesn't have to worry about looking after the mechanics of her human resources staffing or her budgets or any of her other corporate responsibilities, because my folks do that for her.
We have one-stop shopping in corporate services at the Privy Council Office. It includes all of the internal services that you would normally think of: finance—Karen is the head of my finance group—contracting, building facilities management, human resources, access to information and privacy, parliamentary returns for PCO. It also includes things you might not necessarily think about, such as passports and visas for people going on trips, security operations—security is really important at the Privy Council Office, and there is a workforce dedicated to doing it. In our legal services group we have lawyers, like other departments, but we also have a dedicated group that works on something called cabinet confidences. We include that in our internal services. Then finally, of course, there would be communication services and what I would call the senior level management oversight for the department, including the audit group, the audit division, and the clerk's office.
Perhaps I will just talk about... I've just given you one year of information. Maybe I could be a bit more helpful.
The total funding that the PCO will be seeking for the next six fiscal years will be $5.4 million, and thereafter it will be $700,000 ongoing. What is this going to be used for? It's going to be used, really, for two things.
One is for the board itself, the honourable Canadians who have let their names stand to do this work. We have some permanent federal members, and then, as you know, there will be members named for every province. We are paying a fairly modest per diem to do this work, but we are paying them to do it, as well as paying their travel expenses when they need to come together to have conversations. We will, however, take advantage of technology whenever possible to keep expenses to a minimum.
There is the cost of standing up the board, which is something that you see in the $200,000 in these estimates—standing up that committee to fill the most immediate vacancies.
As I said, we're looking for money over six fiscal years, and that's based on the projection of vacancies in the Senate based on age of retirement. If you do the analysis on that, you have a kind of immediate work plan.
The second portion of the money will be used to pay for the public servants who will support this and act as a secretariat. We'll be absorbing some of that cost ourselves and have been already, but it will mean more work, because prior to this, PCO really didn't have a very big role in the appointment of senators. This is a new functionality for us, supporting the work of the committee and the technology required to support it as well.
Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, I suspect when I respond that my colleagues to the right will nod their heads.
Ms. Donoghue described the launch of the new website for the Public Service Commission last April. I would tell you that for folks in my position across government, probably their biggest preoccupation is technology. Technology evolves rapidly. It is a critical tool for all of us.
I talked earlier about how doing technology in government is different from doing it in the private sector, because they operate in a different value system. Candidly, the private sector folks are not necessarily going to be preoccupied with official languages and with accessibility the way the Government of Canada will be.
I'll obviously just speak for PCO, but I suspect it's similar in other departments. We have two portions in technology. One is the everyday run, making sure that the systems in which everybody does their work are up and operating, and that they are operating safely, because we're a pretty target-rich environment for cybersecurity, for the bad guys who are out there. We have to make sure we have the right kinds of firewalls that protect the folks who are working within that, but at the same time that they don't stymie their work. That's the day-to-day operations. Involved in the day-to-day operations is being able to do maintenance and patching and finding windows of opportunity when we can do that, and not disturbing the workflow.
Then, of course, the second piece is innovation. If the clerk of the public service wants to reach out to universities for post-secondary recruitment, and he wants to do Google Hangouts, if he came to me right now and said, “Michelle, I need you to make this happen for me”, I would say “Okay”. The money that we're seeking in these supplementary estimates is to begin to support us to do that.
I spoke earlier about live streaming. Right now we are supported in that by contract help. I want to be able to build the capacity within the Privy Council Office to have that embedded, to be able to respond in a nimble and agile way to Canadians who want to use technology to connect with their government.
I would say technology in being able to move in a safe but nimble way is probably my biggest preoccupation these days.
Thank you for the question.
One of the things we did, which is something that we will always do to keep our security posture current, is that we worked across the government to make sure that business continuity plans were updated, streamlined, and linked to revised critical functionality. October 22 was a wake-up call in that regard.
At PCO we built our emergency response plans. We rebuilt them, and we reviewed them and the communications protocols. Awareness and training were enhanced. When an alarm went off a couple of weeks ago, the first question I asked myself was, “What is this? Is this a fire, or is this an earthquake, or is this a shooter?”
I wouldn't have thought to do that on October 22, but now as a result of that training, you have a different security protocol. In the event of an earthquake how you behave is different from how you behave in the event of a shooter. It's important to have education and awareness on that.
From a communications perspective, PCO has clarified its information exchange processes with other emergency response providers in making sure we're linked with the public safety operation centre and Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Treasury Board Secretariat is the employer of the public service and has an important role in any events like that.
We made physical improvements, but security considerations preclude me from going into the details on those. Some of them are perhaps evident and some less evident.
I think I'll stop at that.
In 2006, I had to resign my position when I was elected to a minority government. At that time, I would have liked to keep my status with regard to that position which I liked very much. Today, I have turned the page and moved on to something else. But I wanted to mention it.
To give people the opportunity of running for office, perhaps you could grant them the status referred to as “indeterminate”, which would be an important asset for a public servant.
I'd like to go back to the Privy Council Office.
I would like to come back to the process regarding the appointment of senators.
Can you enlighten me in that regard?
You said that you were seeking an additional $200,000 for the Senate, but you spoke about costs of $5.4 million over the next six years.
Could you tell me more about those costs? Will the recommendations in this report be made public?
In the context of more specifics, we have been on-boarding veterans in the past, but not with the highest level of priority as we have done with the new legislation. We have had a lot of interest, so the activities are picking up and there is more knowledge that is being transferred across departments.
If I look at the activities we've had up to February 10, basically we have referred more than 876 veterans across 49 departments. As I said, many of them decide not to pursue the referral that is being made, for all kinds of reasons. Basically, out of those referrals we've had 11 appointments made to DND, one to ESDC, and one to Health Canada.
When it comes to referrals in the context of medical releases that are not attributable to service, 4,000 veterans have been referred to 60 departments, so there is a lot of activity that is picking up.
The question is whether veterans are seeing that there are opportunities that they want to embrace. It's not just a question of whether we want to hire; it's whether veterans are interested in the jobs that are being posted at this point. What's happening is that there's a lot more knowledge and awareness. We've been able to provide a lot more information on some of the successes we've had, on the skill sets we have from veterans and CAF members. I think that is going to grow.
It's important to keep in mind that some of these veterans have jobs, but they also have this entitlement with government for a five-year period. They may not necessarily look to do a move at this point in time in the context of the system. As they're making their way into the system....
It is a fairly complex system, when you don't really understand it. We as public servants have been part of it for a long time. That's why we're spending a lot of time providing information to veterans and teaching them how to make their way into the system. It is very different when going from CAF language to bureaucratic language. We're really trying to do some of the matching at this point, but we're confident that it will increase.