Good morning, Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting the Privy Council Office to review our 2017-18 departmental plan and the 2017-18 main estimates.
I'm accompanied today by Ms. Kami Ramcharan, assistant deputy minister, corporate services branch, and chief financial officer.
My remarks will be brief so that we may turn quickly to the questions of the committee.
As you know, the mandate of PCO is to provide professional non-partisan advice and support to the and ministers within his portfolio, and to support the effective operation of cabinet. As a central agency, PCO exerts a leadership role across government departments and agencies to ensure the coherence and coordination of policy development and delivery.
Budget 2016 provided $190 million over five years starting in 2016 and up to $26.7 million per year ongoing to PCO to support the department's changing and expanding role under the new government. These resources were approved under two main categories: government priorities and new and enhanced roles, and strengthening information technology, security and infrastructure.
Specifically with regard to the main estimates for 2017-18, the Privy Council Office is seeking $144.9 million overall. This is an increase of $24.2 million from the amount sought in the 2016-17 main estimates, which was $120.7 million.
This increase is mainly due to $26.5 million in additional funding to enhance PCO's capacity to support the and the government in the delivery of their agenda as announced in budget 2016.
It comprises the following: $6.5 million for improving the physical security infrastructure; $4.5 million for space modernization to achieve a more functional workspace for PCO employees; $3.7 million for the enhancement of PCO's communication approach and operational support for the development of the e-cabinet initiative; $3.3 million for a focus on outcomes and results for Canadians through a new results and delivery unit housed in PCO; $1.8 million for enhanced engagement with provinces and territories, as well as municipalities and indigenous groups, serving the as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs; $1.2 million for active engagement with youth through the creation of a youth secretariat, serving the Prime Minister as Minister for Youth; $1 million for increased policy capacity to support the democratic institutions reform agenda; $1 million for the creation of a new non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointment process; $0.7 million to support a more open, transparent, and merit-based Governor in Council appointment policy; $200,000 related to a transfer from Employment and Social Development Canada to the Privy Council Office to support resources for the Blueprint 2020 initiative; and, $3.8 million for other initiatives to support the government's agenda.
These increases are partially offset by a decrease of $3 million related to the sunsetting of funds related to the Canadian Secretariat to the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council and Beyond the Border Action Plan, and a decrease of $600,000 for the implementation of the government-wide initiative to reduce spending in professional services, travel and government advertising.
The majority of the Budget 2016 investments have started in 2016-17, and if you compare the 2017-18 main estimates over PCO 2016-17 total estimates up to the 2016-17 supplementary estimates (C), the difference is $16 million less. This concludes my overview of the changes in PCO's 2017-18 main estimates as compared to the previous year.
I will now briefly summarize PCO's departmental plan for fiscal year 2017-18. This departmental plan represents a simplified report on our priorities. Formerly known as the report on plans and priorities, the departmental plan is easier to read with a focus on what PCO will do in the coming years and how it intends to coordinate the implementation of the government's ongoing agenda.
In 2017-18, PCO devoted significant resources to advise on and help advance policies that support growth for the middle class, open and transparent government, a clean environment and strong economy, strength in diversity, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, including the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and security and opportunity for Canadians.
Support will also be provided to the in the engagement of an international agenda focused on trade relations, promoting Canadian business abroad, and advancing core bilateral relationships, including the relationship between Canada and the United States.
In addition, in support of intergovernmental relations, PCO will organize bilateral and first ministers' meetings with provinces and territories on key priority areas, while in support of the 's role as Minister of Youth, PCO will help advance the work of the Prime Minister's Youth Council, and support the development of a national youth policy.
Other priorities for the department will be to implement E-Cabinet, including training and support for all ministers and deputy ministers; support other government departments and agencies build a stronger focus on results; improve efficiency and effectiveness, and support renewal of the public service.
This completes the summary of PCO's departmental plan.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide this context. We would be pleased to answer your questions.
Good morning, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be here and to see you and the committee members once again. I'm accompanied this morning by Éric Trottier, our chief financial officer.
The purpose of my appearance this morning is to share with you information about our plans and priorities to explain how we have worked within our relatively small budget to achieve these priorities and how we will continue to do so in the coming year.
Our 2017-2018 annual budget is $5.4 million, and we have a full-time team of approximately 30 employees.
I know you are familiar with our mandate, given the recent legislative review hearings, so I will not spend any time this morning providing you with information or background in that regard.
My priorities, as outlined in my departmental plan, can be summarized briefly.
The first is to focus on operational delivery and efficiency through ongoing assessment of procedures and approaches, which includes ensuring an up-to-date technology infrastructure.
The second is to continue to address the permanent challenge facing organizations such as mine: ensuring we are known and that people understand what we are able to do to help them.
The third is to ensure that we have the right people in my office to carry out our important work. This speaks to another ongoing challenge for a small organization such as mine: recruitment and retention.
A key feature of the plan is to instill a spirit of continuous improvement. The work we do is sensitive, and its impacts are broad, as we have discussed at this committee before. There will always be a better way to do our work, and we have to identify those opportunities to adapt and improve on an ongoing basis. Our approaches to our work can and must change as attitudes toward whistle-blowing change and as the culture of the public service changes over time as a result of collective will and focused collective action.
For example, in the coming year, we are going to be building on what we started two years ago as part of what we call the “LEAN” exercise. This is a thorough assessment of processes and procedures, with the goal of identifying ways to improve effectiveness, including timeliness.
You may have noted that two years ago, in 2015-16, our self-imposed service standards, in their second year of operation, were not being met. This was due not only to unanticipated staff turnover, but also to what I identified as an increasingly burdensome and time-consuming process. Following the LEAN exercise, I am pleased to report that we are back on track and will be reporting in our forthcoming annual report that we have fully met those standards in the year that just passed. I believe those statistics are in a document provided to committee members this morning. In the coming year, we will continue with this initiative, focusing more specifically on investigations, having worked on case analysis last year.
In terms of IMIT priorities, we are going to be working to update our infrastructure to improve, for example, secure remote access to operational files to ensure that staff are fully equipped with the up-to-date tools necessary to do their jobs, wherever those jobs take them across the country. In addition, we are going to be looking at options to our existing case management system, which is a core foundational technological tool and part of our infrastructure. In doing so, we are going to be recognizing that any options must put the protection of sensitive information as a top priority and that this information must be kept separate from shared or government-wide systems.
I have spoken about our communications activities in my previous appearances, but I do wish to underscore the importance of our continuing investment in this regard. Reaching out to public servants with clear, accurate and credible information about their options is not something that can be done only once; it is a permanent challenge and shared responsibility.
While we certainly see an uptake of interest in questions about our office and approaches to our office following the tabling of case reports in Parliament, our efforts to reach out have to be ongoing.
More specifically, with respect to case reports, as you know, I tabled two founded cases of wrongdoing in February. I can tell you this morning, Mr. Chair, that I expect to table another before the House rises for the summer.
Those two February case reports not only triggered significant media attention, but they also triggered an increase in general inquiries to our office and an increase both in disclosures and about reprisals, making the month of March the busiest of the past year.
I would also like to share with you here this morning that I will be reporting in my annual report that we launched 36 investigations in 2016-2017, which is a record number for my office. And we currently have 44 investigations underway. We are, I think it is safe to say, busier now than we ever have been.
That leaves me to touch on my final priority, which is to build a strong team capable of meeting our increasing workload. We're adding to our ranks of case analysts and investigators at this very moment. They are the heart of our operations. We're planning for further hiring in both the operational and the legal sections of my office.
I would like to share the observation that hiring and retention, as I mentioned earlier, are particular challenges for a micro-organization such as mine, given the impact of even a single departure on a small team and, further, given that opportunities for advancement simply don't exist as they do in a larger organization.
Mr. Chair, in conclusion, my office currently has a budget sufficient to carry out its work, including the ability to plan for contingencies. Those contingencies include adapting to new technologies, changes in accommodations to respect both government policies and a growing number of employees, and those expenses that I would say are unforeseeable, such as external legal agent costs, which we have had to deal with in the past, but not in the past fiscal year.
Having said this, I note that the coming year is expected to be one in which the technology- and accommodation-related contingencies actually materialize. My projections are that we'll be able to respond within our existing budget. It's also worth noting, I think, Mr. Chair, that these projections and plans are also consistent with the concerns and desires of my office's employees as they have expressed to us in ongoing consultations with the senior management team.
I will end my opening remarks there, Mr. Chair, and I will be happy to respond to any questions. Thank you.
Good morning. I'm pleased to be before the committee. My name is Wilma Vreeswijk. I'm the deputy minister and president of the Canada School of Public Service. With me are my colleagues Jean-François Fleury, the vice-president of learning programs, and Elizabeth Tromp, the vice-president of corporate services and chief financial officer.
Because I don't appear very often before you, I thought I would go through our organizational context a bit to give you a frame of what we do.
The school is the common service provider for the public service in the area of learning. We equip public servants with the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need across federal organizations to fulfill their responsibilities in serving Canadians. In fact, our role is really to support deputy ministers and their HR and learning responsibilities for their organizations.
Over the past three years, we have been working on a significant transformation to make learning more relevant, more responsive, and more accessible. Most of the initiatives related to this transformation are now substantially complete.
In looking at the school now, you will see a standardized curriculum that offers learning opportunities at every stage of a public service career, including support at key transitions. From the foundations of public service, to specialized functional groups, and to the management of the executive and management ranks, the school supports the public service in serving Canadians with excellence.
We deliver this curriculum through an easy-to-access, interactive online platform. Our products cover a range of subjects, including policy design and implementation, financial and human resources management, and service excellence.
Our programming helps support public servants in delivering on government priorities, addressing such topics as indigenous relations, results and delivery, diversity and inclusion, and mental health.
Our curriculum ensures that public servants have access to resources that respond to their learning needs. And our flexible platform ensures that they can do so wherever they are, whatever their learning style.
As we have rolled out over the last three years new learning products, public servants have responded with enthusiasm. The total number of public service employees registering for school products across Canada has risen significantly over the last two years. GCcampus, our online, interactive learning platform, was created in April 2016. In this past fiscal year, 169,000 unique learners accessed that platform.
Across the country, we also offer three times more learning activities than we did previously, for a total of 300 learning activities across all regions on topics such as policy innovation, diversity, and inclusion.
We've also worked hard to ensure that the quality of our learning products is high and are pleased to report that the course evaluation results over the past three years indicate an increasing level of learner satisfaction. Just this past year, we were registering 87.5% satisfaction from learners reporting a positive learning experience at the school.
We have been able to dramatically increase our reach by putting technology to work in new and innovative ways. Over the last three years, 95% of public servants have used the school's learning products.
We are introducing more new learning opportunities, informed by extensive stakeholder consultations, such as our leadership and management programs for supervisors, managers, and executives, or the indigenous learning series that we are developing in consultation with the national indigenous organizations and which responds to the call to action on public service learning from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
While achieving these improvements, the school moved from a blended funding model based on appropriations and cost recovery to one primarily funded through appropriations.
At the same time, the school's base funding has gone from $92 million in 2015-2016 to $77 million in 2017-2018. That is a reduction of close to 16%.
We have taken a number of steps to manage with these tighter financial resources.
We've reduced our staff complement by 13%. We've used IT-enabled learning to reach more public servants in a more efficient way. We have progressively streamlined business processes to keep our corporate functions as lean and as efficient as possible.
The school is now a significantly leaner organization, achieving better value for taxpayers.
It has not always been easy, but we are proud of what we've accomplished. Despite reduced resources, we have made significant improvements in the responsiveness, accessibility and reach of our products, as I have outlined.
We will continue to work with our partners in the coming year to refine the school's curriculum and infrastructure, ensuring that the school stays nimble and responsive to the complex environment and the tighter financial context.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I welcome your questions.
If I may, Mr. Chair, I can respond to that question.
For the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, it was an initiative that is set up as a commission of inquiry, which is very independent. It's something different that we in PCO haven't supported before.
In terms of developing a plan, we didn't do it internally ourselves, because it really is up to the commission to identify their work plan, to meet their mandate for the terms of reference that were indicated within the terms of reference for the commission. As of September, when it was first formally announced, we have been working directly with the commissioners to understand what is their work plan, what is the way they were going to spend their resources, what's their staffing plan, how they're going to set up, and how they're going to structure their organization, which includes setting up offices right across Canada and hiring people.
In terms of working with them—
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here this morning.
I must say that I joined this committee last year during the estimates. Being from a banking background, I was very perplexed as to why we were talking about estimates on items that had been decided after the estimates were made and about having to come back for supplements. As a banker, that would have been a red flag for me, but apparently it's the system we have. It's a system that I think needs changing going forward, and not only to make your work easier. When I hear that we have to make wild guesses, this is not exactly reassuring.
In the intervening period, we've had a chance to hear about how the estimates and budgeting process has been revised in other jurisdictions, notably in Australia and elsewhere. The idea is that governments have projects, they have ambitions, and they have a platform that they want to realize, and the public service is there to do all the necessary grunt work to get the cost estimates and to see if we have the revenues and so on in order to make it happen. That would be the logical way for things to happen. We're not there yet, but we hope to be there.
I do like the main estimates document that gives us, in a very succinct way, the raison d'être for the Privy Council Office, for example. The raison d'être states:
||The mandate of the Privy Council Office...is to serve Canada and Canadians by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support to the Prime Minister, the ministers within the Prime Minister's portfolio and Cabinet.
It's the who's responsible for this organization; hence, what the Prime Minister requests you to do, you must carry out to the best of your ability.
This does not come from just anywhere. It's not plucked from the sky. It has to do with the platform, programs, and policies that the has come into office with. That's where we see in the highlights exactly what the projects were. You gave a very good summary of them: the creation of a new youth secretariat, supporting an open, transparent, and merit-based Governor in Council appointment process, the senator appointment process, and so on.
I just wanted to put on the record that we're not talking about spending that just happens randomly, that grows here and shrinks there, and then it's “Oh, what happened there?” We could do it better, yes, but it is based on a set of priorities. That's what we're talking about here today: the gaps we see. We can't possibly know what priorities are going to be before they've been enunciated, yet we have to estimate the costs anyway, right?
Let's talk about the Governor in Council appointments. This is something I've seen in one of my other committees—public accounts—where this was this huge.... The process had been starved. There was a huge number of vacancies, but I'm encouraged that there have been improvements made.
Can you talk to me a bit, Madam Maheu, about what actual changes were made to the appointment process and how much the PCO expects to spend on these changes going forward?
Thank you very much for the question.
The government announced a new approach to ensure open and transparent merit-based selection processes for GIC appointments, with greater access for Canadians. The new approach now applies to more than 1,500 positions, including heads, vice-chairs, members of agencies and boards, chairpersons, chief executives, and agents and officers of Parliament. All in all, it's a tripling of the appointments that are done, using a competitive process.
Funding has been sought to help support this. We came through supplementary estimates (B) in 2016-17 to seek some funding, and in the main estimates—if you compare it to the last mains—we're seeking $700,000 to support that. It is mostly for staff, for salary purposes, and some minor O and M in terms of the postings. The positions are all posted now on the public website. The process is working with the key departments in terms of identifying candidates and going through selections on a merit basis, and open....
I can answer the second question first, if I may.
In our mandate, we have governing legislation. Our focus is primarily within the federal public service.
In terms of the priority on indigenous awareness and relations, Truth and Reconciliation recommendation number 57, which was to raise awareness, understanding, and cultural sensitivity of public servants towards indigenous people, and also an understanding of obligations, is one of our top priorities in the coming year. We are consulting heavily right now with indigenous organizations to ensure that they can assist us in the design of the training that we will be providing to public servants. We feel that's an important part of that development.
While we're doing those consultations, we're holding a number of different events and inviting indigenous leaders to speak to the public service, so that over time there is a greater awareness and understanding of indigenous issues. We're also working with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to develop training in and around the obligations of the public service with respect to treaty obligations, etc.
It is a whole curriculum and it will be embedded in all parts of the common service curriculum: during orientation, during training for functional groups, and during leadership training. As a case in point, this year, the Treasury Board Secretariat has been leading an initiative to recruit indigenous interns. Our role is to support those indigenous interns over the course of the summer with orientation and support overall. We will hold a number of different events to ensure, first of all, that indigenous interns feel welcome, but also that they understand the opportunities presented to them by the public service.
Thank you, Madam Vice-Chair.
Before I go on to my line of questioning, I get the sense that the committee is asking questions about the 's website. I just have to recall for the committee and remind them of where we were in terms of the prime minister's communications before 2015. I know that not all of us were here, but I was on O'Connor and Queen Street, close by in Ottawa, and I was paying attention. I remember a reality TV show. It was the prime minister's 24 Seven.
I know that Mr. McCauley is concerned about the costs, but to produce those videos we had four staffers. Do you know how many people we reached with those videos? We reached 21 people.
An hon. member: It was a bargain.
Mr. Francis Drouin: It was also used to communicate very important government policy. Let me quote what those videos showed on one occasion: “On Thursday, the Prime Minister was in Calgary, where he celebrated Christmas with his family.”
I understand the concerns, but on the 's current website, I think they're unfounded.
Madam Vreeswijk, I am concerned about millennials and what your organization is doing to attract millennials. We heard a few meetings back that the average age for new public servants is 37, which leads me to believe that we're going to have a gap at some point in the public service. What are you doing to attract and train millennials within the public service?