Welcome to the 132nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Our first order of business today is the supplementary estimates (A), for 2018-2019: vote 1a under House of Commons and vote 1a under Parliamentary Protective Service.
We are pleased to have with us the Honourable Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons. Joining him are Charles Robert, Clerk of the House; Michel Patrice, Deputy Clerk, Administration; and Daniel Paquette, Chief Financial Officer. From the Parliamentary Protective Service, we are joined by Chief Superintendent Jane MacLatchy, Director; and Robert Graham, Administration and Personnel Officer.
In the second hour, we will have witnesses on a question of privilege, which Mr. Robert will stay for, along with the Treasury Board.
This afternoon, for those who want to, we have the informal meeting with the Mongolian delegation. There are no parliamentarians, as I said earlier, but you're still welcome to attend.
I'll open the floor for opening remarks.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, members of the committee.
It's a pleasure to be back before your committee in my role as Speaker of the House of Commons to present our supplementary estimates (A) for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
This appearance is an opportunity for the House of Commons to present the approved additional funding for previous planned initiatives, which are designed to maintain and enhance the administration's support to members of Parliament and to the institution itself.
I will also present the supplementary estimates (A) for the Parliamentary Protective Service, or PPS.
You've introduced the people with me this morning, so I won't go through those. I'm happy to have these folks with me this morning.
I'll begin my presentation by highlighting key elements of the 2018 supplementary estimates (A) for the House of Commons. These total $15.9 million in additional funding. The amount allocated for members and House officers is $6.9 million. The remaining $9 million was distributed to House administration service areas to fund in-year strategic priorities, bringing the House of Commons' estimates to $522.9 million for the fiscal year.
As you'll note, the line item falls under the broad category of voted appropriations.
To begin, our line item confirms that temporary funding in the amount of $15.9 million has been sought for what is technically known as the operation budget carry forward.
I would like to highlight that no additional funding is sought as part of the supplementary estimates other than the carry forward, contrary to what has been done in previous years.
The Board of Internal Economy's carry-forward policy allows members, House officers and House administration to carry forward unspent funds from one fiscal year to the next, up to a maximum of 5% of their operating budgets in the main estimates. Members will know that this is to avoid what's known as “March madness”. This practice follows that of the Government of Canada and gives members, House officers and House administration more flexibility in planning and carrying out their work.
The House of Commons' carry-forward has been approved by the Board of Internal Economy and, further to a Treasury Board directive, is reflected in our supplementary estimates.
I would now like to turn to the Parliamentary Protective Service.
Since the beginning of the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Parliamentary Protective Service, or PPS, has continued to deliver its mandate to ensure the physical security within the parliamentary precinct and on Parliament Hill.
In support of the PPS' progress to date, and to ensure its continued ability to deliver its protection mandate, I'm here to present to you PPS's supplementary estimates (A) requests.
I'll begin with an overview of PPS's supplementary estimates (A) request for 2018-19, which totals $7.6 million. This includes a voted budget component of $7.1 million and a $502,000 statutory budget requirement for the employee benefits program.
The voted authorities to date for the PPS total $76.7 million from the 2018-19 main estimates. Adding the 2018-19 supplementary estimates (A) voted amount of $7.1 million will bring the PPS voted appropriations to a total of $83.8 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Including statutory requirements, the total estimates to date for the PPS are $91.1 million.
It's important to note that the total estimates to date of $91.1 million for 2018-19 include $6.75 million for initiatives that will be completed by the end of the current fiscal year. These include the camera project for the West Block, a crash barrier replacement at the vehicle screening facility or VSF, the acquisition of vehicles and several IT projects. These are one-time things. Obviously, in due course, we will eventually have to replace some of these again, but for a while, they are one time.
The vehicle screening facility (VSF) is the primary access control point for the vehicular traffic on Parliament Hill. Following an internal review, PPS is requesting two additional supervisory positions at the VSF to oversee the personnel for this twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week operation.
PPS is requesting funding to acquire seven law-enforcement-rated vehicles to be used within the parliamentary precinct. These vehicles will be PPS assets and will blend in with the parliamentary precinct's vehicular fleet in support of PPS operations. Currently, PPS personnel use RCMP minivans that are nearing the end of their life cycle and do not meet PPS's operational requirements.
Protection agencies around the world are amending their training policies to ensure that the closest first responders are able to engage a threat as quickly as possible. Currently not all of PPS's protection personnel have such training. The PPS intends to apply proven tactics and training methods to empower all its protection personnel to neutralize threats. PPS would also like to build on the success of the lockdown drills with multidisciplinary, collaborative emergency management exercises. To that end, it is requesting six additional training personnel: four to certify protection officers and ensure these skills are maintained, and two to design and carry out ongoing emergency management exercises.
Ensuring that our operational employees are properly equipped is a priority for PPS. PPS is now requesting $144,000 in funding to equip all recruits for the next constable training program.
Funding has also being requested to ensure all PPS employees have licenced copies of the emergency notification system which sends alerts to all parliamentarians and parliamentary employees when specific incidents take place that may affect their security.
Over the last few years, the role of protection officers has evolved. As a result, a new role profile was revised and updated by management, operational employees and human resources professionals. After consultation with the associations, these profiles were evaluated by a third-party job evaluation consulting firm, which recommended that these positions be reclassified one level higher, leading to a salary increase. This reclassification represents an approximate 6.5% salary increase for all PPS protection officers, supervisors and managers, and requires a $2.8-million increase to the PPS's annual salary budget.
When the PPS was first created, it worked closely with the Senate and House administrations to leverage existing corporate systems and administrative tools. While these administrations continue to work closely with PPS, some areas, such as finance and procurement, require additional resources to meet the specific requirements of the PPS. As such, the PPS is requesting an additional two full-time equivalents, FTEs, for the procurement team to manage competitive processes and complex negotiations with suppliers.
PPS is also requesting an additional resource to develop and manage its financial policies in consultation with its parliamentary partners. These initiatives support the sound financial stewardship of funds and resources.
You'll be glad to hear that this concludes my presentation. Thank you for your attention. My team and I are happy to answer questions you may have, or to try to at least.
The purpose of the revision of the rules is basically to make them more accessible to the members. The way they are written now does not actually facilitate that. If, for example, you were to look at the table of contents of the current Standing Orders, it just gives you under each chapter heading the number of the standing order relevant that falls under that chapter. It gives language that obliges the member to search out certain other standing orders where it says “pursuant to” or “pursuant to this”. The idea, again, is that, since our mandate really as an administration is to provide the best support we possibly can to the members, it seemed to me at the time that this would include making the Standing Orders more user-friendly and accessible, similar to a project that has occurred elsewhere.
The initiative was basically mine, but any decision to accept the revisions rests with this committee and rests certainly with the House itself. I'm here as an agent to assist the operations of the House of Commons in the best way I can. Initial contacts were made with the leadership offices of all the major parties to let them know that this undertaking was in process and to assure them that, in undertaking this project, no substantive changes to the rules or Standing Orders are in fact being made. The language is only being simplified and tools are being added to the table of contents, as I've just suggested—subheaders, marginal notes and chapter revisions or groupings—in a way that would facilitate the understanding of the Standing Orders by the members and certainly their staff.
Chief Superintendent MacLatchy, last time we spoke was at this place. It's only by coincidence that I'm here again, I assure you.
Mr. Christopherson is in lock-up, but he has done nothing illegal. It's just with the Auditor General's report. At least I think he's done nothing illegal. I can't confirm or deny.
The last time you testified here, I asked you about the quality and the professionalism of the people who protect us, the women and men, every day. You said that you're “impressed every day with the professionalism and the competence of the folks who work within this service, and that goes across all categories of employees who are part of this organization.”
We talked a lot about esprit de corps and the mood, but in the conversations I had with people in PPS, in a casual way.... Some were reluctant to talk at all, but when they did chat, the esprit de corps was not great. Your version of how the group was doing is not shared.
I have a couple of specific questions. How long have those under the PSAC union been without a contract?
They recently—well not recently—received a labour board ruling to implore the management, in this case, you, to negotiate a contract. Why did they even have to go through that process?
This is the concern I had a year ago, and the concern I bring to you now. With the words we use, the Speaker, the MPs, the political leaders and the leaders of your department all praise the women and men for their professionalism, yet they have to go to the labour board just to get you to the table to negotiate a contract that's free and fair.
Do you understand why that doesn't seem to square? In as much esteem as we hold them, the members are forced to stand and wear caps to ask for the basic level of respect. I agree with them that it doesn't seem respectful that we have people serving us, protecting us, without a contract for five years, and others without a contract for more than a year who have had to go to the labour board just to get you to negotiate with them.
I say, “you”, but I mean the collective “you”, us, their management.
Do you understand why that doesn't seem to square?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Members of the committee, I am pleased to be here with you to help the committee with its review of the question of privilege raised by , the member from Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, concerning the documents published by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website on the subject of Bill .
When questions of privilege are referred to the committee, they are an opportunity to study in detail an issue put forward by the members themselves and to issue recommendations that will benefit everyone. It is through your committee that witnesses can be heard, documents obtained and concrete action taken, if that is the will of the committee, of course.
Respecting the dignity and authority of Parliament is a fundamental right which the House takes very seriously. The mission of the Speaker as a servant of the House is to ensure the protection of the rights and privileges, not only of every member, but also those of the House as a whole. In that sense, any affront to the authority of the House may constitute contempt of Parliament.
As its states on page 87 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition:
There is [...]no doubt that the House of Commons remains capable of protecting itself from abuse should the occasion ever arise.
In his ruling on June 19, 2018, the Speaker of the House of Commons summarized the facts surrounding the publication of information about Bill on the RCMP website. While the bill in question was following the normal legislative process, the information published on the RCMP website suggested its provisions would necessarily be enacted or had been already.
The Speaker reminded the members that Parliament's authority in scrutinizing and adopting bills remains unquestionable and must never be taken for granted. He then added, “Parliamentarians and citizens should be able to trust that officials responsible for disseminating information related to legislation are paying attention to what is happening in Parliament and are providing a clear and accurate history of the bills in question.”
When questions similar to the one before your committee were raised by members in the House, previous Speakers have repeated that situations such as this should never occur and have urged the government in various departments for which they are responsible to find solutions. Indeed, the Speakers of the House have always taken great care to act as defenders of Parliament's authority. An affront to that authority constitutes a transgression or a lack of respect for the House and its members. As Speaker Sauvé said on October 17, 1980, the publication of information harmful to the House may, for example, turn into a contempt of Parliament.
In the current case, the Speaker noted the careless attitude the RCMP displayed to the fundamental role of members as legislators. For him, parliamentary authority with respect to legislation cannot and should not be usurped. The Speaker explained the matter well when he said, “As Speaker, I cannot turn a blind eye to an approach by a government agency that overlooks the role of Parliament. To do otherwise would make us compliant in denigrating the authority and dignity of Parliament.”
I thank you once again for this invitation to testify.
I would now be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before your committee.
I have Tracey Headley with me today. She's the Director of the Communications and Federal Identity Policy Centre with me at Treasury Board Secretariat.
I am the assistant secretary of strategic communications and ministerial affairs, where I have responsibility for the Government of Canada's policy on communications and federal identity. I am also the functional head of communications at the secretariat, so I'm responsible for the communications work within the department.
In my opening remarks, I would like to give you an overview of the communications policy and highlight some of the changes that were made in 2016.
As you can imagine, a lot has changed in recent years in the communications environment. The amendments to the policy reflect those changes. Communications are central to the Government of Canada's work and contribute directly to the Canadian public's trust in their government.
One of the key requirements of the policy is that communications to the public must be “timely, clear, objective, factual and non-partisan”. That applies to all communications activities, including those in relation to legislation before Parliament, which need to be clear and factual to ensure there is no confusion and no presumption of the decision of either chamber. Public servants, by virtue of our Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, respect the fundamental role Parliament has in reviewing, amending and approving legislation.
The communications policy sets out deputy heads' accountabilities in ensuring the communications function is carried out appropriately in their organizations. As part of that, they must designate a senior official as head of communications. The policy does not prescribe departmental approval processes. Instead, it allows the departments to determine the best way to manage their communications given their specific operational requirements. This makes sense given the wide array of diverse organizations covered by the policy.
The government communicates with the public in both official languages to inform Canadians of policies, programs, services and initiatives and of Canadians' rights and responsibilities under the law. The administration of communications is a shared responsibility that requires the collaboration of various personnel within individual departments as well as among departments on horizontal initiatives.
The new policy is supported by the new directive on the management of communications. Together they modernize the practice of Government of Canada communications to keep pace with how citizens communicate in what is largely now a digital environment.
One of the changes in the new policy is to make accountabilities more clear. The previous policy was targeted at the institution as a whole. The new policy clarifies accountabilities for deputy heads and designates a senior official as head of communications to manage the department's corporate identity and all its communications.
The directive lays out the specific accountabilities for heads of communications. For example, they are responsible for approving communications products and overseeing the department's web presence, collaborating with the Privy Council Office and other departments on priority initiatives that require input from multiple departments, and monitoring and analyzing the public environment.
Both deputy heads and heads of communications are responsible for ensuring information is timely, clear, objective, accurate, factual and non-partisan.
Another new feature is the significant strengthening of the policy and directive on non-partisan communications. While the previous policy required the public service to carry out communications activities in a non-partisan way, it did not include a definition of non-partisan. For the first time, the new policy explicitly defines the term non-partisan communications in the following manner.
Communications must be objective, factual and explanatory, and free from political party slogans, images, identifiers, bias, designation or affiliation. The primary colour associated with the governing party cannot be used in a dominant way unless an item is commonly depicted in that colour, and advertising specifically must not include the name, voice or image of a minister, member of Parliament or senator.
Turning to digital communications, another new feature of the policy puts greater emphasis on the use of digital as the primary way to connect and interact with the public. What this means is that departments and agencies are using the web and social media as the principal communications channels.
It's important that the government make information available and engage citizens on the platforms of their choice. At the same time, we recognize there are Canadians who will continue to require traditional methods of communications, so multiple channels are still being used to meet all the diverse needs of the public.
As I mentioned, I am the functional head of communications at the Treasury Board Secretariat. This means that my sector is responsible for developing communications products and providing advice and services in consultation with subject matter experts in the department. This includes internal communications as well as external communications, and to that end, my team organizes things like ministerial events and press conferences. We also prepare communications strategies, speeches, news releases and a variety of other communications products.
We also provide a Web presence for the secretariat, manage the corporate social media accounts, and manage the media relations function.
These core communications functions are relatively standard across government departments and agencies. As I mentioned at the beginning, however, there are some differences, based on the nature of the work and the specific operational requirements of the organization.
This concludes my remarks. I would be happy to take questions if it would please the committee.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you to both of you.
Ms. Baird, in your speech, the key words you have are “timely, clear, objective, factual and non-partisan”. Can we just focus on the word “timely” for a moment? I understand the mistake of this, implying that a legislation has passed when it has not, but I do believe that all government departments must exercise due diligence to anticipate this type of thing.
I compared this situation of Bill with Bill , which is about the election. Of course, Elections Canada has to get its act together, as it were, before legislation is even passed. Otherwise, it would not work. The coming into force is taken seriously, and so on and so forth.
I understand how some departments can rush ahead with something that was not given sober second thought, if I could steal that term from the other chamber, but in this particular case, you talk about your communications both outward and inward. Although the mistake was the result of something that happened in Public Safety that was an outward mistake, it's the inward mechanisms by which it could have been solved.
This doesn't pertain to your department, but how do you take responsibility for this, and how do you fix it as an inward communication exercise among the other departments?
That's a determination that's really made by you as parliamentarians.
Looking at it historically, in the United Kingdom, in the four studies that have been made since the Second World War—in 1967, 1977, 1999, and I think 2013 was the last—you can see that there is a greater sensitivity to public participation and a retrenchment of the notion of privilege to those aspects that parliamentarians believe are still fundamental and crucial to how they conduct their business, and also, from the public perspective, how Parliament retains its authority and dignity.
For contempt, previously, newspapers were hauled before Parliament regularly for any sort of untoward criticism of parliamentarians or Parliament itself. Here we're talking about something that's quite different. We're talking about a partner in the system of government. We're talking about the executive, and historically, in Canada, there has been some sensitivity to how governments might make statements that make assumptions about the work that Parliament is undertaking, and that is where this issue has come up and it's not the first time.