Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and committee members. Thank you for welcoming us here today.
I am pleased to be here to present the 2019-20 interim estimates and to address the funding required to maintain and enhance the House Administration's support to members of Parliament and the institution.
I am joined today by members of the House Administration's executive management team, who you know well: Charles Robert, clerk of the House of Commons; Michel Patrice, deputy clerk, Administration; and Daniel Paquette, chief financial officer.
I will also be presenting the interim estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service. Therefore, I am also accompanied by Marie-Claude Côté, acting director of PPS, and Robert Graham, the service's Administration and Personnel Officer.
The interim estimates for 2019-20 include an overview of spending requirements for the first three months of the fiscal year, with a comparison to the 2018-19 estimates, as well as the proposed schedules for the first appropriation bill.
The interim estimates of the House of Commons, as tabled in the House, total approximately $87.5 million and represent three-twelfths of the total voted authorities that will be included in the upcoming 2019-20 main estimates. Once the main estimates are tabled in the House, I anticipate that we will meet again in the spring, at which time I will provide an overview of the year-over-year changes.
Today, I'll give you a brief overview of the House of Commons' main priorities.
Ensuring that members and House officers have the services and resources to meet their needs is essential in supporting them in the fulfillment of their parliamentary functions.
By the way, Mr. Chairman, I will of course try to speak at a rate where it's possible for the interpreters to interpret, because we all appreciate the wonderful work they do, and I don't wish to make it more difficult.
The House Administration's top priority is to support members in their work as parliamentarians by focusing on service-delivery excellence and ongoing modernization. As an example, this past year, we have seen the opening of four multidisciplinary Source plus service centres, which are ready to provide members and their staff with in-person support.
A team of House of Commons employees is available to provide assistance related to finance, human resources, information technology and various operational services offered by the House Administration. If members ever have any comments about this, I would be very interested in hearing them.
Another service-delivery initiative has been the implementation of a standardized approach for computer and printing equipment in constituency offices across the country. This initiative was launched as a pilot project this year. Its purpose is threefold: to ensure parity between Hill and constituency computing services; to enhance IT support and security; and to simplify purchasing and life-cycling of equipment in the constituency offices.
In addition, all constituency offices will now be provided with a complete set of standard computer devices and applications following the next general election.
The House administration aims to provide innovative, effective, accountable and non-partisan support to members. To do so, it must attract and retain an engaged, qualified and productive workforce that acts responsibly and with integrity.
Cost-of-living increases are essential to recruitment efforts for members, House officers and the House administration as employers, and funding for these increases is accounted for in the estimates.
Members will know that employee support programs are also a priority. These programs, which are offered to employees of members, House officers, research offices and the administration, include an employee and family assistance program and other resources and events, such as those taking place this February for Wellness Month.
The renewal of our physical spaces and the services provided within them is another priority for the House administration.
The opening of West Block and the visitor welcome centre is the most significant change to date to the parliamentary precinct. We believe that West Block is a model to other parliaments tackling similar challenges with respect to aging facilities. In fact, I know many of you are aware that, at Westminster, they're planning to move out and have a major renovation to the Palace of Westminster, which of course is an immense undertaking. That will be a few years away still.
The House of Commons works closely with its parliamentary partners and with Public Services and Procurement Canada in support of the long-term vision and plan.
For the coming years, the focus will be on decommissioning and restoring Centre Block. We will also continue to review and update the House of Commons' requirements and guiding principles for future renovations to the parliamentary precinct. The administration of the House of Commons will continue to look at ways to best engage members in the Centre Block project moving forward and to ensure they continue to be part of discussions on the design and operational requirements for that building.
An ongoing priority is the operation, support, maintenance and life-cycle management of equipment and connectivity elements in all buildings. This work is essential to providing a mobile work environment for members and the administration, which is something that we all, of course, now expect.
I now turn to the interim estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service. The Parliamentary Protective Service is requesting access to $28 million in these interim estimates.
The funding requirements align with the four key strategic priorities of the service: protective operational excellence; engaged and healthy employees; balanced security and access; and sound stewardship.
The majority of the PPS annual budget is attributed to its first priority, protective operational excellence, which includes personnel salaries and overtime costs.
In keeping with the service's aim to allocate existing resources as judiciously as possible, several posts were added to the overall security posture in response to the opening of the interim accommodations. I would suggest that, if members have any questions with respect to the security posture, the committee may wish to go in camera for that exchange.
The service recently reclassified the positions of all protection officers, which led to an increase in their salaries retroactive to April 1, 2018.
PPS has also successfully reached a bargaining agreement with the Senate Protective Service Employees Association and an extension of the previous agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. For this reason, funding has been earmarked to make payments for retroactive economic increases as a result of these negotiations.
As PPS evolves, the service is gradually reducing the presence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in certain areas on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct and, in turn, increasing the resources and presence of PPS officers.
The remainder of the PPS budget ensures that the administration, which supports the operations of the service, is adequately equipped and resourced. This means ensuring that security assets and technology are properly managed and that employees are continuously supported in their health and well-being. As PPS approaches its fourth anniversary this June, its administration is becoming more agile and responsive to the needs of Parliament and of its own workforce.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my overview of the 2019-20 interim estimates for the House of Commons and Parliamentary Protective Service.
My officials and I would be pleased to answer any questions from members.
First, I want to tell you basically how it works. Integrated multi-level governance has been established within the administration of Public Services and Procurement Canada and the parliamentary partners—us, and of course the Senate—to oversee the project. The Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada is the official custodian of the parliamentary precinct buildings and grounds. Think of PSPC as the landlord, and we're the tenants.
In fact, the House of Commons will turn over or relinquish control of Centre Block to PSPC officially in a few months. They're already there working. We are still extracting some things that we require from that building to store or renovate, whatever. I think I've had good co-operation so far in terms of being able to express my views and ensure that the views of members are heard in relation to the renovation that will take place.
However, as I've stated before here, I think it's incumbent upon us as members, and in particular on this committee I would say, to continue to insist on being part of that process. I have not had any indication that there isn't a willingness and desire from PSPC or from the architects involved in the renewal to ensure that our concerns are heard and recognized in what is done over at Centre Block. There are architects in the House of Commons administration who are also involved and will continue to be involved. I am pleased there is this process, which I described at the beginning, of a joint management of that, involving the House of Commons administration and the Senate.
As I said, I think it's vital that we continue to insist on that, and that we insist on things like access for the media to members of Parliament, as they've had in the past in Centre Block, and access, of course, for the public as much as possible. We're all aware of the need to have protection, but also the need to have maximum access possible for members of the public, because we want this to continue to be a democracy.
Thank you for being here, Mr. Speaker, as well as the Clerk and everyone else.
I'd like to pick up where Mr. Reid was. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you're aware of the reaction to this committee when it came forward, when we had reflected on West Block and felt there was a real absence of individual MPs collectively having a say. I understand you're going to talk to the Board of Internal Economy.
My question is for you, Mr. Speaker—and I'm not holding you to anything; it's just off the top of your head. We've talked about this a little bit. We've just begun the process of saying we need to be more involved, and we're now talking about how we can do that.
I'm not aware of a formal mechanism per se between us and/or you and/or BOIE. We could create something ad hoc—there's nothing to stop us from communicating with each other—but Chair, it's my understanding that we don't have any formal process per se.
What are your thoughts, Mr. Speaker, as we go through this? Do you have any advice, concerns or ideas that you'd like to leave with us as we do our part of it? I'm looking more at process. How do you see us playing that useful role in a meaningful way without being both irrelevant and too big a problem?
It is a tall order, but just give your thoughts, sir.
I appreciate your interest on issues like this.
Obviously, you know that the committee is a master of its own affairs and can examine the things it wants to examine. I would hope that on an ongoing basis, this committee will pursue this topic and will not only, of course, have visits from me as Speaker—or Speakers and administrations in the future—to discuss this, but that you might also want to call folks from Public Services and Procurement to talk about the renovation at Centre Block and how it's going, and to make sure that the concerns of MPs are being heard.
So far, I have found that when, in the process, I have raised issues with the architects and others, from both the House and PSPC, they have been very attentive and anxious to hear what the concerns of MPs are, to understand how the building operates. When John Pearson and Jean-Omer Marchand designed the building, back in 1916, and over the ensuing period, they clearly sought to understand how Parliament worked, how members of Parliament operated, what they needed to do their jobs well, the access that was needed for the public, etc. They didn't have the security concerns that we have today, but they were anxious to do all those things. And I'm impressed that the architects seem to be concerned about all those things.
While I expect the Board of Internal Economy will seek some type of formal mechanism on an ongoing basis, I think this committee might have a less formal, but continuing, interest in this matter, making sure that it has witnesses to talk about this on an ongoing basis and that it is able to express its concerns.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss with you the supplementary estimates (B), 2018-19, and the interim estimates 2019-20 for the Leaders' Debates Commission.
I am pleased to be joined by my officials. As you mentioned, they are Al Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet, machinery of government and democratic institutions; and Matthew Shea, assistant deputy minister of corporate services.
Leaders' debates play an essential role in Canadian democracy. Indeed, this is a key moment in the election campaigns. They provide voters with a unique opportunity to observe the personalities and ideas of the leaders seeking to become the Prime Minister of Canada on the same stage.
It is important that we realize that leaders' debates are much more than just media events. They're a fundamental exercise in democracy. As such, they may be organized in a way that is open and transparent and puts the public interest first. They must also be entrenched as a public good that Canadians can count on in each and every election to help inform their voting decisions.
Traditionally, leaders' debates in Canada were organized and funded by a consortium of major broadcasters, including CBC/Radio-Canada, Global, CTV and TVA. The consortium held private negotiations with political parties regarding dates, participation and format of the debates.
The closed-door nature of debate negotiations has been the subject of criticism for many years. Moreover, there were no consistent, clearly defined participation criteria applied in the 2015 debates, with some leaders participating in all the debates, while others participated only in a few.
The accessibility of the debates was also limited. For instance, we had debates in French that were not accessible to some francophone communities.
In response, as Minister of Democratic Institutions, I was asked to bring forward options to establish an independent commissioner to organize leaders' debates during future federal election campaigns, which was reaffirmed through a budget 2018 commitment for $5.5 million over two years, recurring each election cycle, to support a new process that would ensure that leaders' debates are organized in the public interest.
Our government sought input from Canadians through an online consultation and a series of round tables involving representatives from the media, academia and public interest groups.
I also welcomed the committee's study launched in November 2017, in which it heard from 34 witnesses, myself included, during eight meetings. The committee also received written comments from political parties and stakeholders.
The vast majority of stakeholders expressed that leaders' debates make an essential contribution to the health of Canadian democracy. There is broad support for and value in the creation of a debates commission that is guided by the public interest, and there is a need for open and transparent information on the organization of the debates and especially the debate participation criteria.
Stakeholders also expressed that the permanent debates commission needs to be built to last, and that it is important to get it right. During my November 2017 appearance before PROC, I outlined a series of guiding principles that would inform the government's policy development for the leaders' debates commission: independence and impartiality, credibility, democratic citizenship, civic education and inclusion.
The commission exercises its independence and impartiality in carrying out its responsibilities and any associated expenses. The commissioner has the independence to determine how best to spend the allocated funds, while maintaining the funding envelope of $5.5 billion over two years.
As identified in the estimates, the commission has started to use these funds for items such as salary, including the hiring of an executive director. Additional costs are expected for the contracting of a production entity, the operation of the commissioner's advisory board, awareness-raising and engagement with Canadians, and administrative costs.
During his appearance before PROC on November 6, 2018, the debates commissioner, the Right Honourable David Johnston, stated that it would be his intention and duty to use funding in a responsible manner and that he would seek every opportunity to reduce costs while also recognizing the need to make debates available to the largest possible audience.
The commission will continue to be fully independent and impartial as it prepares to execute its primary mandate to organize two leaders' debates, one in each official language, for the 2019 general election.
The commission is headed by a commissioner and supported by a seven-member advisory board. It is expected to be fully operational by spring 2019. Following the 2019 general election and no later than March 31, 2020, the commission will be mandated to submit a report to Parliament outlining findings and recommendations to inform the possible creation of a permanent commission.
I am confident the proposed approach will ensure that two informative, high-quality, engaging leaders' debates are broadcast on TV and on other platforms in 2019.
In conclusion, I would reiterate that leaders' debates are a public good. The commission will help ensure that the interests of Canadians are central to how leaders' debates are organized and broadcast. I look forward to hearing your feedback and welcome your questions.
Thank you, Ms. Lapointe.
I would like to emphasize the commissioner's independence in terms of decision-making and action. For our part, we have ensured that he has the necessary resources to enable him to assume his responsibilities, based on his own methods.
Our goal is to ensure that all Canadians, wherever they are in the country, have access to debates in both official languages.
For example, during the consultations, representatives of a francophone community in Nova Scotia stated that they were unable to access the leaders' debates. So we have added the issue of accessibility to the commissioner's mandate.
We have heard about another important fact across the country. Many of the new generation of adults and voters don't have access to cable. They don't watch TV in the traditional way.
Therefore, the commissioner's mandate is also to ensure that debates are available in a variety of formats and on a variety of platforms: not only through traditional media, but also on social media, on the platforms of digital giants and on the Internet in general.
Canadians will have access to the feed for debates in a format that suits them.
Minister, thank you very much for being here. Starting on a positive, let me just say how impressed I am that not once in the entire term since you've been a minister have you played games, jerked us around, or dodged any invitation to come here, no matter how difficult the subject. That's appreciated and respected.
Having said that, we're on that file again. I just need to make a statement and then I'll move on.
Again, the undemocratic nature of the democratic reform ministry still takes my breath away. It's still not acceptable.... Well, I should say it is acceptable, because we have no choice, but it's not warmly accepted that the government unilaterally appointed someone who plays such a key role in our democracy. It leaves open the argument, for those who didn't want the leaders' debates commission, to have a legitimate broadside. Again, the lack of respect for the commitment of this government to independent committees and the importance of committees in the main.... In large part, it's just been talk, talk, talk. We haven't seen the walk, walk, walk.
Having said all of that, I accept the rule of Parliament, which decided that this is now in place, so we'll move forward. We'll deal with any changing after the fact. I will speak to that a bit in terms of accountability, but we do accept that this is now in place.
I have to tell you that on a personal basis, the only thing that saved the day for you was the integrity of the person you picked. I mean, that papered up a lot of the cracks in the walls, but those cracks are there. The election's coming, and you folks are going to have to wear it on these things.
Having said that, I will move on. In terms of the members, I respect the independence you're alluding to. By the sounds of it, I believe that's being respected, but at what point does independence meet accountability? What exactly is the vehicle, as you see it, given that there's no guarantee who the government is next time? How do you see it right now in terms of the accountability back to this committee or some other entity? Having given people all this independence, all this power and all this money, what's the accountability? As well, will that include a detailed budget next time, rather than just a macro number?
We'll now go to vote 1b under the Leaders' Debates Commission in supplementary estimates (B).
LEADERS' DEBATES COMMISSION
Vote 1b—Program expenditures..........$257,949
(Vote 1b agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall vote 1 under the Leaders' Debates Commission in the interim estimates carry?
LEADERS' DEBATES COMMISSION
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$2,260,388
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report the votes in supplementary estimates (B) and the interim estimates to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay, thank you.
Thank you very much, Minister and your colleagues, for coming.
There is another committee coming here, but just before we break, I have two quick things. Maybe I'll read this. We're doing the two-House study, and normally the clerk tweets out something. Basically it says:
The Committee is studying whether it would be advantageous for the House of Commons to establish a parallel debating chamber. Parallel debating chambers can serve as additional forums for debate on certain kinds of parliamentary business and have been used by the Parliaments of Australia and the United Kingdom since the 1990s.
Is there any problem with that? Okay.
Thursday is our lunch. Hopefully you can all make it.
Next Tuesday, will be here from 11:00 to 12:00. From 12:00 to 1:00, we had the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, but we talked about also doing the report on the privilege motion. In that hour, too, we'll discuss the final report, and the researcher will send that out.