Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's nice to be back at the procedure and House affairs committee after a number of years of absence, and in a different capacity from when I was here as a member of the committee some years ago.
I'm pleased to be joined today by Marc Bosc, the acting Clerk of the House of Commons; Daniel Paquette, the chief financial officer; Chief Superintendent Michael Duheme, director of the Parliamentary Protective Service; and Sloane Mask, the deputy chief financial officer of the Parliamentary Protective Service, or PPS, as I'll call it.
I'll be presenting the House of Commons main estimates first, followed by those of the new PPS.
We're also joined by other members of the House administration's executive management team: Stéphan Aubé, the chief information officer; Philippe Dufresne, the law clerk and parliamentary counsel; André Gagnon, the acting deputy Clerk, procedural services; Benoit Giroux, director general, parliamentary precinct operations; Patrick McDonell, deputy Sergeant-at-Arms and corporate security officer; and Pierre Parent, the chief human resources officer.
You should all have a copy of the presentation, so I won't read it. I prefer to give you an overview, so as to leave more time for questions and answers.
I'll begin with the House of Commons main estimates for 2016-17, which total $464 million, an increase of 4.55% over 2015-16.
I'll provide an overview of the relevant line items in the main estimates along four major themes: budgets for members, House officers, and presiding officers; House administration; electoral boundary redistribution; and the PPS.
Let me begin with the budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers.
At its meeting of March 10, 2015, the Board of Internal Economy acknowledged an increase of 2.3%, effective April 1, 2015, to members' annual sessional allowance and additional salaries. This funding is statutory in nature and is in accordance with provisions in the Parliament of Canada Act. The increase amounts to $1.3 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year and subsequent years.
In December 2015 the Board of Internal Economy approved a one-time increase of 20% to members' office budgets and to House officers' budgets. This comes after six years of these budgets being frozen, the last increase having occurred in 2009-10. Future adjustments will be based on the consumer price index as measured in September of the previous year.
There was also a one-time increase of 5% to the members' travel status expenses account.
Following the general election, the House officers' office budgets were established, based upon the election results for all parties in accordance with the long-standing formula approved by the board. The resulting funding increase of $1.1 million is being sought for 2016-17 and subsequent years.
I should also point out that members' statutory budgets were reduced by $5 million, due in part to savings generated through the individual and corporate flight pass programs.
Let's now look at House administration.
The first element is $3.4 million in funding for salaries of the House administration employees.
Several new and rehabilitated buildings that are part of the long-term vision and plan are opening in the coming years. This will require increased resources and funding. Two examples include the commissioning of the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, last September, and the upcoming commissioning of the Wellington Building, this fall. This funding of $5.6 million was approved for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
With the opening of these buildings, additional funding is required for salary, operating, and capital expenses to ensure continued support of the building assets transferred from Public Services and Procurement Canada as they are completed. Unfortunately—before you ask—I don't have control of office allocation.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Geoff Regan: Funding of $3 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year is being sought to support these facilities.
To support the ongoing maintenance of information technology assets and their life-cycle replacement costs associated with the long-term vision and plan, in 2014 the board approved funding on a five-year basis. This year's funding has increased by $982,000.
With regard to funding for security within the parliamentary precinct, this year saw an overall reduction of $25 million as a result of resources being transferred to the PPS, which fully integrates the protective services of the House and Senate with those provided by the RCMP. This $25-million transfer includes funding sought to continue the implementation of the Enhancing Security Across the Parliamentary Precinct project, which had been initiated by the House of Commons prior to the integration of the protective services.
Mr. Chair, this just occurred to me. I should remember what a challenge it can be for the interpreters to interpret when a witness is speaking so quickly, so I'll try to slow down a bit for them. Normally, I speak at about 200 words a minute, with gusts of up to 400.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Additionally, the House is seeking $600,000 to continue the implementation of the emergency notification system—one of our priorities.
Another strategic priority involves modernizing wireless telecommunications services by making the latest smart phones and tablets available to members and staff. A mobile work environment gives members and House administration employees much greater flexibility to carry out their activities and work. This commitment will allow the house to be more adaptable to the ever-changing demands of parliamentary work.
An example of a recent change to the way we do business is of course the creation of the electronic petition system, which was launched in December. As of mid-April, 64 e-petitions had been opened, and more than 150,000 Canadians had added their signatures electronically in support of various policy initiatives. To continue to support the e-petitions system, funding of $195,000 is being requested for 2016-17 and subsequent years.
We will now move on to funding allocated for the electoral boundaries redistribution.
Prior to the election in the fall of 2015, 30 constituencies were added. In June 2014, the board approved temporary funding of $17.6 million for 2015-2016 and permanent funding of $24.5 million for 2016-2017 and subsequent years.
This funding takes into consideration requirements for members, including pay and pension, travel, telecommunications services, office budgets, parliamentary and constituency office expenditures, and additional funding requirements to enable the House administration to support the institution and ensure the same level of services to the expanded membership.
Now for the PPS, the Parliamentary Protective Service, which is one month shy of its first anniversary. It has implemented a single command oversight mechanism, formalized an intelligence unit, and is in the process of deploying a common uniform. Integrated teams now work together on a daily basis at the vehicle screening facility, the place we all know as “the car wash”.
The PPS is focused on deploying resources so as to make the best use of the expertise that already exists within the current complement of employees. I think we're all aware of the increased security presence on Parliament Hill.
In 2016-17 the main estimates for the PPS total $62.1 million, including a voted budgetary requirement of $56.3 million, as well as a statutory budget component of $5.8 million to fund the employee benefit program. The PPS's 2015-16 budget was established by Bill , which transferred the unexpended physical security funds from the Senate, House of Commons, and RCMP.
It's recommended that $32.3 million be permanently transferred to the PPS from the Senate and House of Commons protective services and the RCMP A-base budget.
This would fund personnel, operations and maintenance, and full-time equivalents. This amount includes $4.7 million needed to reimburse the RCMP for the cost of physical security for operations and maintenance. A permanent increase of $14.5 million is required to sustain the current security posture and $5.1 million to sustainably support previously approved salary increases, security enhancement initiatives, and the integrated organizational structure.
The PPS requires a permanent increase of $3.9 million for the funding of an administrative team to manage this new parliamentary organization. A total of $400,000 is required in temporary funding to support the renewal of the baggage screening facility at 90 Wellington through 2016-2017.
This concludes my overview of the House of Commons and the PPS's 2016-17 main estimates. I look forward to questions from members.
Right, and that tone I'll take with him. I certainly wasn't with you, Speaker.
Next I want to follow up on Mr. Graham's comment about access, because we've been here before. It's almost always after the fact, when there has been a crisis, and then we do a whole review. Monsieur Godin was one example. There have been at least two others since I've been here.
Every time we ask ahead of time we're told, “Yes, don't worry”, and then inevitably there's a problem. There was a problem the last time. I didn't raise it because it wasn't big enough and it was early in the term, but the green bus that I was on was stopped from getting to Centre Block, and we were told we couldn't go any further. Quite frankly, everybody was unceremoniously dumped. That was fine. We walked across the lawn. However, one of my colleagues—I won't mention her name—had a temporary disability and was using a cane. She still had to walk across the front lawn in order to get to Centre Block.
Speaker, I am asking, I am all but pleading, to please make sure that these things are thought through ahead of time. Identify a route that works. The last thing we want to do is risk the security of an honoured visitor to our country, but we have been emphasizing over and over, since Canada was formed, the absolute, unfettered right of parliamentarians to access Centre Block, and yet it keeps happening.
I'm asking you and I'm asking everyone there to try to get ahead of this thing. Think ahead of time, when there's a crunch, about how you get the members to the House. It is a constitutional requirement. Hearing “sorry” afterwards is getting a little frustrating. I am urging you and Monsieur Duheme to please keep in mind, as a priority, when you are putting those barriers in, how the members get to the House, given that they have a constitutional right.
I'll leave that with you.
While people are getting organized, I'll go over the formalities.
In a minute, we're going to have a vote on the estimates. Before we do that, I will introduce our witnesses.
We're going to resume our study of initiatives toward an inclusive, efficient House of Commons.
Our witnesses are here by video conference from the United Kingdom's House of Commons. I would like to welcome David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons; Anne Foster, head of diversity and inclusion; and Joanne Mills, diversity and inclusion programme manager and nursery liaison officer.
Before we begin, I would like to thank the clerk for drawing our attention to the work of Professor Sarah Childs, who's completing her report on reforms that would make the U.K. House of Commons a more inclusive institution.
You all got a note on that from the clerk. There are some advanced points she's looking at, and we look forward to seeing her report in the interim. It's very timely. She's doing a report. Someone has full-time work looking at modernizing the House of Commons.
I'm going to call the votes on the estimates.
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$307,196,559
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
PARLIAMENTARY PROTECTIVE SERVICE
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$56,313,707
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report the votes on the main estimates for 2016, less the amount voted in interim supply, to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Once again, we're sorry for our procedures holding you up. I know you're busy, and we would love to hear your opening statements. I think this will be enlightening for us.
We well understand from Westminster. Things here sometimes get interrupted by votes as well. Whether that's family friendly or not, I don't know.
We're honoured to be asked to give evidence and very happy to answer your questions, so I will try to keep this opening statement pretty short.
I have with me Anne Foster and Jo Mills, who can answer questions as well. As well as talking to Sarah Childs, I hope you might have the opportunity to talk to or invite evidence from some of your colleagues over here, because they know better than staff about family-friendly policies as they relate to members and their staff.
In general we are, of course, keen to be a family-friendly employer of our staff, to the extent that we can control the necessary demands made on them. That means, for example, flexible working arrangements; an openness to consider requests for compressed or special hours; part-time working; job-sharing—and we have had job-sharing in quite senior jobs—leave, despite the House sitting; and bearing down on what can be a prevalent late-work culture. On that and those subjects, I'm sure that Anne can help you further.
We don't really have much influence on the work-life balance or the family-friendliness of the staff of members. We neither employ them nor pay them. As for members, we have, I guess, even less influence on their work-life balance. They manage themselves. We are, of course, conscious of some of the strains on their lives, but again, as fellow members, you would know that better than anybody.
You asked about sittings and sitting hours. They are decided by the House, and from 40 years' experience, I can confirm that whatever is decided is alway controversial and not popular with everybody.
It used to be assumed that an earlier start and therefore an earlier end to the day was in some way better and more family friendly. Of course, it may mean that you can neither take your children to school nor collect them at the end of the day. If there are votes at seven o'clock, it's questionable if that is automatically better than votes at ten o'clock. It is a short, but very intensive, 60-to-70-hour, Monday-to-Thursday working week. It's very good for non-London-based members, but possibly not so good for London-based members.
The good thing is that our sitting patterns through the year are now more reflective of people's non-working lives. In particular, we have a break at February for school half term. What is not so good is that we normally return in October, just as the autumn half term from school beckons. We have the problem, which I don't know if you share, that in different parts of the United Kingdom there are different times for school holidays. In Scotland, school holidays start substantially earlier.
You asked about voting. Broadly speaking, voting is similar here to your system. We have no proxy voting. We have no facilities for absent voting, although there is “nodding through”, which is an informal procedure whereby members in the precincts who in some way are unable to pass through the lobbies can vote.
Infants, meaning very small children, are now permitted in the voting lobbies, but not as yet in the chamber itself. Jo is able to explain about our day care and nursery facilities. We don't have a drop-in or crèche, but there is quite a lot of demand for something like that, and we are conscious of what you are planning on that.
There is notionally something described as maternity leave for members, but it isn't, for I think obvious reasons, on the standard statutory lines. Of course, it doesn't stop those members who are on “maternity” leave from attending, speaking, or voting.
You asked about technology. I think the main advantage of technology in this context is enabling staff to work at or from home with remote links. We, of course, have an advantage over you: we're all in the same time zone.
We have had an alternate chamber, which I know you were also asking about, since 1999, based unashamedly on the Australian practice, and it's been a huge success. I'm happy to answer questions on that.
Finally, I think I should say there is an issue here with the extent to which the members' expenses regime—that's the allowances—affects the ability of members from outside London to lead anything like an ordinary family life by having their family members with them in London. Our expenses regime is, as you may know, under the auspices of an independent authority, which is currently consulting on exactly that point and has quoted in their document the fact that MPs often suggest the authority is not supportive enough of MPs' families and of their desire to have some sort of family life, including spouses and dependent children living with them when they are in London rather than the constituency.
I hope that was helpful.