I am also joined today by Mike O'Beirne, Superintendent and Acting Director of the Parliamentary Protective Service; as well as Robert Graham, Administration and Personnel Officer at the same service.
I'll begin this morning's presentation by highlighting key elements of the 2017-18 main estimates for the House of Commons, which total $476 million and represent a 2.7% increase over the previous year.
The presentation of the main estimates for PPS will follow.
To help guide the first part of my presentation and facilitate our exchange, I have provided a handout that outlines each of the 14 line items included in the House of Commons' 2017-2018 Main Estimates.
I will address each of these in the order in which they appear, leaving, I hope, ample time for discussion.
As you will note, there are nine items included under the broad category of “Members, House Officers, and Committees, Associations and Exchanges”. Further down, there are four items under “House Administration”. Last, but not least, we have a final item related to “Employee Benefit Plans”.
To begin, we have sought a 1.8% increase to the members' office budgets and House officers' budgets. Together, these represent a permanent increase of $2.8 million, with the greatest proportion being allotted to the members' office budgets.
As you know, these budgets give members of Parliament and House officers the resources they need to carry out their parliamentary functions on behalf of Canadians. The adjustments were calculated based on the consumer price index as measured in September 2016. They were scheduled to take effect on April 1.
In addition, a 20% increase to the MOB supplements, which totals $1.5 million, has also been sought. The supplement assists members who represent constituencies that are densely populated, geographically large, or remote in responding to the needs of the people they represent.
The electoral list, which we use to calculate the amount of the elector supplement, was revised and published by Elections Canada in February 2016. That occurred after the submission deadline for the main estimates in 2016-2017. Consequently, the revised list of electors required that an adjustment be applied to the supplement, resulting in a decrease of $308,000 in 2017-2018 and in subsequent years.
Specifically, supplements recognize the challenges inherent in serving larger, more populated, or more remote constituencies, which members, I think, will understand. They help level the playing field to ensure that Canadians are well-served by their members of Parliament. The increase in supplements was made during the 2016-17 year and took effect on April 1, 2016.
Also on that date, members' sessional allowances and additional salaries increased by 1.8%. This amount reflects adjustments made every year on April 1 based on the average increase in Canadian wages resulting from major settlements in the private sector. The adjustment represents a permanent increase of $1.1 million for 2016-2017.
The next line item represents a funding adjustment to the travel status expenses account for 2013-14 and 2015-16 in the amount of $743,000. Specifically, this increase equals the total amounts approved over a four-year period by the Board of Internal Economy but not yet reflected in the main estimates. The increase will ensure that in the future, funding in the mains and the approved allocations will correspond.
Let me now draw your attention to the next four line items related to parliamentary associations and conferences.
I will first provide you with a bit of context.
As you may know, funding for these items is shared between the House of Commons and the Senate. As such, the amounts to which I will refer in a moment represent the 70% portion of the total budget that the House of Commons funds. The remaining 30% is paid by the Senate.
We have experienced a growing demand for Canadian parliamentarians to further engage internationally. It's something I hear about often from foreign delegations, ambassadors, and high commissioners who come to see me. While this pressure has been building for some time, it has recently become more prevalent.
Funding for this important work remained relatively stable for several years. However, a significant increase in 2013, coupled with increases in association membership fees and other costs—including travel—hampered association activities.
Add to this the unprecedented number of new parliamentarians, many of whom wish to play a role in the 12 parliamentary associations that support Canada's international efforts. For all of these reasons, the board recently accepted a recommendation from the Joint Interparliamentary Council to increase its share of permanent funding to Canada's parliamentary associations by $700,000.
Likewise, Canada will play host to the Interparliamentary Union's Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in November. To support the conference, which brings the best and the brightest young parliamentarians together to address pressing challenges to democracies around the word, temporary funding of $324,000 has been sought.
The Canadian Parliament will also host two significant conferences in the second half of 2018.
The 64th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will take place in my hometown of Halifax in November of 2018. MPs from across the Atlantic alliance will gather to discuss important matters related to security. To support early preparations for this important event, $72,000 in temporary funding has been sought in fiscal year 2017-18.
Also next year, in July, the 56th Regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference will come to Ottawa. They'll probably have almost as good a time as they would if they were in Halifax. The conference will gather parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to promote co-operation and good governance. To help host this event, $19,000 in temporary funding for 2017-18 has also been sought.
I think I speak for many around the table today in saying that we look forward to the results of the work of our parliamentary associations over the next 12 months, and in the future.
Let me now turn to the group of items listed under the general category of “House of Commons Administration”.
As you know, the administration plays a crucial role in supporting the work of each and every member of Parliament, as well as that of the institution, including helping to ensure our collective security in partnership with the Parliamentary Protective Service or the CSO.
The corporate security office—or for short, the CSO—is responsible for security in the House of Commons chamber, providing project management for security infrastructure, conducting investigations, coordinating visitor and event access, providing security accreditation, promoting security awareness, and administering parking services.
The CSO also develops and implements House-wide security policies, standards and processes aimed at preventing, detecting and responding to security risks and threats.
Since the 2015 launch of the integrated security model, in partnership with PPS, our understanding of the roles and responsibilities shared by the CSO and PPS have evolved.
As a result, and to better ensure our security, a permanent increase of $3.6 million to the CSO budget was sought, in addition to a temporary increase of $69,000 in 2017-18. This temporary funding will help to pay for additional staff and office space. It's worth noting that the security enhancement measures identified in 2016-17 and presented the last time that I appeared before you are either under way or being completed, so we are on track with those.
The House of Commons and its partner, Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, are also on track with the renovations and rehabilitation projects underway throughout the parliamentary precinct. To that end, we have sought an increase of $2.4 million in temporary funding to maintain and, in the longer term, replace crucial information technology assets; transfer the building components and connectivity program from PSPC to the House of Commons; and better meet those building requirements that are specific to our institution.
Remuneration under the page program, whereby top students from across Canada have the opportunity to support the work of the House and witness the legislative process first-hand, accounts for a permanent aggregate increase of $60,000, beginning this year. That increase is calculated on the basis of the average increase in tuition and residence fees at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa and is reviewed every year.
While we're on the topic of the page program, I'd like to take a moment to say how very satisfying it was to learn that the House administration had been recognized as an exceptional workplace for young Canadian talent in this year's Top 100 Employers national competition, as well as being named the top employer in the region.... Excuse me, “a top employer”. Darn it, just “a” top employer, but that's still good.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Geoff Regan: Of course, we've always known this, but this year's public endorsement by the Top 100 Employers project was indeed a welcome one.
Another highlight: the opening of the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, or SJAM as we affectionately call it, and more recently, the Wellington Building, resulted in a decrease of $99,000 to our main estimates for this year. The amount represents previously approved and temporary funding that paid for non-recurring costs associated with the renovation and rehabilitation phases of these very successful and now completed projects.
I look forward to your questions concerning the main estimates for the House of Commons, but first let me quickly turn my attention to the main estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service.
I'll begin by providing you with an overview of the PPS's main estimates request for 2017-18, which totals $68.2 million. This includes a voted budget component of $62.1 million and a $6.1 million statutory budget requirement for the employee benefits program. This 2017-18 main estimates request represents a $5.8-million increase from the PPS's 2016-17 main estimates submission.
In addition to PPS's permanent voted budget of $56.3 million, which was approved under the 2016-2017 Main Estimates and established as a result of Bill , PPS is seeking an additional $5.8 million in permanent funding to support the ongoing implementation of security enhancements and to further stabilize the organizational structure.
Following the events of October 22, 2014, several reviews surrounding this incident were conducted, resulting in 161 recommendations on improving security on Parliament Hill. The PPS received funding approval in September 2016 to launch the PPS mobile response team initiative.
The implementation of this initiative will address a significant number of these 161 recommendations and enhance PPS's overall response capacity.
PPS is requesting permanent funding in the amount of of $1.2 million to further implement and sustain the needs of this initiative.
To support the continuation of the Senate's previously approved security enhancement initiatives, additional funding in the amount of $787,000 will be transferred to PPS given its direct alignment with the PPS's mandate.
The PPS is also seeking permanent funding in the amount of $3 million to stabilize the protective posture in the newly opened 180 Wellington building, and to uphold pre-existing third party security agreements throughout the precinct.
Given the anticipated increase in visitors to the precinct and grounds of Parliament Hill throughout Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, a total of $400,000 is required in temporary funding to support the costs of the baggage screening facility at 90 Wellington Street through 2017-2018.
This renewed temporary funding will not only enhance the visitor experience, but it will also enable PPS to evaluate this facility's effectiveness, feasibility and long-term sustainability.
This results in a cumulative request of $5.3 million for previously approved and new security enhancement initiatives throughout the parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill.
In addition to the aforementioned operational enhancement initiatives funding requests, the PPS is seeking a permanent increase of $886,000 to fund a series of corporate service requirements. This includes the funding for full-time communications resources to support PPS's internal and external messaging, along with the funding necessary to fulfill the existing service level agreements with the House administration for the provision of human resource and information technology services.
PPS remains committed to operational excellence through the provision of professional physical security services throughout the parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill.
To further enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of its service delivery model, the PPS will focus on the ongoing implementation of existing and new resource optimization initiatives, the identification of opportunities to leverage innovation, and a strengthened commitment to collaboration with its various parliamentary partners.
This concludes my presentation.
My team and I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Graham, I guess I'll start by saying that at the PPS, truly, our strength is our people. The bringing together of the three separate entities upon the creation of the PPS connected corporate knowledge and experience. None of that is lost on us. We've been factoring all of that into every step we take in moving forward as an entity.
To your specific question, I guess what I can say is this. As you know, the creation of the PPS brought together three collective bargaining units: the SPSEA, the SSEA, and PSAC. Since the creation of the PPS, we have believed that it would be best for operations—our concept of operations and employees—if there were a single bargaining unit. It supports our objectives of effectively unifying all the personnel for the service under one operational umbrella, towards a common goal.
The associations have a different perspective, and it's certainly their right to do so. They have articulated that they prefer two bargaining units. In accordance with the law that actually created the PPS, the PPS and the associations have each submitted a request to the PSLREB as to what that right number would be. We currently have three. With this, we've been respectfully waiting for a decision, and we look forward to that decision, hopefully in the coming months.
In regard to the issues you've brought up, there has been some question about whether the PPS will meet with the associations. From our perspective, the PPS would prefer to continue meeting with all three of the bargaining units, as we share common interests and common goals. In the past, not all bargaining units have agreed to this approach, and we've had varying degrees of success in having attendance at some of the joint meetings scheduled by the PPS. We do understand that some would prefer to meet individually. It's very complex to accommodate this at all times. For example, we often deal with the exact same issue but then have to hold three different meetings with three different associations to discuss the very same issues.
I can assure you that at the PPS our strength is our people, and that's not lost on us. We continue to communicate with them at every possible turn, whether it's directly with the associations or directly with our PPS personnel.
I can close perhaps by letting you know that, further to the views we're not communicating, there is also a view that the PPS will not enter into collective bargaining. On the stickers question, I'll answer from this perspective. The SSEA's collective agreement has indeed expired, and they have requested that we enter into collective negotiations. In the legal opinion that the PPS has received, we've been informed that we cannot start negotiations of any kind with any of the bargaining units until the labour board decides on the actual number of bargaining units that in their view would be appropriate.
Again, the legal opinion that the PPS has received differs from the SSEA's legal opinion. To that end, I'll say that it's not a question of strategy or tactics but simply a question of what we understand to be legal. Because of the difference of opinions, we've asked the labour board to render a decision on whether or not we should bargain in the current environment, and we anxiously await the decisions of the PSLREB on that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thanks for the opportunity to appear to discuss Elections Canada's main estimates for 2017-18.
Before I start, I want to thank the chair and the members of this committee for the work that you have done in reviewing the CEO's recommendations and for reporting on those recommendations. Of course, Elections Canada's staff remains available to assist the committee in this regard.
Today, the committee is studying and voting on Elections Canada's annual appropriation, which is $29.3 million. This represents the salaries of approximately 350 indeterminate positions. Combined with the statutory authority, which funds all other expenditures under the Canada Elections Act, our 2017-2018 main estimates total $112.2 million.
During this fiscal year, Elections Canada is working on specific administrative changes to modernize the electoral process to address problems raised by Canadians during recent elections and meet their evolving expectations. I would like to highlight three aspects: voting services, voter registration services, and online services for candidates and political entities.
On voting services, the agency is hoping to see legislation that allows for our proposed new voting services model, which can be adapted to meet the specific needs of each electoral district. I was pleased that this committee agreed to the CEO's recommendations that would allow for the model's implementation. We look forward to the government's response.
In large urban centres, wait time is often an issue for voters, especially at advance polls. In those places, a new voting services model would allow voters to vote at any available table within their polling location, thereby reducing wait times. The new process will also improve working conditions for poll workers by simplifying their tasks and allowing them to take breaks as required, without interrupting the vote.
To implement this new model, election workers will be equipped with electronic poll books. These are applications that will run on tablets or laptops to help election workers manage voters lists, forms and “bingo sheets”. This will replace the cumbersome stacks of paper forms that they currently use and the need to cross voter names off of a paper list with pencil and ruler. It should also significantly reduce record-keeping errors, improve compliance with procedures and increase auditability. I wish to stress that we will retain paper ballots, which will continue to be marked and counted by hand.
We are currently mapping out scenarios for deploying this new voting services model for the 2019 general election, focusing on electoral districts where deployment would bring the most benefit. Deployment decisions will also be informed by a procurement process currently in progress and input from the Advisory Committee of Political Parties.
In more sparsely populated areas, travel time to voting locations, rather than wait time, was one of the main problems reported by Canadians in recent elections. In those areas, instead of introducing technology, we will increase the number of advance polling locations to improve proximity. As well, we will provide returning officers with routing data to support the selection of voting locations. This will help ensure that voters are directed to the polling location that is nearest in terms of travel time.
Since our departmental plan was published, we have decided to set aside one aspect of our transformation agenda—the electronic delivery of special ballots. While we continue to believe that legislation should be amended to provide flexibility in the delivery of special ballots, this is not something we will be pursuing for 2019.
However, based on the success of the pilot project conducted at some 40 post-secondary institutions in 2015, we will increase the number of satellite local offices. These offices will provide information, registration and opportunities for voters away from their electoral district to vote by special ballot.
Our priority for registration services is to increase the coverage and currency of the national register of electors, especially with respect to young voters. For instance, only one quarter—to be precise, 27%—of 18-year-olds are registered, compared with just over 70% for 20-year-olds.
I would note that our recommendations to pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds and to gain access to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on non-citizens would also improve the coverage and the currency of the national register of electors. These measures are also included in Bill .
In addition, we are working to make online voter registration services more universally accessible, particularly for voters in rural and remote areas who do not have standardized residential addresses and who had trouble using the e-registration function in the last election.
We will also offer an online portal providing a number of services to candidates and political entities. This will include the ability, with proper authentication, to download documents such as maps and voter lists, or to file electronically documents such as nomination papers. I do note that this committee, in its review of the CEO's report, supported the recommendations that will facilitate the electronic filing of nomination papers.
In moving forward with improvements to our service offerings, we will continue to consult with parliamentarians, including this committee, as well as with key stakeholders.
I would note, Mr. Chair, that we traditionally have an informal meeting session in the fall, usually in early September or October when Parliament comes back. I hope that we will have the opportunity in September to look at deployment options for new technology at the polls.
Elections Canada is also in the process of replacing and improving a number of existing systems and services that enable the delivery of modern elections. For the next general election, these include new telecommunications services for local offices and our central contact centres. This includes upgrades and maintenance for our IT network and the progressive implementation of a new solution for hosting our data centres. Upgrades and additional basic functionalities are also required for the system that supports returning officers in the hiring, training, and paying of some 300,000 poll workers in a general election.
These investments will allow Elections Canada to ensure that our IT services remain reliable and secure in this changing environment. We are working with lead security agencies, in particular Communications Security Establishment Canada, to ensure that our infrastructure continues to meet all appropriate security standards and requirements.
Lastly, I would like to touch briefly on the timing of the legislation. I understand that in addition to Bill , the intends to introduce legislation related to fundraising activities in the coming weeks. She also indicated before this committee that she intends to introduce other legislative changes in the fall of 2017, building on the CEO's recommendations. The minister recognized the last time she appeared before this committee that Elections Canada needs sufficient time to implement the changes well ahead of the 2019 general election. In this regard, assuming that enabling legislation is enacted by the spring of 2018, this should allow us time to implement our proposed new voting services model and other legislative changes for the next general election.
To conclude, we look forward to the final report from this committee on the review of the CEO's recommendations for improved administration of the Canada Elections Act. As I indicated at the outset, Elections Canada staff remain available to assist the committee in this regard.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions from the members of this committee.