Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Colleagues, nice to see you this morning. Members of the committee and distinguished guests, thank you for welcoming us back.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, I am pleased to present the main estimates for fiscal year 2018-19 for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service.
Since you have already introduced the people joining me, Mr. Chair, I will begin my presentation right away.
I'll begin by presenting the key elements of the 2018-19 main estimates for the House of Commons.
These estimates total $507 million. This represents a net decrease of $4 million compared to the total estimates for 2017-18, which include both the main estimates and the supplementary estimates. These have been reviewed, and approved by the Board of Internal Economy in a public meeting.
The main estimates will be presented along six major themes, corresponding to the handout that you received. The financial impact associated with these themes represents the year-over-year changes from the 2017-18 main estimates.
The six themes are: continued investment and support for the long-term vision and plan; major investments; conferences, associations and assemblies; committee activities, cost-of-living increases; and employee benefit plans.
I'll start with the funding of $10.6 million that is required for the continued investments and support of the long-term vision and plan, or LTVP. We're nearing considerable milestones as you know: the move into a renovated West Block and the restoration of Centre Block. A restored West Block will be the first major construction project of this scale to be completed on Parliament Hill under the LTVP.
I'd like to stress that the House is working hand-in-hand with Public Services and Procurement Canada toward the goal of moving into the new West Block. In June, before the House rises, the Board of Internal Economy will be informed of the progress of this endeavour. At that time, a decision will be made on whether the move will take place this summer.
Our common objective is to ensure that the new facility is functioning as intended, and of course, avoid disruptions to House proceedings. That's fundamentally important.
As reviewed and approved by the board, the funding for our continued investment and support for the LTVP in these main estimates is required to sustain evolving campus-wide operations, and to support IT systems and facility assets.
The rehabilitation of the parliamentary precinct currently underway will have a significant impact on the human and financial resources of the House. Members must continue to receive the services they need during this period of incredible growth and change. While existing resources will be deployed to where they are needed most, additional resources are required to sustain critical operations for members, their staff, and the administration that supports them.
Additionally, the transfer to West Block and the opening of the visitor welcome centre will result in a direct increase in House of Commons operating expenses. These are expenses to record, safeguard, maintain, and life-cycle the related assets that will be transferred to the House of Commons from Public Services and Procurement Canada. By 2019, the House will have taken ownership of over $200 million in new assets.
It is essential that all buildings in the parliamentary precinct be equipped with information technology and related infrastructures for access to information services, both for continued modernization and for the effective functioning of Parliament.
I'll now move to the funding of $11.7 million approved by the board in support of major House of Commons investments.
We are at a critical juncture, one where the House of Commons must invest in the information technology solutions and systems that will enable it to meet the rapidly changing needs of members, their employees, and the House administration. This also means expanding access to parliamentary information through social media and a modernized online presence.
In light of the renewal of many parliamentary spaces, investments are also needed to deliver support services to members.
To this end, the modernization and optimization of food services focuses on the client experience while supporting the transition of production to the off-site food production facility for the relocation to West Block.
Pay and benefits is another key service offered to members and the administration. Funding is required for this group to ensure that adequate staffing levels are in place to satisfy current demands and mitigate system challenges.
Funding is also needed to ensure appropriate security enhancements for the West Block. While security reasons prevent me from going into the details, the House of Commons and its security partners continue to collaborate on an enhanced emergency management and security approach to ensure a safe and secure Parliament.
Another investment accounted for in the main estimates is for the disclosure of expenses incurred by House officers and national caucuses research offices. In keeping with the board's commitment to transparency and accountability, the first annual House officers expenditures report will be published on ourcommons.ca this June. Quarterly reporting, aligned with the schedule set for the members' expenditures report, will follow.
Let us now turn to parliamentary diplomacy.
Funding of $1.1 million is required for this important work that seeks to foster mutual understanding and trust, enhances cooperation, and builds goodwill among legislators.
As part of these commitments, Canada will host three important events in 2018-19.
The 56th Regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference will take place in Ottawa this July, as many members will know. This conference enables parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth.
The 15th annual Plenary Assembly of ParlAmericas will be held in Victoria, British Columbia in September 2018.
Finally, the 64th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which provides a unique specialized forum for members from across the Atlantic alliance to discuss and influence decisions on alliance security, will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, so lucky them, right? The member for Halifax agrees. The member for St. Catharines is not so sure.
I will now proceed to the funding of $1.7 million required in support of committee activities. Each year parliamentary committees undertake a number of studies on issues that matter to Canadians. These committees study and amend legislation, examine government spending, conduct inquiries, and receive input from subject matter experts and citizens.
Committees use their funding primarily for witness expenses, video conferences, travel, working meals, and preparing reports for the House of Commons on the issues they study. The Liaison Committee rigorously manages the global envelope allocated by the Board of Internal Economy for committee activities.
I'll now proceed to the funding of $4.6 million that is required for cost-of-living increases. This covers requirements for the House administration as well as the budgets for members and House officers. For the House administration, this funding provides for the economic increases of approximately 1,600 House administration employees. The salary increases will help ensure staff retention, and provide competitive salaries to attract new hires.
I will now move on to funding required for members' and house officers' budgets, supplements, and salaries.
The board has determined that office budgets for members, house officers, and research offices will be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index.
Funding is also allocated in support of increases to members' office budget supplements. These, of course, recognize the challenges inherent in serving larger, more populated, or remote constituencies. The board also approved an increase to the travel status expenses account, which members may use to charge their accommodations and meal expenses when they are in travel status.
Additionally, in accordance with the Parliament of Canada Act, members' sessional allowances and additional salaries are adjusted every year on April 1 based on the index of the average percentage increase in base-rate wages for the calendar year in Canada resulting from major settlements negotiated in the private sector.
The final item included in the House of Commons' main estimates is a funding requirement of $1.2 million for employee benefit plans.
In accordance with Treasury Board directives, this non-discretionary statutory expense covers costs to the employer for the Public Service Superannuation Plan, the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan, death benefits, and the employment insurance account.
I would now like to present the 2018-19 main estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service, PPS.
This June marks the third year of operations for PPS since the unification of the former House of Commons and Senate protective services under the operational command of Chief Superintendent Jane MacLatchy. This entity was created by an act of Parliament to unify and better coordinate the physical security of Parliament under one mandate.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, I am jointly responsible for the PPS with the Speaker of the Senate. They report to us on matters regularly. Let me begin by providing members with a brief synopsis of the evolution of this organization over the past three years, particularly as it relates to the main estimates.
In its first nine months, the PPS operated with a pro-rated budget of $40 million. During this transition period, the House of Commons provided the newly created organization with corporate support through a charge-back model. This interim measure enabled PPS to focus on unifying security operations and completing interoperability. It also allowed it to plan requirements over two years to become self-sufficient in its corporate services.
In 2016-17, following its first submission of Main Estimates, PPS operated with $62.1 million in funding, which significantly improved unification efforts through the standardization of uniforms and equipment and the upgrading of facilities.
This past year, the organization was appropriated $68.3 million, which helped implement numerous security initiatives on Parliament Hill, including the hiring of additional security personnel for the 180 Wellington Building and the establishment of an integrated mobile response team.
Today, the organization is beginning to stabilize and make important headway towards building an effective corporate administration that supports security operations. This fiscal year, PPS aims to deliver its mandate with a budget of $83.5 million. The increase in funding earmarks $7 million in permanent requirements, $7.6 million in temporary security initiatives, and $600,000 in statutory funds.
While PPS is an autonomous organization and a separate parliamentary employer, it has several service-level agreements with the House of Commons for assistance in finance, payroll, and IT. These arrangements will continue in the short term while the organization progressively builds capacity to lessen its dependence on the House for administrative support.
For this reason, the permanent funding request includes: $4.5 million allocated for positions within finance, human resources, and facilities departments; $1.9 million reserved to stabilize key functions within information services, assets, and major events, and physical infrastructure and emergency planning; and $600,000 budgeted for the training of protection personnel.
Funding for temporary security initiatives include $5.7 million to perform necessary maintenance and upgrades to security infrastructure, such as replacing and upgrading external cameras and crash barriers at the vehicle screening facility—because some of these upgrades are security-sensitive my officials and I would be pleased to address any questions or concerns in camera, if the committee wishes—$1.1 million over three years to bring our protective personnel to the same minimum-level security clearance as all federal security agencies, another key measure to improve communications and allow for a seamless exchange of information with external partners; and $775,000 for temporary corporate initiatives and support, such as the hiring of consultants, the development of an internal website, and the acquisition of a document management system.
The funding sought in these estimates provides for the steady growth of this organization and ensures that its workforce remains supported and adequately equipped to deliver on its security mandate.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my overview of the 2018-19 Main Estimates for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service. My officials and I would be pleased to answer questions.
There you go, point of privilege again, Chair. You'll be hearing from me later this afternoon, don't worry.
Thank you for coming, and thank you to all your officials for being here.
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to focus a bit on the PPS and the current state of affairs. I don't think there's much we often all agree on as parliamentarians, with perhaps a few exceptions, but one of them is the quality and professionalism of the security that keeps us and the public who visit the House of Commons safe every day.
I'm thinking of this in serious terms. We're all reminded of the importance of security just with the unbelievably tragic events yesterday in Toronto. The just spoke to the need for good security, as best as we can, in a complicated city. We have a complicated place here with media and public presence.
You and I were both here in October of 2014. I was actually in this room. There's a bullet hole in that door. I was trying to leave the room that morning to make a call during caucus. One of our security professionals came through the door the other way and physically shut the door, preventing me from going out. That's where the bullet lodged—one of our own, actually, as it turned out—in that door. It made it through one door and got lodged in the second, right by his head, as it turns out.
I saw Mr. Son this morning. He's working detail in front of the House of Commons. He got shot in the leg that day.
We welcomed the same security force into the House of Commons. I don't know if you were in the chair that day. I don't think you were; I think it was . We saluted them to thank them. I've seen a lot of people, great people, saluted in the House of Commons with applause. I'm not sure I've ever seen applause of such duration and such warmth as that day we had our security officials in front of us to thank them for what they do, for the risks they take for us and the public. I find it difficult that same feeling doesn't transpire over when we're sitting down with those same professionals to negotiate a fair contract.
We all, as MPs, pass by our security officials every day. They're wearing their caps, asking for respect. It's not a lot to ask for, yet it's been more than a year since the House of Commons security has had a contract, similarly on the Senate side, and it's more than three, almost four years, I think, since the people who work at the scanners have had a contract.
You and the Speaker of the Senate are, as you said, responsible for PPS. With all respect, why are we in this situation? Why have we not been able to break the impasse and negotiate in good faith with the people who keep us safe every day?
It is a pleasure to be back before the committee today to present Elections Canada's Main Estimates for 2018-19. This appearance also provides the opportunity to highlight the calendar of key activities that remain to prepare for the next general election, particularly in light of potential important legislative changes.
Today, the committee is voting on Election Canada's annual appropriation, which is $30.8 million and represents the salaries of some 360 indeterminate positions. Combined with our statutory authority, which funds all other expenditures under the Canada Elections Act, our Main Estimates total $135.2 million.
There are now at most 16 months left before the start of the next general election. Of course, we do not know exactly when it will begin, but there are at most 16 months before the start of the next election, and less time than that for Elections Canada to achieve a full state of readiness, for which our target date is April 2019. We are giving ourselves some flexibility between April and the start of the election in case any last-minute adjustments are needed.
A strict calendar of activities serves to ensure that changes to the electoral process and its administration are well tested before they are deployed and used by some 300,000 elections workers during the election.
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to explain key aspects of our readiness calendar. This is particularly important should legislative changes be introduced late in the electoral cycle.
There are some 40 IT systems that are critical to the services we provide to electors, candidates, and political parties in the context of the delivery of an election. A majority of these systems will be new or will have gone through significant changes for the next general election. The importance of these changes is a reflection of the need to improve services for Canadians as well as renew aging technology and enhance cybersecurity.
I'm glad to say that work on these systems is progressing well. Over this summer, we will be migrating 27 of these systems and associated databases to our new data centre, which is currently being built. The new data centre is essential to provide the flexibility and the security required to deliver the election in the current environment.
Starting September 1, we will subject all systems to a full round of integrated testing that replicates the activities and transactions of a general election.
Through the fall and winter, we will perform necessary adjustments to our systems and rerun testing cycles until we are satisfied that they are capable of sustaining the requirements, volumes, and pressures of an actual general election.
In March 2019 we plan to hold a simulation of the election process in several electoral districts. This is an exercise we did prior to the last general election as well. The purpose of this exercise is to see how the new business processes and technology that will be used at the next general election perform in a simulated setting, including interactions between local offices and headquarters.
By April 2019 we will also have designed, produced, and largely assembled electoral supplies and materials so that they can be progressively deployed to the 338 electoral districts.
Finally, in the spring of 2019 we will then have also trained all returning officers and have completed and tested the training modules for the poll workers who will be hired for the general election. The training program for returning officers is largely delivered online, and must undergo stringent quality assurance and testing processes before it is rolled out to field administrators, more than a third of whom will be new at the next election.
This is our readiness plan under the current legal framework.
Now, as you know, following the last general election, we made some 130 recommendations for legislative improvements. Many have been endorsed—endorsed unanimously, I should say—by this committee. In its response, the government has indicated that it broadly supports the recommendations for change, and has put forward additional proposals for improvements. These are over and above the proposals already contained in Bill and Bill , which are currently before Parliament, not to mention private members' bills.
Considering the above, it is pressing for legislative changes to be made without delay if they are to be implemented for the next general election.
When I appeared last February, I indicated that the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next election was rapidly closing. That was not a new message. Both Monsieur Mayrand and I had previously indicated that legislative changes should be enacted by April 2018. This means that we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve some compromises. Let me explain.
Should legislative changes be enacted over the coming year, the agency will need to minimize, as much as possible, changes to existing systems and applications. There are considerable risks in introducing last-minute changes to complex IT systems if there is not enough time to test them thoroughly. As indicated earlier, our window for integrated testing is September 2018, therefore there may not be sufficient time to automate new processes. Less optimal paper or manual solutions may have to be used instead.
Moreover, to the extent that legislative changes impact rules for political entities—and I'm referring here in particular to political financing rules—there will be only a short window of time to complete the necessary steps for renewing all of the manuals and consulting with all the parties, as well as the Commissioner of Canada Elections, on the changes being made, as required by law now. The same is also true for instructions required of field personnel. Last-minute updates to poll worker training and manuals reduce the time for quality control and testing in advance of the election.
Of course, Mr. Chair, our mandate is to implement the changes that Parliament decides to enact, and we will find ways to do that if and when legislation is introduced and passed. However, it is also my responsibility to inform you that time is quickly running out. Canadians trust Elections Canada to deliver robust and reliable elections, and we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where the quality of the electoral process is impacted. Should legislation be introduced, we will, of course, support the work of this committee, including informing members of operational impacts and implementation strategies.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. As usual, my colleagues and I will be happy to answer questions that members may have.