I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I'd like to start the meeting by providing some information following the motion that was adopted by the House on Wednesday, September 23. The committee is now sitting in a hybrid format, meaning that members can participate either virtually by video conference or appear in person. All members, regardless of their method of participation, will be counted for the purposes of quorum.
Witnesses must always appear virtually. Today, we do have the House administration in who are physically present. Thank you.
The committee's power is limited to sittings by the priority use of House of Commons resources, as determined by the whips. Any questions must be decided by recorded vote. Just to let you all know, today we will be voting on the main estimates and the supplementary estimates.
The committee can deliberate in camera, provided it takes into account the potential risks to confidentiality inherent in such deliberations with remote participants.
Today's proceedings are going to be made available via the House of Commons website.
As a reminder to everyone—although I think everyone here is probably an expert at this now—the entirety of the committee will not be shown on the website, only the member who is currently speaking. I think it's good to have that in mind.
You can use any of the choices of “floor”, “English” or “French” on your screen, for those who are participating virtually.
Hopefully will it continue to work, through some innovation, that we no longer have to switch those choices on the screen when we're switching the languages we're speaking. That is fantastic because it definitely held things up in the past.
Remember to speak slowly and clearly and also to wear your headset. It has been very difficult on the interpreters, so let's be mindful of that. It's mandatory to wear the headset, so please let me know if there's some kind of problem and you can't receive a headset. I just heard there was an issue. We'll try to help as best as possible to facilitate, if any issues arise where you can't get access to a headset with a boom mike.
Wait until you're called upon by me to begin speaking. Unmute your own mike and then you're going to have to mute your own mike; it's not done automatically. Please remember to do that. If there are any points of order, just unmute your mike and state that you have a point of order.
If anyone wants to speak to that point of order, then please use the “raise hand” function at the bottom of your screen.
Today is meeting number 12, Tuesday, November 24, and we're going to be meeting from 11:00 to 1:30. We're going to have two panels.
On the first panel we have appearing before us, we have the Speaker of the House, the Honourable Anthony Rota, and of course the Clerk of the House, Mr. Robert. Thank you for being with us again.
We also have Monsieur Patrice and Mr. Paquette, as well as Parliamentary Protective Service within this panel.
Welcome to the director of Parliamentary Protective Service.
There are quite a few participants in this meeting. Just to let you know, there are other House of Commons administrative staff here in case there are some questions that the Speaker or Monsieur Robert cannot answer—although I find it hard to believe that there would be many questions where you or Mr. Leahy or Mr. Patrice would not be able to answer. There are others to supplement and help out, so we get the most fulsome answers possible.
In case anybody doesn't know, Mr. Paquette is the chief financial officer, because we're dealing with the estimates.
We will start with the Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, may we have your opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
It's a pleasure to be here with you today and to see all of you again, whether in person or virtually.
The past nine months have been, to say the least, challenging. We members of Parliament, our staff, and the employees of the administration who support us have all had to deal with professional and personal trials even as we worked to continue the business of Parliament in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past several years, the administration has invested in technology infrastructure, recognizing the importance of providing members with the ability to connect to their constituents and their staff, and giving administration employees the means to stay in touch with the organization's network from anywhere at any time. As a result, the investment made by the administration enabled both parliamentarians and employees to be securely and reliably connected to the House of Commons and to each other. These investments formed the building blocks for the hybrid system we're using in the second session of the 43rd Parliament. Now we all rely on the technology, and I'm grateful to the talented and dedicated employees who have helped us, as we are doing today.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, I will be presenting the main estimates and supplementary estimates (B) for fiscal year 2020-21 for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service.
I am joined by officials from both organizations. As mentioned earlier by the chair, representing the House administration, we have Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons; Michel Patrice, deputy clerk, administration; and Daniel Paquette, chief financial officer.
From PPS, I am joined by Kevin Leahy, the director of the service; Robert Graham, administrative and personnel officer; and Antonia Francis, director of human resource services.
I will begin by presenting the key elements and the key themes of the 2020-21 main estimates for the House of Commons. These estimates total $516.4 million, representing a net increase of $13 million, or 2.6%, compared with 2019-20's main estimates.
To start, the funding of $4.7 million for cost of living increases covers requirements for the House administration, members' and House officers' budgets, as well as the statutory increase of the members' sessional allowance, and additional salaries.
The annual budget adjustments for members and House officers are based on the consumer price index. Cost of living increases are essential to our recruitment effort and to those of the House administration.
Returning to major investments, the Board of Internal Economy approved an increase of $4.4 million in this area.
This funding supports new HR advisory services for members, as well as digital office solution introduced for the 43rd Parliament. This solution facilitates collaboration and greatly enhances the ability of members and their staff to find relevant information and securely access their work from any device. We have seen how much more we are relying on these functionalities.
Another focus for major investments, which this committee has seen in the past, is the funding requirements to support information technology systems and assets when they are transferred to the House of Commons within the context of the long-term vision and plan.
I would now like to move to the increase of $2.3 million for the adjustments for members and House officers. This comprises the funding for the addition of a recognized party following the last general election. Funds were also required for the House of Commons contributions to members' pension plans. These costs are contributed by the Treasury Board. Similarly, the main estimates account for adjustment to the contributions for the House of Commons' employee benefit plan.
While the main estimates had originally identified funding for a parliamentary assembly and conference, it will come as no surprise that the 29th annual session of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has been cancelled and that the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference has been postponed until August 2021. As a result, this funding has been used to reduce the funding request in the supplementary estimates (B).
Looking more closely at supplementary estimates (B), our first line item confirms that temporary funding in the amount of $16.3 has been sought for the operating budget carry-forward. The board's policy allows members, House officers and administration to carry forward unspent funds from one fiscal year to the next up to a maximum of 5% of the operating budget in their main estimates.
In addition, we sought $5.5 million in 2020-21 to fund economic increases for House administration employees. Further, $816,000 is allocated for contributions to employee benefits plans.
I will now move to the 2020-21 main estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the service's budget request totalled $92.6 million, which represents an increase of $1.66 million from the previous year. This amount served to cover economic increases and wage adjustments related to collective bargaining decisions. It should be noted that the service is not seeking additional funding through the 2020-21 supplementary estimates process.
Since the service's last appearance before this committee in April 2019, it has made significant and sustained progress on further stabilizing its budgets. As such, the service will not be requesting an increase to its appropriation for fiscal year 2021-22 efforts. As the function previously performed by the RCMP has been progressively transitioned to the service, the organization has become more efficient overall.
At five years of age, the service has advanced through a series of important developmental phases, from the tactical to the strategic. While it was created through the amalgamation of previously existing services, it is successfully managing the integration of the many systems and processes that it inherited and it is making significant progress towards unifying its workforce. The service has matured into an organization that applies strategic and business planning best practices, implements financial safeguard mechanisms and resource optimization initiatives, and appreciates the importance of diversity, inclusion, well-being and mental health.
The public funds made available to the service continue to be well aligned with the mandate and priorities of ensuring the physical safety of parliamentarians, employees and visitors on Parliament Hill and in the parliamentary precinct.
Madam Chair, this concludes my overview of the main and supplementary estimates for the House of Commons and Parliamentary Protective Service. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Okay. Can you hear me now?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. Charles Robert: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Alghabra, the issue that comes up is the allocation of the resources that are available in addition to the health protocols that have to be followed when we move from one event to the other.
On the committee side, for example, there has been a ramp-up of services that we are offering this week. We can now do 54 events, but there is going to be a ceiling, I guess, at some point, as long as we are obliged to meet in either hybrid or virtual format.
I can ask the deputy clerk of procedure to offer supplementary information, but I think, in fact, that we have done pretty well as much as we can for the moment in providing support to you.
Thank you, Mr. Alghabra.
I have just a short addition to what the Clerk has just mentioned.
This increase in services provided by all of the services of the House of Commons, including the services provided by the translation office, has been done through the whips' offices. A great collaboration has taken place there. That's why we were able to increase significantly the amount of services and the possibilities for members to do so. That said, working with the different time zones and with the different protocols that need to be followed make it very difficult to increase significantly more the possibilities for the future.
That said, I know that we're working very actively to at least try to evaluate and anticipate future needs, but clearly, working with the different whips has been quite useful. I would probably encourage you to do so, and to contact your whip's office if there is a special need for, let's say, a special meeting.
I'm very happy to be with you today. I must congratulate you on the good work you're doing. I think we can all agree on that.
Before we start looking at the budget, I'd like to ask you a question about security for MPs. When had the bright idea to call me racist, I got tens of thousands of hate emails. One of the problems we have in our work is social media. I've received tens of thousands of messages, if not more, and several death threats. As a result, my constituency riding and my home have had to be monitored by the police in Roussillon, in my part of the country.
First of all, I'd like to know how security for MPs works. Have you been contacted? Did the RCMP contact the police?
I know that the employees in my office called the Roussillon police because they were worried about my safety. My children, who are 8 and 11 years old, found it extremely strange to see the police walking back and forth in front of our house; they were very worried and even scared.
Could you take a minute to talk about how you proceeded and whether you were involved in the situation?
We ask ourselves this question every day to make sure we have the resources and capacity to serve you.
If you look at the additional disbursements we made during the pandemic for equipment, hardware, connectivity and so on, it's just over $3.5 million. These are large amounts, but a lot of work has been done to enable virtual work and so on.
On the one hand, we have reallocated existing resources to help support change in this environment. We reduced the investments we had planned. In some cases, this involved certain updates or renewal of our technology tools and internal projects. We're trying to find the balance.
On the other hand, the savings are quite significant, as far as travel is concerned. We're talking about nearly $9 million in travel savings. You have to be careful, because $5 million of that is a statutory budget that I cannot deploy elsewhere. However, if you look at the committees, the associations and the House Administration, including travel, we still see fairly significant amounts that are approaching $4 million.
The savings also include all equipment and supplies for our printing department, which was closed for a while. In addition, as the operations of restaurants, cafeterias, committees and other events on the Hill have decreased, there is no need to purchase equipment for these services.
Looking at trends, there are even more savings than expenditures because of COVID-19, because we've made an adjustment to allocate resources elsewhere.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you, Mr. Blaikie.
Indeed, members of the unrecognized party are also quite interested in the voting application, and also in the way we've been managing hybrid sittings. My office is specifically in charge of connecting on a daily basis, if not more frequently, indeed many times a day, with the different members of Parliament, either from the Green Party or independent members.
The motion that was adopted in September directed the House administration to work very closely with the recognized party to ensure the development of a voting application. That has taken place. That is why you have heard of discussions taking place with the different parties. That said, we are keeping the members of the Green Party and the independent members aware of any development that will take place, including for instance, very important onboarding and training sessions. We have done so, for instance, when some simulations were taking place to ensure the Zoom voting.
So, yes, we are in very direct discussions with independent members and the Green Party.
This ends our first panel for today's meeting. I'd like to thank all of the panellists, all of the witnesses. Thank you, of course, to the Speaker of the House Mr. Rota, to Mr. Patrice, Mr. Paquette, Mr. Leahy, Ms. Francis, Mr. Graham, Mr. Gagnon and everyone who is here today.
You brought a big team, and your answers were well appreciated. Thank you for always taking so much time out for this committee. We know you're very busy and we appreciate it.
You can log off now, I guess. We will carry on with the vote on the main estimates and the supplementary estimates.
I want to find out something from the committee members. If we do not group the votes together, we have six separate votes. If we group them together, we would have two votes. We could have one vote on the main estimates and one on the supplementary estimates.
Is there agreement to group the votes together? Is there any opposition to grouping them?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Certainly from my standpoint I think that would be wise.
The Chair: Perfect. Seeing agreement, and I don't hear any opposition, we will group them together.
Should I call the first vote, Mr. Clerk?
Okay. Let's move to some of the committee business we were going to save until the end.
First, just off the bat, I'd like to mention that at Thursday's meeting we're going to have three panels. It's going to be a three-hour meeting. I don't want anyone to be caught off guard—Monsieur Therrien especially—by that.
If you need a replacement for the third hour, then please try to find a replacement now for that hour. We'll be going from 11:00 to 2:00.
Once again I apologize. I know that's going right up against QP, but it's not by my choice that we're doing it this way.
During that meeting on November 26, Thursday's meeting, we're going to have three one-hour panels. We're going to have Professor André Blais and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba. In the second panel we'll have People First Canada and then Canada Without Poverty. Then in the third panel we will have—
Justin, do we have CARP confirmed?
I think the main things to note are that we need to have our recommendations in by December 1 at 5 p.m. That's the important deadline to know. We will come to that December 1 meeting. We have a meeting earlier that day in our regular 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. time slot. All of you should bring your recommendations to that meeting and hopefully we can hash them out a little bit during the meeting, and then by 5 p.m. later that day they can be submitted to the analysts so that both of them can start incorporating them into our draft report.
The other thing of notice is that we are going to ask Dr. Tam to submit a brief instead of making an appearance before the committee.
We're also asking for briefs from the health officers of the other provinces whom we've already met with just to see if there is any further information they'd like to submit to this committee, and also in particular asking whether their elections contributed to any of the cases arising in those provinces currently.
The meeting on prorogation will be on December 10. I would request that all parties submit one constitutional expert or academic of their choice for that committee so that we can schedule that accordingly.
It looks like everyone has now maybe had enough time to read through the subcommittee report have an understanding of what is in it.
There has been a motion to pass this subcommittee report.
Is everyone in favour?
Thank you for having me.
President Chartier and president Chartrand were unable to make it, but they asked me to appear.
I've been the lead negotiator for the Métis nation for just over 30 years, hence, I've participated in a lot of work that we've done with Elections Canada over the years. I was at one time the main researcher and clerk for the Lortie commission that studied elections and party financing and came up with a plan to increase aboriginal representation in Parliament. That's in Mr. Lortie's recommendations in the report. I have a bit of knowledge about the electoral system. I worked with former Chief Electoral Officer Kingsley and put an end to the incentivized voting bingo blotters. That's how they tried to encourage people to participate in the past.
This year marks the 150th year of the entry of Manitoba into Confederation. The Métis people negotiated that, and the banners are all over the House of Commons.
Who are the Métis nation? The Métis nation is primarily a western Canadian phenomenon. We emerged during the fur trade; we number about 400,000. Our traditional territory includes the Prairies, northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Ontario. Now we have province-wide governing members in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. We are a very democratic nation; we have been practising one person, one ballot for over 50 years. Our provincial leaders are elected by province-wide ballot. We've been a strong advocate of increased Métis participation in the electoral process and other indigenous participation.
We understand that we have similar challenges to first nations in that many of our people live in poverty; we have a higher incidence of homelessness and mental health issues, which are not being addressed. Because a big part of our population is in the hinterland, we have all of those challenges of transportation. We have not been that successful in employment with the electoral system; we're not as employed there as our population warrants. We have voter registration challenges, although those have been addressed by Elections Canada recognizing our membership cards, which was a big step forward.
The biggest challenges we have are related to communications, and it's become all the more difficult in this pandemic, because the indigenous newspapers that rely on advertising for their money have been hit hard. The rural papers aren't being published as often, which that creates real challenges for Métis to understand what the parties are offering them.
To be succinct, and I think you've heard this before, we're recommending extending the voting period, perhaps over a weekend. That would provide more social distancing, greater access to voting stations—and the key issue is where those voting stations are. This would open up the schools, for example. We need to ensure that returning officers have the flexibility they need to make sure that everybody's safe, particularly in the long-term care facilities where we have our people. We think there's a need for enhanced mail-in ballot options, because some of our older people have taken this pandemic very seriously and are not moving around at all. In fact, we're telling them not to move around, so we really need to expand that voting method.
One of the things I don't believe this new Chief Electoral Officer has done is meet with our governing members, our province-wide members. We'll have locals in each of our provinces of about 80 different communities where there are significant numbers of Métis, so our governing members at the provincial level are best placed to advise the returning officers where these election boxes should be placed so that we can maximize our participation.
The other challenge we have is that we're in areas where there isn't broadband. Overall, though, the biggest challenge is understanding what the parties are proposing to improve the quality of life for Métis people. That's critical.
I'll give you one example. I'm not picking on any party or anything like that. The new Leader of the Opposition came out with a platform on indigenous things, which is good, but in the platform, he said, well, we're going to continue this national process with first nations and Inuit. You know, we've had a process with the government, structured by a court, that has resulted in $2 billion spending over 10 years. It's a very good process. Everybody has commended the process. It has worked real well. But either the opposition leader doesn't like the process or he failed to communicate. For us as a people, that's a pretty big issue. Now, with the more limited communications, we really need to find a way to address that in the pandemic election. That's really a challenge for everybody, I think.
I'll end it there.
I think I can. This has been an endemic problem in the electoral system.
When we looked at that system to increase indigenous representation in Parliament, in 1992 there were only 12 indigenous people elected to Parliament of the 11,000 other members who came before that. We've had increases since then, but it's mainly because we've changed the electoral system to provide for majority indigenous districts, like Churchill and Churchill River—and we have Nunavut now, and NWT has a majority. The exceptions are really proving the rule. I think we find that in those jurisdictions there's greater participation. I think there's greater participation because people see themselves in the election. The biggest problem has been that it's not our system; it's not us, because we're not seen in it. We have one Métis elected in Winnipeg, which was good, and we had one before, Shelly Glover. The way to increase participation is to get Métis people participating more in the electoral process and its operation, its administration, etc. With the identity question, and because we have so many people living in poverty, you have to increase that system.
The biggest issue has been that elections are costly, and so they limit the number and the distribution of those ballot boxes. That's what this new legislation tried to do, but legislation ain't going to change the practice. You have to actually go out and change it. This election would be a good time to see whether or not expanding the number of ballot boxes would increase the participation of the indigenous population.
That's a very good question.
I know Manitoba better because my family comes from Saint Lazare, Manitoba, and I've been working with the Manitoba Metis Federation and President Chartrand to address the pandemic issue. I'll say a few things.
First, we live in crowded conditions. We thought if it hit us, we needed to find places for the people to isolate, so we bought seven tiny homes, moved them around the province, made those available. We turned our work camps, which we had for Bipole III and Enbridge line 3, into isolation camps. President Chartrand made those available to the province last week, I think, because they were going to use other....
One thing we need to share in a pandemic is our resources. That's number one.
Two, this pandemic showed how vulnerable health-wise the Métis population is. We were able to do food security. Our camps are full of food in case that's needed. We can isolate, but Métis per se have no real access to the health care system, whereas first nations have at least the nurses, etc. In part of our national work, we were trying to move on this to create these Métis health hubs in the province for cultural safety—just better care, better results from care.
We don't have a good relationship with the premier, and that's well known, but we realized that the provincial health care system is straining. Our proposal was for Canada was to say, okay, let's use the resources to transition, to create these health hubs, and then in the long term have them funded by the provincial health care system. We were looking to transition those sorts of things.
Then we also asked for resources for our most vulnerable only—only for for those under a certain income level and those who are older to have non-insured health benefits so they weren't making trade-offs between food and medicines.
One of the lessons we've learned from this pandemic is the need to move to create that health infrastructure for Métis.