Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Last December, I appeared here to propose a number of policy changes, which you then approved. I am back today to talk about our efforts to continue modernizing members' policies so that we can be better placed to assist members in carrying out their parliamentary functions.
I will first present a series of proposals to modernize members' travel policies, and then, a proposed change to the end-of-year deadlines.
The House administration recognized that members' parliamentary function entails long workdays and extended periods away from home. These requirements have led members to express their needs for changes to travel policies for themselves, their employees, and their immediate family. The House administration has also reviewed the report from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and took into consideration the recommendations for possible amendments to the travel points system that would encourage members' families to reunite with the members.
We have also consulted with various members and House officers to get a good understanding of the challenges we were asked to address. The presentation today will also follow up on the board's December 7 request to clarify the definition of “designated traveller”.
After studying all the information we've compiled, the House administration proposes the following changes to the members' policies and by-laws on travel. The purpose of these changes is to ensure that all members receive the necessary resources to travel for their parliamentary functions.
The proposed amendments seek to promote a family-friendly environment for members of the House, enhance the support provided to members in the discharge of their parliamentary functions, clarify certain elements to increase members' policy understanding, and allow them to optimize the use of their resources.
The travel points system was introduced to ensure that all members have equal access to the travel resources no matter the size or location of their constituencies. It was also intended to respond to members' needs by providing resources to their employees and to immediate families. These travel resources are not only used by members, but they are also used by their designated travellers and their dependants. Today nearly half the members are parents of dependent children, and the travel resources required to maintain a balanced family life are creating pressures on members' travel allocations.
Currently half a point is deducted for each round trip taken by a member's dependant under the age of six and a point for each round trip taken by other authorized travellers. Our first proposal is to increase flexibility for the travel of younger dependants. We recommend that no points be deducted for the travel of dependants under the age of six nor for dependants with disabilities. One travel point would continue to be deducted for each round trip taken by other eligible dependants. Additionally, we've proposed to allocate additional regular points to members with more than one dependant of the age of six to 20. To alleviate the pressures on the travel resources of members whose families are larger than the Canadian average, the proposal would be to have eight regular points allocated for each additional dependant who is between the ages of six and 20.
Given that no travel points will be deducted from dependants with disabilities, or dependants under the age of six, no additional points will be allocated to them.
Furthermore, no additional points will be allocated to dependants between the ages of 21 and 25, because our data on the use of points does not show that this age category is putting a strain on members' travel resources.
On another matter, there is one additional element we are also looking to update to further clarify the eligibility of dependants for using members' travel resources. For each dependant who is in the student status category, we recommend that the members also provide at least annually the name and location of the educational institution at which the student is enrolled.
We believe these amendments to the travel policies will foster a more family-friendly environment in the House to support members in the fulfillment of their parliamentary functions, and by encouraging their families to use travel points to reunite with them.
The following proposal concerns designated travellers. During the December 7, 2017, meeting, the board said that it needed more clarity around the definition of designated travellers. The scope of this definition has changed over the years to adapt to members' evolving needs and realities.
To clarify the current definition, the House administration is proposing the following wording for the definition of designated travellers: Members may designate one person as a designated traveller to support them in their parliamentary functions. A designated traveller is typically the spouse or partner of the member. Members may not designate their employees or another member who is not their spouse or partner.
Another proposal relating to the designated traveller is the current one-year declaration rule. Currently, members must declare the name of their designated traveller, which remains in effect for 12 months or for the duration of the Parliament, whichever is shorter. Since members' situations and needs can evolve during this period, we recommend adding a provision to allow the chief financial officer, upon receipt of a special request, to permit a change in the declaration of designated traveller sooner, under certain circumstances, including death, divorce, or other significant life events.
The following policy change broadens the scope of travel authorized as members' regular travel. According to the current policy, regular travel is defined as travel between Ottawa and one's constituency. However, members regularly travel both within their constituencies and to large, neighbouring cities for their parliamentary functions, and often rely on the support of their staff.
The current practice consists in using special points for this kind of travel, which puts a strain on both the travel allocation and the ability to carry out certain parliamentary functions.
Therefore, we propose to expand the definition of regular trips to also include trips within the member's constituency and travel to the member's provincial or territorial capital. This means that all travel within the constituency would use regular rather than special points. Members may still use 25 of their points for special trips, which are trips in Canada other than those that are covered by the newly expanded definition of regular trips.
Members would now be provided with improved ability to travel within their constituencies, to and from Ottawa, and elsewhere, to discharge their parliamentary functions.
Another recommendation concerns family reunification. We want to clarify the policy's intent to specify the time and place in which reunification takes place. We recommend that a new guiding principle specify that the family reunification typically occurs while the House is in session, either at the member's secondary residence or another location where the member is exercising his or her parliamentary functions.
Finally, we are proposing to specify that authorized travellers can use travel points to join members travelling in their capacity as ministers, but only in two circumstances: First, if members are simultaneously carrying out a parliamentary function, and, second, when the House is sitting and the members' combined functions don't allow them to return to their principal residences.
Finally, given all the changes occurring in the travel industry, we are putting forward recommendations concerning additional eligible travel expenses. One recommendation would include class of travel, while a second covers pre-approval of travel programs. A third recommendation considers lawful alternative commercial accommodations or transportation services. The fourth recommendation concerns in-flight wireless Internet.
Regarding the class in which members are authorized to travel, we recommend specifying that members and their authorized travellers may use the most economical transportation available, regardless of the class of travel. To be more specific, members and their authorized travellers must travel at the class that they are entitled to, unless a higher class of travel is available at lower class fares. Members are encouraged to book such flights through our members' travel services, since doing so offers numerous benefits, such as substantial savings for the flight costs, corporate flight pass, and accident and other travel insurance.
Concerning the pre-approved travel programs, lawful alternative accommodations and transportation services, and the wireless Internet during travel, we propose to allow such costs to be charged to the member's office budget with supporting documentation.
These changes will enhance members' abilities to travel both within their constituency and to their corresponding provincial or territorial capital, which will allow them to better serve their constituents. The changes would also simplify the family reunification principle to provide better understanding and allocation of the resources so that members can be together with their families.
Before I go to questions on these changes, I would also like to take the opportunity to speak briefly on the other proposal, to amend the year-end timelines for June 30 to submit previous-year claims. To alleviate time pressures related to current processes for submitting previous year claims, we recommend that the chief financial officer be empowered to establish the date by which all accounts relating to a given fiscal year must be received in order for them to be eligible for reimbursement. This would allow members more flexibility to submit claims from the previous fiscal year against the current year's member's office budget while still respecting the prior year's limits included in the members' policies.
This change would optimize resources by offering members and staff more flexibility. It would also improve the efficiency of the claim process, and prevent members from having to pay out-of-pocket expenditures that would have been admissible.
Mr. Speaker, I hope this presentation clearly shows that the recommendations support an environment that is beneficial to both families and the House, facilitate members' understanding of the policies, and enhance the House administration's ability to assist members in their work.
I will be glad to answer any questions the board members may have.