Good morning, Mr. Chairman, honorables députés.
I am pleased to be here with Mark Watters as we return for what I believe will be the final session of hearing witnesses in your study on the Board of Internal Economy. I have followed your hearings with interest.
I found the comments and suggestions made by those who have appeared before the committee very informative. I won't give an opening statement, but I would like to make a few comments that, in my view, will help clarify certain situations that seem to be mired in confusion.
In the first instance, let me simply say that with regard to the salaries and pensions of MPs, the Board of Internal Economy has nothing whatsoever to do with that. The Parliament of Canada sets the annual basic remuneration for members and the additional remuneration for certain office holders. It's the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act that sets pensions. So that's not in our remit.
Secondly, because this too seems to be a source of some confusion, the board has an equal representation of government and opposition members. It's chaired by the Speaker, who's elected by secret ballot by all members. It operates on the basis of consensus.
I've left with the clerk, and I think she has distributed to you, a report on the statistics on the views per page of the information on our website. That was a question I'd had. I have to warn you that these numbers are maybe a bit disappointing. Certainly they're far from overwhelming.
I'm sorry to say that I think it's the lack of direct experience with what is already posted that may lead people to the conclusion that there isn't very much information available or that they don't have sufficient information. Those kinds of comments I think tend to fuel mistrust of the Board of Internal Economy, mistrust of us as the House administration, and by extension, of course, mistrust of you yourselves, as MPs. On the contrary, I believe still, and I think the facts bear us out, that every dollar is accounted for and audited. I'd suggest that a great deal of information is already available. Now, more can be made available, and more is already in the works, but I certainly would urge people to become familiar with what is already on the website.
Another little point that Mr. Taylor-Vaisey from last night made was that it was not the entertainment value of the Board of Internal Economy that journalists were after, but rather the content.
I'm sorry if my facetiousness might have led to some confusion, but when I was talking about the “ordinariness” of the discussion, I was trying to dispel the idea that the Board of Internal Economy was a Star Chamber. I mean, I've always thought of the Star Chamber as rather intriguing, and wonderful. But because the board is constantly described as the “highly secretive” Board of Internal Economy, it tends to get a little atmosphere of Star Chamber about it when, to use a homely example, I think it more likely resembles a condominium board of directors, that sort of thing. That's just to set the record straight.
Finally, I was particularly interested, of course, as we all were, in the testimony of the Auditor General. As members know, the Auditor General's office conducted a performance audit of the House of Commons. The AG came in at the invitation of the board. In June 2010 that invitation was given, and the report was tabled in June 2012. It's a process that took almost two years—two years less a bit if we take it that the first summer was a bit of a lull.
That required us as the administration to devote many resources, in terms of time and people, to working with the Auditor General, which we were happy to do. The OAG made eight recommendations in the report, and the administration agreed with all of them. We've completed mitigating action on five of those, and the three others are well in progress.
I have to say, just as a small point of clarification, that not one of those recommendations had anything to do with the systems or procedures in place concerning the verification of members' entitlements, allowances, and services. I think that's an important point to realize.
That's it, Mr. Chairman. With my colleague Mark, I will be happy to answer questions.