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View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Chair, I wasn't sure if this should be in the minutes or the business.
I asked a question at the last meeting when we were deciding on an exception for printing costs. I asked what the difference in the costs of the postage would have been for Mr. Waugh if he had used the House's preferred rate as compared to when he chose to do that mailing himself. I'm just wondering if that information has been found and if it could be shared with the group.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, I remember going through that.
Who will be able to answer that with detail?
Monsieur Patrice.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-07-10 13:10
The information has been sent. I'm just trying to locate the information right now.
I don't know, Rebekah, if you have the information right at your fingertips. We're looking for it.
Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-07-10 13:10
I'll find it and I'll pull it up.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
If it's okay with everyone, we'll proceed. When it does come up, we'll interrupt and present the information.
Does that work, Mr. Strahl?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-07-10 14:14
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We have located the information. The mailing cost for the member at that time was $6,590 at the rate he was charged. If he'd been charged the preferred bulk rate, it would have been $177. The difference was $6,400, essentially.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, I guess. That's a tough bill to swallow, but thank you.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do we have any questions or comments?
I see none.
Do we have approval of the report?
I see heads nodding. Very good.
We will now move on to item 8, which pertains to a request for exception for outdoor furniture.
Mr. Paquette, you may go ahead.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:32
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
A member is asking the board to consider his request for reimbursement for outdoor furniture. The space the member is leasing includes exclusive access to an outdoor area. In order to use the space, the member purchased two tables and six chairs, for a total of $2,958.
Given that this was a non-standard purchase, the administration completed its assessment in accordance with the existing board policy. We concluded that this type of furniture is not typically needed in an office, nor is it needed in order to enable a member to carry out their parliamentary function. So that is our conclusion, that it is not office furniture. Furthermore, we conclude that it is not transferrable, since members' constituency offices do not typically include outdoor space that can be furnished and used by the member. As a result of our assessment, the expense was denied.
As per the member's request, we are seeking the board's direction on the review for this matter.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's not so much a question I have, as it is a comment.
My understanding is that the rules make no mention of patio furniture. We would be setting an unacceptable precedent, were we to grant the request. As mentioned, this type of furniture does not count as office equipment. If we agree to reimburse a member for patio furniture, next, we could have someone asking to be reimbursed for a barbecue, and it would never end. I think denying the expense was the right decision.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Did the member contact the House administration before making the purchase? I don't mean through a formal letter, but did they make any sort of inquiry? It's clearly an unusual request.
My constituency office has an outdoor space. Would I be allowed to buy patio furniture? It's clear from looking at the file that there weren't any formal inquiries, but did someone from the member's office or the member, himself, reach out to finance services about it?
Once I know that, I'll comment further.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:35
According to the notes in my report, the member didn't ask for any information, formally or informally, before buying the furniture.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
All right. Thank you.
This is a member with considerable experience, not just at the federal level. I think reimbursing a member for the purchase of patio furniture would set the wrong precedent. Had the member made some sort of attempt to contact the House administration, or had there been some ambiguity as to whether the expense was eligible, I'd be more inclined to consider the member's request.
The Board of Internal Economy should advise all members, especially new ones, that if they want to make an unusual purchase, they need to submit a formal request beforehand to make sure it's an eligible expense.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Paquette, would you care to comment?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:37
No, thank you.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you.
I certainly agree with the previous two colleagues who agree with the recommendation from the House administration. I think if you go down this road, perhaps members who do not have patio space.... Obviously, under no circumstances would the House administration approve creating a patio space for an existing office. To say that your office has room and you could put a little patio in a courtyard or expand your space to the outdoors—I don't think that is a reasonable expense for taxpayers.
We had an example earlier today of where a new member had an additional cost of $6,400. It was absorbed within this member's office budget, so you could argue that there was no additional cost to taxpayers. It was still within the existing budget. It seems to me this may be where members believe they have more experience, or they believe they know the rules, or they believe they won't be captured by the members' allowances and services manual. We're dealing with a number of people who were here in a previous regime, when there was a lot more discretion given to members on how they spent their office budgets, or we're dealing with new members who either don't lean on staff or don't seek information from their whips early enough in the process.
I would say this simply as a global measure. It seems to me that when the House administration is onboarding people, clearly, with the number of cases we're dealing with where people are printing and mailing householders on their own or buying patio furniture, there almost needs to be a “do not” circled in bright red ink. There's clearly some disconnect between what members believe they can do early on and what they can actually do. Ignorance of the rules should really not be an excuse here. We're here to make those judgment calls, but it seems to me that perhaps we can review this with the goal of avoiding these kinds of discussions in the future. I know that this is rare and is not a huge percentage, but clearly there are some members who believe they can do things that they clearly should not be doing. I'm hoping we can find a way to avoid those situations in the future.
I just make that as a broad comment, perhaps for the team that looks at onboarding. I wonder whether that needs to occur before the member is sworn in, almost as soon as they're announced as preliminary winners from Elections Canada, almost a “spend no money, do nothing, until you've talked to House administration financial management”. I throw it out there as maybe a way we can improve that system.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I listened to what my fellow members had to say. They seem to be focusing on the patio set, not on the item or its purpose. I more or less agree with them. I know this won't change the outcome, but it's still worth explaining.
Yes, he's an experienced member, but it didn't occur to him that the expense would be denied, because he was focused on the opportunity to meet with constituents in a safe outdoor setting with sturdy furniture made in Quebec of recycled materials. The furniture can also be used indoors. You saw the photos in the file. It's not a conventional patio set any member of the public can buy. It's special.
The Board of Internal Economy also needs to consider the fact that members in the regions can practise politics differently than those in heavily populated areas. More and more, members have office spaces with access to areas where they can meet with constituents outdoors. For example, my office is in a heritage building with a beautiful large gallery. I might've decided to buy chairs so I could meet with constituents outside, while still on the property where my constituency office is located. I think the member was under the impression that, if he furnished the space, it would give him a place where he could meet with more constituents or where people could eat, while adhering to physical distancing, especially during the pandemic.
Given the cost and the unusual nature of the expense, I see why he should have sought permission first, which he didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think we should be closed to the idea. I'll come back to what Pablo Rodriguez said about setting precedents and members buying barbecues. Let's not forget how much many members spend to put on barbecues for their constituents. It might save taxpayers money if we organized our own barbecues.
All that to say, it's not an idea we should reject out of hand. I don't think the Board of Internal Economy should take an overly conservative view of the matter. It should focus on the fact that practising politics differently also means providing access to spaces that may not have been available a few years ago.
Be that as it may, I realize I'm probably the only one who thinks we should broaden our view of a member's role and the ways they communicate with their constituents.
I know this request is going to be denied, but I want to make clear that I agreed with my fellow member's rationale. We will accept the Board of Internal Economy's decision.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Any further comments?
Do we have a consensus, or do we have approval for the report that's being presented to us right now?
Mr. Julian, did you have something to add to that? I noticed your hand went up.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I want to be sure I understand. Is the House administration recommending that we not allow the expense to come out of the member's office budget?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, that's exactly right. Do we have unanimous agreement on the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Anthony Rota: All right.
I'll just clarify that, if the recommendation isn't unanimous, the existing decision stands, in other words, the request is denied.
We're going to go in camera. I'm going to ask everyone to sign out for a few minutes, and we'll start again in 10 minutes. It's now 2:46. Let's say we will start again in camera at 2:55, if that's okay. That should work out well.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:02
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am here today to present a request for exception pertaining to a member's expense claim for external printing. The submission provides a summary of the timelines and the facts of the situation.
The expense claim is for external printing in excess of the 5,000 copy limit allowed in the current member's policy. The member incurred these expenses during the period after the internal printing facilities were closed and before the board approved its alternative measures during the COVID pandemic.
The member's policy requires that all printing in excess of 5,000 similar copies must be done through our internal printing facilities to ensure conformity to the policy and, very importantly, access to the preferred mail rates. The current policy also makes the member personally responsible for any amount in excess of the allowed limits.
Given the current situation, the member is asking the Board of Internal Economy to consider a departure from existing practices. The administration proposed two options in the submission. The first option would be to maintain current practices and have the member be personally liable for the excess amount. The second option would be to allow an exceptional waiver and that the excess amount be charged to the budget of the member's office.
We are seeking direction from the Board of Internal Economy on this matter.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-06-01 16:03
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's not a question; it's a comment.
We make a lot of requests for people who make mistakes, and it's very uncommon that I would suggest a member bring this forward.
I appreciate that normally these matters wouldn't come forward, but after I spoke with Mr. Blois, I realized it was an honest mistake that was happening around wanting to get out information on COVID-19. We did change the policy a couple of weeks later, and in this case, the member is proposing that he charge his member's—
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-06-01 16:06
I was just going to say that the member acknowledges that he made a mistake. I just feel that it was an honest mistake. It was an effort to communicate around COVID-19, and I know there was a lot of anxiousness that a lot of members had. The policy for external printing was changed a few weeks later.
The member is not proposing to charge the House of Commons central budget, but is suggesting that he charge his own MOB. Given that it would go against his own MOB, and given the fact that I think the error was made innocently, and having had conversations with him, I would seek approval from the board to provide support on that basis.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mr. Paquette.
Are many of the members who inadvertently made this mistake paying for the expense without having requested an exception from the Board of Internal Economy?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:07
I am currently aware of only one case, but it is not at all on the same scale. We are only talking about a few hundred dollars. It is not on the same scale as the situation we are talking about.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Quickly, I know what we're going to do here is to charge the member's office budget. It didn't take a lot of work to figure out that a lot of the staff members had come over from Mr. Brison, so I'm a little unsure. I've been involved in politics at the staff and MP levels for a number of years, and you've never been able to do what he did, certainly not without the approval of PAMS.
He was a month ahead of where the policy was, but there was apparently enough COVID stuff in there to allow it. Was the printing expense within the acceptable range? I know that issue was raised in our previous document. The cost for some external suppliers was way too high and PAMS had to go back and either say no or negotiate. Was the range acceptable?
I certainly have never heard of members going out on their own and mailing things under anything other than the negotiated frank rate or the rate for unaddressed ad mail. What was the additional cost because the member went outside of the contract for unaddressed ad mail that the House of Commons has with Canada Post?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:10
The member did meet the requirement. There was COVID-19 content in the document. The printing itself was within reasonable parameters, and the cost for printing, although a little higher than we'd seen, was not excessive.
The big part of the cost was the post, because, from my understanding, it was the printer who went to Canada Post and got the normal bulk rate, no corporate discounts whatsoever. Canada Post was not aware that this mailing was for a member of Parliament, so it didn't invoke any of the advantages we have for that. That's where the large majority of his excess cost came from. It's the postage, because it was a third party that mailed it for him.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
That's my question. Are we allowed to use our MOB for bulk mailing? We're trying to retroactively cover him a bit here because of what he did. He made a mistake, but does the mistake ever extend to...? What is the cap on postage? Is that the 5,000? Is that where that comes in? I'm trying to understand this.
We want to give some grace when mistakes are made, even though we might have questions about them, but the mailing part is concerning to me because we have never had a policy allowing us to contract for bulk mail, not that I'm aware of. That is what I'd like to know. What was the difference in cost between what he did and what would have been done had he waited a month and been approved?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:12
I don't have the exact difference between what it would have cost had we processed it ourselves and what it cost him doing it on his own.
The 5,000 limit is just on the printed materials. There has to be more than 50% difference in the material if you are going to print more than 5,000. At this point, we really don't have that many specifics in our guidelines on the limitations of using any kind of mail couriers for packages or things of that nature. We don't have that in our parameters. It's really just about the printed copies.
I don't have the specifics of what would have been the cost for us, at this point. We can probably get it for you after the meeting.
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