Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Liseanne Forand
View Liseanne Forand Profile
Liseanne Forand
2011-03-08 8:47
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
We are appearing before you today following the audit report by the Commissioner of Official Languages regarding the delivery of bilingual services at Service Canada.
This morning, I will give you a brief description of Service Canada, of its role in the delivery of federal government services, and of its commitment to official languages, which is an integral part of the organization's culture of service excellence.
I will also speak about the progress that has been made over the last three years and set forth our commitments to making further improvements, based on the Commissioner's recommendations.
As the Chair mentioned, I am accompanied by my colleagues: Mr. Charles Nixon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizen Services Branch; Mrs. Gina Rallis, Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources Services Branch; and Mr. Dominique La Salle, Director General, Seniors and Pensions Policy Secretariat and Official Languages Champion at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Service Canada plays a special role in the lives of Canadians. One could say that it is the face of the Government of Canada. Service Canada is 16,000 employees, 620 points of service across the country, a 1-800 O-Canada call centre, a telephone network and an Internet site. It is a single window for residents seeking access to Government of Canada programs and services, wherever they are, and in the way that best suits their needs.
Each day, Service Canada carries out approximately one million transactions, whether in person, by telephone, online or through our processing centres. We deliver programs and services that affect Canadians at key moments in their lives. I am thinking in particular of Social Insurance Numbers, the Student Loans Program, the Employment Insurance Program, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits, to list only a few.
In light of the scope and nature of its mandate, Service Canada has been audited on the delivery of services to the public in English and French. We have welcomed the Commissioner's recommendations because they allow us to see the progress we have made since his last report in 2008, and also to identify the additional improvements we need to make.
The delivery of bilingual services is quite a challenge for an institution like ours, which must serve residents in every region of the country in various ways, but it is a challenge that we take very seriously. Excellence in service is at the heart of everything we do, and official languages are a key element of that.
In his audit report, the Commissioner of Official Languages acknowledged the considerable efforts that we have made to improve the delivery of bilingual services and ensure an equal quality of service in English and French. At the same time, the Commissioner has identified areas in which Service Canada must do better, particularly in regard to the active offer of bilingual services.
In the face of the dismal results we achieved in 2006-2007, when our performance stood at only 8%, we implemented an action plan that included a number of measures to improve our performance. Among others, we put in place a new directive on the active offer of bilingual services and the training required to support it. Our efforts have borne fruit then, since our performance has gone from 8% in 2006-2007 to 33% in 2007-2008 to 54% in 2008-2009.
But we know that we can do better and our objective is to reach 100% every time a client comes to one of our bilingual service centres. I would add that we conducted a survey in 2010 on the active offer of service and, according to the results, our performance was 85%. So we hope that the next time the Commissioner of Official Languages evaluates this aspect, our grade will be even higher. We always target 100%.
We are aware we still have work to do to meet all our obligations under part IV of the Official Languages Act. With that in mind, we've developed a new three-year action plan for the period 2011 to 2014. In that action plan we acknowledge that the ability of Service Canada employees to provide bilingual services is key. We set forth the measures we will take regarding training, language of work, staffing, performance, and accountability.
For reference purposes, I'd note that 3,745 employees hold bilingual positions in Service Canada and that 94% of them have the required linguistic profile for their positions. We will be implementing various projects to help these employees acquire and maintain the language skills needed for their positions, and we will continue to invest in training. For instance, we've created an independent online training program called For the Love of English/ Pour l'amour du français and an improved training module regarding all aspects of the Official Languages Act.
We've also developed a departmental language-of-work strategy, which aims to achieve several objectives: to create a work environment that will allow us to attract and retain a workforce who are competent in both official languages; to better equip managers so they can meet their official language obligations and promote linguistic duality; to offer all employees the opportunity to work in an environment that encourages the use of both official languages; and to act in such a way as to encourage our employees to see institutional bilingualism as an asset that is linked to service excellence.
We've also committed to developing a results-based management and accountability framework. That framework will set forth accountability mechanisms, and the role of managers, official language coordinators, and employees responsible for serving the public, both in the regions and at national headquarters. For instance, we're proposing the creation of an official languages coordinator position in each region.
Although Service Canada already conducts analyses and research into official language minority communities and consults with them to better understand their needs, we have also committed in our action plan to creating structured and coordinated consultation mechanisms and to seeking continuous feedback.
One challenge we face is to find ways to be creative in our approaches while nonetheless using our resources in an ever more efficient manner.
An example of innovation in this regard is the pilot project that we launched last May, offering English and French interpretation services at unilingual Service Canada centres. Through this project, clients can have access to services in their language of choice, without having to travel to a bilingual centre.
We will study the results of this pilot project at the end of the year in order to judge whether a case can be made for extending the service to other unilingual sites. A decision of this kind will also be the object of consultations with official language minority communities in the locations affected.
We are pleased to have made progress regarding official languages. Over the past year, as I mentioned, we carried out a survey on client satisfaction. In this survey, 98% of clients who were served in person—out of the 6,000 people who responded to the survey—said they were served in the language of their choice. Among clients from official language minority communities, this figure climbed to 99%.
And we are determined to make the necessary improvements to strengthen our official languages program and our bilingual ability.
We have committed to implementing all of the Commissioner's recommendations, and he has expressed his satisfaction with the proposed measures and timeline.
I have to say that since my arrival at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, a year and a half ago, I have noted that a great deal of energy is invested in creating a culture that values official languages at all levels of the organization.
At Service Canada in particular, we see official languages as a fundamental value of our institution, and that is what we are trying to communicate to our entire workforce.
I can assure you that the delivery of bilingual services is a priority at Service Canada.
It is a question of equality and of law, it is true, but also a commitment on our part to offer the best service possible to all Canadians, from coast to coast to coast.
Thank you for your attention. I'll be pleased to answer your questions.
Sheila Fraser
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Sheila Fraser
2010-10-28 11:02
Mr. Chair, we are pleased to be here today to present our fall 2010 report, which was tabled this past Tuesday.
As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Assistant Auditors General Jerome Berthelette and Ronnie Campbell.
This report covers a broad range of programs and activities that are important to Parliament and have an impact—whether direct or indirect—on the lives of Canadians.
We are reporting on the first of two audits of Canada's economic action plan. This first audit took place while the plan was being rolled out, and it focused on how programs were designed and projects were approved.
Our second audit, which will be reported in the fall of 2011, will look at whether the approved projects were completed as intended.
The Economic Action Plan is a huge undertaking, involving some $47 billion in federal money and a further $14 billion from the provinces and territories, within a two-year timeframe.
Departments and central agencies worked hard to accelerate their selection and approval processes and put in place the appropriate controls. We are pleased to see the important role that internal audit played.
In 2007, we began a program of auditing the management practices of small federal entities. This year, we looked at the Canadian Forces Housing Agency, the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency, and the Pension Appeals Board. We are pleased to report that management practices in the areas we examined are sound.
The federal government delivers a broad range of services that have a direct impact on the well-being of Canadians. To achieve and maintain high-quality service, organizations must define service standards, monitor performance, and take action to make improvements when they identify service issues.
We are pleased to note that the Canada Revenue Agency and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada have set service standards and are using them to improve service delivery.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has been working since 2007 to improve its service delivery. However, it has established service standards for very few of its major programs. We encourage Citizenship and Immigration to complete the work it has begun towards a comprehensive set of standards for its services.
This report also looks at the way conflict of interest is managed in the public service. We found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has yet to put in place the new policy required under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act of 2007 and to provide related guidance.
Avoiding situations that could lead to conflict of interest is key to maintaining the public's confidence in an impartial and objective public service. Public servants need to be able to recognize potential conflicts and know how to deal with them.
Departments need to do a better job of determining the areas where they are most exposed to conflict of interest and of taking the required action when conflicts are identified.
We also looked at how the federal government regulates and supervises Canada's six largest banks. We found that the Department of Finance and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions have appropriate practices in place. Banks play a key role in just about every economic transaction and are major sources of credit. Canada's economic well-being depends on the health and stability of its banking system.
Experts have linked Canada's relative success during the recent global economic downturn to its approach to regulating and supervising banks. Rapid changes in financial markets present an ongoing challenge.
Chapter 6 of my report presents the findings of our audit on the acquisition of the Chinook and Cyclone military helicopters. We understand that acquiring complex military equipment like these helicopters presents unique challenges. Nonetheless, the results of this audit are troubling. National Defence did not follow its own rules in managing and overseeing the acquisition projects. We identified several gaps with respect to the completeness of information presented to decision-makers as well as approvals and oversight by senior boards at key decision points.
We found that National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada generally complied with the policies and regulations regarding contract management with respect to the acquisition of the Cyclone helicopter. However, this was not the case with the advance contract award notice used by Public Works and Government Services Canada to procure the Chinook helicopter. As a result, it is our conclusion that the contract award process was not fair, open, and transparent to potential suppliers. Public Works and Government Services Canada disagrees with this conclusion.
We also found that National Defence underestimated and understated the complexity and developmental nature of the helicopters it intended to buy. The substantial modifications to the basic models resulted in significant cost increases and project delays. After lengthy delays and significant cost increases, National Defence still has not completely estimated what it will cost to operate these helicopters. Without this costing information and sufficient funds, National Defence may have to curtail planned training and operations. This is cause for concern.
Let's turn now to the chapter on registered charities. We examined how the Canada Revenue Agency encourages registered charities to comply with the Income Tax Act. Canadians donate millions of dollars to Canada's 45,000 registered charities each year. We are pleased to note that the agency is doing a good job of administering the Income Tax Act as it relates to these charities.
Turning to the Canada Border Services Agency, we found that the agency's practices facilitate the flow of imported commercial goods into Canada. This is important when you consider that Canada imported over $440 billion of commercial goods in 2008. The agency is now working to ensure that it has the information it needs to effectively assess risks and to collect the revenues owed by importers. It is important that it complete its plans and strategies to achieve this objective.
The last chapter of this report looks at whether the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has planned for and responded to animal disease emergencies. Animal disease outbreaks are particularly costly in terms of lost production—not to mention the threat to animal health, and in certain cases, human health. The agency must be ready to act quickly when such emergencies arise.
We are pleased to note that the agency has learned from its past experience and has put a lot of effort into improving its capacity to respond to emergencies. We encourage it to complete the remaining work that it has identified.
I thank you, Mr. Chair. This concludes my opening statement. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions that committee members may have.
Thank you.
Kevin Page
View Kevin Page Profile
Kevin Page
2010-10-05 8:46
Thank you, sir.
I'd like to introduce my colleagues at the table. Dr. Mostafa Askari is the assistant parliamentary budget officer for economic and fiscal analysis. Mr. Sahir Khan is the assistant parliamentary budget officer for expenditure and revenue analysis. And two of our senior officers at the Parliamentary Budget Office are the principal authors of the reports we're talking about today. Peter Weltman, who works for Sahir Khan, is the principal author of the infrastructure study. Ashutosh Rajekar is the principal author of our study on sentencing reform.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, vice-chairs, and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me and my colleagues to speak to you today regarding three issues: the budget 2010 departmental operating budget freeze; the PBO report on the Truth in Sentencing Act released in June 2010 by my office; and an update on the PBO report on the infrastructure stimulus fund.
In my presentation to this committee on April 12, 2010, regarding the budget 2010 freeze on governmental operations, I offered three key messages, which I believe are still relevant in the context of the committee study.
First, the fiscal context is challenging. Notwithstanding Canada's relatively strong fiscal performance when compared to some other countries, parliamentarians are facing two large fiscal waves. First will come large federal budgetary deficits caused by the economic downturn and the implementation of a deficit-finance stimulus package. This short-term wave will be followed soon after by growing costs for baby-boom retirees who will draw elderly benefits and health care services and by weaker budgetary revenues due to declining growth in labour supply.
Two, there is no fiscal consolidation without pain. To avoid large unsustainable budget deficits over the long term, parliamentarians may need to choose between higher taxes, changes to statutory transfer programs and less spending on direct program expenditures.
Three, there is both a strategic opportunity and need to strengthen the estimates review process. Recent improvements in expenditure management information and the implementation of strategic reviews help set the stage for new levels of fiscal transparency and involvement in a decision-support capacity of the Government Operations and Estimates Committee and indeed all standing committees that support the review of departmental activities.
With respect to the Correctional Service of Canada and the operating budget freeze, in budget 2010 the Government of Canada established a new fiscal anchor that targets the rate of growth in operating expenditures. As part of this new regime, departments will be required to reallocate internally to meet the 1.5% increase in annual wages for the public service in 2010-2011. In addition, for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, operating budgets of departments will be frozen at 2010-2011 levels.
While the overall operating budgets of departments and agencies are expected to be generally flat in 2010-2011 compared to those of the previous year, there will be specific departments that will grow or shrink more than others. For instance, against the backdrop of stable operating spending, the Correctional Service of Canada is forecast to have average spending growth of 12.8% over the next two years. As noted in CSC's report on plans and priorities, this is linked primarily to increasing staff and capital spending in the custody program activity. All included, there will be over 4,100 new FTEs, full-time employees, over the next two years, which represents a 25% increase.
There are some considerations for parliamentarians with respect to the first item. In the view of the Parliamentary Budget Office, the budget 2010 operational restraint measures are not fully defined. From a fiscal vantage point, committee members need to know the risks related to achieving the proposed fiscal targets. Are the savings realizable or cashable? Are they dependent on reasonable levels of demand for programs or services? Are there potential downstream fiscal pressures resulting from cost deferrals related to an operational freeze? If new policies require a significant increase in expenditures in one department, will other departments need to compensate with a corresponding reduction in their reference levels?
From a service delivery vantage point, committee members need to know the risks and impacts related to service levels for Canadians from a speed-of-service, quality, or cost perspective. Are there risks and impacts to the longer-term service capacity of government related to changes in employment, processes, or capital levels? In our view, Parliament needs information and analysis in a structured and timely fashion in order to examine the risks and impact of restraint measures.
Our second item, the PBO report on the Truth in Sentencing Act, was in response to a request from the member of Parliament for Ajax—Pickering to determine the funding requirement and financial impact of the Truth in Sentencing Act on the correctional system across Canada. The PBO report does not make any comment on the policy merits of the legislation.
Briefly, the Truth in Sentencing Act amended the Criminal Code to limit the credit a judge may allow for any time spent in pre-sentence custody in order to reduce the punishment to be served at sentencing, commonly called credit for time served. In general, a judge may now allow a maximum credit of one day for each spent in pre-sentence custody. However, if and only if the circumstances justify it, a judge may allow a maximum credit of one and one-half days for each day spent in pre-sentence custody.
I have four key issues to highlight. One, the Truth in Sentencing Act will have a significant impact on the correctional system across Canada. Two, parliamentarians should be concerned about whether the fiscal framework and the budget fully reflect cost pressures arising out of this bill or legislation. Three, parliamentarians should be concerned about the lack of transparency to Parliament in the costing of the Truth in Sentencing Act by the Government of Canada. Four, parliamentarians should be concerned about the operational and cost impact on provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
Over the course of this project, PBO encountered a number of challenges. Other than the initial communication between PBO and the Correctional Service of Canada, which is available on PBO's website, the PBO was unable to secure a single meeting with CSC officials in spite of repeated requests. Moreover, the PBO was unable to verify the government's own estimates, assumptions, or methodology for the various figures presented publicly. Much of the data used for the PBO report was sourced from the annual surveys by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, and provincial and territorial correctional departments themselves.
Put simply, the bill directly results in longer stays for sentenced inmates and increases the inflow of sentenced inmates into the correctional system. This in turn results in increased daily head counts resulting from an increase in the average time spent by inmates in sentenced custody. The increase in daily head counts results in a significant impact on operating and maintenance costs, annual life cycle capital costs, and the cost of constructing or expanding correctional facilities.
PBO has used two approaches to estimate the impact of Bill C-25, one being a simple financial model and the second being a probabilistic simulation model. The PBO's efforts also involved an independent peer review panel comprising domain experts across corrections, justice, facility and capital management, and statistics and financial modelling.
Using statistical data for fiscal year 2007-08 as the sample case, the PBO estimated the impact on the federal corrections system had Bill C-25 been enacted in fiscal year 2007-08.
About 8,600 inmates were admitted to federally sentenced custody and spent an average of about 560 days in custody (1.5 years) prior to being sent on parole, community supervision, statutory release, etc. These inmates had already spent on average about 160 days in remanded custody prior to entering federal sentenced custody.
Bill C-25, if enacted in fiscal year 2007-08, would have added about 160 days to the average stay, increasing it to about 720 days (close to 2 years); and this would have resulted in an average increase of about 3,800 inmates.
Based on CSC's estimates reports to Parliament, the average annual operation and maintenance (O&M) cost per inmate in federal custody amounted to $147,000.
Therefore, Bill C-25 would have resulted in an extra $620 million per year in O&M and capital expenditure assuming a status-quo occupancy ratio of 90%.
Given that CSC had only about 14,800 cells to house federal inmates, assuming the same status-quo occupancy ratio of 90% would have resulted in the expenditure of $1.8 billion over five years on the construction of new facilities or expansion of existing facilities, or about $360 million per year.
This would have resulted in an increase of $620 million plus $360 million amounting to almost $1 billion in expenditures.
If CSC chose not to expand existing facilities or construct new facilities, this would still require an additional expenditure of $620 million for O&M.
The projected total funding requirements for CSC, federal level, from the second financial model are presented in table 3 in the annex to this statement. It includes the increased funding requirement to implement the Truth in Sentencing Act.
CSC's latest reports on plans and priorities show the department's annual reference level at about $2.5 billion for 2010-11, $2.9 billion for 2011-12, and $3.1 billion for 2012-13. When compared to PBO's projections for the same fiscal years, it appears that there's a gap of about $1 billion annually as to what the PBO projects to be the requirement, and what is shown as CSC's annual reference level.
However, if only the O&M components--operations and maintenance--of PBO's projections are compared with CSC's annual reference level, then they appear to fall in the same ballpark. This could be interpreted to mean that CSC would possibly choose to house--double-bunk--multiple inmates within the same cell and not invest in any new facility constructions or expansions.
Thus, should the Government of Canada choose not to build or expand correctional facilities, the increased funding requirement, based on O&M and recapitalization for the increased inmate population, will nevertheless have to be incurred. It must, however, be noted that the increased annual reference level for CSC does not clarify as to whether or not results of any of the new and/or proposed justice legislation, including Bill C-25, are included.
Here are some considerations for parliamentarians.
When parliamentarians debated and subsequently voted on Bill C-25, the financial impact was not made available to senators and members of Parliament. Parliamentarians may wish to request the cost estimate for the Truth in Sentencing Act, including key assumptions, sensitivity analysis, capital budgeting model, methodology, and data sources.
Parliamentarians may wish to request the same type of financial information and analysis as part of their deliberations and debate on subsequent pieces of legislation, which would support the scrutiny of the government's estimates, as well as provide a better understanding of the impacts and risks on the fiscal framework.
With respect to PBO's update on the infrastructure stimulus fund, the third and final item, PBO has provided a performance update in accordance with the third round of claim and progress reports received under the infrastructure stimulus fund as of March 31, 2010. The third round included 3,486 claims for 2,902 different projects representing 74% of all infrastructure stimulus fund projects.
PBO analysis has identified a noticeable delay in project start and end dates against the original projections. This trend highlights potential risks to the infrastructure stimulus fund program outcomes, including projects not being completed at the March 31, 2011 deadline, and a potential lapse of program spending authorities.
PBO developed a high-level forecasting model to predict potential outcomes of the infrastructure stimulus funding program. In the best-case scenario, all projects are expected to be completed by the program deadline. A mid-case baseline scenario results in 936 projects not being completed by deadline, with a potential federal lapse of $293 million. In the worst-case scenario, 1,814 projects would not be completed, and the potential federal lapse would amount to $500 million.
Members of my staff met with Infrastructure Canada officials, who expressed their disagreement with some of the methodology used to forecast these lapsed figures. I welcome these interventions. I believe it creates an environment for debate and discussion.
In the fall of 2010, upon the release of the fourth round of CPR by Infrastructure Canada, PBO will provide a subsequent performance update that will include an update of the forecasted lapse analysis. PBO will also publish findings with our survey of infrastructure stimulus funding project recipients undertaken over the summer.
Here are some considerations for parliamentarians on the third item.
The claims data sets PBO has received from Infrastructure Canada include data inconsistencies that affect the relevance and accuracy of PBO performance analysis. Coupled with the fact that a significant number of projects have not yet submitted progress reports, it is impossible to draw authoritative conclusions about the program performance at this time.
Parliamentary monitoring and program performance would be better served by a more consistent reporting regime with appropriate incentives to ensure timely and accurate progress reporting.
Thank you for time and patience as I work through these three complex issues. I would be pleased to answer questions from committee members.
Kevin Page
View Kevin Page Profile
Kevin Page
2010-10-05 9:37
We're not in a position today to provide you with a fiscal risk analysis based on budget 2010, or a service-level analysis. We have had different communications with the Treasury Board Secretariat on information exchange, where we tried to get reference-level information broken out in a certain way--operations, capital transfers, etc.--so we could start to do this. In fact, we've tried to get information to understand better what's in budget 2010. They highlight a specific number on page 180 in the budget of what operational amount of money will be frozen. We don't even know what's in that number.
We've heard subsequently, since budget 2010, that there will be additional expenditures. We think Correctional Service Canada will need additional expenditures to deal with Bill C-25. We have heard off-budget announcements related to veterans benefits. There have been potential EI-related adjustments.
We know the fiscal framework is being adjusted as we speak, so we would need to bring this type of analysis into play. We're looking forward to Minister Flaherty's update later in the month, and maybe some of this information will be updated. But we have not been able to get the information from the Treasury Board Secretariat.
View Gerard Kennedy Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks very much.
In a way, we wish we'd had you here before some of the department officials, because we have learned there is no baseline being done about the actual cost implications--in other words, not collecting even government-wide data about what a fixed cost that can't be changed over the next few years is or isn't, nor is there any anticipation of service level impacts, which you have identified in your remarks. That surely has to be the bottom line.
We've had governments in the past—I was in the opposition of one in Ontario—that said you can get more for less, and we got Walkerton. One of the implications is caution and knowledge ahead of time of where cuts are taking place.
This is what I am looking for here. On the money that is being cut, the Treasury Board Secretariat talked about $300 million, and within the deputies...but that was just on the salary side. It didn't have a quantification of what would have to be cut on the other side or where we would get it from.
Are you able to give us any outlook about what those choices might look like, what kinds of pots departments will be able to get to, or do you need our help, from this committee broadly, to be able to get some of that information?
My concern is that we really need to know about this as we step into it, not after the fact. I mean, that's what the Auditor General can help us with.
I also wonder if you have any comment on the fact that operational spending was going at a fairly good clip—I understand the Conference Board number was around 6.1% per year—and the implications of putting the brakes on in such a sudden way. Again, what protections could there be to make sure the public isn't hurt, that important public services don't become part of some very diffuse thing?
The impression I got from the last hour is that this is being handed off to deputies. No one is checking. There are no benchmarks. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. All we know is that they are not going to get any more money and they'll have to manage within that. We know something about the compounded effect of that, of course, but we don't know entirely because we don't know the cost pressures of previous contractual arrangements and anticipation of other costs.
What can you tell us about the scope of the challenge that this policy represents even at this point? What do you need to be able to take us further in the anticipation of some of the choices that deputy ministers are going to be forced to make? And part of that is how we have protections for very important public services from a very broad directive like this.
Kevin Page
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Kevin Page
2010-04-12 16:43
Thank you very much.
First off, we do need help from this committee to do a proper analysis. That is probably the most important point I could make today. To get the committee's support to do this analysis going forward would be fundamental for us to do our job so we can come forward in the fall to provide a kind of risk and impact assessment on the spending freeze, both for 2010 and in future years. In addition to the operational freeze of this year, we have freezes in the following two years, plus we have the government looking for administrative savings.
As I said, I don't think there is fiscal consolidation without some pain. That is true not only in Canada but in other countries. In our own case, it is probably true that we have seen a lot of spending. We've seen direct program spending growth over the past 10 years--well over 6%. With the big stimulus package we have in place for 2009-10 and 2010-11, we know there is a lot of money in the system, and it wouldn't be surprising if some of that money does lapse. We probably will see a lapse in 2009-10. We'll probably also see not an insignificant lapse in 2010-11. That's why we've chosen to look at the infrastructure program in more detail, where we think there is a higher risk of a lapse of moneys.
More focused on the operational side, given that there is a lot of money in the system for 2010-11, it might be possible that there will not be significant pain in 2011 in terms of employment or other operational impacts.
Still, we cannot do a proper assessment unless we get access to information. We've outlined in the PowerPoint presentation the types of information we could look at. We need reference levels that are planned, not only for this year but for the next five years, including all the policy approvals that were in Budget 2010. We need that broken down by operating and non-operating on a departmental basis as well.
With that information we could start, at a high level, to look at what the impact of an operational freeze would be. Also, we need the FTEs, the full-time equivalents, for those departments so we can do that assessment.
Again, we need help from this committee to do the work.
View Diane Bourgeois Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First of, I would like to thank Mr. Page and his assistants for appearing here today.
I would like to say that I am quite pleased with the document that you provided us, and I am referring to your opening remarks. Everything is so decentralized. Before your appearance, we heard from officials with the Treasury Board Secretariat. We asked them questions. But each time we tried to question people who watch over all departments, we can never get any answers. We could not find out any more about the specific goals and approaches with respect to the stimulus plan. Answers were hard to come by.
That is also true in this case: we are always told that the answers lie with the deputy ministers. Basically, our committee would have to meet with the deputy ministers from all departments in order to get the answers we are looking for. In particular, how will the freeze on expenditures be implemented, and what will be the impact of that freeze on departments' internal services and staff as well as services to the public?
You have made a very specific request this afternoon—I was not quite able to write it down because things have gone so quickly in the past 10 or 15 minutes. If I am not mistaken, on page 3 of your remarks, you ask for “access to planned (and approved) fiscal framework and departmental annual spending reference levels.” You also say that “we need departmental strategies for savings,” and so on. That is in these two paragraphs.
Madam Chair, I would immediately like to propose that our committee...—I hope that is sufficiently clear.
Since you cannot have that information, perhaps our committee could come through for you.
Could we forward that information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer so that he has the tools to do his work?
Kevin Page
View Kevin Page Profile
Kevin Page
2010-04-12 16:54
Thank you, Madam, for the question.
The PowerPoint presentation that we gave the committee today contains an overview of the situation, which we can explain in greater detail. However, it is important to examine the risks to the government finances and service delivery.
Furthermore, you have to set out the major issues for each type of risk, for example, the issues related to the government's finances. What are the risks to achieving the financial objectives? Are there ways to produce savings? Are there financial pressures going forward, such as cost ratios? The same can be said of service delivery: are there risks and consequences in terms of service levels such as speed, quality and costs? Finally, are there risks and consequences in terms of service capability, including employees, work methods and real property?
I believe it is possible to use such an analysis framework and examine the effects on such departments as Treasury Board or the coast guard. As well, with such a framework, you need to have key information in order to do proper analyses. In my presentation, I also mentioned the kind of information that my office requires.
That was only a PowerPoint presentation. My office and I can provide much more detailed information and draft information requests for Treasury Board deputy secretaries.
View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2010-04-12 17:12
That's very helpful.
I like the terminology you used. You were talking about a risk-impact analysis more than a cost-benefit analysis. That is the point we were making to the Treasury Board Secretariat officials who were here earlier today. I honestly don't believe they can implement this freeze, which is really a cut, without some impact on the quality of service. Isn't it a kind of chimera to think you can freeze or cut and not have any appreciable impact on the quality of service to the public?
Kevin Page
View Kevin Page Profile
Kevin Page
2010-04-12 17:12
To make sure there is honesty in this conversation.... It's hard to believe that with a three-year freeze there wouldn't be an impact on service levels over a period of time without fundamental adjustments to those service processes. We need this sort of basic, tombstone information on spending and on the service levels they have right now so that we can actually do the due diligence at both the front end and the back end of this exercise.
Graham Fraser
View Graham Fraser Profile
Graham Fraser
2010-03-30 9:04
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Honourable members, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Chairman, good day. I am pleased to meet with you today to discuss the linguistic aspects of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and also Air Canada. I do not have a separate statement regarding Air Canada. I will include some comments at the end of my presentation on the games.
Over the past three years, I have given considerable attention to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. My staff has maintained regular contact with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, VANOC, as well as with the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Federal Secretariat, which is part of Canadian Heritage.
I first raised my concerns the first time I appeared before you as commissioner, in November 2006. I published a report on the games in December 2008 and a follow-up report in September 2009. In addition to visitor and athlete services, the issue of French television broadcasting of the games received my full attention until the final hour.
The games are now over. It's time to take stock and draw lessons for the future.
In the coming weeks my staff will be completing an analysis of the complaints lodged by some 40 citizens, almost all in relation to the opening ceremony. As usual, we are contacting these individuals and the institutions concerned, in this case mainly Canadian Heritage. Everyone will be informed as the process unfolds and when a final determination is made.
At the same time, the various federal institutions that provided services at the games will be sending me a report on their activities between now and July 1. Based on these reports and on our own analysis we will produce an overall performance assessment of VANOC and the institutions. This document will also include my proposals on how best to reflect linguistic duality in the organization of other large-scale events in Canada, as well as international events that project the image of the country.
I had the opportunity to spend almost a week at the games in order to observe the work that had been done on site. This allowed me to meet with other concerned observers, including the Grand témoin of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Pascal Couchepin.
Also present at the games were two employees from my office, who were able to observe first-hand how VANOC and federal institutions complied with their language obligations.
My testimony today is based on what I have seen while in Vancouver. Admittedly, they are first impressions of the most visible aspects of bilingualism at the games, pending a more in-depth analysis.
I would first like to share an observation that could be made by all Canadians who watched the games on television. I was deeply impressed by the number of our young athletes who could comfortably express themselves in both official languages. Alexandre Bilodeau, Maëlle Ricker, Joannie Rochette, Jennifer Heil, Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Toews, Charles Hamelin, Kristina Groves, Clara Hughes, Jasey Jay Anderson, Sydney Crosby and countless others charmed their audiences with their desire to excel, their personalities and their bilingualism.
The fact that their number is growing from one Olympic Games to another is a powerful message on young people's commitment to their country and on their openness to the world. I would also like to emphasize just how much the activities organized for the public by francophone communities contributed to the festive atmosphere that prevailed at the games. In Vancouver, as in Maillardville, thousands of people were able to discover the country's francophone culture.
In fact, the Place de la francophonie received enthusiastic praise from the Vancouver Sun, which awarded it a gold medal for its dynamic programming. French was visible—and audible—in various ways at Olympic venues and in the streets. VANOC's bilingual signage was, on the whole, consistent. The athletes' biographies were available in both languages, as planned.
To continue with a personal perspective, let me say that I was able to register in French. When I arrived at the Thunderbird Arena I was greeted with an active offer in both languages at security. When I asked at the door to the arena where I should go with the pass I had, I was greeted with “I don't speak French—Jenny, you speak French”. The volunteer turned to a colleague who sorted out my problem and escorted me to the correct section. It was a model of how people should be served in both languages.
In several of the areas that we identified as problematic in our reports--translation, signage, directions, availability of athlete statements, and translation of documents--it can be said that the Vancouver games were a success.
I appreciate all the work that your committee,
the Fondation canadienne pour le dialogue des cultures, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne of Canada,
Minister James Moore, and government officials did in this regard.
You may recall that when I first appeared before you in November 2006 I raised the concern that the games might not be available for French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec. You picked up on this concern. Thanks to the intervention of Konrad von Finckenstein and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the efforts of the consortium, and public-spirited action by the cable companies, the Olympic Games were not only well covered in both languages but were also available in French on CPAC across the country. I congratulate all those involved in ensuring that Canadians from coast to coast had access to the games in both languages.
Unfortunately, many Canadians felt that the opening ceremony did not reflect the country's linguistic duality. As we are now investigating these complaints, I will not comment on the opening ceremony today. However, I think it is unfortunate that a shadow has been cast on the significant achievements we've seen.
I hope that we will be able to contribute to a reflection on how Canada presents itself to the world in terms of its linguistic duality.
However, my employees on site noticed that the French version of the official souvenir program for the games was virtually nowhere to be found, except on the Web site. This was a missed opportunity not only for VANOC, but for Canada as well, since the program was a promotional tool that could have reached a worldwide audience.
As for service, we often came across VANOC volunteers who were able to provide information in both languages, even though they were sometimes hard to find and their dispersion across the various sites seemed random, at times. Instead of trying to locate a bilingual individual, unilingual volunteers had a tendency to sometimes resort to enthusiastic hand gestures. This was cute, but not always effective.
A number of federal institutions, such as Canada Post, put their on-site infrastructure to good use by setting up oversized displays in both languages. Some sponsors such as Coca-Cola and The Bay provided signage and service in both languages.
Needless to say, Olympic protocol was properly applied: it seems announcers at the venues used French and English systematically, both during competitions and at medal ceremonies.
Before the games, I expressed some concerns about the services provided by the various federal institutions in Vancouver during the games. The personal observations I was able to make in this regard are relatively limited. I would therefore like to reserve my comments for the final report, at which time I will have more information in hand. Nevertheless, I can say that considerable efforts were made to increase the number of bilingual employees and volunteers, particularly for services provided at the Vancouver International Airport.
Assuming that federal institutions provided bilingual service of greater quality than usual, it is worth reiterating that the language obligations in effect during the Olympic Games are in fact the same as those that apply the rest of the time.
What must be avoided is what some consider a return to business as usual, which, in the case of western Canada, is approximate bilingualism and an almost total lack of active offer. Guaranteeing Canadian taxpayers bilingual services that comply with the Official Languages Act in that part of the country requires leadership from the heads of a broad range of institutions, an increased commitment by the Treasury Board, and of course the watchfulness of parliamentarians.
I will therefore continue to closely monitor the status of federal services in the Vancouver region, and by extension western Canada.
In the coming year I also intend to focus on the rights of the travelling public. It is important that the obligations of airport authorities be clarified. It is also important that the minister adopt a bill to clarify the language obligations of the new entities, such as Jazz, created by Air Canada as part of the new corporate structure. Such a bill should not only protect the language rights of the travelling public, but also ensure that Air Canada employees maintain their right to work in the official language of their choice within the new entities in the Air Canada family.
Thank you for your time. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
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