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View Andrew Scheer Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a great pleasure to be here once again to present the House of Commons main estimates for 2013-14 and the supplementary estimates for 2012-13.
It's my pleasure to be here today along with the Clerk, Audrey O'Brien, and our chief financial officer, Mark Watters. We also have some others from the House administration team with us today: Stéphan Aubé, chief information officer; Marc Bosc, deputy clerk; Richard Denis, deputy law clerk and parliamentary counsel; Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer; and Kevin Vickers, our Sergeant-at-Arms.
The main estimates for 2013-14 include cumulative reductions resulting from the House of Commons strategic and operating review, along with a sizeable reduction related to temporary funding. As you would expect, the increases that are accounted for were carefully reviewed by the Board of Internal Economy.
The main estimates for 2013-14 total $428,771,000. This represents a decrease of 3.85% compared to the 2012-13 main estimates funding levels.
For references purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes between 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. I will provide an overview of each line item along four major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; strategic and operating review; and employee benefit plans.
To start, I would like to speak to the funding of $400,000 that is required to accommodate the special requirements of members. You will remember that we discussed this item in November, when I was here to present the supplementary estimates (B).
In June 2012, the Board of Internal Economy determined that as of fiscal year 2013-2014, the House administration will include the funding for the special requirements of members in its annual main estimates. This is in order to streamline the funding process and reduce the frequency of supplementary estimates requests.
You will agree that it is essential that all members of the House of Commons be afforded the required resources so that they may fulfill their parliamentary functions. We must also ensure that special requirements of members are adequately considered so that they are not inhibited in the performance of their duties.
Next, further to a board decision, you will note an annual budget decrease of $5,000 for the termination of the payment of the annual accommodation allowances for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. This is directly related to a question that came out of this committee on one of the previous visits I made.
Our next item also reflects a budgetary reduction. This reduction of $600,000 is further to a statutory pension adjustment to the members of Parliament retirement compensation arrangements account. The cost to the House of Commons for contribution to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board based on actuarial calculations. This adjustment is required to reflect the current Treasury Board estimated contributions to this pension account.
As per Treasury Board policy, with respect to members' pension accounts, regular actuarial reviews are conducted by the chief actuary of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in order to assess these accounts and adjust contributions as required.
Now I would like to cover a few items relating to the House administration. First of all, the main estimates allocated an additional $3 million in compensation for House administration employees. In keeping with the Expenditure Restraint Act, there had been a freeze on funding for salaries from 2010-11 to 2012-13. With the expiration of this freeze, the Board of Internal Economy has approved this funding for 2013-14, which will benefit unrepresented employees, as well as employees within protective services, the cleaning services group, the technical group, and the law group.
Next, the main estimates account for temporary funding for two parliamentary conferences: the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie and the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Both of these funding decisions were taken by the Board of Internal Economy, further to a recommendation by the Joint Interparliamentary Council.
Funding will be covered in the usual manner, with 30% being paid by the Senate and 70% being paid by the House of Commons.
As such, the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie requires temporary funding of $42,000 for 2013-2014. The assembly will be held in Ottawa in July of next year.
As you may know, the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie is an international assembly comprised of member sections representing parliaments and interparliamentary organizations from around the world. The annual session serves as the principal venue for members to express their views on parliamentary and political issues. The agenda is set based on the priorities announced during the Summit of La Francophonie and the activities of other groups of La Francophonie.
Additionally, the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region requires temporary funding of $35,000 for 2013-14. The event will be held in Whitehorse in October 2014. The Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region is a biannual conference with representatives from the eight Arctic countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States, and the European Parliament.
Let us now move on to the funding of $22,000 that is required for an increase to the page's remuneration under the House of Commons page program. In December 2010, the Board of Internal Economy approved permanent annual increases to the compensation for pages that are equal to the average increases in tuition fees at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. We are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest young Canadians participating in the page program each year. By linking their pay to the tuition rates, we ensure they remain fairly compensated for their valuable work and they avoid potential financial difficulties should tuition rates continue to rise. For fiscal year 2013-14, the annual compensation will increase by $477, reaching $13,048.
The next line item shows a reduction of $2.8 million for the 127th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. These were temporary funds for 2012-2013 for the IPU conference, which was held, with great success, last October in Quebec City.
Let us turn now to the reductions that are being achieved as a result of the House of Commons' Strategic and Operating Review. We did have a discussion on this exercise when we met in November. You will remember that the board approved this savings and reduction strategy in March 2012 and that it will see spending decrease by over $30 million, or nearly 7% of the overall budget.
You'll also remember that the 2012-13 supplementary estimates (B) contain a reduction of $7.4 million related to the strategic operating review from 2012-13. These main estimates include the reduction of $7.4 million from 2012-13, as well as a reduction of $9.4 million for 2013-14.
Throughout this process, every effort is being made to minimize the impacts on services to members, while also minimizing the impacts on employees of the House administration.
The reductions for both fiscal years are being achieved through reductions to House officers' budgets and operational efficiencies, reductions for committees, parliamentary associations, parliamentary exchanges, and cost savings and reductions for the House administration.
I will now briefly highlight the major reductions.
As we saw in November with the supplementary estimates (B), the board approved an annual reduction of $600,000 to House officers' budgets, which represents a $1.2 million saving for these main estimates.
Additionally, effective April 1, 2013, substantial travel savings will be achieved by requiring the use of flight passes for eligible business class travel and increased use of low-fare economy travel.
Further operational efficiencies will be achieved through a variety of initiatives. You are familiar with the savings that are being achieved through the reduction of printing of parliamentary publications. Efficiencies will also be attained through such initiatives as the renegotiation of contracts for wireless services. Depending on the service provider, the House administration has been able to renegotiate contracts in order to offer new, customized voice and data plans that better reflect the needs of users at reduced costs.
Secondly, the reductions for committees, parliamentary associations, and parliamentary exchanges will total $3.4 million, with $2.6 million for 2012-13 and $700,000 for 2013-14. These reductions are in line with measures taken by members of parliamentary committees and associations, as well as by participants in parliamentary exchanges. They will continue their ongoing efforts to limit spending and find efficiencies.
Finally, reductions for the House administration total $6.3 million, of which $3.6 million is from 2012-13 and $2.7 million is for 2013-14. These reductions are being achieved through a combination of budget reductions, administrative operational efficiencies, attrition, a limited number of workforce adjustment situations, and the elimination of some vacant positions. In the event that service delivery changes impact House administration employees, the House administration has a workforce adjustment policy in place to help facilitate continued employment for permanent employees and ensure the fair treatment of employees.
The final item that is included in these main estimates is a reduction of $452,000 for the employee benefit plans. This is a non-discretionary statutory expense that is in accordance with Treasury Board directives.
Effective April 1 of this year, Treasury Board adjusted the annual rate from 17.6 percent to 17.4 percent.
Employee benefit plan contributions cover costs to the employer for the public service superannuation plan, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, death benefits and the employment insurance account.
This concludes my overview of the House of Commons 2013-14 main estimates. I am confident you will agree that these financial estimates aptly represent the House of Commons' fiscal responsibility and commitment to cost savings.
We have focused these discussions on the main estimates; however, I will briefly mention that the House of Commons supplementary estimates (C) for 2012-13 included funding for the estimated cashout of accumulated severance pay for House of Commons employees for 2012-13, which is partially offset by reductions resulting from the reprofiling of funds from 2012-13 into 2013-14.
At this time I'd be happy to answer any questions this committee may have.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
As you may be aware, the Board of Internal Economy reached a conclusion on this particular question and considers the matter closed.
I can tell you that on the subject of employees, the Board of Internal Economy has decided to change the guidelines around hiring practices to ensure that the integrity of funds being used to support members of Parliament in their parliamentary functions is maintained.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
During its analysis of the situation you're referring to, the board came to the conclusion that was communicated to members and the media, and, as I said, it considers the matter closed. It was seen by the board as an appropriate measure going forward to bring these types of guidelines in, as I said, to strengthen the current regime of hiring practices.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
It's table 2....
View Andrew Scheer Profile
I'm sorry. I don't have the details for that specific line item, but I can certainly endeavour to get the rationale behind the increase.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
View Andrew Scheer Profile
Your last comment is absolutely accurate. House of Commons administrative employees are directly linked to Treasury Board guidelines for certain things such as benefits and collective bargaining agreement increases. There are some natural pressures that take effect as time goes on. That being said, the Board of Internal Economy undertook an at times very difficult process, notwithstanding those increases that were beyond our control, to come in with real year-over-year reductions. As you mentioned, there are many line items with significant reductions, and that's a result of this process.
You asked whether there is still room for efficiencies. I can tell you that the board always takes a look at things—on a periodic basis sometimes, and sometimes as things are brought to our attention—to ensure that we're getting the most bang for our buck in everything from travel services to new technologies to ways to rationalize printing.
I can tell you that as part of the ongoing SOR that the House of Commons participated in, a further reduction in next year's estimates of another $13.5 million is anticipated. This is part of the full $30 million that we had committed to on the front end.
So yes, going forward there will be further areas that we think we can find savings in, always realizing that members need a certain level of service to do their job and to function, ensuring that they have the tools they need to do their job.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
Are you talking about the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie?
It will be held in 2014.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
In terms of parliamentary associations, the overall envelope that's provided to the JIC, the Joint Interparliamentary Council, is being affected. Subsequent to that, the JIC will make decisions on the allocation of resources within its envelope. Subsequent to that, each parliamentary association will make decisions on how to manage its budget.
It would be difficult, from the Board of Internal Economy's perspective, to predict how those will affect each association, but no doubt each association and the JIC overall will have decisions to make based on the levels of funding they'll be receiving.
As for parliamentary committees, this is funding that the committees have not used in previous years. We are talking about eliminating funding underutilization here.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
In the case of special committees, if the liaison committee doesn't have the existing funds in its existing envelopes, then it would require additional funds beyond what's provided to the liaison committee.
But I'm not sure if that's been required in the past or not, because some of the funds were underutilized.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
It was a board decision. The board, in overseeing the page program through the House administration, recognizes certain realities. Pages have to pay for tuition, and I would venture to say that's their single biggest cost in being in Ottawa for school.
In order to attract bright people willing to work here, we lessen the financial hardship and compensate them adequately for the work they do. When the tuition rates go up, it creates a natural pressure on the page, so from time to time the board takes a look at that and makes adjustments when it feels it is necessary.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
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