Interventions in Board of Internal Economy
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View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, Mr. Chair, I will. Thank you very much.
Today I'm joined by my colleague Kelly Block, as well as Peter Julian, who is also a representative on this working group.
For your background information, the working group met on June 4 and June 11 to review the proposed governance structure and initiate engagement on the Centre Block rehabilitation project. The House of Commons administration provided an overview of the long-term vision project, or LTVP, and background on consultations and approvals to date.
The working group discussed the governance structure and agreed on the mandate. The working group was formed as requested by the BOIE with a view to provide engagement with members on requirements and oversight on the Centre Block project and LTVP. The working group will report to the board to provide updates on the rehabilitation project and make recommendations as required. The working group will help guide and inform consultations and engagement with members and stakeholders.
For the development and implementation of the LTVP, guiding principles that we will work under were developed at various milestones. We reviewed those established principles and we propose an updated set of guiding principles that are appropriate for Parliament with regard to the Centre Block rehabilitation. We would seek BOIE's endorsement of the following principles.
Centre Block’s primary purpose is to accommodate the two Houses of Parliament. It is first and foremost a workplace for parliamentarians, and the design and operational requirements of the building must take those needs into consideration.
The Centre Block rehabilitation—
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
My understanding was that you had received a fair amount of information on this project already.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
The Centre Block rehabilitation project will aim to enhance the operations of Parliament from a functional and technological standpoint to ensure that the infrastructure continues to meet evolving requirements for the proper functioning of Parliament.
The CB rehabilitation project will work to ensure public participation in the work of Parliament, with continued access to chamber proceedings, question period and committee work, as well as to enhance and expand opportunities for public outreach by creating spaces that complement the historic building.
The CB rehabilitation project will explore options for universal accessibility and interconnectivity between buildings on the parliamentary campus via an underground tunnel system and supporting infrastructure.
The CB rehabilitation project will continue to create a balance of accessibility to Parliament and a secure environment.
The CB rehabilitation project will strive to restore the significant heritage fabric of the building as originally designed and built, and to update all engineering and life-saving systems to comply with contemporary expectations of wellness, safety, sustainability and universal accessibility in support of parliamentary functions.
Decisions regarding the future of Centre Block will be guided by the principles of fiscal responsibility and the conscientious use of resources, while taking into account the value placed on restoring historical heritage spaces.
At our working group's initial meeting, we were provided with an overview of the project plan and the roles of the various stakeholders. This complex project is being delivered following a fast-track methodology consisting of many overlapping activities. In this process, early decisions need to be made while requirements are still being developed. This risk is managed through a process of layered decisions that allow flexibility.
Going forward, we will be looking at detailed requirements for key functions in Centre Block and the visitor welcome centre complex to ensure that building functions reflect the operations of Parliament and the members' needs in our workplace.
In terms of immediate activities for Centre Block and the visitor welcome centre, it has been determined that there are two items that require endorsement at this time: the excavation contracting strategy for the visitor welcome centre and the construction hoarding. The working group has reviewed the options and brings forward our suggestions for the BOIE's consideration.
The visitor welcome centre requirement, or VWCC, was established in the 1999 document “Building the Future”. The concept was established and approved by the BOIE, COIE and cabinet in 2006 and reconfirmed in 2009 and 2011. Requirements for the VWCC phase 2 are still under development and will require the working group's validation and further BOIE approval. To ensure that the CB project maintains momentum, an early decision on the excavation contracting strategy is required.
The working group was presented with three options for the excavation strategy for phase 2 of the proposed visitor welcome centre. All options considered the following implications: security, visitor experience, parliamentary functional requirements and cost.
While it was clear to us that excavation is required to accommodate base building requirements, we were of the view that other expressed requirements should be assessed and decided upon after the election.
Accordingly, the working group recommends going forward with the excavation contracting strategy for phase 2 of the visitor welcome centre that includes the baseline of a 22,000-square-metre NET underground expansion of Centre Block, with options that allow for the contract to be scaled down or up depending on decisions with respect to allow actual requirements beyond machinery and equipment.
The second item is the construction hoarding. This site plan indicates roughly the maximum area for the construction site, which includes the Centre Block; the anticipated approximation of where the VWCC will require excavation; and room for construction trailers, material laydown and heavy equipment mobility. The black line indicates the approximate location proposed for the construction hoarding, leaving approximately half the front lawn for public access and for activities to continue throughout the project implementation.
Installation of the construction hoarding is planned to start in the fall of 2019.
The working group was presented with three hoarding options for consideration.
The working group recommendation is a hoarding design that reflects the architecture of Centre Block, displaying images and interpretive text about the project and Parliament for visitors. This would be maintained over the lifespan of the rehabilitation project.
This option provides a cost-effective fencing for the construction site and a visitor experience while the Centre Block is rehabilitated.
The recommendations before you today from our working group are, first, to proceed with the excavation contracting strategy for phase 2 of the visitor welcome centre that includes the baseline of a 22,000-square-metre NET underground expansion of Centre Block, with options that allow for the contract to be scalable down or up, depending on decisions with respect to actual requirements.
The working group also recommends proceeding with hoarding on the front lawn with large monochromatic photos or illustrative drawings on the front face and with ornamental black fencing for the remainder of the perimeter.
Joining me and Ms. Block at the table here today are some of the appropriate people from the various departments working on this project.
Ms. Block, do you have anything you want to add?
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
I understand the rationale from departmental officials as to why it's important to move forward with the recommendations that we have before you today: in order not to lose time, and so on and so forth. It leaves us with post-election opportunities to reflect on ups and downs and so on.
Certainly I would like to see clarification on the roles and expectations for the three of us, who are representing different parties. I don't want to receive a complicated document and be asked for a decision in 48 hours and then go to you with a recommendation that we really haven't had time to be fully engaged in.
I love the suggestion. As Ms. Bergen said, these are the kinds of ideas that we thought we may be dealing with. We did not expect, with a limited amount of time, to be coming to you with recommendations to this extent.
I think we all understood why we needed to go forward today in a short period of time, but I certainly would appreciate some clarification of the role of the working group in the future and the board's expectations of us.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want you to know that we appreciate the board agreeing to include our recommendation for additional broadcasting resources and options for committees in the next Parliament as part of your agenda today.
I'm joined by Eric Janse, Stéphan Aubé and Ian McDonald from the House administration.
As many of you have known, there have been growing challenges around access to the limited resources broadcast committee proceedings on video. As a result, many committee chairs and members feel that committees do not always get the attention they would like for the important work they do on behalf of Canadians.
In addition, if additional video streams for committee meetings were added, closed captioning would be included, increasing access to committee proceedings for even more Canadians. As there have not been changes to the existing broadcasting resources since 2001, I think it's probably time.
As a result, the liaison committee recently saw a presentation on a web broadcasting option for committee meetings, and the committee fully supported this initiative as a way of increasing access.... Am I going too fast for you, Ian?
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and to the board. It's my first opportunity to come before you, so I thank you for the opportunity.
My presentation today will be relatively short, knowing how busy an agenda you all have. I'll be pleased to answer questions following the presentation.
I'm pleased to be here as the chair of the liaison committee and I am supported, of course, by Eric Janse, the clerk assistant responsible for the directorate, and Ian McDonald, the principal clerk in the directorate and clerk of the Liaison Committee which you all know very well.
As members of the board are all well aware, committees are a well-established part of how the House of Commons functions and are an important part of the day-to-day work of many members of Parliament. As a result, the board provides resources for committees to accomplish their activities, and the board delegates to the liaison committee the responsibility to allocate the resources made available amongst the various committees.
The report before you today is the fiscal year-end report for 2016-17 from the liaison committee, which was presented in the House on June 16. The Liaison Committee generally tables three such reports over the course of a fiscal year, roughly following the parliamentary calendar, with reports generally presented a few weeks after the summer recess and after the winter recess, with the final report in June each year.
In this report that you have, there's a short narrative description of the activities of each committee; a series of tables, which includes a breakdown of related expenditures, including expenditures by study and expenditures related to travel, if any; and a summary of the number and hours of meetings, the number of witnesses, and the number of reports presented to the House covering the period of the report. The final stages of this report contain summaries across committees, and some comparison between fiscal years.
Members of the board will undoubtedly be interested in the information contained in the report in order to get a sense of the level of committee activity during the last fiscal year, which, you will see, was a busy one. However, this report is also on your agenda today because of a practice that began in 2013-14, such that the annual report of the liaison committee will be reviewed by the board and, if agreed to, tabled again by the Speaker in order to meet the requirements of the standing order. The standing order requires the board to table an annual comprehensive financial report outlining the individual expenditures of every standing, special, and legislative committee. Having a single report that meets the requirement of both the liaison committee and the board means the process of preparing these two reports has been made more efficient, which is a goal of all of us at this table.
Members will see that in 2016-17, committees held 1,385 meetings, met for nearly 2,584 hours, heard from 6,192 witnesses, and presented 172 reports to the House. As you will see in the last bullet in your report, there's a bit more detail in the graphs that are on the following slides.
The expenditures approved by committees for all of their activities totalled $3.26 million in 2016-17.
In addition to the standing committees, this report also includes expenses related to special committees that do not fall under the liaison committee, specifically the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, and the Special Committee on Pay Equity. This information is also included so that all committee activities are included in one location to facilitate access and to ensure transparency.
To complete the presentation, I will simply go through the remaining slides, each of which has information from the Liaison report that compares information in different categories over the last five years.
First, the board will note that the number of meetings is more than 240 meetings higher than the next-highest year, which was 2012-13. On the next slide, we can see that these 240 meetings mean that committees actually met for nearly 750 hours more than they did in 2012-13. Committees have all been extremely busy.
The last slide in the presentation does contain a statistic that you may find very interesting. The number of witnesses in 2016-17 was significantly higher than in any other recent year. There are several likely reasons for this increase. In part, this is likely due to the level of committee travel over the past year. An approach that many committees have adopted while on the road is to reserve time for audience participation, which has proven to be very much appreciated. This, in addition to the generally high level of activity, including two special committees, would appear to have influenced the number of witnesses in the last year.
This concludes my brief presentation, Mr. Speaker and to the board. If you have any questions, we would be pleased to answer them.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. LeBlanc, for the question.
Yes, there was an immense amount of interest in travelling. It was a new Parliament. Many of our colleagues were excited in their jobs, and to do the very best job, they needed to do the travel in order for them to become familiar with the issues they were asked to report on.
I must say to you, because we had so many requests coming in, that we did look at ways in which we could tighten up the system. When different committees are coming before us, we now ask them to come to the committee for an overview of whether or not the committee will be receptive to their request, rather than have them come with a budget prepared and all of the work that goes into that when sometimes there's limited.... Finances are always limited, and you have to make the appropriate decisions.
We have the committee chairs come before us with an overview, and if the committee members feel it's an appropriate request, they're then directed to go back and to come forth with an actual budget for approval, so that we can gauge on a regular basis just how much is being spent.
There has been a huge interest in travel over and above that by the special committees. Of course, electoral reform being one of them and pay equity being a second one, that was required.
Mr. Janse, do you want to add anything to that?
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
We have a reputation for being a pretty intimidating bunch. They don't come looking for authorization unless they're pretty confident in what they're going to be doing.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
A cap has been put on the membership at seven. Many committees come in and ask that 10 members be able to travel. Everyone knows now to come in and ask for seven. If you come in and ask for 10, it's not going to happen. We're doing everything possible to try to allow the committees to achieve their goals, but while always keeping costs in mind. I would guess that about half of the committee travel was to the U.S., and to Washington in particular, for the committees to be able to do really important work on behalf of the government's agenda.
Mr. Janse, do you want to comment?
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
To answer your second question first, we'll probably ask the clerks if they'll get that information for you. I'm not sure that's something we have access to today.
On your first question, we have a schedule worked out and a layout of all the different committees that come before us. When the committee is making a decision, they know how many times different committees have travelled and the ones that have not travelled at all. That's taken into consideration along with the requests, in an effort to be as fair as possible, so that all committees that want to travel will have that opportunity. When we have our meetings, the committee before us has that schedule in front of them showing exactly how much was spent, how many meetings were held, and so on.
Foreign Affairs is before us a lot, as part of their job is to travel. They're probably before us more than any other committee is, but that's part of their job.
Mr. Janse, would you like to add anything?
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Clearly, we recognized the importance of what committee travel would benefit. For every committee that I have ever been on, any of the travel that I have done, I have come back from that travel—which is, as you know, not pleasure travel when you travel with committees. It's a lot of work. You come back to the House pretty exhausted from whatever travel experience you were doing. I think it was encouraged that committees take that opportunity. Plus, part of the commitment from the government is for us to be reaching out and communicating and giving people that opportunity.
More importantly, Mr. Strahl, the issue here was to try to get an idea of the expenses and where we were heading. As you know, we came back to the board, and the board was kind enough to recognize the work of the committees and how important...because there just was not enough money. In a planning program, the earlier you know what committees are planning to study, and where they might want to travel...that helps the liaison committee deal with the finances. As Mr. Janse indicated, the earlier a committee knows it's going to do some travel, the better prices you get on hotels and on flights. It was in an effort to be more efficient with everybody's time and to watch the dollars more carefully.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
I will let Mr. Janse deal with it, but I would suggest that having the audience participation is an important factor that has really shown tremendous results. You don't just have designated witnesses. You actually encourage people to come out and talk to committee members. I think that might be one of the parts that has increased. Part of our job as parliamentarians is doing that outreach, giving people the opportunity to comment, whether you're talking about finance or any of the other ones.
I'll let Mr. Janse respond further.
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