Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I'm pleased to be here today to present a submission on behalf of the House administration seeking the board's approval to modernize certain policies in the “Members’ Allowances and Services Manual”. Prior to elaborating on the submission, I'd like to make a few comments to provide a brief overview of the three elements that provide that authority for the financial administrative matters related to members, House officers, and the House of Commons.
The Parliament of Canada Act grants the board the authority for the financial administrative matters with respect to members and the House of Commons, its premises, its service, and the staff. Under the authority of the act, the governance and administrative bylaws and the members' bylaw govern the use of funds, goods, services, and premises made available to members to carry out their parliamentary function. To serve as a foundation for the members, the “Members’ Allowances and Services Manual” is made available to Canadians on the House of Commons website. The “Members’ Allowances and Services Manual”, commonly known as the MAS, is a comprehensive guide to policies approved by the board relating to the budgets, the allowances, and the services for members, House officers, and research, in support of their parliamentary function.
As part of the ongoing commitment to ensure excellence in the delivery of services to members, the House administration periodically reviews the MAS and the members' bylaws to respond to feedback received regarding evolving requirements in the discharge of their parliamentary function. The proposed changes included in the submission aim to create greater flexibility to meet the members' requirements in fulfilling their parliamentary functions and reduce some of that administrative burden for members and House officers in managing the resources that are provided to them.
I am convinced that these changes will positively impact the way in which members provide services to their constituents in the discharge of their parliamentary functions and the ability of House officers to support their caucuses.
We recognize that issues faced by members are becoming more complex with the advancement of the technology and the particularities that characterize each constituency, requiring forward-looking, integrated and flexible policy alternatives.
With this in mind, the submission aims to reflect some of the current business realities and changing needs for members, ensuring that the “Members' Allowances and Services Manual” remains relevant. Furthermore, I want to add that we continue to work on assessing other aspects of the manual to make sure that it does stay relevant going forward.
I would like to take only a few minutes to present the recommendations outlined in the brief, in order to allow BOIE members to ask questions.
In terms of the special accommodations for members, it is recommended that the current policy be amended to allow for an enhanced consideration of requests related to special circumstances that may affect members' ability to fulfill their parliamentary functions. The scope of this amendment would not be limited to medical cases. It would also take into account each member's specific personal circumstances.
The Chief Human Resources Officer will continue to report annually on the funding provided to address members' needs.
Next, to improve the current support offered to families of deceased members, it is recommended that the policy be amended to include two round trips to Ottawa for each of the spouse, children, and two additional travellers; allow for the reimbursement of accommodation, meals, incidental expenses for the period not exceeding five days per trip; increase the time period for the employee assistance program for the former member's spouse and dependants from six to 12 months; and to quickly adapt to particular situations under these unique circumstances, allow the chief human resources officer to be provided with the ability to use the funds established for the special accommodation for members to reimburse additional reasonable expenses incurred in relation to the death of the member. These amendments would improve the existing support offered in order to better recognize the needs of a member's bereaved family to relocate the former member's household and personal effects following the death of a member.
The third recommendation in the presentation is to clarify the policy on interpretation services, specifically simultaneous interpretation for national caucus meetings.
Those expenses recognize the fundamental right to communicate in both official languages and are charged to a House central budget. Although those services are mainly provided by the translation bureau, we propose changing the policy when the services of external or contractual interpreters are used.
In particular, when meetings are held outside the National Capital Region, we suggest that travel expenses incurred by external interpreters be charged to the House officer's office budget.
The fourth recommendation relates to the sign language interpretation service required by members to communicate with hearing-impaired constituents. We've proposed to amend the policy to recognize that these expenses are related to the member's parliamentary function and as such should only be an allowable expense against the member's office budget.
With respect to the use of an official vehicle, we recognize that, rather than using two vehicles, it may be more practical for House officers provided with an official vehicle by the House for their parliamentary functions, to use that vehicle for personal purposes when it is not required for official business.
To this end, the proposal is to introduce a policy ensuring that the costs associated with the personal use of vehicles are reimbursed, using the kilometre rate set by the board and adjusted to take into consideration direct costs related to maintaining and using that vehicle.
The next recommendation is for the point of contact information on the member's advertisement. It is recommended that the mandatory requirement for a member to include their points of contact on ads be eliminated, but that the member clearly still indicate that the advertisement is done in their capacity as a member of Parliament.
These amendments recognize that members' means and purpose for communicating with constituents have evolved over time and that technology allows them to easily use search engines to find members' points of contact. Therefore, a more flexible approach is to allow the members to determine at their own discretion when it is necessary to provide their contact information in their advertisement, whether to serve the purpose of announcing a town hall, for example, or to promote the support they provide to their constituents, or even to issue congratulatory messages.
The next recommendation is for the small token items, which are items of minimal value provided in their capacity as a member of Parliament, such as pens or magnets. It is recommended that the advertising and hospitality policy be amended to allow for the purchase of these small token items solely to be eligible to be charged against their advertising limit rather than being charged to their hospitality limit.
These changes are intended to be effective as of April 1, 2018, to allow us to make the necessary changes for the members' expenditure reports, which are published each quarter on the Parliament of Canada website, and the associated systems and processes that we'll need to adapt.
This amendment will better reflect the intended purpose of the hospitality policy, as it relates to the use of parliamentary resources for courtesy and protocol functions.
In terms of meal tickets, some members participate in events in their communities, which allows them to communicate with many constituents in the same place. However, in the event that food is provided, there are often costs associated with those events that result in the members purchasing meal tickets.
With this in mind, it is recommended that the board formally introduce a limit for the purchase of meal tickets. This amendment confirms a practice that has been used by the House administration for many years and currently applies a limit of $125 per ticket. This limit will be reviewed periodically by the Chief Financial Officer, using the dinner per diem approved by the board. We will adjust our multiplying factor to take into consideration the protocol nature of the events.
Next, on the limits of the purchase of assets, it is proposed to amend the policy to allow the CFO to adjust the maximum allowable purchase price, quantity, or type of assets based on elements such as the members' office equipment standard, technology evolution, and market value. For example, we will continue to apply the board's decision from 2006 that had us adjust the kilometre rate and per diems based on the Treasury Board rates without needing to come back to the board to do this. That means this type of approach will be now integrated with our bylaws instead of having to be revisited every time.
In addition, we propose to amend the policy to allow the CFO to assess and permit the purchase of assets beyond these limits, where members have demonstrated reasonable and justifiable needs supported by written justification. Decisions in this regard will be made by applying the guiding principles previously approved by the board to manage assets and may include factors such as regional or special circumstances and availability of assets within the member's constituency. The CFO will provide annually to the board members a summary of the reports of the rates and limits set by the CFO as well as circumstances under which they have been applied.
These amendments recognize that the limits currently specified for the assets no longer respond to today's reality and that needs are changing rapidly and greater flexibility is necessary to support the members' parliamentary function in a timely manner.
Finally, with respect to the maximum rate of annual remuneration for members' employees, it is proposed that the policy be amended to allow the Chief Human Resources Officer to change the maximum rate of annual remuneration for members' employees based on major wage settlements reached by major groups across Canada. The same index is used to establish members' allowances.
The purpose of this proposal is to take a consistent and fair approach to changing the limit and to assist members in attracting and retaining skilled employees to support them in carrying out their parliamentary functions.
I hope this brief explanation of the submission provides an overview of the recommendations of the House administration, which aim to better support evolving requirements of members and House officers in the discharge of their parliamentary functions by creating greater flexibility and by reducing some of the administrative burden.
I trust that these proposed modifications address some of the feedback received from members and House officers. The House administration is now seeking the board's approval of these recommendations and the modification of the 10 policies within the submissions that are in our “Members' Allowances and Services Manual” and in the related bylaws.
We are open to taking any questions you may have on these topics.