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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:31
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I'm here to present the proposed 2021-22 main estimates for approval by the Board of Internal Economy. The estimates summarize the funding for items already approved by the board. There will accordingly not be any new funding requests during this presentation.
The proposed main estimates for 2021-22 total $543.7 million, an increase of 5.3% over the main estimates for the previous year.
In compliance with the Parliament of Canada Act, the House must prepare an estimate of the sums that will be required to pay the expenditures for the fiscal year to come and shall transmit the estimate to the Treasury Board, with the estimates of the government of Canada.
The main estimates for the House of Commons include an estimate of voted appropriations and statutory items. The voted appropriations are estimated at $383.5 million. They include the expenditures of MPs and senior officials; committee, parliamentary association and exchange expenditures; and administrative expenditures.
The statutory items are estimated at $160.2 million. These include salaries and allowances for members and House officers; contributions to members of Parliament retiring allowances; and contributions to employee benefit plans.
These main estimates include the cost of living increases based on previously approved policies and existing legislation. These are the office budgets and supplements for members and House officers, as well as the travel status expense accounts for 2021-22, which have been increased by 1% for a total of $1.7 million. This is in accordance with the adjusted consumer price index.
The main estimates also include a budget adjustment of $1.2 million to some members' office budgets to account for changes in elector supplement, following the general election in 2019. In addition, the sessional allowance and additional salaries for members and House officers have been increased by 2.1% or $1.3 million, as provided by the Parliament of Canada Act.
Economic increases for House administration employees, which were approved by the board earlier this year, amount to $5.6 million, which has been included in the main estimates for the next fiscal year.
In addition, these main estimates include the funding related to initiatives that have recently been approved. That is a net increase of $4.5 million for the long-term vision and plan, $6.6 million for security enhancements for members, as well as the $5.2 million in funding to stabilize various administrative functions within the House administration.
The main estimates include a decrease of $1 million related to the funding for conferences, associations and assemblies, leaving $300,000 for the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, which was postponed from this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now planned to take place in August 2021.
Finally, an increase of $700,000 in contributions to members' pension plans has been included due to the revised contribution rates for members.
I would like to point out that while we are still considering uncertainty surrounding the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on operations and associated public health measures that will be required, these main estimates have been prepared using the planning assumption that operations would return to near normal during the upcoming fiscal year.
This has been done to ensure that sufficient funding is available to meet the needs of the House over the coming year. That being said, we'd like to assure you that we will continue to monitor these unprecedented and evolving situations, and will take any necessary adjustments over the course of the year to ensure we can continue to adapt operations of the House to make sure we meet the needs of members in the fulfillment of their parliamentary functions.
In conclusion, it is recommended that the board approve the proposed 2021-22 main estimates for the House of Commons for the amount of $543.7 million.
This funding will be divided between two programs: $321 million for members and House officers, and $222.7 for the House administration.
This concludes my presentation on the proposed main estimates. We can answer questions the members may have.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much.
I honestly find it disturbing that the main estimates show an increase of approximately 5% over last year. The inflation rate is around 1%. In the presentation you just made—and I thank you very much for it, Mr. Paquette—you say that salaries rose, which is normal, but also that expenses for computers, security and administration also increased. You also discussed the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had during the past year and that it will also have over the next fiscal year.
Mr. Paquette, I'm going to ask you two questions. First, can you tell us, in general terms, about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential repercussions for next year's main estimates?
Second, do you anticipate that the main estimates won't be as high? I think people expect that overall budgets won't increase significantly during the pandemic and that they'll be reasonable. If the main estimates rise considerably relative to last year, but the supplementary estimates are much lower next year, we'll approach a balanced budget. However, it will be more disturbing if there are just as many increases in the supplementary estimates.
Thank you for all the details included in these estimates.
Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:38
There is an item on expenditures during the pandemic a little further on in the agenda. We'll be discussing the impacts on this year in greater detail. As for the current trend, some expenditures are lower because we can't travel, create events or provide training. The reductions are greater than the additional costs stemming from the need to adapt to this new environment. We will address those items in more detail.
Here's some brief background. Some changes have occurred in the House administration and the House itself over the past two or three years, and many new technologies have been adopted. There is the new Parliamentary Precinct as well as the West Block and the new buildings. New statutes are having an impact on occupational health and safety—you mentioned security, Mr. Julian—as well as accessibility.
What we see in the proposed main estimates for 2021-2022 is the investment we need to develop the competencies and capacity that will ensure this transformation continues into the future.
As for the supplementary estimates, all we have at this stage is the reprofiling of funds, which is one of our standard practices. We aren't anticipating these amounts. This year—and I mean the current year—we requested a little more than a reprofile of funds, since previously negotiated collective agreements had a retroactive effect. Without anticipating surpluses that might have resulted from the pandemic, we wanted to ensure we had the necessary funds to meet our financial requirements.
At this point, we believe that no projects or initiatives will raise our supplementary estimates above normal levels. We are seeking only the usual reprofile of funds for next year.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other questions? I see there aren't any.
Do we approve this recommendation?
Agreed. Very well.
Now we will move on to item five, quarterly financial report for the second quarter of 2020-2021.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
There are a couple of things I wanted to touch on. One was similar in nature to Mr. Julian's questions, but I'll leave it for the second part.
The other side of this is that some areas have seen decreases as well. One of them was the office of the law clerk and also legal services. I'm just concerned because I know at the health committee, the law clerk indicated to us that there were some resource constraints he faced in vetting some of the documents that he is going to have to do in response to the order made by the House on the 26th of October.
I'm just wondering if we can have any comment on that decrease in resources, and whether the law clerk has the resources he needs now to be able to process those documents that the House and its committees have asked him to vet and to redact.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2020-12-03 11:42
Thank you, Mr. Richards.
The indication about increases in resources for the legal services at the House were increases that occurred in this past year. In terms of your question with respect to the committee, I did appear in front of the health committee last week and gave information about what we are expecting in terms of the potential volume of disclosure. We indicated that we had organized our resources to be prepared to deal with the task that the House has given us and we gave some parameters in terms of volume and the time that it would take us to review a certain number of documents.
To give a sense to the committee, there had been some testimony about documents being in the millions of pages. That gave us a sense that it may take some time, but we were prepared to do what was necessary to achieve our task.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
You don't feel there are any additional resources that you require to be able to complete that in a timely fashion.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2020-12-03 11:43
We indicated we could conduct the review of about 50,000 documents in seven days. There was talk of a much higher number than that, but we don't know yet how many we will receive. We also indicated that we would advise the committee as soon as we knew the specific number so that next steps could be considered.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
On the other side of things, I share the concern generally about some pretty large increases. Mr. Julian has addressed them to a large degree, but I want to touch on it specifically. Looking at line items, there are some pretty huge increases in specific line items. Two of the largest were employee relations, which is a 78% increase, I believe, and human resources service centre, which is a 76% increase. One of the others that is among the larger ones is occupational health, safety and environment, which is up 26%. Those all seem to group together in the category of labour and employment issues.
Is that driven by the pandemic or is there something else that it's responding to? Those are pretty alarming increases.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:45
I'll start, and then ask my peer, Ms. Laframboise, to add to it.
Some of that are the increases related to when we talked about the capacity for HR services for members. That was increased last year, and now we're stabilizing the funding. Then there was some capacity relating to some of the new legislation that was also stabilized this year. If I'm not mistaken, there has been some reallocation of resources and alignments within HR.
I'll let Ms. Laframboise address the items more closely.
Michelle Laframboise
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Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:45
Thank you, Mr. Paquette.
Michelle Laframboise
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Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:46
In essence, one of the questions you asked was around the large increase to the HR service centre. That group is a new unit that was put in place in response to the implementation of the enterprise resource planning program and system. The ERP is an integrated resource planning function that, over the long term, is going to help us align and streamline our resources and stabilize the organization indefinitely, which in the long term will help us manage our funding and our resources better.
That is one piece of it. The other part you spoke about was occupational health and safety. There absolutely has been an increase in that function as a result of the implementation of Bill C-65, keeping in mind that we onboarded the members and the organization to a relatively significant piece of legislation, put in place the regulations, and adopted and incorporated new programs and new policies. There was definitely a significant amount of training to onboard Bill C-65. That is definitely an increase as well.
Our plan going forward is to stabilize the organization, to leverage the enterprise resource planning in the integrated business planning piece and to maintain and continue our protections and our policies under the auspices of Bill C-65.
Those are the bigger pieces of what you asked about.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
What you're saying to me is that it's been established in response to Bill C-65.
Michelle Laframboise
View Michelle Laframboise Profile
Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:48
A very large portion of it is Bill C-65.
As I mentioned earlier, we have 17 programs and policies that need amending. The employer's obligations are significant and require a lot of work up front. In the long term, hopefully we'll be able to stabilize that, potentially looking at aligning and streamlining some of those resources going forward. It is absolutely my plan to do that.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
More broadly, I want to get a sense of what measures are in place internally to slow down expenditure growth. Mr. Julian mentioned that we're seeing an increase of over 5% in what we're seeing here, but I believe if you look back from 2014 until now, there has been a 29% increase in the expenditures in the House's estimates. This is a pretty large increase over a five- or six-year period.
I'm wondering what measures are in place to ensure that this expenditure growth can be slowed down. What should the board being looking at? Is there any advice you can provide us on what we can be looking at as a board in terms of measures that can be put in place to ensure that we have stronger fiscal prudence and stronger controls and to make sure that we're not seeing these continual increases year over year?
Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:49
I can reassure you that definitely in the last two or three years we have been putting a lot of effort into making sure, if we come forward with any requests for funding, we do an assessment and make sure we restabilize some of the resources and realign where we can to make sure the requests are only for what we need.
There has been a progression of many legislative changes or other demands around services. The cost of living is obviously one of the big ones here, and there are some pieces above and beyond that. There are incremental services when we look at some of the pieces of legislation around disclosure and legislation around health and safety. Then we have the increased capacity around services for members, around HR, around the security that's more recent and around the onboarding. The most significant portion of the growth over the last three or four years has been the onboarding and taking control of the various new buildings in the parliamentary precinct. For those we made sure we challenged the work with the experts and just asked for what we needed to maintain these various systems and the tools given to us for that assignment.
Many of these things are outside of the control of the administration to react ahead of time to try to manage these. We try to make sure our request for funding is limited to what is needed to maintain and support the infrastructure.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I wanted to come back to this idea of finding ways to put in place controls for better fiscal prudence, but you sort of led me into my other question, which is about the fairly large increases in terms of the employment figures.
We saw an increase, I believe, from 1,827 to 2,214. That's about a 21% increase. It's a pretty big jump. A couple of the bigger jumps were in procedural services, which we saw go from 261 to 442, and then in the office of the deputy clerk of administration, which we saw more than double in size from 37 to 77. I'm wondering if that's an increase because there are more part-timers with the pandemic or if that's really a legitimate full-time equivalent increase. What's driving this huge 21% increase in the employment figures?
Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:52
The report we provided to you, with the documentation at this time, represents the staff on force at the time we prepared the documentation. It gives you a full sense of how many people we have working at the precinct. Previously, the 1,700 or so people you saw were representing more or less the numbers that we're looking at: the actual full-time indeterminates, full-time long-term terms, or long-term terms part time. It didn't have some of our short-term seasonal workers and it didn't have many of the other people we have who are supporting and who are not necessarily there on a permanent basis at the precinct.
For you to have a full picture, we made sure we had the complete on-site at that particular point in time. My apologies; we should have had a note to that effect on the documentation that we were presenting a different number, not a growth in numbers.
That said, there has been some growth, given all of the items I identified earlier. Many of the services we offer require the capacity to support that, and that growth is there, but it's not the 21% difference that you see in the documentation.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
What you're saying is that what we're seeing there is a snapshot in time, and the 21% wouldn't be an accurate portrayal of the growth. What would be more accurate in terms of a percentage of growth?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
I don't have that number in front of me. We could reproduce the report you received last time for the main estimates on the same basis so you can have that, and we can provide that to the board members to have a better analysis.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
That would be appreciated.
Could you ballpark that for me? I wouldn't hold you to it, of course.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
No, I can't at this point, because I look at so many different numbers and I don't typically have the FTE numbers or full-time staff with the financial ones.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Perhaps you could give us a better picture of what the growth would be in terms of FTE.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Just going back to what I was on before with regard to measures that can be put in place, I understand about responding to legislative changes and things like that, but obviously 29% is far over and above inflation, for sure, in terms of the expansion of growth.
I'll throw out something that comes to mind for me. What about looking at requiring some sort of offsetting decreases where there are new increases in spending? Is that something the administration would welcome? What kinds of suggestions could you give us that we can look at in terms of ways we can ensure that we're not seeing such continual growth?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:55
Definitely, we can work with the board members and list out all the various services that we provide and provide an opportunity to balance off and maybe reduce some of the service levels or the types of services we offer to support members.
We can also offer to look at what I'll call the back office that supports all of these to make sure we keep those under control going forward. We have been doing some of this, but we can definitely work with the members of the board to do a bit more.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I just want to reconfirm, based on the new questions, are we still in accordance with the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Now we will move on to item five, quarterly financial report for the second quarter of 2020-2021.
I will let you continue your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:56
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Now I would like to present the second quarterly report for the 2020-2021 year. I just discussed next year, but now come back to the current year. Since it's very difficult to explain this year's financial trends without considering the actual impact of the pandemic, I'm going to present the second quarterly report at the same time as the report we prepared for the update on pandemic-related expenditures. Items five and six will thus be presented together.
I'll begin with the quarterly financial report, which compares cumulative financial information from the current year with that from the same quarter of the previous year. I would emphasize that it's somewhat unusual to compare the two years as they are two atypical years. The factor we've cited this year is the pandemic, which has substantially affected our expenditures. Last year, it was the general election, which also had its own trends. The comparison between the two years is influenced by atypical spending habits, as we will see in the results I'm about to explain to you.
In the September 30 report, approved authorizations for 2020-2021 amounted to $539 million, an $18 million, or 3.5%, increase over authorizations for 2019-2020.
The most significant changes were a $5.9 million rise in economic increases for certain House administration employees, $4.4 million for significant investments and an amount of $3.1 million due to cost-of-living increases for members and senior officers. In addition, a $1.7 million increase in authorizations is attributable to budget adjustments following the general election.
As of September 30, expenditures totalled $230.8 million, compared to spending of $240.1 million for 2019-2020, a decrease of $9.3 million, or 3.9%.
The expenditures are also presented by type of cost. The most significant decrease in expenditures relates to the reduction of $8.1 million in transportation and telecommunications, which is due to the significant decrease in travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expenditures for professional and special services have decreased by $4.8 million, mostly due to the reduction in temporary help for members and House officers, and training and hospitality across the whole organization as a result of COVID-19, as well as the difference in some of the timing of certain payments to external partners from one year over the next. The decreases were also partially offset by the cost of accommodating the virtual House proceedings and committees.
In addition, the expenditures for material and supplies decreased by $2.7 million due to the temporary closure of the food services and the printing facilities as a result of the pandemic. The decrease was partially offset by the purchase of consumable items such as the face masks and hand sanitizer used across the House of Commons.
The expenditures for computer, office equipment, furniture and fixtures has decreased by $1.1 million, primarily due to the differences in timing of certain payments from one year to another as well as a decrease in equipment purchased relating to the managed computing for constituencies initiative. The decrease was partially offset by the cost incurred for virtual House proceedings and committees and by the costs incurred for the equipment that was used to enable the House administration employees to work remotely during this pandemic.
I will also elaborate a bit more at the end of this presentation on some of the COVID implications of our various other costs.
I also note that salaries and benefits increased by $4.3 million, mainly due to the cost of living for members and their employees, as well as House administration. This increase was partially offset by the fact that we had a reduction in part-time staff and overtime as a result of the pandemic.
Finally, the report provides a comparison of the utilization of our authorities between the two years that shows a decrease of 3.3%, which was not unexpected given the current situation.
It's important to mention that the House promotes an efficient use of our resources, and we continuously strive to minimize the requests for incremental funding whenever possible. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closely monitoring and considering potential savings as well as any financial impact when making funding decisions in this truly exceptional year.
Given this, I'll take a couple of minutes to highlight the financial impacts the pandemic has had on the House spending. This is looking at the analysis that was provided in your tab 6 for background. You'll see that in addition to the reassignment of resources and the cancellation or slowing down of certain initiatives, we have had significant expenditures relating to specific measures taken for a total of approximately $4 million.
Those include about $1.5 million invested to accommodate the virtual House proceedings and committees; $1.2 million for external printing services; $340,000 spent for constituency office reconfiguration and COVID-19-related supplies; and $380,000 for the House administration for computer equipment and personal protective equipment such as non-medical masks and sanitizing products. We have also noted that we've had approximately $500,000 of administrative salaries and overtime specifically related to the activities for the current situation.
Overall, though, when looking at the various patterns that I mentioned previously, the reduction in certain costs like travel and material and supplies more than compensate for these increased costs related to the pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, this concludes my presentation. I can answer any questions members of the board may have.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
I'd like to make two observations. A figure of $341,000 is reported for the purchase of equipment and constituency offices reconfiguration. I'm referring to document 6 here. So the cost to fit up offices to accommodate people and to purchase disinfectants and masks amounted, on average, to $1,000 per constituency office. Is that correct?
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:03
Yes. Some decided not to open their offices. In some cases, as a result of the existing office configuration, there was no need to erect a physical barrier or install transparent plastic panels. Quite a large number of members have not yet had to incur those expenses.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
I see.
One line above, I see expenditures of $1.2 million for external printing services for householders.
Is that the amount saved by the normal printing service, that is to say the House of Commons service?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:04
I believe the economic gains are slightly less than the amount of that expenditure because we continued paying the salaries of employees at our printing centres. We saved money on equipment and supplies, but the figure I have combines all the services that were interrupted, including food services. So I don't have the exact amount for printing services.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
What were the duties or the output of printing service staff during that time?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:05
We were in isolation, and employees were using the “other paid leave” code. The offices hadn't yet been configured, and the necessary adjustments had been made so employees could work safely in the printing centres.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
I guess the first question is that I don't know if there was maybe as much detail as I had hoped. Regarding the reassigned staff, I'm still a little unclear. I know that this was a question I asked previously. I think this is partly in response to that. I'm still a little unclear on those reassignments.
Can you give us a bit more of a breakdown on those? Are we talking about ongoing reassignments? Were these only temporary assignments? What sorts of reassignments did we see? I'm not asking for every bit of detail, but maybe you can give us some of the greatest in number in terms of the reassignments. What types of reassignments were they? What sorts of areas were people reassigned to and for what length of time?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:07
Given that most of the reassignments that have been taking place relate to our DSRP team, I'll ask Mr. Stéphan Aubé if he wants to elaborate a bit more on what they basically are not doing or doing less of and doing now.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:07
Thank you for the question, Mr. Richards.
There are about 120 people within the DSRP, which is our shop here, who had to be reassigned from a roles perspective. Some of their duties had to be reassigned towards the support of the virtual Parliament, and we basically took a lot of the technical people that we had in operational issues. We had to stop some of the services so that we could reassign them to the support of virtual committees and the virtual chamber, sir.
That number represents around 120 people within my organization, who we reassigned from their existing responsibilities to their new responsibilities, recognizing the need that was created by the virtual committees and the virtual chambers.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
How much of that would be dedicated to other things? Obviously we're still making plans for other things such as a voting app and other ways to adapt. What sort of a percentage of these reassignments would be related to the development of future responses we're still working on?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:08
I've categorized in three buckets the resources that we've assigned to the virtual Parliament. There's the virtual chamber, and we have a group of around 30 people who have been reassigned and are dedicated to supporting the virtual chamber. There's a group of 77 that has been assigned to supporting the virtual committees. Also, then, there's currently a group of 13 that has been reassigned to the voting aspect.
For the voting aspect, there were different phases to it. At the beginning, from May to June, we had five people working on validating the concept. After that, it evolved, after the motion, from five to 13 in the fall, sir.
Specifically with the voting compared to the other one, I wouldn't say these are permanent resources assigned there. I'd say these are people who are working on that in addition to virtual chamber support and virtual committee support.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
That's understood. Okay.
Where have these people typically been reassigned from? In other words, what sorts of things are being left to the side or not being done to maybe the capacity we would have liked as a result of reassignments?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:09
I'll give you an example that you probably know. The ambassador service that we offer to members in the committees and also for their offices is a group of fewer than 20 people. We took that group and had to reassign them to the onboarding for members for virtual committees and also for the virtual chamber. That's an example of the changes we've made.
We've also had to reassign some of our security force to work on specific items relating to ensuring the security for these virtual meetings. We did some changes there. We also looked at the support that we offered for some applications to people who were working in that area. We basically also reassigned them to specific operations roles related to the virtual chamber and virtual committees. That's the type of decision we had to make in order not to increase costs to the organization, because the incremental costs from our perspective for virtual Parliament, as of September, were really around $1.2 million. We were able to maintain that incremental cost load because of the reassignments we've done.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
While we're on the topic of virtual Parliament, with regard to committees, we've obviously been told that with logistical issues and maintenance issues with the systems, the approach that we've been using, this hybrid approach for committee meetings, is going to have to stop for about a month during the upcoming winter adjournment. If I remember correctly—I might be off a little bit—but roughly from December 19, for about a month, we would see a shutdown. What we're told is that this would prevent committees and even Parliament, if it needed to be recalled, from being able to sit in any kind of a way, even if there is an emergency situation that develops.
We've seen that in the past this sometimes does happen while the House is in adjournment. Can we get a bit more of an explanation, especially for Canadians who might be following the proceedings today? What exactly is going on there? Why is it happening? What could be done to ensure that there is an ability for emergency situations to be dealt with? Could it be done in some kind of a staggered fashion so that even one committee could be accommodated where there might be an emergency? Obviously, there are reasons that needs to happen and we certainly wouldn't want to shut down our Parliament completely for a month if that was necessary.
Can we get some explanation on what's happening there and also an indication of what could be done to ensure that there is an ability to function in a limited capacity if an emergency situation arises?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:12
Mr. Richards, I will just make one comment to start. I can guarantee you that if there would be an emergency, the House would be able to return. That's the first point that I want to make. We pride ourselves on ensuring that the House sits, and we will guarantee that this happens if ever there is such an emergency.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Could I just add to that? In relation to committees, there are obviously times when an emergency committee meeting is required. Can we have the same assurance and guarantee that it would be possible, if needed?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:13
If there would be an emergency and the Speaker would require us to make this happen, Mr. Richards, we'd certainly find a way to make this happen.
Having said that, what we're planning to do is maintenance that we usually do when the House is not sitting. This year has been an extraordinary year. We haven't had a chance to do the maintenance that is required to some of our core systems. When I'm speaking about maintenance, I'm not talking about general IT maintenance of a network and stuff like that. I'm talking about the broadcasting systems that support the chamber and the committees. We need to do the necessary maintenance in order to prevent failures to these systems this winter, sir.
The approach that we've taken in order to minimize risk is that we're going to focus on the core systems at the beginning, during the Christmas period. We're going to be working over the Christmas period from the 28th through to the fifth in order to update and maintain these systems and replace the systems that need to be replaced during that period. Then after that, our plan, sir, is to start focusing on committee rooms, one at a time, in order to start ramping up the systems as we can.
We are taking a staggered approach in order to minimize risk to the organization, but it does have an impact on our ability to offer services to all the committees, as I have just mentioned, due to the changes we need to make.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I understand. I want to just make sure to make it clear that we appreciate that there's been a lot of change and adaptation required. You guys have done a really good job of trying to ensure that we're keeping pace with what's required under very difficult circumstances. I do understand that this can sometimes involve stuff that's far beyond my comprehension in terms of technical capabilities.
I appreciate the work that you're doing. I really do appreciate the assurances you've just given us that there would be some way found to ensure that, in those urgent and emergency type situations.... That was my big concern. I'm really glad to hear that there will be ways to accommodate that, if needed.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-12-03 12:15
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll just note that I'm noticing that these meetings are running a lot longer. The frequency of meetings is starting to increase significantly because we're taking a long time to get through the business.
I would encourage members to avail themselves of the opportunity before the meetings to try to go through as many of these questions as possible. We typically move through these agenda items a lot more rapidly. I'm just concerned that we're not getting through these items with how much time we have. I'm concerned about the frequency of meetings we're having with BOIE. We're going to start turning it into a weekly meeting here, Mr. Speaker.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I agree with Mr. Holland on this. We have some extremely important decisions to get to. I've found the staff are very good at providing answers on the financial records.
There are also questions that really are a matter for House leaders and whips to discuss in another forum. We need to focus on the work that we need to do as a board of internal economy. For example, today I can't go past one o'clock and we're not going to get to the end of the agenda, which means we'll have to meet again next week. We're meeting now on a weekly basis.
Mr. Holland's comments are very valid. We have to be concise and focused. We have to do the work we have and ask the important questions, but there are many ways of asking those questions beforehand and also of making sure that the issues that are a part of another domain, like House leaders and the whips' meetings, are kept there.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:05
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The next two points, not only the quarterly report, are about financial information, and since the pandemic is influencing the majority of our financial trends, I will present them together. That way, we can get better organized for questions.
To begin, I will present the quarterly financial report and tell you about the decrease we have proposed for supplementary estimates (B) for this fiscal year. It should be noted that a quarterly report generally gives a good idea of spending trends from one year to another. However, in this case, we are comparing an election year with a year that is part of the COVID-19 pandemic context. In both cases, we are not talking about typical years, and so the trends cannot really make it possible to facilitate comprehension as is the case usually.
In the report dated June 30, the approved authorities for 2020-21, in the amount of $516.4 million, appear to indicate a decrease of $4.4 million compared with the 2019-20 authorities. That is because the Board of Internal Economy approved the $17.4-million financial rollover this past July, which could not be reflected in our report dated June 30.
If we look at the overall trends, we can see that there was an increase of $4.4 million for various important investments, an increase of $3.1 million for cost of living expenses and an increase of $1.7 million for budget adjustments following a general election.
On June 30, the expenditures totalled $114.3 million, compared with expenditures of $121 million for the previous year. That is a decrease of $7.4 million.
The expenditures are also presented by type of cost. The most significant decrease in expenditures relates to the reduction of $6 million in transportation and telecommunications. This is due to the significant decrease in travel as a result of the pandemic. The expenditures for professional and special services have also decreased by $2 million, which is also due to the reduction in service contracts, training and hospitality, again as a result of COVID. As well, there is the difference in timing of certain payments to our external partners during this period. This decrease was partially offset by the cost to accommodate the virtual House proceedings. In addition, the expenditures for materials and supplies have also decreased by $2 million. That is as a result of the temporary closures of the food service facilities and the printing facilities as a result of the pandemic.
On the other hand, expenditures for computers and office equipment have increased by a little over $1 million. This is primarily due to the purchase of equipment to accommodate the virtual House proceedings and committees and to enable certain employees to work remotely during COVID-19.
Finally, the report provides comparison between the utilization of authorities from one year to the next, and we see a slight decrease of 1.3%, which is not unusual, given the current situation.
It's also important to mention that the administration promotes an efficient use of resources and we continuously strive to minimize the request for incremental funding whenever possible. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID pandemic, we are closely monitoring and considering any financial impact when making funding decisions throughout the year.
Also, given what has happened, we have reviewed our request for the 2020-21 supplementary estimates (B). As you know, the COVID pandemic has resulted in the postponement of the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference to 2021, as well as the cancellation of the 29th annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Funding for these conferences had been included in our main estimates for the current year. With the change in plans, this funding will no longer be required this year. As a result, we have offset our request with the current request for a carry-forward for 2021 in the supplementary estimates (B), and as a result, we've revised our request down to $6.3 million for a carry-forward, instead of the $17.4 million.
As for the next point, given all the financial trends the pandemic has significantly affected, we prepared you a summary of the major expenditures stemming from decisions made in the current landscape.
To add relevance, we prepared a summary of expenditures by covering the period up until mid-September, which is a bit more useful for you. Contrary to the report I just presented, this one does not only concern the first quarter. This report includes the following expenditures: $1.4 million in investments for operating the virtual House; $1.1 million paid for outside printing; $287,000 for the purchase of equipment and supplies for members' offices; and the purchase of IT equipment and supplies totalling $396,000 for the administration.
It should also be noted that a significant realignment of our staff was necessary to support the new ways of doing things and that this did not directly impact our expenditures. We continue to monitor those changes. We will submit a report to the Board of Internal Economy with our future quarterly reports.
This concludes my presentation. I am ready to answer your questions.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Paquette. I would just like to compare apples to apples.
There are additional expenditures of $3.1 million on September 17, but we see that some of the spending was reduced because of COVID-19. Yet, this continues in the financial statement of June 30. If we compare the money saved up until September 17 with the additional costs, what is the impact of COVID-19 on parliamentary operations?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:12
In terms of updating our expenses, the analysis period just ended last week. We'll give you a more complete analysis in a few weeks. The fact remains that, to date, all trends show that the savings exceed the additional disbursements.
It should also be noted that a portion of the savings relate to travel. However, since the members' travel is included the Members By-law, these funds can't necessarily be reallocated automatically. Regarding the other business expenses, the other travel related to voted appropriations, we can see that the savings exceed the expenses. Existing resources are actually being used to realign and support the new approach.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I want to know how many employees on Parliament Hill have been dismissed or laid off since the start of the pandemic.
How many regular full-time employees have we lost? How many aren't working because of COVID-19?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:13
I don't have an exact human resources analysis on hand. I know that, to date, there have been no layoffs as a result of COVID-19. However, perhaps Mr. Parent could provide some information on this matter.
Pierre Parent
View Pierre Parent Profile
Pierre Parent
2020-10-08 12:13
Good afternoon, Mr. Julian.
We haven't laid off any full-time staff. We simply haven't called back the people who were on call. Under these circumstances, no full-time employees have lost their jobs. I can't give you the exact figures at this time.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Could you provide the figures at the next meeting?
Pierre Parent
View Pierre Parent Profile
Pierre Parent
2020-10-08 12:14
We should certainly be able to find those figures.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
On the $3.19 million specific to COVID, is that new spending only, or does it include the value of existing resources that would have been deployed towards pandemic-related items?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:14
Those are only additional incremental disbursements. They're not the realignment at this point. We haven't gone down to that level of detail of what people have been doing—maybe different work or different contributions to everything here. Really, just incremental disbursements are what we've presented to you today.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Then you haven't been able to do any work towards getting some kind of an estimate of the value of the existing resources.
From sitting in PROC in the summer, I know that an indication was given to us there that on some of the work on virtual sittings and some of the work towards a smart voting app there had been no new costs incurred but a lot of existing resources and a lot of employee time were repurposed.
Do you have any indication—even initial estimates—of what kinds of expenditures or existing resources were put towards virtual sittings or the development of the voting app? I don't know that those things were actually authorized by this board. I don't know who authorized them. Maybe you could indicate that as well. I'm just curious to know if there has been any initial work done on the value of repurposing employees' time and any existing resources.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:14
At this point, this is the analysis that we're currently working on, given that we do the periodic assessments and details, really, with our quarters. For a lot of the work you've mentioned, in the spring we were very reactive and did what we had to do to make sure everything was functional. Over the summer, those special projects really kicked in, and we deployed the necessary resources and capacity to support those. When we come back and do our second quarter report, this is the kind of analysis we can bring forward to you and bring more specifics related to that.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. You will be able to bring that to us, then. I could be mistaken, as I'm a new member of the board, but I don't believe that those would have been authorized by the board. They would have been authorized within administration itself. I'm not sure. Can you tell me that? That obviously would indicate that it would be all the more important that we get information to look at.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:16
There are many items on that report relating to material supplies and even the infrastructure of the MPs' offices, even the external printing, that were brought forward and accepted by the board.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:17
For the other work that had been brought in directly to our folks in technology to be able to make sure that the chamber was functional, Stéphan or Michel might want to add more about where that request came from.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Sure, but at the end of the day, you're indicating that this is something that you will bring back to a future meeting of the board to give us some sense of what the value of the reallocation of resources would look like.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:17
Yes, we will look and see what we can bring to you and at what level of detail.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-10-08 12:18
We'll delve into more details later, but just for further information, the virtual chamber and virtual committees were a result of a decision of the House, so yes, the administration did enter into expenditures in relation to that.
In terms of the estimates in the report you have for the expenses as of September 17, it does include overtime costs in terms of the resources that had to be deployed to support the virtual or hybrid committees and the chamber. We'll get more information for you.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I want to start by congratulating and thanking today's interpreters for the quality of their work and for their considerable expertise. We hear many interpreters, but I can say that today we have an all-star team. They do their work at practically the speed of light. I want to thank them for this.
Mr. Paquette, thank you for the quality and thoroughness of your presentation. I'm a good student and I do my reading. During my preparations, I ask questions. Today, I want to congratulate you for being very transparent, especially because you clear up matters that are sometimes complex. Thank you for this.
My questions will focus on what happens next. By this weekend, the entire province of Quebec may enter the red zone, probably for several weeks or even months. I'm thinking about all our decisions regarding certain expenses that weren't necessarily routine. I'm thinking of the disinfection equipment, the layout of the offices, the extension of the permission to advertise beyond the percentage allowed by the by-law, and all the changes made along the way to authorize members or their offices to incur expenses related to certain budget items.
At the next board meeting, do you plan to propose an extension of certain measures or other measures that could help members better handle their work?
I'm quite concerned because not all employees in our constituency offices have the furniture, ergonomic chairs and other work tools needed to carry out their work in compliance with health and safety standards. To date, for example, the finance services is still refusing to allow the purchase of a chair for one of our employees who must use the chair at home, since the chair is normally the property of the House of Commons. As employers, we recommend that all our employees work from home, so I wonder about our limitations. How can we better manage and support our employees from a health and safety perspective?
Also, as you may recall, the budget for Internet access increased because, in some rural areas, teleworking incurs exponential costs in this area. Members were allowed to claim these costs back from their main budget.
If the situation continues over the next six months, wouldn't this significantly affect the budgets of some members?
Wouldn't some members be adversely affected by the fact that they must pay more for Internet access than a member who lives in an urban area, for example, where this additional expense isn't included in their MP budget?
At the next board meeting, or at subsequent meetings, will we be looking at ways to help members carry out their duties in their constituencies in compliance with the health rules and the guidance provided by their governments? In our case, we're talking about the Quebec government.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:22
Thank you for expressing your appreciation. I'll pass on these words of gratitude to my team, which helps me prepare to answer your questions, as you can see, and to provide this information.
We're monitoring the various permissions already granted by the Board of Internal Economy. During the second quarter, we may determine the usage levels and whether additional permissions or adjustments are needed.
We also conducted a preliminary assessment of the balance between the amount paid out of the organization's central funds and the amount paid out of members' budgets. At the start of this work, we estimated that the savings were enough to cover the additional costs. That said, we must continue to monitor the situation and take into account the reality of each member. I agree with you that the members' realities vary depending on the location of their constituency offices. In any case, we can carry out this monitoring.
In terms of work tools, furniture and other items that employees may need to work from home, if the Board of Internal Economy asks us to do so, we can assess the requests and even draw a comparison with how other organizations support their employees who telework. We can provide this analysis at an upcoming meeting and propose some options for moving forward.
Some expenses were denied because of a reliance on existing policies. However, we know that our reality is different. Should the Board of Internal Economy make the request, we can conduct the analysis and come back with suggestions.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
If my colleagues don't object, we could ask for an analysis, but not immediately, since the analysis is comprehensive. However, the Board of Internal Economy could provide an overview.
I believe that most permissions expire on March 31, 2021. So before Christmas, we could be presented with an overview.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is this okay?
Yes? Okay. Thank you.
I'll now give the floor to Mr. Rodriguez.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
What I had to say aligns perfectly with the points made by Ms. DeBellefeuille, who raised some extremely important issues.
I just want to make sure that this analysis will identify any changes or adaptations allowed as a result of COVID-19, and until when, and the type of additional authorizations that we must obtain from the Board of Internal Economy to continue running for the duration of this pandemic.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We can expect to receive a report at the next meeting or the one after it.
Is that okay, Mr. Paquette?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:25
Yes. We'll gather the necessary information.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other questions?
No? Okay.
We can see that overall spending has decreased in several areas, particularly in the area of travel by members and their staff and by House Administration staff.
We'll take a three-minute break and then continue in camera. We'll then proceed to item 8.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll now move on to item four, which includes the 2019-20 year-end financial report and the 2020-21 supplementary estimates (B).
I'll turn the floor over to Daniel Paquette, the chief financial officer.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:00
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I'm here to present the 2019-20 year-end financial report and to get your approval for the 2020-21 supplementary estimates (B).
Parliament gives the House authorities so that it can support members based on their usual parliamentary calendar. The authorities for 2019-20 totalling $517 million constitute an increase of $10.7 million, or 2.1%, compared to the previous year.
The most significant changes regarding the increase are $3.4 million and $1.5 million respectively for the increases in the cost of living for members and House officers and for the administration. There's also a $2-million increase for the carry-forward related to the various major investments made.
In 2019-20, expenditures totalled $506 million, an increase of $18 million, or 3.8%, compared to the previous year. In the report, expenditures are also presented by type of cost. We can see that the largest increase concerns salary and benefit expenses. The total of $17.3 million is mainly attributed to election expenses.
There are the severance payments for former members and their employees and the additional salaries that the administration paid to employees that it hired to support various election activities and orientation programs. In addition, there are salary increase expenses. The economic increases of certain administration employees contributed to this fluctuation.
Expenditures for computers, office equipment and furniture have increased by $5 million. This is primarily due to key investments in such activities as the implementation of managed computing for constituencies and the increased capacity for broadcasting and webcasting for committees. As well, given the year of an election, there were additional IT investments in the life cycle of the infrastructure during this period of time. On the other hand, a decrease of $5.8 million in transportation and telecom was mostly due to the decrease in travel expenditures as a result of the election period. Our revenues also went down by $5.9 million due to a reduction in services provided to federal departments and other parliamentary institutions, as well as a decrease in catering, cafeteria and restaurant revenue, all during the dissolution period.
Finally, the report provides a comparison between the 2019-20 and 2018-19 utilization. It shows a slight increase of 1.5%. It is important to mention that the House promotes an efficient use of resources and continuously strives to minimize requests for incremental funding whenever possible. For example, financial pressures that occurred over the course of the year, such as election-related costs and economic increases for House administration employees, were all managed within existing resources rather than additional funding being sought. As a matter of fact, over the past two years, other than the operating budget carry-forward, no additional funding was sought through the supplementary estimates process.
It is customary for government organizations to carry forward lapsed amounts of 5% of their main estimates. For the House, this equates to a maximum of $17.5 million. Therefore, I am seeking your approval to include the full carry-forward amount of $17.5 million into our 2020-21 supplementary estimates. This carry-forward will then be allocated to members, House officers and the administration according to existing policies. In addition, I'm seeking your approval to include $5.5 million in the 2020-21 supplementary estimates (B) relating to the 2020-21 economic increases for certain House administration that was approved by the board in February. I should also point out that, going forward, the requirements for these economic increases will be included in our main estimates for 2021-22.
In conclusion, as you know, the House is continuing to react and to adjust operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including implementing appropriate measures on the Hill and in constituencies. I would like to assure you that we are closely monitoring the financial impacts associated with this situation. If needed, although it's not anticipated, a submission will be brought forward to address financial requirements through the 2020-21 supplementary estimates. In any case, we will report back in the fall on the impact COVID is having on our financial situation.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation. I will take any questions.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I note that the House administration budget was $186.6 million. The actual spend was $190.8 million, so $4.2 million more than anticipated was spent, I guess because members spent less and the monies were available for the House administration. Perhaps you just did say it and I misunderstood it, but what caused that $4.2 million spending over the anticipated budget?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:06
When we manage the overall budget from a cash flow perspective, we look at the full voted appropriation. A portion goes to House administration and then goes to the members. We know that during an election year, due to the period of reduced activities, some of these funds are not necessarily used on the members' side. Knowing this, we didn't come back and ask for supplementary estimates for something like the economic increase for last year and the retroactive implications of those. It was about $8.1 million just for that particular item. We also had the additional resources for the HR advisory services for members. That was $2.5 million. The actual election costs for the administration were a little over a million dollars.
Knowing that the cash was there in our voted appropriation, we didn't ask for the supplementary estimates. Between our programs, it shows maybe an overspend of our planned budget but not an overspend in our overall appropriation.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you, Mr. Paquette.
These financial statements are a bit like the economic update that would have been provided just before the pandemic hit. We're talking about March 31. On March 13, the decision was made to suspend parliamentary activities. I find this interesting. I don't have any issue with the financial statements. This seems very clear, including the significant decreases in committee expenses and parliamentary exchanges.
When I look at the largest and much smaller expenditures, I think that it would be worthwhile to hear how you think things will unfold this year. Since I'm in New Westminster and the other members are also at home, it seems that travel expenses are much smaller. There are no parliamentary exchanges either. The committees are meeting virtually. Does this raise or lower costs? I imagine that this lowers costs. In addition, many House administration employees are teleworking.
In your opinion, which expenditures will increase as a result of the pandemic and which expenditures will decrease significantly because of all the decisions made in the context of the pandemic?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:09
The expenditures that will increase are the technology and telecommunications expenditures, given the establishment of the platform. We must ensure that everyone is well connected and that we have the necessary equipment.
The decreased costs include travel costs, because people aren't travelling. There are conference and committee costs, both for members and for the administration, whether the costs involve conferences or training.
At this time, we're monitoring the situation. We have tools built into our financial system that will enable us to provide a proper report this fall on the impact of these items. Right now, it's too early to quantify this and to determine where this will lead us. I think that we'll manage to do so by the middle of the year. I'll come back here to provide an update on the actual situation, once we've made these adjustments.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I want to start by thanking the interpreters who have been translating the comments made by my English-speaking colleagues for the past hour and 10 minutes. I must say that they're excellent, and I applaud them. I hope that they have air conditioning in their booths, because it's hot.
Mr. Speaker, I find the report presented to us today very transparent. I can see that a number of expenditure increases have been funded through the authorized budgets.
I have just one question.
One reason for the increase in staff expenditures, which total $17.3 million in 2019-20, is the hiring of additional employees to work on the major Centre Block renovation project.
How much of this increase is related to staff expenditures in comparison with the other items identified in the document, such as information technology, advisory services and support for members? Are more human resources directed toward providing advisory services to members than toward the major Centre Block renovation project?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:11
Basically, the money for the Centre Block renovation comes from Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC. These expenditures are not directly related to the administration. I said that our revenues were down because we have advisory services. We're recovering these expenditures from the department. This isn't a net expenditure for us.
I'll explain the $17.3-million increase.
A significant part of this increase, $11 million, is attributable to severance payments for members and their employees during the election period. The members' orientation provided by employees during the election period accounts for an increase of about $3 million. An increase of over $2 million is attributable to the human resources team that supports the members as employers.
There's also the increase in the cost of living. Retroactive payments arising from the signature of the collective agreements amounted to over $8 million.
My calculation is just over $17.3 million. However, this increase is offset by the $4-million decrease in the salaries paid by members during the year. During an election period, many members have fewer employees, and new members take some time to hire employees. There's a decrease in these averages.
Essentially, this increase doesn't concern the renovation of the Centre Block. Instead, it concerns the employees responsible for providing orientation and support services to members during the election period.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other questions?
Do we have approval for the proposal put forward by Monsieur Paquette?
Looking around, I see heads nodding.
Very good. We have approval.
Before continuing to item five, there was a question raised by Mr. Strahl. I believe Mr. Patrice has the answer to the printing discrepancy, or the delta between the two printing levels.
Monsieur Patrice.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Perfect. When I heard the answer, I was kind of worried that she wasn't answering you directly, but she got to it and it was part of the next presentation, so it all worked out very well.
Are there any other questions or comments? Are we all in agreement?
We'll continue then.
The next one will be the implementation of the proactive disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act in the House of Commons. The presenters will be Daniel Paquette, chief financial officer; Philippe Dufresne, law clerk and parliamentary counsel; and José Fernandez, deputy chief financial officer.
We'll let Daniel start.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 15:16
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
If you want to follow along, I know you have a lot of material in the binder related to this topic, but I'll be using the shorter deck to really walk through some of the key items here, and that deck is entitled, “Implementing the Proactive Disclosure Requirements”. That is for you to follow along with the presentation. Also in the materials you have are all the mock-ups that'll show you how the information will appear when we are able to publish to meet the requirements of the act. Today I'll really just focus on the items that pertain to the information that's going to be published and not necessarily on the format or the look and feel.
I won't be spending much time on slide 2 of the deck. It's just for background information. It really provides you an overview of the evolution of the last almost 20 years of what we've done around disclosure for the House of Commons. Obviously, I'm here today for that last step, in which 2020 will be the first disclosure, to comply with Bill C-58.
Slide 3 highlights some of the changes to what will be disclosed for members. With regard to travel, we will now be disclosing all travel incurred using House funds. For members, that will mean the detailed disclosure for travel that was basically covered by the MOB, not only the travel that was using the travel points system. For hospitality, there are no changes in the information that's going to be disclosed in terms of what we have been doing versus what the bill requires.
With regard to contracts, the column on the resources provided by the House will no longer be part of the quarterly report disclosure going forward. All contracts for which the member is the contracting authority will now be disclosed. In this case here, that means that all expenses incurred that would not already be disclosed under either travel, hospitality or the travel summary will be subject to detailed disclosure in this particular category. These expenses will be disclosed quarterly again, but they will not be cumulative as has been the case in the past, and they will still be published within 90 days of the quarter end.
On slide 4, changes for the presiding officers and House officers, there will be no changes to the information to be disclosed for travel or hospitality for these groups. When it comes to contracts, it is similar in that all expenses incurred that are not disclosed in the categories of travel, hospitality and salaries will also be disclosed in this category and again at the quarterly disclosure within 90 days of the period end.
One of the places we'll see the most significant changes is in relation to the House administration. I have that on slide 5. In all categories those disclosures will now start to happen. When we get to the travel and hospitality, it's all-encompassing so it will be all travel and all hospitality for all employees of the House, which will be disclosed in these detailed listings. For the contracts, we'll be looking at all contracts over $10,000, and we will also be disclosing the call-ups on standing offers that will be over $10,000 within that particular reporting period.
The expenses, again, are always disclosed quarterly, but what will be different for the administration is that this publication will be within 60 days of the quarter end, not 90 days. It's a little quicker after the period end.
Slide 6 gives you a bit of the changes pertaining to parliamentary diplomacy and committees. To meet the requirements for this group, changes are being made to the existing reports to meet all the requirements of the act. Parliamentary diplomacy will maintain their existing reports but add reports around delegations, around hosting and operating expenses, and around conferences. These reports will be published on the parliamentary diplomacy website also within 60 days. For committees, liaison has approved two proposals. One is a modification to the existing activity in the expenditure reports to break down the hospitality items. The new detailed travel expenditure report will also be added. Both of these will be disclosed on the committees website.
Also for this group, in order to meet the requirements of this act, IIA has asked for one additional resource, for the funding to cover at least 70% of the cost of that resource for the IIA.
In addition, the Access to Information Act provides two exceptions to proactive disclosure: security and parliamentary privilege. It is the Speaker of the House who has the authority to decide, and the administration will communicate to everyone in due course the process and criteria governing these exceptions. We will also conduct an analysis of all existing House contracts to determine the application of these exceptions, if any.
In conclusion, the administration has modified its tools and practices to meet the requirements of the act and we have a communication and training plan that is ready to be deployed to implement these changes.
To that end, we are here today to recommend to the Board of Internal Economy that it approve the recommendations presented in the submission. Specifically, we are asking the board to approve the proposed approach, changes to the disclosure reports, necessary amendments to the members' by-laws, changes to the Members' Allowances and Services Manual, and funding to cover the equivalent of 70% of a full-time employee.
We're ready to answer your questions. Thank you.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
First of all, Mr. Paquette, can you be clear that everything you're proposing here is required by the act? Is there any flexibility, or did the ship sail when royal assent was given to this bill?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 15:23
We have been working with the legal counsel to make sure we were just disclosing what's required by the act, which is why some of the pieces, like the resources provided by the House, are not required and are not going to be in these detailed listings, but the interpretation has been taken to the extreme. We've worked with everybody in the organization to try to make sure we were meeting the requirements and not going overboard.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Can you confirm if the requirement for designated traveller expenditures being separated from...? I found it interesting that the House administration reporting requirement is a cumulative amount—that's what I understood you to say—that it will be a global number, or would it say, “Mr. Paquette took the following trips”?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 15:24
It will say, “Mr. Paquette took this particular trip.” There will be detailed disclosure for all employees. This is different from what we'll see in the rest of the public service, where it's all employees and not just senior officials.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Okay. I have been concerned, and I've raised this issue before. If we're bound by the act, then.... I don't think I probably voted in favour of it.
When we allow our disclosure to put targets on our families, I have real difficulty with that. We saw this during the last election, when members and their designated travellers were singled out, targeted and exploited for partisan gain. Quite frankly, I don't know if there's room in this presentation for us to take another look at that. Perhaps we need to have a greater discussion around it.
I am troubled by what is meant to be shining a light on what members do actually discouraging members from taking advantage of the opportunities to reunite families. We all claim, from the Prime Minister on down, that we want this to be a more attractive place for families, for young professionals to engage in the political process, and then we absolutely eviscerate them because of the disclosure rules we have. People simply won't use the travel, etc., because they know their political opponents will target them for it.
I know we're bound by the law, and we obviously need to do whatever is required. We should consider having a discussion in the future about whether there is an unintended consequence here that punishes people with families—young families, especially—and will discourage those folks from either travelling so that they can keep their families together, or will discourage those people from seeking office at all.
I will leave it there. I don't know if we can deal with it right now, but I would certainly want to have that discussion in the future.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2020-06-01 15:27
I would add that we have reviewed the legislation. It is a broad legislation in terms of proactive disclosure. There are exceptions, as was indicated, in the Speaker's ability to invoke parliamentary privilege or invoke security with regard to the parliamentary precinct for expenditures of House administration.
We will look at the implementation of this. We will continue to monitor it to see if there are unintended consequences. This is something that can be looked at, monitored and possibly addressed. At this stage, this is the interpretation of the requirements as they stand.
View Candice Bergen Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My first question is to follow up on the answer. I was under the assumption that this proactive disclosure was mandatory as per the act, and there wasn't necessarily room for interpretation. If there is, then I would suggest...because I agree very strongly with what my colleague, Mr. Strahl, brought forward.
Rather than wait to see if there are unintended consequences, I suggest we discuss those here, as well as any others, and try to address them now. If the act prescribes this to a T, then we have no choice. I guess you can elect a Conservative government and we could always change it again. I would rather that we try to deal with it at this point and try to make it the very best, so that we are complying with the act and we are disclosing what we need to disclose, but we don't have the consequences that we have identified here that could happen.
My other question has to do with the Speaker making these decisions. Is it prescribed in the act? I'm wondering how the Speaker would make the decision. Would it be at the request of a particular MP? What's the process and does the act lay that out, or how does the Speaker decide what doesn't need to be disclosed?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2020-06-01 15:29
I think there are two parts to your question.
First, what is being proposed here as a framework is the framework that, in our view, is required by the act as it stands. Now, there is the ability for the Speaker to make exceptions in specific cases, with respect to both parliamentary privilege and to security. On the specific process as to how that is implemented, if there are issues raised by members, they will be able to bring them to the attention of the Speaker.
It is provided explicitly in the act that the Speaker may make this determination, and if he does, on the basis of privilege, the information will not be disclosed. That decision will not be reviewable, whether in courts or before the Information Commissioner.
In terms of the exception for security, it deals with information disclosure for House administration and the parliamentary precinct, and it requires consultation with PPS.
Beyond that, there are more details that could be brought forward in terms of the documentation, templates and so on. However, those two specific exceptions exist and can be raised by members in individual cases, and that's something we'll be looking at.
View Candice Bergen Profile
CPC (MB)
I want to say thank you. It's good to see the templates of what the new disclosure will look like. It would be good if we could share those with our caucuses so they're aware, as well.
My question wasn't quite answered, and it could be because this is a new process. My point is that if there's any way that we can try to address the issue around our designated traveller, where our partner or spouse could be targeted for political gain, we want to try to mitigate that.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, I think the transparency that this law promotes does encourage greater disclosure than before. I agree with Ms. Bergen on all the templates and on how to make it user-friendly and fairly easy for citizens to consult. I think it is quite a remarkable piece of work.
If members of our caucuses are to be more transparent and enter their data properly, the source platform and financial portal must be better adapted to reduce the time spent in front of screens filling out travel statements, among other things.
Both as a senior officer and as a member of Parliament, I'm experimenting with the portal. I do it on-screen as a member of Parliament, then I do it by hand as a senior officer. I was wondering if, when the act comes into force, the source platform and the financial portal will be adjusted and changed with respect to travel reports.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 15:32
Thank you.
The member's portal platform will be adjusted to ensure that all information required for disclosure is obtained. With respect to the paper process for senior officers, we do not anticipate any immediate changes, but we are currently reviewing this.
In light of recent developments, we need to update our processes to better collect information and submit it electronically. I am already meeting with the business process teams to carry out a project, in the not too distant future, to update our practices to reduce the administrative burden on members. We are working on it and it is certainly on our radar.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Also, you talk about training for MPs in your work plan. How do you plan to organize the members' training? Will you be delivering it to caucuses? How do you plan to deliver this important training to the different caucuses?
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