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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 19 of the Board of Internal Economy of the 43rd Parliament.
This morning, we will begin with item 1, the minutes of the previous meeting.
Are there any questions or comments on that? Seeing none, we'll move on to the second item.
We will continue with item 2, business arising from the previous meeting.
Are there any comments?
Mr. Richards, go ahead.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
There are a couple of things I want to raise quickly here. The first one is that I noticed that the administration has put together a report for us based on the questions that I asked at the last meeting related to human resource issues that we had with losing some of the senior leadership among procedural folks. I note that we do have an item later on the agenda on this. I was going to suggest that it might be helpful for that discussion to take place perhaps without the administration staff, other than the chief human resources officer, who probably should be a part of that, and possibly the law clerk.
I know this is what's typically done when the audits are presented to the board. It might be helpful for us to follow that practice for that particular item. I was going to suggest that, if others see the benefit of that. I think it might be good to be able to have that conversation with just the board members and the one or two pieces of that from administration that would have a direct impact there.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's a request.
Do I have unanimous consent on that?
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, do you have a comment on that?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes. To answer your question, I agree with Mr. Richards' proposal. We need to have this good discussion together.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do we have unanimous consent?
I'm getting signals that we do. That's great.
Thank you.
Mr. Richards, go ahead.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I have another one as well, Mr. Chair, if I can.
With regard to the litigation that the government has brought with you named, Mr. Chair, I thought it might be beneficial for us to have an in camera briefing, just to find out a little bit about the litigation strategy that will be followed by the House in defending themselves against the government in the Federal Court procedure. I want to throw that out as an item that we could add to the agenda.
Obviously it's timely, so I don't think it's something that we can leave for a future meeting, but I think it would be helpful for all of us to have some sort of briefing on that. I would suggest that it be in camera.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I believe that's already open and ready to go in camera. I believe we have unanimous consent to go along with that.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Further to that, I also wanted to get.... I don't know who the appropriate person is to ask for an opinion on this, but I'm sure you can direct it to whomever it's appropriate to answer. With regard to that, obviously we're talking about a situation where it is in fact the government that is taking the House to court in that instance. Obviously, there are members of the board who are ministers in that government. I don't know, but it did occur to me that there's a possibility that there could be a conflict of interest for them to participate in those discussions. I don't know if they've personally given any thought to that, but maybe it would be good to get an opinion on whether it's appropriate for them to be a part of that discussion or not.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
If it's okay with the members, maybe we can approach it once we go in camera. We'll have the House of Commons lawyer, Mr. Dufresne, comment on that and then we can make a decision.
Is that fair?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. Let's go with that, then. That gives everyone some time to reflect until we get there. There are no decisions made on the spot, and we'll make sure it's the right decision to make.
Mr. Julian will be followed by Mrs. DeBellefeuille.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I was going to reiterate the same comments Mr. Richards made. I agree that, as part of the in camera, we should be briefed on the court case against the House.
Thank you for that.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, I am not sure whether it will be possible during this meeting, but I would like to be reassured about next fall. The parliamentary session ended with a lack of resources, particularly in terms of interpreters. I would like to be reassured that this summer and fall we will have all the resources that we need to resume our work.
We have had to cancel committee meetings in order to be able to sit in the House of Commons and hold parliamentary committee meetings at the same time. I would like to be reassured on that point, even if it does not happen in this meeting. I would like to make sure that, in the fall, we will have the number of interpreters we require to be able to do our parliamentary work, in the House, in committees and in parliamentary associations.
I don't know whether we were supposed to have news about this today. If not, I would like to see a very clear update at the next Board of Internal Economy meeting on the state of our resources and the state of the situation, which was very worrisome at the end of the session.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Let me turn it over to Mr. Patrice, who can tell you what the situation is and what resources we have.
Mr. Patrice, you have the floor.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-06-28 11:19
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Yes, we will follow up with all the services involved. We will wait for the dust to settle and evaluate this. We will report back to the Board of Internal Economy on the status. We will be able to provide you with that information in the coming weeks.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's great.
If there are no further comments on item 2, we will continue with item 3.
There was a walk-around, an extension of COVID measures. They were extended to September 30.
Is everyone in accordance with the extension and what we have now, to be on the safe side?
Good. We'll move on to item number four.
Item 4 is the 31st annual session of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in July 2023.
The presenter is Hedy Fry, and I'll let her take it from here.
Ms. Fry, go ahead.
View Hedy Fry Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
This is a renewal request. I thank you graciously. The board granted a request for us to host, in July 2020, the summer meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. About 500 to 700 people were to attend. We had prepared for it. Everything was fine. We had done all the work. Then COVID-19 came in March 2020 and we had to cancel. We have not held another summer meeting since. We now have a mix of virtual and in-person meetings.
The OSCE PA, for those of you who don't know, is made up of 57 nation-states. They include Europe, Scandinavia, and the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Russia and so on. It also has about nine observer states from the Middle East that come to the meetings each time. The Holy See is also a member of the OSCE PA.
The last time we hosted a summer meeting was about 23 years ago. I think it's about time for one of the large countries, like Canada, to be able to do this. You kindly gave us permission in 2020. It was cancelled. I'm back to ask you for permission to do this in July 2023. You have, I think, the cost of the meeting. It has gone up a little bit because of inflation and the fact that now everyone is required to do a lot of COVID security, cleaning, etc. That has raised the bar a little bit for costs.
I would be able to answer any questions you would like. We are ready to go. The people who are running this for us, our bureaucratic staff, have been through this already. They were all prepped for July 2020 and then had to cancel. We did not pay any penalties in 2020, because we had a clause that talked about a force majeure. We have a similar clause this time in case an act of God says we have to cancel.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any questions for Ms. Fry?
The recommendation is that we go ahead. Is everyone in accordance with the recommendation?
Good. We have consensus.
Thank you, Ms. Fry, and thank you to all the members.
View Hedy Fry Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you very much, everyone. I appreciate it.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The next one on our list, number 5, is the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August 2022. The presenter this morning is Jeremy LeBlanc.
Mr. LeBlanc, go ahead.
Jeremy LeBlanc
View Jeremy LeBlanc Profile
Jeremy LeBlanc
2021-06-28 11:23
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
This request is to transfer funding that had previously been approved for the 65th parliamentary conference to be hosted in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The conference was originally scheduled to occur in January 2021. It was then postponed until August 2021. It has now has been postponed again until August 2022.
The Board of Internal Economy had already approved temporary funding for the conference. We are asking for authority to carry over the approved funding from one fiscal year to the next to coincide with the timing of the conference.
Also, if there are any additional costs because the conference was postponed, we are asking you for permission to use the Joint Interparliamentary Council (JIC) budget to cover those costs, instead of asking for new funding.
In short, this is simply a request to transfer the funding already approved into the next fiscal year and the authority to cover the additional costs from the JIC envelope.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any questions?
You are signalling that it's clear and that you're all in agreement.
We have agreement on that recommendation. Let's continue with item 6.
This is the 2020-21 year-end financial report and the 2021-22 supplementary estimates. Our presenter will be Daniel Paquette.
The floor is yours.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2021-06-28 11:25
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am here today to present the 2020‑21 year‑end financial report, and to seek your approval for the supplementary estimates (B) 2021‑22. This report provides the details of the authorities and expenditures for the 2020‑21 fiscal year, as well as comparative information from the previous year. As with the quarterly reports already submitted this year, we are comparing two atypical years. This past year, the pandemic clearly impacted our spending trends, and the general election was held the year before. Therefore, our comparisons were made with due consideration of the influences on the results of those two years.
For reporting purposes, as of March 31, 2021, approved authorities for that period totalled $641.9 million, which is an increase of $124.8 million over 2019‑20 authorities. The most significant change relates to an actuarial adjustment to the members of Parliament retiring allowance account and the members of Parliament retirement compensation arrangements account in the amount of $125.6 million. The adjustment is made as directed by an actuarial report of the MP pension plan. As of March 31, expenditures totalled $610.1 million, an increase of $104.4 million over the previous year's expenditures.
The most significant increase in expenditures relates to the increase of $126.8 million in the contribution to the members' pension plan, mainly due to the previously mentioned actuarial adjustments. Had there not been this actuarial adjustment, the variance in expenditures would have been a reduction of $22.4 million.
This decrease in expenditures across the House is due to measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the restrictions on travel and gatherings imposed by public health authorities, which contributed to the significant decrease in our travel expenditures. A decrease has also been seen in areas across the whole organization, such as training and hospitality. Also, the temporary closure of some of our food service facilities and printing facilities last year has meant a significant reduction in our costs of materials and supplies.
These reductions were partially offset by the purchase of consumable items such as the face masks and hand sanitizer that were used across the House, as well as by the investments in the virtual House proceedings and committees, including the remote voting system and accommodations for press conference facilities. In addition, there were costs incurred for equipment to enable the administration employees to work remotely during the COVID pandemic.
On the other hand, expenditures for salaries and benefits have decreased, mainly since expenditures in 2019-20 were abnormally high as a result of the payments made in that period for severance payments for members and their employees following the 2019 general election. Also, in that fiscal year there were retroactive payments in respect of economic increases for certain administration employees.
Finally, the report provides a comparison between the 2020-21 and the 2019-20 utilization of authorities. With respect to the non-statutory spending, the utilization has decreased by 5.2%, which is not unexpected given the current situation. It is important to note and to mention that the administration does promote an efficient use of resources and continuously strives to minimize requests for incremental funding whenever possible. The COVID pandemic had a significant impact on the House business, and the magnitude of the financial impact was not apparent early in the fiscal year. Funding decisions were made based on the best information available at various times.
As the pandemic continued to evolve, restrictions continuously had to be put in place, which resulted in lower-than-expected expenditures. As mentioned before, the 2020-21 authorities totalled $641.9 million, and expenditures totalled $610.1 million. This leaves us with a $31.8-million surplus, which corresponds to the lapse that will be represented in the public accounts of Canada. The surplus represents 8.8% of the 2021 main estimates voted authorities. It is customary for government organizations to carry forward a lapsed amount of up to 5% of their main estimates.
Therefore, I'm seeking your approval to include a carry-forward of $18 million in the 2021-22 supplementary estimates (B), but note that I will return in the fall to inform the members of the final amount to be included in the supplementary estimates based on operational requirements at that particular time, if there is some reason why we don't need to carry over the full amount.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation.
I am available to answer any questions you may have.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any questions?
Is everybody fine with the recommendation that's proposed?
Mr. Richards, go ahead.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I have a couple of questions related to resources. The first one is for you. In the House on our final day, I raised a point about some matters of privilege that we have. You made some comments in relation to that and other things. I thought that maybe there was a lack of resources in order to complete some of those things. I guess this is an appropriate place to ask about that. Do you think you have a need for additional resources? Is there a lack of resources available to you at this point?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
No. Under normal circumstances, and even under extenuating circumstances, everything works fairly well. As you know, in the last two weeks of the House we were sitting until late. I have to credit the clerks of the House and the table officers on a lot of this work. They start working on it and they go around the clock—I don't think they sleep at night—so that we can get it. Unfortunately, we weren't giving them any time to sleep, so they weren't able to come up with a lot of it, and I didn't have what I thought was something that was to the quality that we've been accustomed to.
It was my call, but overall I think we do have sufficient staffing in the administration and the clerks. Just don't keep us going until midnight, or until one or two in the morning, every day for weeks on end and we'll be fine.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
This is the challenge we all face at that time of year, understood.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Exactly. It was an anomaly because of the time of year and everything kind of came.... A number of questions of privilege came at once and that basically was the issue.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
In that same vein, is our law clerk with us at the moment? I'm not certain he's here, but quite often he is.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Dufresne, you have the floor.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2021-06-28 11:33
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Excellent, thanks.
I had a similar question for you, in relation to the resources available to you.
With the government making an application to the Federal Court, and a number of requests put to you to help determine the appropriateness of certain documents being released, based on orders of a variety of committees and the House itself, do you have the resources that you need at this time to manage both that Federal Court procedure against the House and those requests for documents?
Are you handling that Federal Court application in-house, or are you going to be engaging outside counsel?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2021-06-28 11:34
Thank you, Mr. Richards.
It's certainly been a busy time for the office, but we have been able to provide the service and the advice. With regard to the litigation matter, we have the resources to deal with it. We have retained outside counsel and we'll be working very closely with them in terms of directing and giving instructions. This is something that I will continue to monitor very closely, but for the moment, and thanks to this board's earlier decision that had increased the resources for my office, I feel that I have the necessary resources to continue to provide the services.
Thank you.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Great.
Thank you. I appreciate that update.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good.
Are there any other comments? Is everyone in agreement with the recommendation that's been put forward?
Everybody is in accordance, very good.
We'll move on to number 7, request for exception.
Mr. Paquette, please go ahead.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2021-06-28 11:35
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am now presenting a request for an exception from a member. In March 2021, the member submitted two external printing claims that exceeded the current policy limit of 5,000 copies.
You can recall that in spring 2020 there were temporary measures put in place to allow members to use external printers, in collaboration with our printing facility's team, for constituency mail in excess of 5,000 copies. These temporary measures did end on June 30, 2020, and since then the regular policies and use of House printing facilities for constituency mail have resumed.
The member did make use of the House services during this period of time, but given the board's policy in effect at the time when these costs were incurred by the member, in March 2021, the member in this case would be personally responsible for the cost of the copies in excess of 5,000 copies.
Given the current situation, the member has requested that the board make an exception and allow him to charge the full amount to his MOB. We are here to seek the board's direction on this matter.
Thank you.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Rodriguez, do you have a question?
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, Mr. Chair.
I assume that, when our colleague did that at the time, he knew the rules and regulations of what was allowed and what was not allowed.
My concern with requests for exceptions like that is that they can be used by others to break the rules. People could end up saying that so‑and‑so broke the rules, and all he had to do was go to the Board of Internal Economy and get what he wanted.
To me, the rules are the rules, and people have to follow them. It's unfortunate, but I see no reason for an exception in this case.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay, thank you.
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I agree with Mr. Rodriguez.
There also seems to be some confusion. The document before us indicates that the member did not have his salary taken. In his letter, the member says that it was taken. I would like to have that little confusion clarified.
I think everyone knows the rules. The arrangements for in‑house printing and the number of copies allowed are quite clear. For the time being, I'm not really in favour of granting this exception, unless you have other arguments to convince me.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay.
Mr. Rodriguez, do you have any other comments? No? Okay.
Are there any further comments or questions?
Mr. Richards, go ahead.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I guess what I can do is just add some additional information. I'm certainly sympathetic to some of the comments that have already been made in terms of having to be careful about making exceptions and making sure that those exceptions are appropriate.
I will just add, for the information of members in making this decision, that I have obviously talked to Mr. Vis about this situation, and my understanding of what happened here from his perspective is essentially that there was some communication with printing and mailing services and his office understood that the exceptions had been lifted for certain types of mailings, but I think they didn't realize that the exceptions had been lifted for the types of mailings they were doing. There certainly was a misunderstanding, and a bit of miscommunication possibly as well. That is kind of his version of what occurred. I thought it would be important for context for members.
Again, I do understand that we have to be very careful about when we make an exception. If that is helpful to members at all in making this decision, I wanted to make sure that Mr. Vis's understanding of the situation was put forward as well.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other comments or questions?
My understanding, just from what I've heard, is that option 1 is what we go with, the status quo that Mr. Vis is responsible for the extra costs.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good. Everyone is in accordance, so we'll go ahead with option 1.
Now we'll go on to item 8, “Report to Canadians”.
Mr. Robert, you have the floor.
Charles Robert
View Charles Robert Profile
Charles Robert
2021-06-28 11:40
The purpose of this presentation is to ask the Board of Internal Economy to approve the Report to Canadians 2021 for tabling in the House of Commons.
This report to Canadians is an annual update on members' parliamentary activities, along with a summary of accomplishments by the House administration for the same period, 2020-21 fiscal year, based on the priorities laid out in the strategic plan. As you know, this year was exceptional because of the pandemic. The report has been enhanced quite a bit and can be used as a document, really, for constituents and for the groups that come to participate in the conferences that we put on during the course of the year. The format of the report is the same as usual, with messages from the Speaker.
There are also statistics about MPs, descriptions of MPs' activities, highlights from the Hill, and so on.
The purpose of this presentation is really to ask for the board's permission to table the annual report as soon as we return after the summer recess.
Thank you.
If you have any questions, I'm prepared to answer them.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any questions?
Are there any comments?
Is everybody okay with the recommendation as stated in our report? Very good, we'll go ahead with it.
Item 9 is the Joint Interparliamentary Council report on parliamentary associations' activities and expenditures for 2020-21. The first one, at tab 9, is the annual report on the activities and expenditures of parliamentary associations for 2020-21. The co-chairs of the Joint Interparliamentary Council have sent a letter noting that the JIC has adopted this report and is submitting it to the board for your information. The form is similar to that of reports from previous years, but due to the moratorium on travel that was in effect all of last year, it instead focuses on the virtual activities of associations.
If there are any questions about the report itself, the clerk of the JIC is available today, or we could invite the House co-chair Mr. Stanton to appear at subsequent meetings. Are there any questions?
The next report for this committee is the annual report, at tab 10. You have before you a letter from the chair of the Liaison Committee, Ms. Sgro, who wishes to inform the board that the Liaison Committee recently adopted and presented to the House its latest annual report on committee activities and expenditures for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Ms. Sgro submitted a copy of the report to the board and has indicated that she would be available to meet with us at a future date if the board desires.
Pursuant to Standing Order 121(4), the Board of Internal Economy shall cause to be tabled in the House an annual comprehensive financial report, outlining the individual expenditures of each committee.
The established practice since 2014 has been for the Liaison Committee's annual report to be approved by the board and tabled by the Speaker in order to comply with the requirements of the standing order. Consequently, if all members are in agreement, I will submit the report as attached to the House as the board's report, pursuant to the standing order. Are there any questions or comments about the report or the process? I see none.
Does everyone agree that I submit the report to the House? I see that you do.
That is great. We will take a two‑minute break before moving in camera and continuing with item 11.
Mr. Holland, go ahead.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-06-28 11:45
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
There was an item.... I thought there was a report that we had been given with respect to expenditures on MOBs. I'm sorry; I anticipated that this was coming up, but I should have perhaps raised it earlier. We had discussions as whips. It was discussed at the prior meeting, so perhaps I should have raised it in the minutes.
With the leave of the board, I believe we have concurrence among the whips, and we've had conversations, for the item we discussed in the previous BOIE meeting with respect to a professional development program to be run on a pilot basis for members of Parliament. It would be in a reduced amount from what was talked about before, for $5,000 to run in a one-year period of time.
Perhaps I was remiss in not raising that in the minutes prior, but if possible, I'd like to raise that now, if I can.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I believe that was covered in item 2, but I'll pass it over to Mr. Patrice. He might be able to comment on it, unless someone else is better suited to comment on that item.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-06-28 11:46
I believe it's about the wish of the board to have that discussion now in terms of a measure following the document that was presented by the administration with regard to professional development and training, I believe.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay.
How do we wish to proceed?
Mr. Patrice or Mr. Holland, I'm looking for direction here.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-06-28 11:47
Well, I think it shouldn't take a lot of time, if the board is willing to return to that item. It's my error for having missed the appropriate time to raise that item. As I said, we have had conversations among the whips and we do have agreement. If there is the opportunity, with the indulgence of the board, to return to that item, then I could forward the discussions we had.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good.
Do we have consensus to go back to item 2?
I believe we have consensus. Very good. We'll go back.
Mr. Holland, go ahead.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-06-28 11:47
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
There were discussions among the whips. We had discussions some time ago. At the last meeting, Mr. Richards indicated that he wished some additional information, which was furnished. I believe Mr. Richards and the other whips.... I know that we had conversations, so I understand that there is agreement that we would move forward on a one-year basis with a pilot project to be reviewed basically at this time next year, at the end of the next sitting of Parliament, to review the program. It would make available for each MP's office, outside of the MOB, $5,000 for the purposes of professional development for staff.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good. Are there any questions or comments on that?
Does the board agree?
I believe I see no disagreement. Perfect. Very good. That is passed.
Mr. Paquette, you have the floor.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2021-06-28 11:48
Just in terms of the financial authority, I want to confirm that we're approving that I put aside or make a request for $1,690,000, at $5,000 per MP, for this specified-purpose supplement for members.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm getting a lot of heads shaking “yes”.
Do we have consent for that?
Very good. It's passed.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2021-06-28 11:49
Thank you.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll now take a two-minute break so that the staff can rearrange everything for in camera. Then we will return.
At 11:54 we'll be back. We'll give it a little extra time. We'll give it five minutes.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Welcome to meeting number 18 of the Board of Internal Economy of the 43rd Parliament.
We will begin with the first item, the minutes of the previous meeting. Are there any questions about it? Since I see no raised hands, let's continue.
We will now move on to business arising from the previous meeting, the dashboards and virtual committees. Are there any questions on that?
Ms. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to address two items of business arising from the previous meeting.
I would like to talk about the dashboards first. I read them carefully and they are very useful in my work as a whip. If I may, I would like to ask a few questions about the dashboard.
On page 3 of the report, it says that the preliminary tests are 96% done. Does this mean that 96% of witnesses have undergone a preliminary test? Is that what that means, Mr. Janse?
Eric Janse
View Eric Janse Profile
Eric Janse
2021-06-10 11:11
That is exactly right, Ms. DeBellefeuille.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
All right.
Does what is written on page 4 mean that half of the witnesses did not have headsets that complied with our standards?
Eric Janse
View Eric Janse Profile
Eric Janse
2021-06-10 11:11
Either they didn't have a headset sent by the House or they were using a headset that was not approved by the House. Obviously, there are improvements to be made in this area. The difficulty is always having the time to send headsets to witnesses.
Lastly, we have put in place a process in collaboration with Mr. Aubé's team, which has approved a list of good headsets. When we don't have time to send a headset to witnesses, we encourage them to buy one themselves and then we reimburse them. We hope this will help us to have a better success rate on future dashboards.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Good.
The last question I have on this part is about page 6.
When witnesses come to committee and they don't have headsets or they don't have the equipment, what happens?
Are witnesses automatically invited to reappear? Has there been testimony without headsets, and therefore without interpretation?
Eric Janse
View Eric Janse Profile
Eric Janse
2021-06-10 11:12
If there are any problems during the pre-test or on the day of the meeting itself, or if the witness simply does not have a headset, the clerk will notify the committee chair following discussions with the technical team. The chair can provide this information to the committee, and it is up to the committee to decide what to do.
The committee can decide to hear the witness anyway, or, as you suggested, they can ask that witness to come back to another hearing when they are better equipped. This is really at the discretion of the committee, which decides how it will proceed.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Fine.
Yesterday, at the Standing Liaison Committee, someone said that most committees have adopted housekeeping motions that ask the committee chair to tell members at the beginning of the meeting whether the tests have been done and whether the witnesses have the necessary equipment. This makes things easier.
It was noted that few chairs made this statement at the beginning of the meeting. Knowing in advance that witnesses do not have helmets or that they have technical difficulties can be helpful. It allows the committee to make a decision at the outset rather than finding that the witness does not have everything they need during their testimony. Members may be too uncomfortable to interrupt.
So committee chairs have been asked to indicate this at the beginning of the sitting. I encourage the whips to remind all committee members that it is important to know this at the beginning of the meeting so that good decisions can be made. This prevents witnesses from appearing without the right equipment, which has implications for our interpreters.
The other point I wanted to make is to you, Mr. Chair.
It concerns your ruling in the House on Monday, June 7, regarding the misconduct of the member for Pontiac and your willingness to ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to look into this matter. I had discussions with my colleagues prior to the Board of Internal Economy meeting. I had invited you to review the decision to put the April 14 incident on the agenda, and I note that this item is absent. So I wanted to thank you for listening to all the members of the committee.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
You're welcome.
Now we'll go to Mr. Richards.
Mr. Deltell will be next.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
I had two items of my own, but I'm not sure if I misunderstood what Ms. DeBellefeuille said. Was she suggesting that we put something up for discussion?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
No, the item relating to the April 14 has been removed from the agenda.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
She's just confirming that she's agreed to that.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Exactly. She's just thanking us for listening to her point.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. Thank you, I appreciate that.
I have two things to raise.
The first one is that we have been provided some information with regard to technical incidents, etc., at committees. That brings to mind for me that there has been some discussion around here about fairly significant technical upgrades that are required this summer that would make resources unavailable for a couple of different and fairly lengthy periods of time.
I wondered if we could get a bit more information on what those upgrades entail. Specifically, we've been operating in a hybrid manner and we've seen some challenges with the availability of resources as a result. Particularly in the last couple of days, we've seen the other three whips agreeing to cancel meetings to ensure that certain other committee meetings occur. Of course, that's not something I've agreed to, but it has happened, and obviously it's unfortunate to say the least when we are in situations where committees are not able to do the work they're supposed to do.
I would assume that with vaccination rates rising and whatnot, we'll probably be seeing an end to hybrid sittings of committees within a fairly short period of time, but I am curious about the technical upgrades being done this summer. Are some of them related to hybrid sittings? Are technical upgrades needed for other reasons? Maybe you could just elaborate a bit on what those upgrades are and why they're required. I'm not certain I have enough information.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay, we'll pass that on to Monsieur Aubé.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I do have one other thing that—
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
It's fine, we can—
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is it related to this one?
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
No, they're separate. I just want you to know that I still want the floor.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay, we'll come back to you again.
Monsieur Aubé.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2021-06-10 11:18
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Richards, thank you for the question.
We're planning two windows of maintenance for the summer.
The plan is for the first period to deal with updates to the chamber systems and committee rooms. We haven't had a chance since the end of January to do the necessary maintenance for security reasons, because all the systems we're using are actually connected to the Internet.... There's some patching to be done. We tried to do it, sir, during the March and April time frame and then we ran into a lot of issues because we didn't have the appropriate time frames to do the testing required before releasing these into production. So we have moved all of our scheduled windows to two windows this summer.
The first one is right after the adjournment of the session, hopefully after June 23 to the end of June and the beginning of July, and then the last window, sir, is for what we are calling a “multimedia operation centre” where we distribute all content to Canada. All of the maintenance for that system hasn't been done in over eight months, and it's required so that we can properly support the chamber, distribute the content to Canada, and also ensure that we have a secure environment for the operations to work.
It's not about our people, sir. It's really about making sure that the systems are up and functioning and that we can do the necessary testing so that we can minimize the number of incidents we have in the chamber or committee rooms. Those are our plans.
Usually we do this on a year-to-year basis. We've been doing it since I've been at the House, for more than 20 years. We've always used these windows because we've had the opportunity in the summer, but this year has been a little bit different because we haven't had a lot of the windows we usually do. That's why we're focusing on this at this time.
Having said that, sir, if ever there's a need for the House to come back, if there's ever a need for another priority, as we did at Christmas, we have plans in place to make sure that Parliament can sit. If ever it is the decision of Parliament to bring back the House, we will certainly make sure that you can do your work as usual.
That's my commitment to the House, Mr. Speaker.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll go back to Mr. Richards, and then over to Mr. Julian.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, I just have one very short follow-up. I appreciate the information, which is very informative and helpful.
You mentioned that if there were a need for the House to sit, you would make sure it could happen. That's obviously incredibly important.
Would the same apply if there were emergency committee meetings? Would you be able to find a way to make sure they can operate as well?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2021-06-10 11:20
It would be our goal to do so.
Our preference is to keep that window open if we can. If the House decides that we need to have this to happen, sir, we've always found ways to make it happen. We're going to try to do our best to make this happen, sir.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Sure. I appreciate.
I know you always have done everything you can, so I appreciate that. Thank you for the information.
I have another matter I want to raise quickly.
We have lost or will soon be losing three of the most senior procedural clerks in the House: Colette Labrecque-Riel, Beverley Isles, and as I understand now, André Gagnon. We're going to see his retirement soon. These are three of the most senior people we have. I think there's close to 100 years of combined experience there. One of them, literally, wrote the book on procedure.
First of all, we want to acknowledge and thank them for all of the work and the contributions they have made to this place. However, I suppose it also raises a question on which I want to see if we can get some information brought back to the board. I understand that each of them has at different times been on medical leave in the last few years and then have ultimately decided to retire early. They all strike me as pretty young despite their lengthy years of service, so it seems as though those retirements could be coming a little early. Losing even one of them is a huge loss to this House, but quite frankly, losing three of them is probably an immeasurable loss.
Can we get a report back on whether there has been any work done on determining whether there are any internal factors that have caused such a significant and unexpected turnover? Is there anything being done both to try to mitigate their loss and as to whether there's anything we need to correct to ensure that we're not finding something occurring that's causing three of our more senior people to choose to leave in what I would say seem to be early retirements?
Can we ask that the administration examine that and come back with something on that? If there's any comment now, I'd be happy to hear if anything has been done.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
It's a fair request. We'll ask the administration to come up with a report and find out if there's anything—
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
That's unless there's anything to report now. If not—
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Ms. Laframboise, did you want to add something?
Would you have something to report on that, or should we come back with a report?
Michelle Laframboise
View Michelle Laframboise Profile
Michelle Laframboise
2021-06-10 11:23
Certainly, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
The only comment I would make at this time is, in my experience, people retire when they can and when they want to. If you have any questions specific to Mr. Gagnon's retirement plans, I would suggest that you ask him what his plans are, but he is eligible for and has opted to retire.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Given that, I think it would be good if we could ask that there be.... Any time you lose three senior people, especially when they seem to retire earlier than what would be expected, it's probably wise to examine whether there's anything internal that is at play there. Maybe we need to examine those things and determine whether there's anything we can do to ensure that we don't lose other folks to early retirement like we have these three.
It could well be that, in this case, it's just coincidence that three of our most senior people have all made that decision, but it's always important. I know if I were to lose three senior people from an organization, I would want to examine whether there's anything we need to do to ensure that we don't have further occurrences.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's a fair request. We'll put that forward and see about getting a report back.
I do concur with you. They are very useful and they will be missed when they leave.
Mr. Julian.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would reiterate Mr. Richards' request. I am concerned with high turnover. When we lose three people, who've given so much to the House, in rapid order in what seems to be their stepping down early, it's a matter of concern.
I thank you, Mr. Chair, for responding to Mr. Richards' request. I also believe that at the next BOIE meeting, perhaps in camera, we should have a discussion to determine if this is something we should be concerned about.
I want to come back to Mr. Aubé, because we have two dynamics at work. One is the new variants. I don't think we can, at this point, anticipate that in September, if there is no election, the House would reconvene as if the pandemic didn't exist. We're all hopeful that, eventually, the pandemic will die down, but the variants have meant that there's been a third wave, and there's anticipation now of a fourth wave this summer. We have to plan for that, of course.
There are discussions taking place in other forums about how that will look over the course of the summer.
Perhaps I missed this, Mr. Aubé, but I'd really like to get the dates at this point when committees can meet. Committees will be meeting over the summer—there's no doubt about that. There will be issues that will come up that require committee participation. I gather there are provisions if the House is recalled, and that's good. Committees will meet.
You mentioned June 23, and it wasn't clear to me what the end date was in that first preference for the administration that committees not schedule meetings. You then talked about further dates, but I didn't grab the dates that were mentioned.
What are the very concrete blackout periods that we can pass on to our caucuses of the administration's preferences of when not to hold emergency committee meetings during the course of the summer?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2021-06-10 11:28
We're currently looking at two windows. I want to be specific with exact dates. We are looking for a break for committees from June 30 to July 18. The other window is from August 21 to September 13. These were the two windows we requested the House leaders to consider.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you for that.
I think Mr. Richards asked this question, as well.
In the case of a committee that absolutely needs to meet during that period—we live in times where emergencies arise—is there a provision for a committee to meet even during these periods?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2021-06-10 11:29
As I committed to Mr. Richards, and to the Speaker, in the case of an emergency, we would certainly make the appropriate arrangements for a committee to sit, if required.
We're asking... If all committees were to sit at the pace they're sitting right now, we wouldn't be able to provide maintenance during that time.
That's the comment I'm making here.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Are there any other comments regarding item number 2?
In that case, we will proceed to item number 3, improvements to the Printing and Mailing Services program.
We'll now proceed to Ms. Kletke.
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