Interventions in Board of Internal Economy
 
 
 
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View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Ralph Goodale, actually, was here when it was built the first time.
Voices: Oh, oh!
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The fundamental issue of the employer function that MPs also perform, in addition to their role as MPs, has long been discussed at Board of Internal Economy meetings. In fact, both Ms. Daigle and Mr. Parent raised it. Especially in recent years, some unfortunate events have occurred, and everyone has tried to improve processes. In my opinion, Mr. Parent and his team have succeeded in doing extraordinary work in an often difficult context due to the public nature of our duties.
These additional resources would be perfectly appropriate and would improve the services offered to members of all political parties in the House of Commons, professional and confidential services that would help to avoid all kinds of situations that would be less than ideal.
They would also better support MPs in their role as employers. Indeed, with the exception of some MPs who have already managed a business or staff before their election to the House of Commons, few new MPs have experience as employers. However, as soon as they are elected, they are expected to set up a constituency office, hire staff in Ottawa and therefore act as an employer in several respects. Everyone wants to do it properly. In my opinion, these services are truly an ideal way to help MPs, not only those who are already in office, but also those who will one day succeed us in Parliament.
I am therefore fully in favour of these additional resources.
I also wanted to congratulate Mr. Parent and his great team. In recent years, we have all benefited as MPs from their very professional and accessible work. It's a way to take this work even further.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
You have that many on your Facebook, don't you?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Congratulations, Mr. Robert. I agree with my colleagues. It is a very interesting and very well prepared report that gives people an understanding of the work done by all members of the House of Commons.
I would like to offer some words of encouragement.
As the Speaker just pointed out, the Teachers Institute and the Forum for Young Canadians are places where this report could be distributed, either in its current form or a modified version. The communications services team could give that some thought.
The schools in my riding really appreciate the material they receive to encourage young people to participate in the Page Program, and I see the Speaker agrees. This is a time of year when many MPs try informally to get school principals to encourage their best students to register for this program. In the material sent to francophone high school students in New Brunswick, perhaps attention could be drawn to this report or it could be included in some way in grade 12 classes that pertain to law or political, economic or legal institutions, in short, subjects related to the work of Parliament. There are all kinds of programs across the country that address the civic responsibility of youth. Such programs could be used to encourage young people to sign up for the Page Program, which we know is a success. That is just a suggestion.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, I'm sorry for being a couple of seconds late. I was coming from another meeting. Maybe Michel addressed this already.
I appreciate and understand the presentation in terms of the House.
Asking you to speculate is not fair, but I will do it anyway. In terms of what we understand from our colleagues on the Senate side—because we've talked about this at this table before—if our state of readiness is where it is, and it's thanks to all the good work that you describe, do we have a similar comfort that the Senate...? Do we have reason to think they're in a circumstance where they're going to conclude something different in a month from now or two months from now, or are you comfortable, based on what you hear? It could all change. I understand all of that.
I'm curious if people have an insight into whether the Senate process with respect to the train station facility is equally reassuring.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you for the presentation.
I think all of us who have constituents or colleagues who have been able to interact with the guides, the staff the library hires to do the tours, will share my experience, which has been that they are a remarkable group of young women and men. It's a credit to the library and to Parliament that we're able to offer that high-quality service. Visitors I've had a chance to talk to are consistently impressed with the people they meet, and you can pass that on to your colleagues.
As we were discussing, at this time of year we all have school groups. I met one yesterday from a village called Cap-Pelé in my riding in New Brunswick. A bunch of grade 8 kids were here. It's a very busy time of year, and that's probably a function of why booking these tours and so on has to be done so far in advance. As Bardish said, because the Centre Block will likely be closing, the pressure has probably increased the demand on the services.
I like your idea in your presentation of extending the hours, simply because I have the anecdotal impression that a lot of groups would accept to come at a later time of the day or earlier in the day if they could get access. With the restrictions in the West Block that colleagues have talked about, I think that's going to be even more important.
As we see what it looks like after a year of operation, I guess you'd have to come back to this table. The funding issue is always of concern, but I think we should keep a very alert sense to the pressure in demand that's going to come and look at whether it's possible to extend the hours even further than what you're planning or to have additional staff during some of those extended hours.
I think we miss opportunities sometimes, and it's nobody's fault. It's a reality of Parliament's sitting late in the evenings, the security context. I think we should look for maximum opportunities to increase the access as we gain a sense of the first year of the new operation in the West Block, for example. This is a suggestion.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you for the work that you're doing.
I completely agree with our colleagues. I find that following the recommendations and the process you've provided has been helpful to us in many respects. My question is mostly on security issues. You've probably dealt with issues that have caused our colleagues concern on a number of occasions in their constituency offices. On the topic of security and data protection, I imagine that these computers contain an enormous amount of private information on the people who come to visit us in our constituency offices.
Are your concerns around security, or even vulnerability, going up? It's not just a matter of thinking about specific incidents.
If, as the Speaker mentioned, a future internal economy committee should ultimately decide to standardize or centralize the devices, computers and security resources in constituency offices, I hope that these changes will lead to a drop in costs. That would make sense. I hadn't thought of that, since I was focused on the security issue.
In going forward with this standardization, depending on the results of the pilot project, and based on your experience, would you say that the level of security and protection will increase?
Have we properly understood this?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you for your presentation, and especially for the good work you have been doing for so long.
I have had the privilege of sitting on the Board of Internal Economy for a number of years, and I understand something about the scope of your project and the consequences that would ensue from bad decisions. Thank Heavens, I don't believe that we have made any so far, and it is thanks to your work and your expertise. Thank you.
My question is very simple. Mr. Chair, maybe you can answer it; I do not want to appear inappropriate. For example, we talked about moving to the West Block. I know that our colleagues in the Senate will move to Ottawa's former train station. When I talked to them, they told me their concerns, but I don't know if these concerns are warranted, because I don't know if they're up to speed on the details.
In your opinion, what will happen if, for example, we decide to move out in the fall, and the Senate concluded that, for its part, for operational and security reasons, it cannot move out? Both Chambers need to agree to move out.
As I said—and this is in no way formal information—I know that, just like us, they are discussing the same or other issues. However, they exercise their own due diligence with regard to their facilities. As I mentioned, I've been having informal talks for some time now, and I have concluded that they also have some questions and some concerns.
How will we bring the two together? What will happen if they decide that the station and their new facilities are not yet ready to accommodate them, and we move out. How do you see that?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Dufresne, thank you for the presentation.
At the outset, it seems to me that these are perfectly appropriate recommendations. As you said, that will positively change the balance between MPs and employees in terms of the reimbursement of legal fees and protection. In the past, employees did not have access to this type of support. In my opinion, the step you are proposing today is extremely important and positive.
I just have three fairly specific questions, because it's important for everyone to understand a few distinctions.
You said, Philippe, that all of this of course has to be in the discharge of a member's parliamentary function. That's a phrase that we hear at the board often. I think it would be interesting for you to explain why that's the case, and why in the context of other expenditures that necessarily has to be part of the requirement.
The other thing that I think would be useful would be to clarify that when you talk about the $5,000 upfront support available to employees, which I think is a very positive suggestion, the reimbursement of legal fees that you referred to at the conclusion of a particular process has nothing to do with the payment of a settlement. There has been some confusion when people have asked me about whether the board is paying settlements—in order words, monetary awards—separate and apart from reimbursing legal fees that you and your office audit as being proper and being subject to that chart of hourly rates, which the Government of Canada maintains at lower than when our Speaker practised law. He wouldn't have charged such low rates, so congratulations, Philippe.
I think it's important to draw the distinction between the reimbursement of the fees, which are separate and apart from.... Obviously under no circumstances—I would suggest, and I think you can confirm—is the board paying settlement amounts, monetary awards. That clearly is a different discussion that is not part of reimbursing legal fees, but again I've seen people conflating the two in public comments. I thought that was interesting for you to clarify.
Finally, there is, again in the public discussion of this issue, some commentary around why there isn't, in the disclosure, greater transparency, which you're proposing, around these expenditures. Again that is something that I certainly think is positive. There is a concern or a question that's often raised about why we don't use the names of the person, for example, the member, who is being reimbursed. I think I understand, and perhaps you could refer to other similar workplaces—municipal councils or provincial legislatures—that have adopted similar policies to what we're discussing today with regard to why there is a valid reason around some of that disclosure. I suspect and believe it's around inadvertently identifying, for example, people who have been subjected to harassment. It could be used to discourage victims from coming forward. I wonder if you could enlighten us as to why, in your view, that transparency finds the right balance.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Again, Philippe, thank you. I think that strikes the right balance, for the reasons you outlined. I am also pleased that it's consistent with other public institutions and quasi-public institutions that deal with these issues. Frankly, the Senate has, for some time before this board became public, wrestled with this and has found, in my view, the right balance on some of these personal matters.
My question is with respect to security matters. I remember having been on the board after the difficult events in 2014 and there were meetings, for example, with security officials who talked about improvements that were possible, and so on. Would that be a unanimous consent circumstance where, if the security professionals were presenting operational changes or expenditures around security equipment, I assume the board would give its consent? I don't imagine you have those conversations in public.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
And these bylaws go beyond the strict elements of the Parliament of Canada Act, is what you're saying?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
I recall that, at the end of question period, you are the one who is disappointed, Mr. Speaker. You could have felt the same about this meeting of the Board of Internal Economy.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
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