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View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Chair, I wasn't sure if this should be in the minutes or the business.
I asked a question at the last meeting when we were deciding on an exception for printing costs. I asked what the difference in the costs of the postage would have been for Mr. Waugh if he had used the House's preferred rate as compared to when he chose to do that mailing himself. I'm just wondering if that information has been found and if it could be shared with the group.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, I remember going through that.
Who will be able to answer that with detail?
Monsieur Patrice.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-07-10 13:10
The information has been sent. I'm just trying to locate the information right now.
I don't know, Rebekah, if you have the information right at your fingertips. We're looking for it.
Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-07-10 13:10
I'll find it and I'll pull it up.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
If it's okay with everyone, we'll proceed. When it does come up, we'll interrupt and present the information.
Does that work, Mr. Strahl?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-07-10 14:14
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We have located the information. The mailing cost for the member at that time was $6,590 at the rate he was charged. If he'd been charged the preferred bulk rate, it would have been $177. The difference was $6,400, essentially.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, I guess. That's a tough bill to swallow, but thank you.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other comments on that?
Everybody's had the chance to swallow? They can talk now? Okay. Very good.
We'll now address item five, the extension of temporary exceptions for advertising and Internet service expenses.
Mr. Paquette, you have the floor.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:15
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
At their meeting in April, the board approved temporary measures to include additional detailed information in their advertising around local, community, government and not-for-profit organizations that could be of interest to their constituents with regard to COVID-related matters, and to be able to solicit donations for registered Canadian charities, also pertaining to COVID-related programs. This decision also included the possibility for members to reimburse Internet service charges to their employees who are now teleworking. This decision had an expiry date of June 30. Given the continued challenges around COVID, the administration is proposing that the board approve the extension of these temporary measures until the end of the fiscal year.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
I support this. I would like, perhaps, the staff to come back. One of the provisions here that we are not extending is the ability to do printing in our constituencies, to have a local printer provide services. I would like to see a report on what the uptake was and what we found the cost differences were. I personally did two householders in that time frame, both printed locally, which helped a struggling local business and I had a great interaction with them. I've heard from a number of my colleagues as well who quite liked that arrangement. I would like to get an idea of how it went, perhaps for a future meeting.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay, very good.
I'm just getting a message here that that's not a problem. The report will be sent.
Maybe I'll defer to Monsieur Patrice. What time frame would we be looking at for that report to come in?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-07-10 14:18
I think it would be beneficial for the board to do it in two steps, so we'll send a report, in terms of information that could come up in the following weeks, and maybe come to the board itself at its meeting to have the discussion and the exchange.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I agree with Mr. Strahl.
In terms of the printing in the riding, normally, since we are on the other side of the Rockies, 5,000 kilometres away from Ottawa, printed material that goes out takes weeks to arrive in B.C. With local printing, it landed on the steps of people's homes in New Westminster—Burnaby five days after being printed. That's five days compared to often a month. I'd be very interested in seeing that report as well, because there is no doubt, for those of us who are far away from Ottawa, that it makes a huge difference in terms of our constituents actually getting timely information, and around COVID-19 that was extremely important.
I certainly agree with renewing this, and I would even suggest extending it in terms of printing. My concern is that we're putting these on MOBs. Again, for example, the cost of Internet access isn't the same in ridings across the country. In an urban riding like mine, it will cost a lot less than it might in a rural or northern riding. It seems to me, for fairness, so that all members of Parliament are treated the same way, that it would make a lot more sense to have those costs go onto the central budget than to have them assumed by members of Parliament, meaning that members of Parliament in certain parts of the country will have to pay more out of their MOB, which means they will have fewer resources to actually serve their constituents.
I'd like to put that out for the appreciation of the board. We'll also get a sense of whether the administration would have any opposition to having those Internet costs absorbed centrally.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:20
Yes. I think part of the discussion and decision to put it into the MOB was that when we established the possibility of charging them for Internet connection for their employees, it was one way of just putting it out there, having that permission and not putting a lot of instructions or parameters around it.
We know there are various Internet packages out there that are often in the form of bundles, with different speeds or data capacity. By putting it into the MOB, we gave the responsibility to the members to ensure that whatever was being charged was appropriate for their needs. If we were to put it into the central budget—and, given the current circumstances, I can't say I would have any objections—we would have to establish the parameters and have those approved by the board to make sure that this is what we are accepting will be charged for the central budget.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. Are there any other questions?
Do we have approval for this? Is everybody fine with this?
I can see that you're fine.
We're expecting this report in a few weeks.
We are on number six, “Annual report on the House of Commons policy on preventing and addressing harassment for 2019-2020”.
Ms. Daigle, you have the floor.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do we have any questions or comments?
I see none.
Do we have approval of the report?
I see heads nodding. Very good.
We will now move on to item 8, which pertains to a request for exception for outdoor furniture.
Mr. Paquette, you may go ahead.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:32
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
A member is asking the board to consider his request for reimbursement for outdoor furniture. The space the member is leasing includes exclusive access to an outdoor area. In order to use the space, the member purchased two tables and six chairs, for a total of $2,958.
Given that this was a non-standard purchase, the administration completed its assessment in accordance with the existing board policy. We concluded that this type of furniture is not typically needed in an office, nor is it needed in order to enable a member to carry out their parliamentary function. So that is our conclusion, that it is not office furniture. Furthermore, we conclude that it is not transferrable, since members' constituency offices do not typically include outdoor space that can be furnished and used by the member. As a result of our assessment, the expense was denied.
As per the member's request, we are seeking the board's direction on the review for this matter.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's not so much a question I have, as it is a comment.
My understanding is that the rules make no mention of patio furniture. We would be setting an unacceptable precedent, were we to grant the request. As mentioned, this type of furniture does not count as office equipment. If we agree to reimburse a member for patio furniture, next, we could have someone asking to be reimbursed for a barbecue, and it would never end. I think denying the expense was the right decision.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Did the member contact the House administration before making the purchase? I don't mean through a formal letter, but did they make any sort of inquiry? It's clearly an unusual request.
My constituency office has an outdoor space. Would I be allowed to buy patio furniture? It's clear from looking at the file that there weren't any formal inquiries, but did someone from the member's office or the member, himself, reach out to finance services about it?
Once I know that, I'll comment further.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:35
According to the notes in my report, the member didn't ask for any information, formally or informally, before buying the furniture.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
All right. Thank you.
This is a member with considerable experience, not just at the federal level. I think reimbursing a member for the purchase of patio furniture would set the wrong precedent. Had the member made some sort of attempt to contact the House administration, or had there been some ambiguity as to whether the expense was eligible, I'd be more inclined to consider the member's request.
The Board of Internal Economy should advise all members, especially new ones, that if they want to make an unusual purchase, they need to submit a formal request beforehand to make sure it's an eligible expense.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Paquette, would you care to comment?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-07-10 14:37
No, thank you.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you.
I certainly agree with the previous two colleagues who agree with the recommendation from the House administration. I think if you go down this road, perhaps members who do not have patio space.... Obviously, under no circumstances would the House administration approve creating a patio space for an existing office. To say that your office has room and you could put a little patio in a courtyard or expand your space to the outdoors—I don't think that is a reasonable expense for taxpayers.
We had an example earlier today of where a new member had an additional cost of $6,400. It was absorbed within this member's office budget, so you could argue that there was no additional cost to taxpayers. It was still within the existing budget. It seems to me this may be where members believe they have more experience, or they believe they know the rules, or they believe they won't be captured by the members' allowances and services manual. We're dealing with a number of people who were here in a previous regime, when there was a lot more discretion given to members on how they spent their office budgets, or we're dealing with new members who either don't lean on staff or don't seek information from their whips early enough in the process.
I would say this simply as a global measure. It seems to me that when the House administration is onboarding people, clearly, with the number of cases we're dealing with where people are printing and mailing householders on their own or buying patio furniture, there almost needs to be a “do not” circled in bright red ink. There's clearly some disconnect between what members believe they can do early on and what they can actually do. Ignorance of the rules should really not be an excuse here. We're here to make those judgment calls, but it seems to me that perhaps we can review this with the goal of avoiding these kinds of discussions in the future. I know that this is rare and is not a huge percentage, but clearly there are some members who believe they can do things that they clearly should not be doing. I'm hoping we can find a way to avoid those situations in the future.
I just make that as a broad comment, perhaps for the team that looks at onboarding. I wonder whether that needs to occur before the member is sworn in, almost as soon as they're announced as preliminary winners from Elections Canada, almost a “spend no money, do nothing, until you've talked to House administration financial management”. I throw it out there as maybe a way we can improve that system.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I listened to what my fellow members had to say. They seem to be focusing on the patio set, not on the item or its purpose. I more or less agree with them. I know this won't change the outcome, but it's still worth explaining.
Yes, he's an experienced member, but it didn't occur to him that the expense would be denied, because he was focused on the opportunity to meet with constituents in a safe outdoor setting with sturdy furniture made in Quebec of recycled materials. The furniture can also be used indoors. You saw the photos in the file. It's not a conventional patio set any member of the public can buy. It's special.
The Board of Internal Economy also needs to consider the fact that members in the regions can practise politics differently than those in heavily populated areas. More and more, members have office spaces with access to areas where they can meet with constituents outdoors. For example, my office is in a heritage building with a beautiful large gallery. I might've decided to buy chairs so I could meet with constituents outside, while still on the property where my constituency office is located. I think the member was under the impression that, if he furnished the space, it would give him a place where he could meet with more constituents or where people could eat, while adhering to physical distancing, especially during the pandemic.
Given the cost and the unusual nature of the expense, I see why he should have sought permission first, which he didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think we should be closed to the idea. I'll come back to what Pablo Rodriguez said about setting precedents and members buying barbecues. Let's not forget how much many members spend to put on barbecues for their constituents. It might save taxpayers money if we organized our own barbecues.
All that to say, it's not an idea we should reject out of hand. I don't think the Board of Internal Economy should take an overly conservative view of the matter. It should focus on the fact that practising politics differently also means providing access to spaces that may not have been available a few years ago.
Be that as it may, I realize I'm probably the only one who thinks we should broaden our view of a member's role and the ways they communicate with their constituents.
I know this request is going to be denied, but I want to make clear that I agreed with my fellow member's rationale. We will accept the Board of Internal Economy's decision.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Any further comments?
Do we have a consensus, or do we have approval for the report that's being presented to us right now?
Mr. Julian, did you have something to add to that? I noticed your hand went up.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I want to be sure I understand. Is the House administration recommending that we not allow the expense to come out of the member's office budget?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, that's exactly right. Do we have unanimous agreement on the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Anthony Rota: All right.
I'll just clarify that, if the recommendation isn't unanimous, the existing decision stands, in other words, the request is denied.
We're going to go in camera. I'm going to ask everyone to sign out for a few minutes, and we'll start again in 10 minutes. It's now 2:46. Let's say we will start again in camera at 2:55, if that's okay. That should work out well.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I want to welcome everyone.
Welcome to the sixth meeting of the Board of Internal Economy.
I want to thank everyone for coming and for being in our virtual space today. As you know, this is all done through video conference and it is being televised, so we have people out there watching. I'm sure they're all very riveted to the screen. Welcome to everyone who's watching.
We'll start off today with the minutes from our previous meeting. Is everyone okay with the meeting? Are there any comments? Should anything be brought up?
We'll accept the minutes and continue.
Two, is there any business arising from the previous meeting? Okay.
The next step, then, number three, is the ratification of the walk-arounds. The three items were signed by all members in the past couple of weeks.
The first item is communication with constituents during the COVID-19 situation. Is everyone still okay with that? We can ratify it? Good, that one's done.
The second item is House of Commons preventative measures during the COVID-19 situation. Is everybody fine with that? Then we'll continue.
The third item is constituency office expenses related to COVID-19 prevention in the workplace. Is everybody fine with that as well?
Yes, Mr. Strahl.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
I'm sorry, but just going back a bit—we kind of cruised through this—I don't believe I signed off on the “communicating with constituents” part. We moved quite quickly through this, and I'm trying to follow along on my iPhone. I have a question on this part of the agenda.
I guess printing and mailing services restarted today. The previous policy allowed us to print materials in our ridings until June 30. I just want to make sure we're still being allowed to print materials in our ridings until June 30. I'm a little unclear as to whether or not that's allowed for all products. Is it still strictly for COVID-19-related communications? How strictly is that being interpreted?
I know that a lot of our colleagues will want to move ahead, but I just want to make sure we aren't being too restrictive on printing in the ridings scenario. I think it will help clear the backlog right now if we do allow some flexibility for printing to occur in the ridings. I just want clarification on how that clause is being interpreted.
Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-06-01 15:09
The purpose of our presentation today is to give an update on the original “communicating with constituents during the COVID-19 situation” initiative, as well as to ask for an extension of the policy changes that were put into effect surrounding that initiative. As well, we'll be talking a little about some adjustments we've made internally to the services we'll be providing to MPs.
Very quickly on your question, Mr. Strahl, on the content for the current initiative that allows MPs to print externally, we are reviewing that content and ensuring there is some COVID-19, but we are not applying a strict percentage on the content to allow it to go ahead or not with external printers.
During the implementation of the communicating with constituents program, we've been able to serve the needs of 150 MPs. Actually, this week, it's up to 200 requests that we've received. Those requests are currently at various stages of production. Those 150 requests alone have generated over 1,300 emails with external suppliers and MPs, and a lot of administrative back and forth. On average, there have been 12 days between the submission of a request and the delivery of the product to external providers for delivery to Canada Post, around the same time frames we see with our own printing and mailing services time frames.
There have been several other challenges related to the program. To your point, Mr. Strahl, we see expanding content needs and other service needs coming in, such as envelopes and stationery. The availability of Canada Post has been a challenge, as well as availability of external suppliers in some regions of the country. The challenges are outlined in detail in the submission you received last week.
Even though we've been able to find solutions to some of the challenges with the program, we have still decided to reopen the printing and mailing services to meet the needs of MPs. We will be reopening with a limited format in order to continue to expedite the production time frames and distribution of materials.
Another key aspect of limiting the formats will allow us, as the House administration, to manage our staffing levels and respect physical distancing protocols on the floor of our production facility. We keep the health and safety of our employees front of mind in this decision. Other services, such as envelope processing and personalized stationery, will also be available to members. The program approved by the board on April 17 will continue to be available to members to communicate COVID-19-related messages with external service providers until the end date originally approved by the board.
The decision we're seeking from you today is to consider extending the policy changes related to the inclusion of logos and COVID-19-related messages from local community, government or not-for-profit organizations that would be of interest to constituents and to encourage donations for registered Canadian charities on matters related to COVID-19 in printing content for the remainder of the fiscal year, whether it's printed internally or externally.
We look forward to expanding the suite of printing services to meet the evolving communication needs of MPs, and I will be happy to take your questions.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Actually, I want to make sure I understand what this is all about. You're proposing to extend until the end of the fiscal year, March 2021, the suspension of regulations and policy that were supposed to end on June 30.
You also suggest that members of Parliament could communicate information related to COVID-19 through advertisements for food banks, or solicit donations that are related to COVID-19. Having said that, will we also be able to communicate content that is not related to COVID-19 in future parliamentary mailings?
Before the House was suspended, several members had already sent business cards or stationery to the printing department. Will the work of the printing department resume where it left off or will requests related to other aspects be set aside altogether?
Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-06-01 15:15
Briefly, I would say yes to both questions.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
In short, if members have put work on hold, work which was delayed because of the suspension, that work will resume. Do I understand you correctly?
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
I apologize for jumping ahead, Mr. Rota. Clearly, I should have just waited for item number four. I appreciate Rebekah's presentation.
Again, we're extending the policy until March 2021, but we are only extending the external printing exemption until June 30. Is that what we agree to?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:02
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am here today to present a request for exception pertaining to a member's expense claim for external printing. The submission provides a summary of the timelines and the facts of the situation.
The expense claim is for external printing in excess of the 5,000 copy limit allowed in the current member's policy. The member incurred these expenses during the period after the internal printing facilities were closed and before the board approved its alternative measures during the COVID pandemic.
The member's policy requires that all printing in excess of 5,000 similar copies must be done through our internal printing facilities to ensure conformity to the policy and, very importantly, access to the preferred mail rates. The current policy also makes the member personally responsible for any amount in excess of the allowed limits.
Given the current situation, the member is asking the Board of Internal Economy to consider a departure from existing practices. The administration proposed two options in the submission. The first option would be to maintain current practices and have the member be personally liable for the excess amount. The second option would be to allow an exceptional waiver and that the excess amount be charged to the budget of the member's office.
We are seeking direction from the Board of Internal Economy on this matter.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-06-01 16:03
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's not a question; it's a comment.
We make a lot of requests for people who make mistakes, and it's very uncommon that I would suggest a member bring this forward.
I appreciate that normally these matters wouldn't come forward, but after I spoke with Mr. Blois, I realized it was an honest mistake that was happening around wanting to get out information on COVID-19. We did change the policy a couple of weeks later, and in this case, the member is proposing that he charge his member's—
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-06-01 16:06
I was just going to say that the member acknowledges that he made a mistake. I just feel that it was an honest mistake. It was an effort to communicate around COVID-19, and I know there was a lot of anxiousness that a lot of members had. The policy for external printing was changed a few weeks later.
The member is not proposing to charge the House of Commons central budget, but is suggesting that he charge his own MOB. Given that it would go against his own MOB, and given the fact that I think the error was made innocently, and having had conversations with him, I would seek approval from the board to provide support on that basis.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mr. Paquette.
Are many of the members who inadvertently made this mistake paying for the expense without having requested an exception from the Board of Internal Economy?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:07
I am currently aware of only one case, but it is not at all on the same scale. We are only talking about a few hundred dollars. It is not on the same scale as the situation we are talking about.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Quickly, I know what we're going to do here is to charge the member's office budget. It didn't take a lot of work to figure out that a lot of the staff members had come over from Mr. Brison, so I'm a little unsure. I've been involved in politics at the staff and MP levels for a number of years, and you've never been able to do what he did, certainly not without the approval of PAMS.
He was a month ahead of where the policy was, but there was apparently enough COVID stuff in there to allow it. Was the printing expense within the acceptable range? I know that issue was raised in our previous document. The cost for some external suppliers was way too high and PAMS had to go back and either say no or negotiate. Was the range acceptable?
I certainly have never heard of members going out on their own and mailing things under anything other than the negotiated frank rate or the rate for unaddressed ad mail. What was the additional cost because the member went outside of the contract for unaddressed ad mail that the House of Commons has with Canada Post?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:10
The member did meet the requirement. There was COVID-19 content in the document. The printing itself was within reasonable parameters, and the cost for printing, although a little higher than we'd seen, was not excessive.
The big part of the cost was the post, because, from my understanding, it was the printer who went to Canada Post and got the normal bulk rate, no corporate discounts whatsoever. Canada Post was not aware that this mailing was for a member of Parliament, so it didn't invoke any of the advantages we have for that. That's where the large majority of his excess cost came from. It's the postage, because it was a third party that mailed it for him.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
That's my question. Are we allowed to use our MOB for bulk mailing? We're trying to retroactively cover him a bit here because of what he did. He made a mistake, but does the mistake ever extend to...? What is the cap on postage? Is that the 5,000? Is that where that comes in? I'm trying to understand this.
We want to give some grace when mistakes are made, even though we might have questions about them, but the mailing part is concerning to me because we have never had a policy allowing us to contract for bulk mail, not that I'm aware of. That is what I'd like to know. What was the difference in cost between what he did and what would have been done had he waited a month and been approved?
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-06-01 16:12
I don't have the exact difference between what it would have cost had we processed it ourselves and what it cost him doing it on his own.
The 5,000 limit is just on the printed materials. There has to be more than 50% difference in the material if you are going to print more than 5,000. At this point, we really don't have that many specifics in our guidelines on the limitations of using any kind of mail couriers for packages or things of that nature. We don't have that in our parameters. It's really just about the printed copies.
I don't have the specifics of what would have been the cost for us, at this point. We can probably get it for you after the meeting.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
I would just say, if we take members at their word that it was an honest mistake, and obviously the buck stops with those of us who sign of on these things, so, if it's charged to his MOB.... We don't want to put a member out $13,000 or whatever it would be, but I would simply say I hope that when other members come with the same honest mistake type of defence, that we extend similar grace in those situations and not simply act based on what colour hat we wear around the table.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Number 7.
This item concerns the use of House resources to hold an event in a constituency office.
Mr. Julian, do you have a question?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Let's put Mr. Julian on the list.
Before continuing the discussion on item number 7, the use of House resources to hold an event in a constituency office, I want to inform the Board of Internal Economy that a letter was received yesterday afternoon from the member concerned.
In a letter to the clerk, the member indicated that the event was parliamentary in nature and that no partisan activities were held at or during the event. However, the member takes full responsibility for the error contained in the initial invitation and has enclosed a cheque reimbursing the cost of the event.
Mr. Julian, did you have any comments?
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I'm glad to hear that. I thought the email was not good, but the member's response was very quick in notifying the clerk, in withdrawing the email and also in submitting the cheque. Unless other members have comments, I have no further comments.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other comments? If we have unanimous consent on this one, we'll move on.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Anthony Rota: Very good.
We'll pause for about two minutes and 45 seconds to allow everyone to leave while we go in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Duly noted—and will do, I'm told.
Are the minutes approved otherwise?
They're approved. Okay.
Is there any business arising from the previous meeting?
Not seeing any, we will now move on to the modernization of policies related to communicating with constituents.
During the board's meeting on February 28, 2019, changes to the ten percenter program were presented for approval. Members discussed the introduction of a limit on the number of mailings that an MP can distribute under the proposed new program.
The initial proposal included a limit of six times the number of households in a member's constituency per calendar year. It was agreed that further examination of this limit was required. It's my understanding that since the last meeting, a revised proposal to establish the limit at eight times the number of households in a member's constituency per calendar year has been put forward and is supported. If this is indeed the case, the administration will monitor volumes and financial forecasts and return to the board for direction in any given year, if required.
Is it the will of the board to approve this revised proposal?
I think I'm seeing “yes”, so that's agreed.
That finishes point number three. You guys are really good.
Mr. Strahl.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Perhaps we could just have some clarification. I have the package of the different constituency mailers that are now available. Obviously, the 30-day rule now comes into effect, which we're used to having with our householder package.
Could you maybe just describe for our members, who I'm sure will be watching and also reading this transcript later, the differences between a constituency mailer and a householder, and whether or not the 30-day exclusionary period will apply just for certain types of mail? For instance, could you do two householders 30 days apart and a constituency mailer in between? Is there a coordination of those printed pieces, or are they on separate tracks?
Benoit Giroux
View Benoit Giroux Profile
Benoit Giroux
2019-04-11 11:47
Thank you, Mr. Strahl. Indeed they're on separate tracks. They are two different programs and they will remain two different programs. The main difference is the householder. You use one year of your allocation of a householder and you can cover your full riding. If you decide to do less in the householder, then it's your allocation. You use your allocation even if you do less.
For constituency mailings, you can break it out. Let's say you have a riding of 50,000. You can decide to send 5,000 in a given area of your riding, the next day 10,000 somewhere else, and so on and so on, up to your full household. That resets every 30 days. You can indeed do one householder and a full constituency mail at the same time, because the counter is for each program. They are not dependent on each other.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
I think Mr. Strahl is smiling, so I take it he agrees too. Good.
Thank you very much.
We are at the fifth point on the agenda: occupying, managing and vacating constituency offices.
On that topic, we'll hear from Daniel Paquette, Chief Financial Officer, Philippe Dufresne, Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, and José Fernandez, Deputy Chief Financial Officer.
Mr. Paquette, the floor is yours.
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2019-04-11 12:10
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I'm here today to seek the board's approval on policy changes that we hope continue to contribute to support members in operating their constituency offices.
Our consultations with the members indicated that some current policies are unclear to them and could be more effective in providing that necessary support to manage their constituency offices. During our consultations, members expressed the need for increased support in vacating, moving, occupying and managing their constituency offices.
Specifically with these proposed policy changes, we aim to increase flexibility for members who are moving offices, ensure a smooth transition for office moves at the time of an election, clarify constituency office-related policies, and provide tools and support for the preparation of their office leases.
After reviewing all the information that has been compiled, the administration proposes certain changes regarding constituency offices.
Our first proposal is to allow more time for newly elected members to make decisions about their office locations. Members do feel pressure to select a new office very quickly after an election, and they find that the current four-month window for deciding where their office is going to be is not enough time to find that suitable office. We propose extending the period of centrally paid moves, following the election, to one full year in order to provide that additional flexibility.
Our second proposal is to align the winding-up period of both the parliamentary and the constituency offices to 21 days.
This is based on previous decisions of the Board of Internal Economy regarding the allocation of constituency office leases to the House of Commons Administration and on recent decisions of the board to allow members of Parliament to retain their employees up to 14 days after a general election, to better support members when closing and vacating their offices.
The administration should be allowed to propose that resigning members and members who are not re-elected vacate their parliamentary and constituency offices no later than 21 calendar days after the date of their resignation or the date of the general election. This would allow newly elected MPs to access offices earlier, without imposing an undue burden on MPs who have to vacate offices.
Additionally, we propose to provide additional support to members in selecting the appropriate office space. Members are encouraged to choose an existing office space that is already set up as an office to be used for that purpose. We propose to assist members in choosing a suitable office location by listing elements that an existing office should contain, such as a reception area, security measures and network capabilities.
To further help members choose that suitable location, we also encourage members to use a professional appraiser. This is a flat-fee service, and it would provide an estimate of an office space and its market value, and evaluate whether it's compliant with the necessary office elements previously mentioned.
Additionally, some office spaces chosen may require extensive renovations, creating long-term pressure on the member's budget. We propose that a priority be, before initiating the renovations, that the member be required to negotiate with their landlord and see whether these kinds of renovations really should be part of leasehold improvements, which are typically paid for by the landlord, although there are renovation expenses that are not covered by the landlord, and these would be charged to the member's office budget in the fiscal in which they are incurred. This would reduce the long-term pressure on the member's budget.
We are also proposing to amend the timelines for completing renovations.
Members of Parliament can currently undertake renovations at any time. As a result, there may be situations where MPs undertake renovations just before a general election. If they are not re-elected, the return on investment is not necessarily advantageous.
Our proposal is to limit the completion of renovation work to no later than three years after the date of a general election, or 12 months before the expiry of the lease. This would protect MPs from excessive use of resources that would not be available to them.
Next, we propose providing members additional mandatory and recommended clauses for inclusion in their constituency office leases. The proposed clauses allow members to terminate their constituency office lease in the case of landlord wrongdoing. They allow the House administration to be notified of any changes to leases, which will allow support to members in managing their lease and ensure the constituency office meets new accessibility and occupational health and safety standards.
Both the members and the House of Commons will benefit from the additional protection these clauses will afford.
Members who encounter difficulty including these necessary clauses in the given lease will need to consult the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel for further guidance.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation on this topic. We're ready to answer any questions.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Just quickly, I recognize that the three-year guideline works very well in a majority Parliament situation. Obviously, it's more challenging in a minority. I guess that would fall back to the 12 months. I'm not familiar with this, as both of the times I've been elected, it's been in a majority setting. I know that there are challenges with signing leases with landlords for an indeterminate period of time.
I'm a little confused, though, about members being told to pick an existing space, but then they can have leasehold improvements built into their lease, and renovation costs assigned to their budgets. Those all sound contradictory. Is that just encouraging people, or will the bylaws—the policy—actually prevent some cases where someone might be going into, for instance, a brand-new building, built to suit, with lease incentives and all the rest of it? I'm unclear, from how you described it there. It seemed like there were three or four different options. The first thing said was, “Please choose something that's already built.”
Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2019-04-11 12:16
One of the objectives we're trying to help with here is to provide guidance to members so they are up and running as soon possible. Clearly, if you are not going to be assuming an existing office, you need to find something that is ready for you to move into quickly, that is already an office space and has the basic elements that you need. Minor renovations could be needed to fit your functionality. That's the first step we're hoping members will take, and then be operational as quickly as possible.
After that, clearly it's not always possible, depending on the scenarios, the constituency and finding those offices. The ability to do renovations is there. We want to make sure they are reasonable. We've had situations where members have had to incur significant renovations, and are paying for those over the term of the Parliament. It does tax their office budgets. Then they are limited in being able to do other things.
The guidance will be to talk to us so we can assist you. We have created some additional capacity within my team to provide that. There are experts in this field to help make sure that we do find the right office with you, and that it's up and running quickly.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
I think what you're telling us is that whether they use an existing space or a new space, you're going to provide more suggestion than direction.
Is that right?
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