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View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be here.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, I will be presenting the main estimates for fiscal year 2019-2020 for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service. I am joined by officials from both organizations.
Representing the House of Commons administration we have Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons; Michel Patrice, Deputy Clerk, Administration; and Daniel Paquette, Chief Financial Officer.
From the Parliamentary Protective Service, we are joined by Superintendent Marie-Claude Côté, the service's Acting Director; and Robert Graham, the service's Administration and Personnel Officer.
I'll begin, Mr. Chair, by presenting the key elements of the 2019-20 main estimates for the House. These estimates total $503.4 million. This represents a net decrease of $3.6 million compared with the 2018-19 main estimates.
I want to point out—I think members probably know—that the main estimates have been reviewed and approved by the Board of Internal Economy at a public meeting.
The main estimates will be presented along five major themes, corresponding to the handout that you received. The financial impact associated with these themes represents the year-over-year changes from the 2018-2019 Main Estimates.
The five themes are as follows: cost-of-living increases; major investments; conferences, associations and assemblies; MP retiring allowances and MP retirement compensation arrangements; and employee benefit plans.
I'll begin with the funding of $4.9 million that is required for cost-of-living increases. This covers requirements for the House administration, as well as for members' office budgets and House officers' budgets. Ensuring that members and house officers have the necessary resources to meet their evolving needs is essential. The increase to members' office budgets, the House officers' budgets, and the travel status expense account provides members and House officers with the necessary resources to carry out their parliamentary functions on behalf of their constituents. These annual budgetary adjustments are based on the consumer price index.
Additionally, members' sessional allowance and additional salaries are statutory in nature and are adjusted every year, in accordance with the Parliament of Canada Act.
Cost-of-living increases are also essential to recruitment efforts for members, House officers and the House Administration as employers, and funding for these increases is accounted for in the estimates.
I'll now move on to the funding for major investments that the board approved, a net increase of $600,000 in support of major House of Commons investments. In light of the renewal of many parliamentary spaces, investments are also needed to deliver support services to members. One notable example of this service delivery initiative has been the implementation of a standardized approach for computer and printing equipment in constituency offices across the country.
This initiative was launched as a pilot project this year and following the next general election will be implemented in all constituency offices. Its purpose is threefold: to ensure parity between the Hill and the constituencies' computing services, to enhance IT support and security, and to simplify purchasing and life cycling of equipment in constituency offices.
As part of the long-term vision and plan, the Parliamentary Precinct continues to undergo extensive restoration and modernization to support the efficient operations of Parliament and to preserve Canada's heritage buildings.
The recent West Block rehabilitation project and the construction of the new Visitor Welcome Centre were milestone achievements and, in many ways, will serve as models for the upcoming rehabilitation of Centre Block.
The lessons learned from this project's successes can help guide us in restoring our heritage buildings to their former glory while also incorporating the modern functionality required to support Parliament. For the Centre Block project, the House of Commons administration is committed to engaging members to ensure they're involved in discussions on the design and operational requirements for the building during every step of the project from its outset to its completion.
As the heart of our parliamentary democracy, Centre Block of our Parliament Buildings has great symbolic importance to all Canadians. However, it's also a workplace for members and their staff or will be again once the House returns there. Therefore, their continuous involvement will be crucial to the success of this historic undertaking. Along with the board and its working group, this committee will serve as a forum to consult with members about their views, expectations and needs on a regular basis.
Let us now turn to parliamentary diplomacy. The sunsetting of the funds included in the 2018-2019 Main Estimates for conferences and assemblies resulted in a decrease of $1.4 million in the 2019-2020 Main Estimates.
Whether welcoming visiting parliamentarians and dignitaries to the House of Commons or participating in delegations to foreign legislatures and international conferences, MPs play an active role in parliamentary diplomacy. Two important events will be hosted in 2020-21. The 29th annual session of the Parliamentary Assembly, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, will take place in Vancouver, British Columbia, in July 2020. The 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in January 2021. May I say that's an excellent choice. I'd love to take credit for it; I had nothing to do with it, but it's still an excellent choice. Both of them are, of course.
I will now touch on the total funding reduction of $9.3 million for the members of Parliament retiring allowances and members of Parliament retirement compensation arrangements accounts.
The MPs' pension plan serves more than 1,000 active and retired senators and members of the House of Commons. The plan was established in 1952 and is governed by the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. In January 2017, the contribution rates for plan members increased to bring their share of the current service cost to 50%, thus reducing the cost that must be funded by the House of Commons.
The final item included in the House of Commons main estimates is a funding requirement of $1.6 million for employee benefit plans.
In accordance with Treasury Board directives, this non-discretionary statutory expenditure covers costs to the employer for the public service superannuation plan, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, death benefits, and the employment insurance account.
I would now like to present the 2019-20 main estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service, or PPS. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, the budget request for the PPS totals $90.9 million, a modest decrease from the last fiscal year. Within this total, $9.1 million are attributed to statutory requirements, which comprise employee insurance, pension and benefits.
Since the amalgamation of the former parliamentary security services nearly four years ago, the PPS has made important investments and achieved considerable progress in strengthening security on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct.
Mr. Chair, before I speak about their specific funding requirements, I would like to say once again how grateful I am, and I know all members are, for the protection that PPS members provide to everyone who works here and who visits. These men and women strive to promote a safe and positive experience for more than a million visitors each year.
Before each financial cycle, and prior to requesting additional resources, the service conducts a comprehensive analysis of its operational and administrative requirements. In keeping with their strategic priority of sound stewardship, they take every measure to meet the operational needs of both houses of Parliament with existing resources. When additional resources are required, proposals undergo several levels of review and oversight before they are included in the estimates.
For fiscal year 2019-20, the key funding requirements include $1.4 million for 15 full-time equivalents to cover additional posts in new Senate buildings; $775,000 for the establishment of an asset management program to properly maintain security equipment and uniforms; $650,000 to build on existing security investments at the vehicle screening facility, where the service processed an average of 300 vehicles a day last year; $5.5 million in permanent and temporary funding for various payments as a result of labour negotiations; and $600,000 in additional administrative staff in information technology, asset management and communications.
Approximately 92% of the overall annual budget of the service funds the salaries of over 500 uniformed operational members and more than 100 civilian positions. This is in addition to the members of the RCMP who are assigned to the service to provide front-line support.
As the operational lead, the RCMP also provides the service with the necessary operational training. This knowledge transfer from the RCMP to PPS is progressing well, with an increasing number of operational units, such as the mobile response team now being led by the service. For this reason, the service is requesting an additional 70 full-time equivalents through the cost-neutral strategy of reducing RCMP front-line support over the next two years. We'll see that shift happening.
This past year, the service screened nearly a million people, seized 23,000 prohibited or restricted items from visitors, managed hundreds of public demonstrations and events, and addressed numerous security incidents involving acts of civil disobedience on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct. They also intervened as first responders for various incidents.
In preparation for the move to the interim accommodations, the service also redesigned its posture by maximizing the use of existing resources across all parliamentary buildings. They refocused operations on their protective mandate, which allowed them to redeploy resources more strategically and with greater flexibility.
Additionally, the service is prepared to meet the new operational challenges associated with the increasing number of visitors at the new visitor welcome centre, an expanded jurisdiction of the precinct consisting of new parliamentary buildings and the larger physical separation between both Houses of Parliament. As you know, Mr. Chairman, moving out of Centre Block to this and other locations has required us to be a bit more dispersed.
They have also introduced additional measures to improve the management of health and well-being of the workforce. Over the last two years, involuntary overtime has significantly decreased. They have implemented a drug and alcohol policy in response to the legalization of cannabis, enhanced the training curriculum for protection officers and detection specialists, launched an employee engagement survey and improved the accommodations program to facilitate an early return to work.
These measures are aimed at not only promoting healthy living among its workforce, but also to help ensure that employees return home safely from work.
The service had the unique mandate of protecting the legislative process—and in doing so, must remain agile and responsive to any threat made against the Parliament of Canada across 40 locations. This means a continuous operation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to be able to detect and respond rapidly to emerging global and domestic threats, and to adjust their security posture accordingly.
Last summer, uniformed members intercepted and arrested an individual who breached the security perimeter during the changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill.
They also operate in a multi-jurisdictional environment, which requires a high degree of collaboration with law enforcement and intelligence partners. In the last year, they have strengthened communications with their partners and met with trusted international counterparts to share best practices and develop new ways forward in the field of protection.
This concludes my overview of the 2019-2020 Main Estimates for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service. My officials and I would be pleased to answer questions. If members have any specific questions with respect to the security posture or labour negotiations, I would recommend that the committee go in camera for that discussion.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and committee members. Thank you for welcoming us here today.
I am pleased to be here to present the 2019-20 interim estimates and to address the funding required to maintain and enhance the House Administration's support to members of Parliament and the institution.
I am joined today by members of the House Administration's executive management team, who you know well: Charles Robert, clerk of the House of Commons; Michel Patrice, deputy clerk, Administration; and Daniel Paquette, chief financial officer.
I will also be presenting the interim estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service. Therefore, I am also accompanied by Marie-Claude Côté, acting director of PPS, and Robert Graham, the service's Administration and Personnel Officer.
The interim estimates for 2019-20 include an overview of spending requirements for the first three months of the fiscal year, with a comparison to the 2018-19 estimates, as well as the proposed schedules for the first appropriation bill.
The interim estimates of the House of Commons, as tabled in the House, total approximately $87.5 million and represent three-twelfths of the total voted authorities that will be included in the upcoming 2019-20 main estimates. Once the main estimates are tabled in the House, I anticipate that we will meet again in the spring, at which time I will provide an overview of the year-over-year changes.
Today, I'll give you a brief overview of the House of Commons' main priorities.
Ensuring that members and House officers have the services and resources to meet their needs is essential in supporting them in the fulfillment of their parliamentary functions.
By the way, Mr. Chairman, I will of course try to speak at a rate where it's possible for the interpreters to interpret, because we all appreciate the wonderful work they do, and I don't wish to make it more difficult.
The House Administration's top priority is to support members in their work as parliamentarians by focusing on service-delivery excellence and ongoing modernization. As an example, this past year, we have seen the opening of four multidisciplinary Source plus service centres, which are ready to provide members and their staff with in-person support.
A team of House of Commons employees is available to provide assistance related to finance, human resources, information technology and various operational services offered by the House Administration. If members ever have any comments about this, I would be very interested in hearing them.
Another service-delivery initiative has been the implementation of a standardized approach for computer and printing equipment in constituency offices across the country. This initiative was launched as a pilot project this year. Its purpose is threefold: to ensure parity between Hill and constituency computing services; to enhance IT support and security; and to simplify purchasing and life-cycling of equipment in the constituency offices.
In addition, all constituency offices will now be provided with a complete set of standard computer devices and applications following the next general election.
The House administration aims to provide innovative, effective, accountable and non-partisan support to members. To do so, it must attract and retain an engaged, qualified and productive workforce that acts responsibly and with integrity.
Cost-of-living increases are essential to recruitment efforts for members, House officers and the House administration as employers, and funding for these increases is accounted for in the estimates.
Members will know that employee support programs are also a priority. These programs, which are offered to employees of members, House officers, research offices and the administration, include an employee and family assistance program and other resources and events, such as those taking place this February for Wellness Month.
The renewal of our physical spaces and the services provided within them is another priority for the House administration.
The opening of West Block and the visitor welcome centre is the most significant change to date to the parliamentary precinct. We believe that West Block is a model to other parliaments tackling similar challenges with respect to aging facilities. In fact, I know many of you are aware that, at Westminster, they're planning to move out and have a major renovation to the Palace of Westminster, which of course is an immense undertaking. That will be a few years away still.
The House of Commons works closely with its parliamentary partners and with Public Services and Procurement Canada in support of the long-term vision and plan.
For the coming years, the focus will be on decommissioning and restoring Centre Block. We will also continue to review and update the House of Commons' requirements and guiding principles for future renovations to the parliamentary precinct. The administration of the House of Commons will continue to look at ways to best engage members in the Centre Block project moving forward and to ensure they continue to be part of discussions on the design and operational requirements for that building.
An ongoing priority is the operation, support, maintenance and life-cycle management of equipment and connectivity elements in all buildings. This work is essential to providing a mobile work environment for members and the administration, which is something that we all, of course, now expect.
I now turn to the interim estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service. The Parliamentary Protective Service is requesting access to $28 million in these interim estimates.
The funding requirements align with the four key strategic priorities of the service: protective operational excellence; engaged and healthy employees; balanced security and access; and sound stewardship.
The majority of the PPS annual budget is attributed to its first priority, protective operational excellence, which includes personnel salaries and overtime costs.
In keeping with the service's aim to allocate existing resources as judiciously as possible, several posts were added to the overall security posture in response to the opening of the interim accommodations. I would suggest that, if members have any questions with respect to the security posture, the committee may wish to go in camera for that exchange.
The service recently reclassified the positions of all protection officers, which led to an increase in their salaries retroactive to April 1, 2018.
PPS has also successfully reached a bargaining agreement with the Senate Protective Service Employees Association and an extension of the previous agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. For this reason, funding has been earmarked to make payments for retroactive economic increases as a result of these negotiations.
As PPS evolves, the service is gradually reducing the presence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in certain areas on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct and, in turn, increasing the resources and presence of PPS officers.
The remainder of the PPS budget ensures that the administration, which supports the operations of the service, is adequately equipped and resourced. This means ensuring that security assets and technology are properly managed and that employees are continuously supported in their health and well-being. As PPS approaches its fourth anniversary this June, its administration is becoming more agile and responsive to the needs of Parliament and of its own workforce.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my overview of the 2019-20 interim estimates for the House of Commons and Parliamentary Protective Service.
My officials and I would be pleased to answer any questions from members.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
We are at a critical juncture, one where the House of Commons must invest in the information technology solutions and systems that will enable it to meet the rapidly changing needs of members, their employees, and the House administration. This also means expanding access to parliamentary information through social media and a modernized online presence.
In light of the renewal of many parliamentary spaces, investments are also needed to deliver support services to members.
To this end, the modernization and optimization of food services focuses on the client experience while supporting the transition of production to the off-site food production facility for the relocation to West Block.
Pay and benefits is another key service offered to members and the administration. Funding is required for this group to ensure that adequate staffing levels are in place to satisfy current demands and mitigate system challenges.
Funding is also needed to ensure appropriate security enhancements for the West Block. While security reasons prevent me from going into the details, the House of Commons and its security partners continue to collaborate on an enhanced emergency management and security approach to ensure a safe and secure Parliament.
Another investment accounted for in the main estimates is for the disclosure of expenses incurred by House officers and national caucuses research offices. In keeping with the board's commitment to transparency and accountability, the first annual House officers expenditures report will be published on this June. Quarterly reporting, aligned with the schedule set for the members' expenditures report, will follow.
Let us now turn to parliamentary diplomacy.
Funding of $1.1 million is required for this important work that seeks to foster mutual understanding and trust, enhances cooperation, and builds goodwill among legislators.
As part of these commitments, Canada will host three important events in 2018-19.
The 56th Regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference will take place in Ottawa this July, as many members will know. This conference enables parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth.
The 15th annual Plenary Assembly of ParlAmericas will be held in Victoria, British Columbia in September 2018.
Finally, the 64th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which provides a unique specialized forum for members from across the Atlantic alliance to discuss and influence decisions on alliance security, will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, so lucky them, right? The member for Halifax agrees. The member for St. Catharines is not so sure.
I will now proceed to the funding of $1.7 million required in support of committee activities. Each year parliamentary committees undertake a number of studies on issues that matter to Canadians. These committees study and amend legislation, examine government spending, conduct inquiries, and receive input from subject matter experts and citizens.
Committees use their funding primarily for witness expenses, video conferences, travel, working meals, and preparing reports for the House of Commons on the issues they study. The Liaison Committee rigorously manages the global envelope allocated by the Board of Internal Economy for committee activities.
I'll now proceed to the funding of $4.6 million that is required for cost-of-living increases. This covers requirements for the House administration as well as the budgets for members and House officers. For the House administration, this funding provides for the economic increases of approximately 1,600 House administration employees. The salary increases will help ensure staff retention, and provide competitive salaries to attract new hires.
I will now move on to funding required for members' and house officers' budgets, supplements, and salaries.
The board has determined that office budgets for members, house officers, and research offices will be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index.
Funding is also allocated in support of increases to members' office budget supplements. These, of course, recognize the challenges inherent in serving larger, more populated, or remote constituencies. The board also approved an increase to the travel status expenses account, which members may use to charge their accommodations and meal expenses when they are in travel status.
Additionally, in accordance with the Parliament of Canada Act, members' sessional allowances and additional salaries are adjusted every year on April 1 based on the index of the average percentage increase in base-rate wages for the calendar year in Canada resulting from major settlements negotiated in the private sector.
The final item included in the House of Commons' main estimates is a funding requirement of $1.2 million for employee benefit plans.
In accordance with Treasury Board directives, this non-discretionary statutory expense covers costs to the employer for the Public Service Superannuation Plan, the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan, death benefits, and the employment insurance account.
I would now like to present the 2018-19 main estimates for the Parliamentary Protective Service, PPS.
This June marks the third year of operations for PPS since the unification of the former House of Commons and Senate protective services under the operational command of Chief Superintendent Jane MacLatchy. This entity was created by an act of Parliament to unify and better coordinate the physical security of Parliament under one mandate.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, I am jointly responsible for the PPS with the Speaker of the Senate. They report to us on matters regularly. Let me begin by providing members with a brief synopsis of the evolution of this organization over the past three years, particularly as it relates to the main estimates.
In its first nine months, the PPS operated with a pro-rated budget of $40 million. During this transition period, the House of Commons provided the newly created organization with corporate support through a charge-back model. This interim measure enabled PPS to focus on unifying security operations and completing interoperability. It also allowed it to plan requirements over two years to become self-sufficient in its corporate services.
In 2016-17, following its first submission of Main Estimates, PPS operated with $62.1 million in funding, which significantly improved unification efforts through the standardization of uniforms and equipment and the upgrading of facilities.
This past year, the organization was appropriated $68.3 million, which helped implement numerous security initiatives on Parliament Hill, including the hiring of additional security personnel for the 180 Wellington Building and the establishment of an integrated mobile response team.
Today, the organization is beginning to stabilize and make important headway towards building an effective corporate administration that supports security operations. This fiscal year, PPS aims to deliver its mandate with a budget of $83.5 million. The increase in funding earmarks $7 million in permanent requirements, $7.6 million in temporary security initiatives, and $600,000 in statutory funds.
While PPS is an autonomous organization and a separate parliamentary employer, it has several service-level agreements with the House of Commons for assistance in finance, payroll, and IT. These arrangements will continue in the short term while the organization progressively builds capacity to lessen its dependence on the House for administrative support.
For this reason, the permanent funding request includes: $4.5  million allocated for positions within finance, human resources, and facilities departments; $1.9 million reserved to stabilize key functions within information services, assets, and major events, and physical infrastructure and emergency planning; and $600,000 budgeted for the training of protection personnel.
Funding for temporary security initiatives include $5.7 million to perform necessary maintenance and upgrades to security infrastructure, such as replacing and upgrading external cameras and crash barriers at the vehicle screening facility—because some of these upgrades are security-sensitive my officials and I would be pleased to address any questions or concerns in camera, if the committee wishes—$1.1 million over three years to bring our protective personnel to the same minimum-level security clearance as all federal security agencies, another key measure to improve communications and allow for a seamless exchange of information with external partners; and $775,000 for temporary corporate initiatives and support, such as the hiring of consultants, the development of an internal website, and the acquisition of a document management system.
The funding sought in these estimates provides for the steady growth of this organization and ensures that its workforce remains supported and adequately equipped to deliver on its security mandate.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my overview of the 2018-19 Main Estimates for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Protective Service. My officials and I would be pleased to answer questions.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“Police”: that's an interesting word to use.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Geoff Regan: It's a pleasure to be back before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to present the House of Commons supplementary estimates (B) for the fiscal year 2016-17. I'm also pleased to have been invited to present the supplementary estimates (B) on behalf of the Parliamentary Protective Service, or PPS, as I will call it.
Mr. Chairman, you have mentioned the people who are with me here at the table. I thank you for that.
With me are members of House administration's executive management team: Stéphan Aubé, chief financial officer; Philippe Dufresne, law clerk and parliamentary counsel; André Gagnon, acting deputy clerk; Benoit Giroux, director general of parliamentary precinct operations; Patrick McDonnell, deputy sergeant-at-arms and corporate security officer; as well as Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer.
Let me begin by noting that all of the items included in the House of Commons supplementary estimates (B) have been presented to and approved by the Board of Internal Economy. Together, this represents an increase of $22,624,714 in funding levels for fiscal year 2016-17.
To facilitate our discussions today, we prepared a handout outlining the line items that were included in the supplementary estimates (B). You'll be glad to hear that I won't read it word for word.
Having served as a member of this committee in the past, I recall a distinct preference for brevity, and so I will provide what I hope is a quick overview of each of the five line items under discussion, in the order that they are presented in the handout. This will leave more time for questions later.
The items include funding for: the carry-forward of the operating budget; security enhancements; renewal of the constituency communications network services, or CCN as we call it; committee activities; and, members' sessional allowances and additional salaries.
We're seeking a carry-forward in the amount of approximately $13.7 million through the 2016-17 supplementary estimates (B).
This request corresponds to the board's carry-forward policy, a policy that's been in place since 1995. The policy allows members of Parliament, House officers, and the House administration to carry forward unspent funds from one fiscal year to the next, up to a maximum of 5% of operating budgets in their main estimates.
The ability to carry funds forward increases our budgetary flexibility, reduces the pressure to spend at the year-end, and provides and incentive for those who underspend their budgets. In short, it helps us better manage our finances.
This carry-forward practice is also in place across all federal government departments. However, unlike those departments, the House of Commons must seek such carryforward funding through its supplementary estimates, and not from Treasury Board.
The funding will be allocated to budgets for members, House officers and the House administration. Notably, the House administration's allotment will be used to fund priority areas such as investments that support the administration's strategic plan, as well as those that ensure the timely replacement of much-needed IT infrastructure.
With respect to security, we remain committed to our collective safety and that of the parliamentary precinct. To that end, we have sought temporary funding of $4.2 million for fiscal year 2016-17 as reflected in our next line item. This funding supports the House of Commons Corporate Security Office, or CSO, which works closely with its colleagues in the PPS.
The CSO has been facing increased demands for its services, including in the areas of accreditation, security clearance, event and visitor access services, constituency security, and threat and risk assessment. Indeed, the CSO's security advice, guidance, and training remain in high demand. As well, we're asking for more from the office.
For example, in response to a number of security assessments, including the independent assessment requested in 2014 by the previous speaker, a number of initiatives to enhance our security are under way.
Additional funding is helping to build on these, including measures to improve the constituency office security program, install self-registration kiosks for visitors, and modernize the security camera system.
A moment ago, I mentioned members' constituency offices within the context of security. We understand that access to state-of-the-art communications for members is a priority, whether they're in Ottawa or back in their constituency offices. That's why we've have sought a temporary increase of $2.1 million under supplementary estimates (B) for this fiscal year, which is item 3 in the handout.
The additional funding is helping to support the replacement of the current constituency communications network, or CCN, with what I think we aptly call the “enhanced constituency connectivity service”, or ECCS. This new Internet-based service will provide members with a seamless and always-connected experience, no matter the location of their constituency office.
The enhanced constituency connectivity service, or ECCS, is designed to equal the excellent service that members already receive in their Hill offices, by providing them and their staff with secure access to the parliamentary precinct network as well as Internet connectivity and other WiFi services, from coast to coast to coast.
Under item 4, committee activities—and not just this committee, obviously—you will note our request for a temporary increase of $1.5 million for fiscal year 2016-17. This increase is due to a renewed demand by many of the 24 standing committees to engage with Canadians who live outside of the national capital region, as well as the requirement to support the work of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
More specifically, temporary funding for committees under the global committee envelope was increased by $800,000 in 2016-17. Again, this reflects the budget requirements of the increased committee activities outside the national capital region, including enhanced consultations. An additional $678,000 was provided to fund the work of the then newly created Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
It is my understanding that the experience so far demonstrates that there is public demand for such increased consultation. That said, let me emphasize that we continue to allocate funds for committee activities with the utmost rigour. For instance, measures have been taken to reduce the costs of committee travel, including by limiting the number of members travelling with each committee and ensuring that only essential staff accompany the committee for meetings outside of Ottawa.
That brings me to the final line item in your handout, in the amount of $1.1 million for fiscal year 2016-17 and subsequent years. This amount represents an increase to salaries for members, House officers, the Speaker and other presiding officers: a 1.8% increase to members' annual sessional allowances and additional salaries over the previous year. The increase, which was approved by the Board of Internal Economy, took effect on April 1.
As you know, members' sessional allowances and other additional salaries are statutory under the Parliament of Canada Act. Such increases are based on an index published by Employment and Social Development Canada and reflect the average percentage increase in base-rate wages for a calendar year in Canada resulting from major settlements negotiated in the private sector.
Now let me turn my attention to parliamentary protective service, the PPS. Since its creation, on June 23, 2015, PPS has been working diligently to ensure operational excellence through the execution of seamless service delivery in support of its physical security mandate throughout the parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill.
Efforts to enhance operational excellence through a series of resource optimization, coordination and professionalization initiatives remain ongoing.
I'll now provide you with an overview of supplementary estimates (B) for 2016-17, which total $7.1 million, including a total voted budgetary requirement of $6.7 million and a statutory budget component of $367,000 for the employee benefits plan. Please note that this request represents unfunded requirements to support new and ongoing initiatives, and PPS was able to reallocate funding within an existing budgetary envelope to defray a portion of the total cost of the requirements.
PPS is requesting $1.7 million in funding from its 2015-16 operational budget carry-forward. This funding, in addition to the $3.1 million in additional funding that's being requested, will be used for a series of security enhancement projects. These projects are intended to address a significant number of the recommendations stemming from the reviews of the events of October 22, 2014, and to stabilize a protective posture in response to the requirements associated with the long-term vision and plan.
To further the integration and realize the benefits on interoperability, PPS is requesting $655,000 to support the consolidation of the PPS operational and operational support employees into two distinct facilities. This consolidation will enable PPS to secure sufficient office space for its current FTE base, ensure the necessary informatics are in place to support operations, streamline the quartermaster processes, facilitate the process of integrated briefings and resource deployment, and continue to work towards the creation of a unique PPS culture.
Over the past several months, a series of reviews were conducted to make the best use of our professional resources while exercising resource stewardship in support of our overall operations. To that end, PPS is seeking $445,000 to support resource optimization initiatives. As a result of this investment, PPS will be realizing a $2.5-million return on the investment/savings, in the coming fiscal years.
This funding will also be used to defray some of the costs incurred in coordinating the address to Parliament by the President of the United States of America, and I'm referring to the address that already occurred, just so nobody thinks that we have something planned. I don't know about that. We'll see.
PPS remains committed to preserving the openness and accessibility of Parliament, while maintaining the responsive and appropriate public safety and security measures that are necessary today, given the evolution of our domestic and international threat environment.
As always, PPS is proud to serve and protect, and operational and employee excellence remain its highest priority.
If its accomplishments over the past 18 months are any indication, PPS is well prepared to address the current global reality, as well as any future challenges to the physical safety and security of the parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill.
You will be pleased to hear that this now concludes my overview of the House of Commons supplementary estimates (B) for 2016-17 as well as those for PPS.
Along with the staff members present, I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you.
View Jamie Schmale Profile
Thank you very much, gentlemen, for being with us this morning.
Just to build on what you had mentioned regarding Friday sittings, are you able to tell us why Fridays are no longer in the sitting schedule? Why was that taken away?
David Elder
View David Elder Profile
David Elder
2016-05-17 18:16
I think it was related to what I've said about the demands that members have. We had a brief experiment a number of years ago with the reintroduction of Friday sittings, but it only lasted one sitting Friday. It was best described as probably a complete debacle. It had nothing to do with the fact it was a Friday, but there were other factors involved. Members do like to return to their constituencies for the weekend. Finishing at 5 p.m. on Thursday is convenient to enable them when travelling to Queensland, and South Australia, and even Western Australia. The Western Australian members can get back to Perth from Canberra on that Thursday evening. I don't think there's any great stomach for Friday sittings any longer, because they don't enable members to get back to where they think their real work is, and that is back in their constituencies.
View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (QC)
From a technical point of view, when MPs in New Zealand are travelling back and forth to Wellington from their ridings, how is that accounted for? For example, here we can bring our family, our dependants, but each one takes a travel point and we have a limited number of travel points. How does it work in New Zealand?
David Wilson
View David Wilson Profile
David Wilson
2016-05-17 19:57
The members themselves are free to travel as much as they like within New Zealand. That is bought and paid for, for them, by the parliamentary service. They're entitled to bring their family members to Wellington a certain number of times a year. I'll have to check that number and let you know what it is. I think it's about 10 times a year, but I might be wrong about that, so I'll check it. They are able to bring them, but there's a limit on the number of times they can do that without paying for it.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That sounds similar to our week, in a way; however, the House does sit on Wednesday, but we do have our caucus meetings and it starts a little later in the day.
Do you know what the debate was around the main purpose of changing the hours, creating more predictability, and perhaps at that point, even if you weren't around, why the Wednesday was switched to the Friday?
Deborah Deller
View Deborah Deller Profile
Deborah Deller
2016-05-10 12:58
Yes. It had to do with out-of-town members not being able to spend enough time with family. There was a push to get rid of the Friday sitting so that those members who had to travel could get home in a decent time to spend with their family and have some constituency office hours.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Deborah Deller
View Deborah Deller Profile
Deborah Deller
2016-05-10 12:59
A lot of them have constituency office hours on Friday, and many of them even on Saturday.
Clare Beckton
View Clare Beckton Profile
Clare Beckton
2016-05-05 11:05
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you.
I'll just make a couple of short remarks, because I know you like to ask a lot of questions.
I'm pleased that the committee is looking at the issue of a friendlier Parliament that recognizes the need of members of Parliament to meet family responsibilities as well as their home responsibilities. Needless to say, that is not an easy challenge, as we know from many sectors.
Creating a more family-friendly environment requires mechanisms to support and ensure practices and actions that reflect gender equality. Currently about 26% of members of Parliament are women, which contributes to an environment that does not fully recognize gender equality. There is a need for leadership from political parties to continue to augment the number of women running for office, including being fair and not putting them in unwinnable ridings, which happens. Having more women, I must caution, does not automatically create equality, but it contributes to changing the culture.
I know the term has been “work-life balance” here. I always use the term “work-life integration”, as I believe that this striving is for a mythical balance that doesn't exist. I've never found it in my life, and it has never bothered me that I didn't. Instead, we need to look for ways that permit members of Parliament to serve their country as they wish while still having time for their families, which can include child care support that recognizes the needs of members of Parliament while in Ottawa.
Male members of Parliament need to be encouraged and supported as well as female members in meeting their family responsibilities.
Orientations for members and chairs of committees should include how to create a respectful environment and, for committee chairs, how to schedule to accommodate members' needs as well.
Also important is having an environment of respect that allows members and their staff to get work done without fear of harassment and disrespectful behaviour. House rules, education, and processes can assist in making this happen, along with modelling of the desired behaviour by party leaders.
For political participation to be equal, the environment and the House processes need to an ensure an equal voice for men and women and have peer processes for resolution of any complaints.
Efficiency of processes in the House is certainly one way of helping to reducing Parliament.... For example, reducing Parliament to sitting four days a week could be one option that might better reflect the need of out-of-Ottawa MPs to return to their ridings and families. Electronic voting, in the age of technology, can certainly assist, as it may allow someone to vote while still caring for a member of the family, if that is necessary. While eliminating evening sessions may not be possible, they can be reserved for urgent or emergency debates and votes, for example.
Being mindful of sittings on major school holidays is another thing that can be looked at.
These are just a few possibilities, and I welcome your questions this morning.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for all your valuable insight into how the Quebec Assembly works. You mentioned that members wanted to be more present in their constituencies to serve their constituents and to do constituency work. Have the amendments that you've made in the assembly allowed the members to serve more time? Have you had feedback from the members? Have these amendments satisfied their constituents as a whole?
François Arsenault
View François Arsenault Profile
François Arsenault
2016-05-05 12:40
I would say yes and no. Let me explain why.
The answer is yes because we think parliamentarians are happy to be able to finish the work earlier in the year. That gives them a little more time before Christmas and before the summer.
However, in reality, there is a lot of discontent, particularly with respect to the parliamentary committees. The committees may sit when the National Assembly is sitting, but they also meet a lot when the National Assembly is not sitting. When the National Assembly is not sitting, the parliamentary committees have more time to sit.
In Quebec, many parliamentary committees begin their work quite early in the year. As a result, that forces the members of the committees to be in the Assembly for very long periods of time. So that adds up to much more than 26 weeks. That may be a somewhat negative effect of the 2009 reform.
It is difficult to assess the situation. Does this have to do with the change in the calendar or the fact that committees sit more? It must be said that there has been an increase in public hearings held by parliamentary committees.
If we were to survey parliamentarians on how satisfied they are with the current calendar, we would not get a very high score. As I explained earlier, there are probably 125 different viewpoints among the parliamentarians. Which calendar should be used?
In some ways, things have improved, but not in others, especially in terms of the parliamentary committees. A lot of parliamentarians tell us that they spend too much time in Quebec City and that they don't have enough time to do their work in their ridings. However, other parliamentarians would probably tell you something different. It depends.
We are seeing that we need a lot of time for the committees that are sitting. That does not affect all 125 members, but it affects many of them. Take August for example, and that's my final comment. From mid-August to the end of August, parliamentary committees are starting to sit. Clearly, that's never very popular with parliamentarians for obvious reasons. If the parliamentary committees have long mandates and they sit from mid-August to the beginning of the National Assembly sittings in September, those members will not have a lot of time to work in their ridings. Clearly, that applies more to the members from outside the region.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I find it difficult to explain to my constituents sometimes. Although I enjoy a lot of the work that I'm doing here in Ottawa, they like to see me there and they like to be able to share their concerns and problems. It is important to get back to your constituency.
I'm going to share my time with my colleague here.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-05-05 13:00
Just before we let you go, on parental leave, as I was saying earlier, from the research that we have done, we know that in Sweden members of Parliament do take parental leave and get replacement MPs to handle their ridings at that time. That's a very interesting concept. In fact, the ministers are not allowed to sit in the legislative assembly in Sweden. They each get a replacement, because they're supposed to be off doing other work. It's an interesting model.
I have one question before we let you go. We discussed security a bit. I often leave my office at two or three in the morning. If we have late-night sittings, staff have to leave late. Did you have any discussions about late-night security, for people leaving the assembly, such as staff or MNAs?
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 11:12
Thank you so much for being here today. It's a pleasure to see so many of you around the table.
As you likely know, Equal Voice Canada is the only national multipartisan organization dedicated to the election of more women. We communicate with tens of thousands of Canadians on a monthly basis who care deeply about gender equality. While we were extremely pleased, as you might imagine, to see this new government's commitment to gender parity in federal cabinet, Equal Voice remains extremely concerned about the under-representation of women, which is both chronic and historic in our federal institution and in many provincial and territorial parliaments.
We did an analysis during the election that suggested that based upon the last five federal election cycles there would not be parity on the ballot for 45 years, based on the one-third of candidates who presented themselves to the five major parties. Further, based upon the outcome of this past federal election and four previous elections, we are looking at 90 years before we attain gender parity in this institution if we take past performance as an indication of future progress.
It's in this spirit that EV is with you today. We're delighted to see that this conversation is happening. It's one that we've been advocating for on the outside for many years and we want to bring you some proposals in the spirit of recognizing that we're dealing with a 150-year-old institution that was conceived before women had the right to vote or stand for federal office. In our view, just like our colleague from Switzerland, this is not a discussion about women, it is a discussion about working smarter not harder, it is about being effective, efficient, and using resources wisely. I think this Parliament has a tremendous opportunity to do things differently and, equally important, to do them well, so we can inspire confidence among Canadians in this most important institution.
In our view, the House of Commons has not fully leveraged innovations that have been widely adopted elsewhere in both public and private sectors. That includes a better use of technology, maximizing teamwork, and allowing for flexibility at critical periods of caregiving.
On average, as you know, MPs are representing approximately 103,000 constituents per riding—I realize this is an average—and you are expected to fulfill many roles: community ambassador, ombudsman, champion, liaison, troubleshooter, legislator, event convenor, spokesperson, party activist, fundraiser, and, increasingly, parent and caregiver among many other roles.
Finally, the average age of the MP is slowly declining, something we are excited about. Before 2011, you may be surprised to know, there were only five women under the age of 40 serving in the House of Commons as compared to 25 male colleagues under the age of 40, which already suggests some inequality. Fortunately, in 2011, 19 women aged 40 and under were elected and then in this Parliament we believe it is the same, though there is no disclosure of birth dates of MPs anymore, so we can't be totally accurate with those statistics.
In our view, to be optimizing their performance MPs should be guided by three principles of work-life balance: sustainability, predictability, and flexibility. With this in mind, we're here today to make five major recommendations.
First, we believe it is necessary to reduce the weekly commute. Canada's federal Parliament sits approximately 125 days per year in a non-election year. That is one-third of the year, the longest of any federal, provincial, or territorial legislature. Despite bringing people here from coast to coast to coast, the average commuting time for an MP outside of the Ottawa, GTA, Montreal corridor is approximately 12 hours driving or flying time, depending on what you do, approximately six hours per one-way trip.
To address this significant commuting burden, EV would urge this committee to consider the following: more consecutive weeks in constituencies. I was here last week when one of the spouses' groups noted the importance of having MPs in their home riding for more than one week to do very important riding work in addition to reconnecting with their family.
We are also interested in the possibility of compressing the parliamentary week by starting earlier on Tuesdays through Thursdays to allow for the possibility of longer but fewer days in Ottawa. This would maximize the time of MPs while they are here, but would not compromise the hours devoted to House business. I don't believe anybody wants that. A compressed Parliament as our IPU colleague just mentioned is now undertaken by several parliaments quite successfully.
In doing so, we think the Hill calendar could potentially be modified so that Mondays and/or Fridays could be treated with more flexibility, given the long commutes from west to east.
Second, we believe there should be an increase to the resources available for staffing among MPs. In our view, in the face of the constant demands on MPs, we believe you are thinly staffed given the high expectations for your engagement as legislators, committee members, ombudsmen, community leaders, troubleshooters, etc. We are asking all of you to bear a considerable burden without what we believe is the necessary support to ensure you have the team around you to be the most effective and responsive you need to be.
Our calculations suggest that most MPs have on average two Hill staff and two riding staff, which equals one staff for every 25,000 constituents if an MP represents a riding of approximately 100,000 people. We would recommend, then, in the life of this Parliament, that you consider devoting additional resources to an MP's office budget to allow for the hiring of one additional staff on the Hill and one in the riding.
Third, we believe this House of Commons needs to end the punitive treatment of new parents and mothers who are MPs. I was greatly disturbed by some of the experiences Christine Moore related here last week in terms of 14-hour drives back to the riding so she could have access to her car, and the challenges she's had navigating the Hill. In our view, it is not appropriate that there is no formal accommodation for women in the later stages of pregnancy, new mothers or parents, and the primary caregivers of a terminally ill parent or child. I believe this needs to end.
EV, as a consequence, supports the call for a minimum of three months of riding-based activity representation for MPs who face these circumstances. As a consequence, it would mean introducing the prospect of proxy or electronic voting for a small cohort of MPs who are in legitimate need of it. As we've heard from our IPU colleagues, it is something that other parliaments have undertaken with some success.
If Canada's Parliament were to go down this road, MPs would have to be given the opportunity to teleconference and provide written comments on bills or debates, among other things. It is an ambitious task, but we believe it can be done.
Upon returning to Parliament, we want to echo our concerns on the lack of access among MPs to child care services on the Hill. As the chair of a day care board in the Ottawa area, I do believe child care spaces and centres can grow and be flexible if they are given the resources to do so. We believe, in anticipation of the fact that there may be more than one or two young infants on the Hill, Centre Block or another close building should be looked at to potentially care for young children six months and older.
Further, we do believe the provision of occasional on-site care in the House for infants under the age of 12 is also required, and attainable, to provide care for a baby during unexpected votes, a committee meeting that goes late, or other unusual circumstances. Again, I don't see this as an impossibility. Equal Voice provides child care at evening events. There is a roster of highly qualified day care providers in this area who I believe could be on call for occasional child care services.
These measures, of course, are not about reducing the amount an MP works but about facilitating, recognizing, and valuing the other work MPs are doing.
I'd like to wrap up by saying clearly, however, that this is not just about the structure of Parliament. It is also about the tone and language of politics. We have heard from many women and men that they are turned off by the kind of leadership they see on display in the House from time to time, particularly during question period. Other legislatures in Canada have eliminated the banging on tables and significantly reduced the heckling MPs dish out to their opponents. While theatrical, we think it is time to revisit these behaviours once and for all to address what we think is a reputational crisis in the federal political arena.
In conclusion, apart from this study, it is our view that a regular five-year review by this committee of House practices to assess them for their flexibility and reasonability is imperative. We think you can come up with predefined criteria based upon the literature of work-life balance.
We know this has been done before and that other modifications have been made in the past that have made the lives of MPs significantly easier. In the fall, you joined one of five countries that have gender parity in cabinet. We are regarded as a leader, and it is now time to lead on gender-sensitive Parliaments.
Thank you.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-04-19 11:30
Thank you very much to all the witnesses.
Just to remind people, it's not just a study on a family-friendly Parliament but also a study on a more efficient, inclusive type of Parliament. It's for a lot more things than just families.
Nancy will be happy to know that two weeks ago, we opened an Equal Voice chapter in the Yukon in my riding. My commute is 28 hours a week.
Gary will know that Edmund Burke lost a number of elections with that philosophy.
We'll start the questioning with Ms. Vandenbeld.
View Scott Reid Profile
I think of it as being, essentially, that we sit 26 weeks of the year, exactly half of the year, and then we have 26 weeks of something other than sitting—work for some people, and maybe play for others.
Essentially, there would be more days of actually sitting in the House of Commons, whatever that works out to.
Am I right, then, that you think the fact that our Fridays are structured as they are means that they are not fully functional days, and that effectively we should either make them into normal days like a Thursday or a Wednesday, or eliminate the Fridays and add more Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays?
Gary Levy
View Gary Levy Profile
Gary Levy
2016-04-19 11:40
I don't think there is much you can do about Fridays, given the country that we have and given that you have to be in your constituency. Some people have these horrific commutes, as has been mentioned. I would hope that by having a four-day week you wouldn't turn Thursdays now into Fridays, in other words with no votes, no committees, and so on. You would have to see how that works.
If Thursday was a normal day, as it is now, and Friday was off, I don't think you would be losing that much.
View Scott Reid Profile
There is something I have to say that nobody has brought up before; it is just my observation. People say that they are constantly in demand back in their riding. I have a rural riding with many small communities—the classic place that makes many demands on your time—but in my experience, when I say that I can't be at someone's event because the House is sitting, I have never once in 16 years up here had someone say to me that this is not good enough. Everybody accepts that this is my first job. Of course, there were times when people came from all over the country by train and could not get back.
It strikes me that more availability inevitably means more demands on you, and if you aren't available simply because you have to stay in Ottawa for the job, there would be a reasonable accommodation on the part of constituents. Maybe I just got nicer constituents than most people. I actually do think that, but others will disagree.
I have one last thing. You mentioned the idea of one day for second reading, except for special bills. We all understand that Bill C-14, the assisted suicide bill, is a matter of conscience. They are not always so clearly distinguished this way. Do you have any tests that would be applied to allow us to tell when a bill is of the ordinary run and when it is not of the ordinary run?
View David Christopherson Profile
Very good, thank you, Chair.
Thank you all very much for your presentations. It's helpful when witnesses disagree because it gives us an opportunity to get into some back and forth, which I'm going to try and prompt in a moment.
At the risk of regretting saying this, but in defence of heckling—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: Obviously anything that is intended to drown out someone who's speaking, regardless of who it is, that's not even heckling. That's just plain obscene, rude, and unacceptable behaviour. I have to tell you, Chair, my experience is—and I've been doing this for a long time now, in all three orders of government—I'm always mindful of the fact that whenever I'm in session, whether it's city council, or a legislative chamber, or the House of Commons, that the debates we're having, the procedures that we have, and all of that replaced the way we used to decide who has power and who gets to decide things, and that used to be on the battlefield. You can't argue there aren't a lot of emotions going on when you're on the battlefield. To me, a good heckle is like a good political cartoon. It causes you to laugh, but it underscores the issue you're trying to amplify.
I just want to throw that out there. I think it has a role. I think of things that matter. If someone was giving a speech, and I was in the House, and they're going on and on about how the steel industry is yesterday's history, and because of the environmental issues we ought not to be even looking at the steel industry, I have to tell you that my constituents expect me to do more than just sit there at that moment. There has to be an acknowledgement there's a certain amount of reaction that's said, and it's part of it.
I understand the point that's being made, that it becomes such a hostile place, but to me it's only like that when it's in the extreme. Anyone who doubts my commitment to that can ask Sandra Pupatello, who was a former high-profile Ontario cabinet minister when I was deputy speaker, and what I did in that House when the opposition, males, late at night, drowned her out. Ask her. I'm there on that part of it, big-time.
I guess this idea we would always, without exception, sit very quietly, like we were in church, to me that doesn't reflect the reality of the place and what it's for. I just throw that out there because I'm a glutton for punishment.
I want to go on about the eight months, because of course it seems to be at odds with where Madam Peckford was in terms of more back-to-back in the riding. I'm not sure the two are marriageable, if you will—there's probably a better word. Madam Peckford, if you wouldn't mind, I'll give you an opportunity to respond because maybe I'm misinterpreting. Maybe you're seeing something that Mr. Levy's proposing that isn't that far, but it seemed to me they're two different concepts. One was the focus on the consistency here in the House, and the other one was a little more consistency in the riding, which common sense might suggest would be a hard balance to achieve.
Your thoughts, Nancy, please.
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 11:48
I think you're very capable parliamentarians, and I think with some work you could marry the two, if you will. I think it's the toll of 28-hour commutes that is particularly objectionable. If there's a way to cluster more riding time, apart from summers, obviously an extended period in the riding around the winter holiday, Christmas, as it's known by many. I think if you could look at other periods for which, in fact, maybe you do more two-week periods in the riding so you get a chance to situate, adapt, acclimatize, and meet the needs of your constituents, but also meet the needs of your family and potentially cluster more time back here on the Hill, I think it's possible.
I think it takes some creativity. It means House leaders and others have to sit down and look differently at the schedule. I think it may be doable, but I defer to Mr. Levy for further comment.
If you don't mind, I wouldn't mind saying a little about heckling.
View David Christopherson Profile
Fair enough. Before I go to Mr. Levy I want to put this out.
In my experience, two things happen when you're away from home and family. You come home on the weekend, and rather than life becoming normal for your family, quite frankly, you're the interruption to “normal”.
I know it sounds funny, but after enough years, that becomes a problem in terms of how you're perceived by your family. When you have an apartment in Toronto, or Ottawa as is the case now, the risk is that that becomes home, that you start thinking about your apartment away from home as your home.
I even catch myself saying to my assistant Tyler, “Well, I'm going to go to this meeting. I'm going to drop in to those two receptions and then I'm going to head home.” I try and catch myself. That's not home. That's my apartment. My home is in Hamilton with my wife.
The ability to stay in one place is important from a constituency perspective, but if you're in Ottawa for too long at a time, even with weekend breaks, that becomes your “normal” rather than your real home, which should be your “normal”. I know I'm out of time. Thanks, Chair.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-04-19 11:51
Thank you, David.
Because there are not a lot of westerners on this committee, I'm glad you raised the point, Nancy, about the three-hour time difference. It takes an hour every day, so by the time you readjust it's time to go home again.
We'll go to Mr. Graham who's sharing with Ms. Sahota for a seven-minute round.
View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (QC)
Right, but if we can use technology to have less time in the riding so we can have more time in Ottawa, then we can also use technology to have more time in the riding and less time in Ottawa. The argument doesn't necessarily flow and that's the point I'm trying to get at.
You can't overstate the role of social media. In a riding like mine, the biggest issue we have is a lack of Internet access. I live in a rural riding. It's not very far from here. My riding is big enough that it takes as long to get between the constituency offices as it does to get to my riding from Ottawa.
What would you say to rural regions that don't have the benefits of these modern technologies that would allow us to spend less time there? I have 43 municipalities. I have to spend every minute that I possibly can there. The idea of spending less time in the riding is an anathema to me. I need that time there. I'm not spending enough as it is.
Gary Levy
View Gary Levy Profile
Gary Levy
2016-04-19 11:53
It goes back to the old debate about the role of members of Parliament. Some are primarily constituency people; that's what they're interested in. Others are more interested in the policy debates that go on in Ottawa.
I'm not sure if we can resolve that, but I think, in looking at things like the calendar and the use of time, we have to come up with a compromise. I'm not sure that six months on versus six months off is the best compromise.
I'm suggesting more like eight months on and four months in the constituency, but people will disagree upon this depending on how they see the role of the member of Parliament. I don't think there is a hard and fast answer to this.
Related to that, on the whole issue of family friendliness, I think there are 338 members of Parliament, and I expect there are 338 different approaches to what is family friendly for them. I'm not sure we should be constructing things like the calendar to deal with an issue of family friendliness.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you all for being here. It has been quite enlightening to hear all the different ideas that you have. When I first decided to run for this position, I had a very prominent female political figure ask me why I would do this to my family. I was quite shocked, because I thought she was also doing it to hers. She said that if I was interested in politics, I should stick to municipal or provincial politics, that federal politics may not be best for somebody with a young family, that I would really destroy my family.
I thought about this for quite some time and that idea is definitely out there. It is why we see fewer women participating in federal politics, I believe. We keep asking the question, why aren't women more involved? Why aren't they getting into federal politics? I think it's quite clear. It is quite demanding, the role you have, although it's constantly changing, and each family is trying to adapt and change the role of what each partner does in terms of family care.
As we stated before, a lot of demands were traditionally placed on the woman and it's quite interesting.... Nancy, you mentioned that we are the longest sitting federal parliament, one of the longest, and definitely the longest sitting legislature compared with provincial legislatures. However, Mr. Levy, you think that we should go back to 150 years ago when we sat even longer, when this institution was created by males who, perhaps, didn't have that same kind of demand on their lives when it came to families.
Which is it? I'm really confused. Should we be sitting longer? Are we already the longest sitting as it is? Should we be sitting less? I'm quite perplexed by the presentations today.
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 12:00
I would just say, to Mr. Levy's point, that we are also one of the largest countries geographically anywhere in the world, and that, I think, necessitates a rethink of how we get our MPs here and what kind of physical time they need to spend in this House.
View Blake Richards Profile
Thank you. I appreciate your being here as well.
I want to ask you a question, a similar question for both of you. What I'm going to do is characterize what I think I understand your proposals to be for changing the sitting days and sitting weeks. You both come at it from very different approaches and have very different suggestions, but both of you are advocating for some change.
I'm going to characterize what I think I've heard your suggested changes to be and then ask you a couple of questions around that. I'll then let each of you answer.
Ms. Peckford, you can go first, and then Mr. Levy, but I'll throw the thoughts out first, and you can correct me, if I'm mistaken.
It's based on something Mr. Levy said. He said there are 338 members of Parliament and that he expected each of us would have a different approach to family-friendly. I think that's an important point. Almost every member of Parliament has a different situation, and every change that can be contemplated could affect each of those members of Parliament differently. It could be family-friendly for some and maybe not so friendly for others.
Ms. Peckford, I think what I was hearing was that you're suggesting sittings Tuesday through Thursday, with longer days on those Tuesdays through Thursdays. We wouldn't be sitting, then, on Monday or Friday. Then you would suggest more consecutive break weeks or constituency weeks.
I didn't know whether you were suggesting that the number of days currently is about right. You can comment on this when you're answering. Would this mean more weeks, or are you suggesting that the number of weeks would remain as is, with the sitting days just being longer so that there is the same number of sitting hours? That's what I wanted to ask you.
I guess the question around that is, say for example, for a member of Parliament who has their family here.... Some members probably make the choice to move their families to Ottawa so that during the week, when they're here, they can be home with their family in the evenings, and when they go home to the constituency, they can focus on their constituents and really work hard to get around to a lot of events. The question is about the effect this might have—both the fact of longer sitting days and obviously more consecutive weeks—on a family like that, for example.
Another question is this. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but when Christine Moore was here, I think this is what she was indicating; I hope I'm characterizing it correctly. She mentioned that she didn't feel that getting rid of Fridays was something that would be helpful for her, particularly. I think this centred around the fact that being here through the week, she can have a focused week here, and the same thing back in her constituency. The question, then, is about the effect this might have on someone in that situation.
Then Mr. Levy, you felt that maybe getting rid of the Fridays would be okay, but that we'd need more sitting weeks, and not only more sitting weeks to accommodate the Fridays we're losing, but you think there should be even more days than we currently sit.
I guess I wondered a little bit. Obviously, many members of Parliament go back to their ridings for the weekends or whatever. Does the travel time involved in that then become...because there are more sitting weeks and you're losing more time both serving your constituents and being able to spend with your family?
The same thing goes, I guess, for those with young children. If we're going to have more sitting weeks, does that become...? I think it speaks to what Mr. Christopherson was saying: it almost becomes that you throw your family's routine out by being home. What effect would this have on that type of family?
I'll let you both comment on those comments.
Ms. Peckford, do you want to go first?
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 12:05
Right. I think what we are saying—we've seen it in other countries and Ms. Jabre did speak to it—is there is this idea of a compressed week, which doesn't necessarily eliminate Fridays, but does give parliamentarians the opportunity to start the day earlier so that you maximize the time you have here in Ottawa by starting the day at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. I know sometimes committees do meet a bit earlier than the House starts its sitting time, but, obviously, it's compressing and maximizing the time that you have here so that there may be more flexibility on a Monday or Friday.
We understand that some west coast MPs are taking red-eye flights to come to Ottawa to be at QP on Monday afternoon. I don't know about you, but my sense is, if you've been on a red-eye all night, how effective are you as a legislator? I think we have to balance the toll it takes for people to be physically present with the quality of work they're doing.
To that degree, we noted that the federal Parliament sits for the longest number of days of any provincial, territorial, or federal legislature. Is that enough or too little? I think that's for you to decide, but I think what's more important is how those days and weeks are organized so that people are at their best and that the toll that it takes personally on their families is not so egregious.
Obviously, the divorce rate and separation rate among MPs is extremely high, disturbingly high. This is an institution that's supposed to reflect Canada. If your working conditions are such that you are no longer reflective of the average Canadian, it's troubling. This is an institution that remains one that has women chronically and significantly under-represented. So talking about calibre of outcome, if women remain a minority voice for the next 100 years, can we really confidently assert that we're doing justice to women and men both?
Those are considerations that are primary, in my mind, to answer your question.
View Blake Richards Profile
Mr. Levy, before you respond, could I just add one thing to what I'm asking you?
I understand that you're proposing more sitting, and there certainly can be merits made of that in terms of holding the government accountable on more weeks of the year, but I think what we're hearing from the Liberal Party is the suggestion that we would remove the Fridays. They don't want to sit here on Fridays, but they're not looking to increase the number of weeks. I want to hear your thoughts on that as well.
There's the fact that they'd be removing Fridays, talking about longer days, but it wouldn't be adding any sitting weeks. Does that then mean that maybe there would be fewer days or fewer weeks of the year that the government would be held accountable under that scenario that the Liberal Party is suggesting?
Gary Levy
View Gary Levy Profile
Gary Levy
2016-04-19 12:08
That is exactly what led me to give the original interview opposing Fridays off, because I understood that there would not be any change in the number of break weeks. I think if you look at some of the newspaper coverage, the editorials, they've generally been opposed to taking Fridays off because it's seen as less work, even though the hours are the same.
If that were the case, then I would certainly be opposed to that because I don't think it's the right approach. Even if you have the same number of hours and even if you make some technical tricks to call a certain day two days in order to get your notice for motions, I think people would see that as a kind of gimmick, and a day is a day. I don't think you can fool people on that and I don't think it would help the image of Parliament to go to a four-day week and keep all of the break weeks.
I'd just like to make a couple of other smaller points. I found myself agreeing with what Sheila Copps said to you last week, I think it was, that Parliament is a relatively family-friendly place if you compare it to working in a steel mill in Hamilton. I think this is something to be kept in mind, that you may not want to go too far in pushing this. You have a lot of freedom. If pairing comes back, and you have a family birthday on a Wednesday or a Thursday and you want to be at that birthday or graduation, and there's a vote that day, you can arrange with the whip to be paired. I think this goes a long way to solving some of the problems of people with families.
About the commuting, I really don't have an answer to solve that. It's something everybody knows before they go into it. I think the calendar, being six months on and six months off, encourages members to keep their families in the ridings. This is a very personal decision, and I wouldn't presume to tell anybody what's right or wrong on that, but I think if it were the other way, you might have more members bringing their families to Ottawa, and it would be interesting to perhaps look at some studies that were done earlier and see how many did bring families to Ottawa compared to now. That's just an impression that I have.
View Jamie Schmale Profile
We all went through this process. We all are legislators, and we know that the majority of our work is here in this place. That's what we do. You did rhyme off a bunch of things that we are. We're fundraisers. We're advocates. That's all true.
I agree with what Mr. Reid said. I was a political staffer for 11 years before this and when I said that my previous boss couldn't attend an event because he was in Ottawa, nobody said, “Oh, well, that's it, this is ridiculous.” I think they recognize that the job is here. You're a legislator. You need to be in that place doing your job.
I do agree with Mr. Christopherson. You can't be “Ottawashed”, if you will. You do have to get back to your riding—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jamie Schmale: —but I think there's a delicate balance.
Also, I think that taking Fridays off or removing that sitting, with all that's going on around the country—job losses—just sends the wrong message. I think there are other ways to do this in terms of structuring votes after QP. We're all there anyway, and I think that's an easy way to rearrange your schedule.
Also, when we make changes, we have to recognize the flip side. There are a lot of people who already have moved their families here, and if we change something, that might affect the lives of those who have made that decision to bring them here to work. I agree that no solution is the best, that they all kind of suck, if you will, but “ya take the best ya got” and make a decision based on that.
I will also say, as a man, that family life did come in. That was the one thing that was thought of first. Before I ran for the nomination, before I ran for the election, and after I got elected, it was all factored in. I know there were a couple of men on our side—James Moore, Peter MacKay, and my predecessor, Barry Devolin—who made the decision not to run again because of their families. I think this is an issue. As times change, more men are getting involved in family life.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
First of all, thanks to all of you for your presentations today. It's certainly food for thought, and even though perhaps it's not all one-sided—it's a mix of information—it's really good for debate.
First and foremost, the government right now is not looking at eliminating Fridays as the absolute option, or having Fridays off. I really have a problem when I hear “Fridays off” because, again, it's going home and working in our ridings. But rather, our goal is really to achieve gender parity in the House, number one; and number two, to make sure that our Parliament is more inclusive. To achieve that is to have more family-friendly policies put in place.
I have no children, but six years ago I was asked to run for office and the reason I didn't was that I was taking care of my elderly mother who suffers from dementia. At the time when I calculated everything I just didn't think I could do it.
This time around I was asked again and I still had to shuffle things around, but I was encouraged that our party was looking at going towards these more family-friendly policies.
I just wonder if perhaps you could elaborate on the positive impacts that a compressed workweek or more family-friendly policies would have on recruiting more women in politics, having a more inclusive Parliament. How would it also benefit a work-life balance for the present parliamentarians who are here?
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 12:26
I think anyone who is running doesn't want to shirk caregiving responsibilities, whether it's with a young family.... I have three small children, now four, six, and eight, and of course have the luxury of living outside Ottawa, but I still do a commute. Obviously I think we're trying to balance women being seen as professional women, as well as caregivers.
Obviously the work women do in this House is moving that stick forward because women are able to take up that professional and occupational space and show other generations of women that it's possible.
In our view, a compressed week that has been undertaken in other parliaments, combined with some technological innovation, allow you to be effective and engaged in your riding and could potentially allow some of the work that's happening in the House, be it at committees like this, where we're hearing from Ms. Jabre from across the world.... I think there are ways to lever technology so you don't always have to do the commute on a week where, in fact, your intensive caregiving responsibilities are amplified for some reason or another.
I think it goes back to flexibility and ensuring that MPs are able to achieve a very difficult balance. Nobody believes this is a utopia. Everybody understands that you all stood for election of your own volition. But that doesn't mean that we punish people who are here because of particular life circumstances that allow them to be human, that allow them to be the reasons they're here, which is as parents, community activists, caregivers, good neighbours—all of those things.
That's why the compressed week is interesting to us. It's been undertaken in other parliaments. It seems to have some use and effect. It's not deteriorating debate in any significant way. But it's one option of several.
We want you to be the best you can be as both a member of Parliament and as the person you are in the lives you lead with families and in your communities.
Grace Lore
View Grace Lore Profile
Grace Lore
2016-04-19 12:30
Perhaps I could just briefly add something.
In addition to thinking about compressed workweeks or flexibility, Nancy mentioned in her opening presentation the accommodation during critical care periods, whether caring for newborns or for terminally ill family members. This does disproportionately fall to women. Having some accommodation over a set period of time, for specific small groups that need it, can leverage that technology, can use creative solutions to enable that and make it possible.
I'm actually eight months pregnant, so I couldn't be there in person, but I am able to call in today, right? There are options, in addition to the compressed workweek, that I think would be beneficial at critical periods.
View David Christopherson Profile
I'll give just a few thoughts, then, and if there's time for some comments, fine. We see the end coming fairly soon.
First of all, I think one of the best things we've done is a simple matter: having more votes right after question period. What a difference it is not having to come back or to break where you are for 6:00 or 6:30, which just takes the guts out of the evening when you still have receptions. That was a great move, and it didn't cost anything. The surprising thing is that we didn't do it a long time ago. It just makes so much sense.
Next, I appreciate the shout-out on the NDP procedure. I was trying to figure out a way to do that without looking like I was bragging.
There are two things on that. One is that there is also a reporting obligation on the part of the riding back to the party where they haven't gone, where they don't have candidates from under-represented groups, showing what the search procedure was, just to ensure that it actually was done.
The second thing I'll say, just to put the human angle in here, is that not all the ridings are real happy about that. It's not an easy one. There are a lot of ridings where they know who their candidate is, or they have an idea, and they look at this thing and go, “What's this nonsense they're sending us now? We have to do all this kind of stuff.” You will get that kind of push-back, and it's no different in the NDP.
It comes down to leadership. It takes the top-of-the-house to lead it at a conference or convention, to get it as part of the fabric of the party, and then it's baked into the way you do things. My understanding is that there are fewer and fewer complaints now as we've gone on. It's just become part of the culture. But I'll tell you, in the beginning, holy smokes; you'd thought you'd ask them to give up their firstborn.
Next is the flexibility. I just wanted to mention that I was talking to our whip's assistant, and one of the advantages of having Friday the way we do it—I just put this out there to chew on—is that in and of itself it provides some flexibility. Because we don't hold voting that day, it's the same as every other day, but it does allow people different opportunities to come in and make speeches they otherwise wouldn't, or to trade off days so they can go back into their ridings. We never have enough time in our ridings. You can set up a meeting. You can maybe set it up for a Friday and get a switch, even if you're scheduled to be on House duty. There is some flexibility that the Friday being in there provides us, which we would lose if we took it out.
The other thing on that is, look, colleagues from all parties are workaholics. You know what? It's really geographically disadvantaged no matter how you do it. I can work late, late, late, staying in with family members at a barbeque or something, or hitting a backyard thing, or a 50th anniversary on my way out of town. I can massage it, because relatively I'm not that far, compared with some.
There will always be those who are coming in on the red-eye. My heart bleeds for my colleagues from B.C. when I see them on a Monday morning. Without saying a word, I can tell which ones went home and which ones stayed, just by looking at their faces.
So a lot of this is really the disadvantage of being further away from the capital, in that you'll always have more of these problems than we will.
Nancy Peckford
View Nancy Peckford Profile
Nancy Peckford
2016-04-19 12:34
Let's come to terms with that. We're the second largest country in the world. Maybe that does mean that you condense and cluster your Hill weeks to maximize time and to ensure that everybody gets their turn to debate. I think we come to terms with it. I don't think we need to passively accept that one of the largest countries in the world has to fling their MPs from coast to coast to coast on such a regular basis. That may not have a meaningful impact on sitting days, but I think you can do it differently.
I would beg everybody in this room, please do not be partisan on this Friday issue. I know it's turning partisan, and we are not taking a hard and fast line on whether it's Fridays or Mondays but for the women and men who are in this Parliament and in future parliaments, do the right thing, whatever it is, and find a way to make the commute tenable. I think that is the ask from the outside as the organization that sees and is saddened by a very slow and incremental rise in the percentage of women in this House. Ten years ago it was 22%, and now it's 26%. That is not huge movement. That's a slow movement.
I don't mean to intervene, I respect you greatly, but I think we have to deal with it. The human cost is, in our view, on all MPs. It's not fair, and the price is extremely high.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
I want to go back to this idea of spending time in the constituency versus on the Hill and ask about the fact that the modern era, particularly the era of social media and participation... I mean, internationally, IPU now talks about participatory politics.
The expectations on the part of the population of citizens to be engaged, to have a voice, and to have a say, have gone up significantly in the past decade or two. Not being in the constituency today, as opposed to 20 years ago, has far more implications because people do expect that kind of engagement. When you can talk a bit about the trends over time, I remember Ms. Jabre said that internationally the trend is that more time is being spent in constituencies and engaging populations because of this change toward more participatory politics and the involvement of citizens in politics.
Kareen Jabre
View Kareen Jabre Profile
Kareen Jabre
2016-04-19 12:37
The trend has been to acknowledge there has been a gap and a weakness in politics. The way it is done is that you need to be much more inclusive and bring in the voice of your constituencies in your work.
That's been more present as you say, but what parliaments are doing more and more is using IT to get this participation in. That's where even Twitter is used in a constructive way to listen to people and to get their feedback and their input in whatever work is being carried out in Parliament. This is a way to respond to this need for a more inclusive political process, both in terms of being more present, but also compensated by a better use of IT and new tools of communication in order to bridge this gap.
This is definitely the next challenge for MPs. In part it's to remain relevant to their constituents and to not be completely an elite that is up there on the Hill and not present. That's definitely a challenge that you're going to have to constantly address. That's why transforming the way you work, the way you communicate, and how you reach out using tools is considered very crucial in making work more effective and more relevant.
Gary Levy
View Gary Levy Profile
Gary Levy
2016-04-19 12:38
I think Ms. Vandenbeld may well be right in her analysis of the impact of social media and the need to be in the constituencies, but I'm not sure that is going to lead to better Parliament or better public policy.
Since we're nearly at the end of the meeting, let me toss out a controversial idea and say that I'm heartened by what's going on in the Senate. Maybe we'll have a Senate with people who will have expertise and who will have the time to spend studying public policy issues and doing it in a less partisan way. This may devolve more to the Senate and less to the House.
That's an ongoing issue, and I'm sure that will set Mr. Christopherson off.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Grace Lore
View Grace Lore Profile
Grace Lore
2016-04-19 12:39
Someone mentioned that some MPs have their families move to Ottawa. My research suggests this is more common among men, both in Canada and in the U.K. It's easier for them to move their families than it is for women, so I think there again the flexibility and thinking more broadly about ways to combine families does matter for a number of women in politics.
I think we also talked a lot about compressed workweeks and hours and Fridays, but I think there is still the critical question about critical caregiving time, either at the start or the end of life. Because this disproportionately falls on women, it should be addressed to make a more inclusive parliament. It can be done using technology and by recognizing the work that's also going on in the constituency at the time.
View Christine Moore Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning, dear colleagues and guests.
It is a pleasure to appear before you today. I first want to say that the comments I am going to make here represent my personal opinion on the situation, and not that of my party.
As you probably know, I gave birth to a little girl right in the middle of the last election. So I experienced pregnancy during the previous Parliament, and balancing work and family life in the context of this new one. As for my family situation, my husband also has shared custody of a school-aged daughter, which makes it difficult for him to join me in Ottawa.
The first point I would like to discuss today is parental leave. In my opinion, it is essential that we have parental leave. Ideally it should last at least six months. I would also like to add that that leave would not mean that an MP would not work. It would rather mean putting in place a series of measures that would allow him or her to work from the riding. This would mean not having to come to Ottawa, and avoiding all the inconvenience involved in that.
To achieve this, the main improvements that need to be put in place would be to establish a mechanism through which members could table various documents remotely, such as briefs on bills resembling the speeches they would have made had they been present, and a mechanism involving existing documents, for instance petitions or private members' bills. The other improvement that would allow members to work from their ridings would be the possibility of voting from a distance.
As voting in person is to me something very important and significant, I do not think that the right to vote remotely or electronically should be given to all members, but only to those who are on parental leave or on long-term sick leave. This could be done by asking the Speaker of the House, who would grant this right for a given period to those who would need it.
As for the possibility of shortening or compressing the work week, or changing the parliamentary calendar in some other way, I want to say that late meetings are extremely problematic for all of the members who have young children. Compressing the work week does not seem like a good solution to me in any way. Moreover, I do not think that Canadians want us to work less. Simply eliminating sitting days does not seem like a good solution either.
As for eliminating Friday sittings, that does not seem like a good idea. You have to understand that the fact of changing the parliamentary calendar will always have positive effects for some and negative effects for others. For instance, if certain members live too far to do the return trip over the weekend, they would not benefit from having Friday sessions eliminated, because they are here in any case. The ideal situation for them would be to sit two or three weeks in a row, stay here during the weekends, and then return to their ridings for periods of two or three weeks. However, this last solution would not be appropriate for those who live closer and want to return to their families. So it is very difficult to find a solution that suits everyone when we look at changing the parliamentary calendar. In addition, eliminating Friday sittings would be to the advantage of the party in power, because it often has to keep a large number of members here in order to avoid losing a vote, for instance, whereas opposition parties can generally have fewer members present on Fridays.
That is why the most logical solution is to see whether we can improve the daily and weekly schedule of House business. As we know that current business and question period are the activities that require the presence of many members, these two activities could be eliminated on Fridays. However, obviously opposition parties would have to be compensated for that concession by extending the other question periods to offset the loss on Fridays.
The creation of a parallel House could probably be interesting if it focused mainly on studying private members' business. This would be advantageous for the members of the opposition. When they are not chosen in the draw, they do not even have the opportunity of speaking on their parliamentary initiatives. If this were to happen, opposition parties might be favourable to changing Friday's schedule in exchange for a longer period devoted to oral questions and the study of private members' bills.
As for House business, holding votes immediately after question period would of course be the ideal solution, since this would avoid our having to leave and return. This would also allow those who do not have far to go to be able to leave earlier in the day and return the next day.
During my pregnancy, the long vote periods were very difficult for me. We need to schedule some short breaks when voting lasts more than two hours so that you can move around if you are pregnant. It would also be a good thing for people with health problems like diabetes. This would allow them to eat a snack and avoid feeling ill because of a very long vote.
One of the last crucial points I would like to bring up is putting in place a child care service that reflects the House schedule.
The private day care on the Hill currently only takes children full-time, and only from the age of 18 months. Moreover, it closes at 6 o'clock. This absolutely does not correspond to the needs of members. This service could be very useful for members who are breastfeeding, who have very young children and who must go and see their baby every two or three hours. Such a service would also be useful for many male members who told me that they would very much like to bring their children occasionally for a week to the House. However, since there is no day care, they cannot do so and this saddens them. This would also be appreciated by male members of Parliament who would sometimes like to give their spouse a break in caring for their children. I am aware that it is a challenge for the operators of the day care to deal with the House schedule, and moreover the House does not sit every week. However, I think it is achievable.
In closing, I would like to specify that I focused on the aspects of work-family life balance that concerned procedure, which is what this committee is looking at. I contacted the Speaker of the House regarding other improvements that would have more to do with the Speaker or the Board of Internal Economy.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to appear before you.
View Blake Richards Profile
I had a number of things come to mind.
I was listening to you, Ms. Moore, so I'm going to focus my questions mainly towards you. The day care issue has been adequately covered, so I'll skip by it. I think it's been talked about quite a bit today. You mentioned a couple of things.
One that struck me was your mentioning the idea of parental leave. I think you indicated that it wasn't really leave you were seeking; it was more special accommodations that would be available for mothers in, I think you said, the first six months after a child is born. It was the ability to work remotely, for things such as speeches and voting and things like those.
Was that what I heard? Did you want to elaborate on that a bit?
The second question.... I'll just ask them both at the same time, and you can elaborate on both of them. You mentioned for votes specifically the idea, when there are longer voting blocks—when voting takes more than two hours, I think you said—of building in breaks of some kind.
I could see, especially when you think of some of the marathon votes we've had, that this would obviously be helpful for mothers or fathers with children, but there are probably also a number of other members for whom it would be helpful. I know there have been members who had other medical issues, or similar things, that they were dealing with, and it was certainly difficult for them during some of those longer voting periods.
I would be curious to hear whether you had any specific thoughts or proposals on that aspect of building breaks into a longer voting session.
View Christine Moore Profile
We could take a 15-minute break every couple of hours during voting periods, to give people time to eat, go to the washroom, and so forth. That makes sense to me. People with diabetes need to eat; if they don't, they could be endangering their health. That's a specific example of a group of people who absolutely need to take a break. Otherwise, they would have to miss votes, and that would be unfortunate. That isn't necessarily a work-life balance issue, per se.
As for parental leave, it should be possible for the parent to work from their riding. An MP's entire support network, child care providers and those who can help us, often live in our ridings. When an MP brings their one-month-old or two-month-old to Ottawa, it's very hard to make arrangements without that support network. There are also many visits to the doctor and follow-up appointments, both for the new mother and the baby. Having to come to Ottawa in the first few months after giving birth makes life very complicated.
I don't think any member would want to take six months off work. They would prefer to be able to work from their riding because they would be able to control their schedule. It would give them the opportunity to adjust their work hours and go into the office on days when they had child care. Members have much more flexibility when they can work from their ridings. It might even be possible for them to work from home.
As an MP, I would say it's impossible to take six months off work. When I go to the grocery store, I run into a constituent who tells me about a problem they're having. Short of staying at a hideaway in the woods somewhere for six months, it's impossible not to work as an MP. People recognize us and tell us about what they are going through, wherever they run into us. Being able to work from our ridings would help a lot.
That would require establishing a remote voting system, through a smart phone app, for instance. It could display the motion and allow for voting. The application could even be set up to take a photo of the member to ensure it was indeed them casting the vote. It could also be used to submit a brief corresponding to a speech the member would have given had they been able to rise in the House on a given bill. A mechanism could be set up to submit petitions or private member's bills, either remotely or through an intermediary.
At the end of the day, I don't think members who have just had a child, like myself, are asking for six months off work. Rather, we are asking for working conditions that make more sense for us. My baby spends 14 hours in the car every weekend. She's good in the car, but not all babies do well with travel. Those 14 hours are tiring, and they certainly take their toll on both the baby and the member who has just given birth and gone through a physically trying experience, from a medical standpoint.
Commuting between our ridings and Ottawa is demanding. If the member could avoid all that travel, they could come back to work on the Hill refreshed and ready to go. They could also opt to come to Ottawa once every two weeks. They could be here in person the week when something important was going on or their presence was absolutely necessary, and stay home the following week. That would be less draining on the child and allow for some flexibility during the baby's first six months. I think new fathers should also have that option.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
With regard to the security, I'm actually very pleased you brought that up. One thing I noted when we had the security officials here the other day was the discussion about constituencies and the fact that there's nothing provided for residences. As an Ottawa MP, obviously I'm a lot easier to follow home from Parliament, for instance, or something like that; that line isn't as blurred. For instance, some of my colleagues who don't have security alarm systems in their homes are installing very expensive alarm systems solely because of the nature of their public responsibilities. These are things that haven't been discussed, to my knowledge.
From a woman's perspective, I'm walking down to the parking lot quite often late at night. As you said, we have meetings that go till 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock sometimes, and I'm walking to that parking lot, getting in my car, and then driving home. I think the issue of security could very well be one of those topics that we should come up with, both because we are the committee that is responsible for the estimates for the security service but also because of the family-friendly Parliament. It can be a tremendous deterrent to you as a woman who wants to run if you are concerned about your security, especially if there are people out there—there always are—who may not necessarily be pleased with what you're doing and who take that out on you in certain ways as a public official. I think it's something that probably affects women predominantly, a little bit more than men.
I think it definitely would be something to add to our study on inclusive Parliament. Thank you for bringing it up
View Jamie Schmale Profile
Well, thank you for your ongoing efforts to make sure that the public still has access to the precinct.
Quickly just on another note, a lot of attention is paid to us here on the Hill, which is important, but I also think of our constituency staff. Will there be ongoing evaluations of how our offices are set up or any measures that we can put in place to help those people who are off site?
Patrick McDonell
View Patrick McDonell Profile
Patrick McDonell
2016-03-08 11:27
My name is Pat McDonnell, and I'm the deputy Sergeant-at-Arms in charge of the corporate security office.
We have a project team that looks after constituency office security. We have funds set aside for enhancements, if required, to constituency offices. We have contractors out there who will do an assessment of the constituency office, and my team will also from time to time do assessments of the constituency office security set-up.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
Following on that, Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, the security in the constituency offices obviously also has a lot of impact in terms of local police. In my case it's Ottawa police, but you have all the local police forces in every constituency across the country.
For instance, one individual may harass or follow a member of Parliament to here on the Hill, to their home, to their constituency. On the Hill it would be the protective services. The constituencies are under the Sergeant-at-Arms. If you're at your home, it would be under the local police.
How do these integrate? How do those different things speak to one another?
Patrick McDonell
View Patrick McDonell Profile
Patrick McDonell
2016-03-08 11:39
We have an outreach program. I write each chief of police personally and I give the constituency office address for them to flag, and they'll flag it. In this new Parliament, we haven't had a chance yet to go out to all the MPs and ask them to share their residence address with the local police, but that's also flagged if the MP allows us to flag it.
The co-operation with the police forces to date has been more than excellent. If a person is brought to our attention, we immediately share it with PPS, or the touch-point for PPS. Then PPS takes it from there, turns it over to a specialized section within the RCMP, and they liaise with the local police.
Would that be correct, Mike?
Michael Duheme
View Michael Duheme Profile
Michael Duheme
2016-03-08 11:40
It's important to note that PPS doesn't have an investigative mandate. It's strictly protection of the grounds and the precinct. We don't get involved in an investigation. We'll act as a conduit, if you wish, with regard to whatever pops up, but we do not investigate.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
In terms of our residences, if something happens on the grounds, would the local police get that flag and see instantly if there's been an incident, through the constituency office, through the Hill office? Is there a way you can make sure that is communicated so that they don't go in blind and that instead, when they see a flag, they would know the background or whether there is a particular individual involved?
Michael Duheme
View Michael Duheme Profile
Michael Duheme
2016-03-08 11:41
I'll come back to what Pat mentioned, that a liaison is done with the local police. Let's say there's a threat on an individual, on a member of Parliament. We'll ensure, through the intelligence unit, that the information is shared. As Pat mentioned, with regard to the red flag, if there is a call at that address, a red flag should pop up saying what's going on.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
In terms of the constituency offices, are there best practices or things that we can implement? For instance, I'm having a counter put into my constituency office so that the front desk isn't just open, and people can't just run all the way to the back, for instance, to where my office is.
Is there somewhere these kinds of practices can be gathered and shared so that members of Parliament don't have to reinvent them each time?
Patrick McDonell
View Patrick McDonell Profile
Patrick McDonell
2016-03-08 11:43
Yes. That's my security assessment team, and they'll share those best practices. I should add that even though the sessions are in Ottawa, that team's available all the time to speak with the constituency offices and give them tips. We're also improving our web page on the House of Commons site. There are all sorts of little tips the staff can follow.
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