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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-10 16:14
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Minister, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate the fact that you and your officials have made yourselves available to spend this next little while with us.
I was reading a national columnist this last week, and there was an expression of concern about the estimates process and the ability of the average Canadian and possibly of parliamentarians to understand it. Certainly he, as a member of the media, was confused by the estimates process. I think it's important for people watching this and for those who don't fully understand the estimates process that you explain in general terms how Canadians should look at the estimates. Maybe you can also explain some of the things that have been done to help people understand the estimates and some of the recent things that have happened.
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
This is a constant challenge for anyone who is the President of the Treasury Board, to draw the distinction between the estimates process and the budget process. Ultimately they align, but it does take some months for that to occur. Because I'm statutorily required to table the estimates to the House of Commons prior to March 1, and frequently the budget is either around the same time, or in this case just after that, they don't align perfectly at the start of the year but they certainly align perfectly at the end of the year. So parliamentarians have the estimates process and they obviously pass or not. We have the budget, and then we have the public accounts for the previous year, which are a topic of examination and debate by this committee and by the parliamentary process.
Finally, I would say that one of the things I have instituted since being named the President of the Treasury Board in 2011 is to try to get us away from paper-based estimates and public accounts, and toward the more online versions, where through hypertext and other links it will be easier for you and your colleagues to examine each program year by year, each department year by year, and that way you can compare and contrast, rather than going through three sets of books of the past three years that are a metre high.
I think it is working better, and there is certainly more that can be done, but technology is our friend and it's making it easier for the government to be accountable to parliamentarians.
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:09
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Very briefly, Mr. Chair, just by way of context and to pick up on some of the items from the last round, there was a great deal of interest in the issue of the budget and sunsetting, and the order in which information is presented, supporting, again, your point about the primacy of parliamentary control and approval of the estimates documents.
We are presenting information to you that has been approved by the Treasury Board based on an available source of funds, as confirmed by the budget. Generally, that source of funds is through the budget process. We have no control of or indication as to when that budget will be, but we do have regular intervals, regular opportunities, to update Parliament on the spending plans of departments based on the sources of funds that are provided through that budget process.
What we are presenting today in supplementary estimates (C) are all those authorities to close out fiscal year 2014-15 and the approved authorities to begin fiscal year 2015-16. We will update Parliament regularly through subsequent supplementary estimates as that situation changes with the budget and the economic update.
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:28
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Thank you for the question. I welcome this, because I think it is an opportunity to educate members of Parliament about the process and perhaps dispel some myths and misconceptions.
I spoke earlier about supplementary estimates (C) and the fact that they are tabled according to House Standing Orders at a certain point in the year, leaving just a few weeks in the fiscal year for departments to execute the programs based on the approvals provided by Parliament.
In the past, going back to the early nineties, this timing created a phenomenon known as “March madness”, whereby departments would spend the money available, because if they couldn't spend it, they would lose it. This was a practice that was criticized by the Auditor General and by parliamentary committees, so the concept of carry forward was introduced in 1993. It allowed a bit of flexibility. It simply recognized the reality of providing approval for funding very late in the fiscal year and some of the difficulty in spending this related to contracting, hiring staff, etc.
It proved to be quite successful, I think. The Auditor General supported an increase to the carry forward. It was increased to 5% in 1994-95 and has stayed at that level ever since.
A more recent development in 2007 was the creation of a central vote to provide more transparency to Parliament in terms of the use of that vote. Right now Parliament, through these main estimates, is creating a central vote for administration by Treasury Board, and we will report back—that central vote is worth $1.6 billion—at the conclusion of the fiscal year on how that $1.6 billion was allocated, department by department, in accordance with their carry forward needs and entitlements. There is a very strict process by which we determine whether they are eligible or not for that carry forward.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:30
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Okay.
Just on this whole topic, because criticisms are raised in this place quite often, and sometimes it's good to check in with them, would you say that you're well acquainted with the supply process and the need to check in with parliamentarians throughout?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:30
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Absolutely. This is a process that we take quite seriously. The sector exists to support the expenditure management system, and we appear regularly before parliamentary committees. We take this quite seriously.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:30
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With that in mind, because it was raised earlier that we have only this much time at this committee, I was left with the impression that people at home might think we spend only an hour reviewing these particular things. I know you probably spend much more than just that.
Besides this committee, what other opportunities do individual members of Parliament have to hold the government to account when it comes to its spending, both informal as well as formal methods?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:31
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Thank you for the question.
Transparency and accountability for the moneys provided to departments again are something that we take quite seriously. We have, I think, worked very constructively with this committee, with the Senate Committee on National Finance, with the Office of the Auditor General to listen and hear their needs and make real improvements to the information provided to Parliament, not only in the estimates but in a range of other documents. The quarterly financial report provides in-year reporting on how each and every department is progressing against the authorities provided to them by departments.
In just a week or so the President of the Treasury Board will table departmental reports on plans and priorities, which provide a great deal of detail by department for the moneys requested in these supplementary estimates. We have worked with departments over the last several years to improve the transparency of their documents by identifying strategic outcomes and program activities that allow parliamentary committees to better understand the aggregation of programs and how those fit with departmental mandates and government priorities.
I think that provides just a very brief summary of the work that we've done, and I can assure you it is an ongoing exercise. I think Canada can be very proud of the way its public finances are managed, but we are always striving to identify and implement improvements, and we would welcome recommendations.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:33
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I just want to clarify. The reports on plans and priorities I think was what you meant to say, not the departmental reports. Is that correct?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:33
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There are two documents that comprise part III of the estimates. The report on plans and priorities is tabled in the spring to support main estimates, and then at the conclusion of the fiscal year a departmental performance report is tabled, which provides that backward-looking view.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:33
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Thank you, Mr. Albas.
Just to take a second, I think it would be useful for new members of the committee to see the helpful chart that Mr. Matthews put together for us to help us understand the continuity of the flow of supply, which included everything from estimates to budget to DPRs. It helped me at least to have that graphically illustrated to understand that flow of supply.
Mr. Byrne.
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Sean Speer
View Sean Speer Profile
Sean Speer
2014-09-29 16:12
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Mr. Chair, the only thing I would say to Mr. Page's comments is that we're seeing at the provincial level the separation of the operating and capital budgets. I understand the case for separating them for the purposes of these types of spending decisions. But we've seen in the case of some provinces that it's created a real lack of transparency, making it very difficult to evaluate the true finances of the government.
So to the extent that we move in that direction, there would have to be a careful eye towards increasing rather than reducing transparency.
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2014-05-29 11:03
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Thank you, and good morning. It's always a pleasure to come and visit this great group of parliamentarians.
I am very pleased to be here today, along with Marc Bosc, the deputy clerk of the House of Commons, and Mark Watters, the chief financial officer.
We're also joined by other members of the House administration's executive management team: Stéphan Aubé, the chief information officer; Richard Denis, the deputy law clerk and parliamentary counsel; Pierre Parent, the chief human resources officer; and Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms.
Today, I will be presenting the House of Commons' main estimates and the supplementary estimates (A) for 2014-2015. I will begin with a presentation on the main estimates and will conclude with information on funding requested in the supplementary estimates (A).
The 2014-15 main estimates total $413,725,137. This represents a decrease of 3.5% compared to the 2013-14 main estimates funding levels, and a 7.2% reduction from the 2012-13 main estimates. For reference purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes for the main estimates between 2013-14 and 2014-15.
I'll proceed by providing an overview of each line item, along with four major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; reductions under the structural operating review; and employee benefit plans.
To start, I would like to speak to the budgets for members, House officers, and presiding officers. Even when we exclude the reductions achieved under the strategic and operating review, this portion of our estimates was reduced by over $1.1 million. This figure includes both the statutory increases to the sessional allowance and additional salaries, as well as the statutory reductions to the members of Parliament retiring allowances account, and the retirement compensation arrangements account. The reductions seen as a result of both pension adjustments amount to $1.9 million.
As you may remember, the cost to the House of Commons for contributions to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board, based on actuarial calculations.
Let us now look at matters that relate to the Administration of the House of Commons.
First, you will note that the main estimates allocate $1.4 million for increased transparency resulting from changes to the public reporting of members' expenditures.
This funding requirement is further to the announcement made by the Board of Internal Economy in October 2013 that we will move to an enhanced disclosure format, as well as towards quarterly reporting for the Members' Expenditures Report.
Notably, these changes to improve transparency will include the presentation of service contracts as a stand-alone category, separate members' accommodation expenses for members' per diem expenses, and subdivide the hospitality category. Additionally, more information will be made available regarding the use of all special travel points, and this will, as well, be disclosed quarterly.
The first enhanced quarterly members' expenditure report covering the period from April 1 to June 30 will be published by September 30 of this year.
While the funding requirements are not reflected in these main estimates, I do want to mention that the members' expenditure report for the second quarter of fiscal year 2014-15 will be further enhanced to bring House of Commons reporting for travel and hospitality expenses in line with proactive disclosure practices of ministers' offices. Extensive system changes are currently under way and will be reflected in a further report which will be available to the public by December 31, 2014. Increasing transparency has been a priority of the Board of Internal Economy for some time, and the board remains committed to finding ways in which we can continue to improve.
Moving on from disclosure, the main estimates also allocate an additional $190,000 in compensation for House administration employees. This funding is specifically used to cover economic increases for 2014-15 for collective agreements ending after March 31, 2014.
Additionally, the main estimates once again account for temporary funding for two parliamentary conferences: the 40th  Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie and the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic region. These two upcoming conferences will be excellent opportunities to showcase Canada, foster parliamentary diplomacy and advance Canadian objectives internationally.
The funding decisions for both of these conferences were taken by the Board of Internal Economy, in keeping with the recommendations by the Joint Interparliamentary Council.
The 40th annual session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie requires temporary funding of $184,000 for 2014-15. This session will be taking place this July in Ottawa.
Further, the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region requires temporary funding of $132,000 for 2014-15. The event will be held in Whitehorse this October.
There is also a $25,000 increase that is required for pages' remuneration under the House of Commons page program. In December 2010 the board approved a permanent annual increase to the compensation for pages that is equal to the average increases in tuition fees at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. I am certain we can all agree that we want to continue to recruit top young Canadians for the page program. By linking their pay to their tuition rates, we ensure that they remain fairly compensated for their valuable work. For fiscal year 2014-15 the annual compensation for each page increased by $536 to $13,584.
Finally, you will note that the main estimates reflect reductions for two instances of temporary funding: the online recruitment tool and asset management. This combined funding of $669,000 is no longer required.
Let us now turn to the reductions that are being achieved as a result of the House of Commons strategic and operating review. As you know, on March 12, 2012, the Board of Internal Economy approved a savings and reduction strategy that is seeing spending for the House of Commons decrease by $30.3 million, or 6.9% of the overall budget.
For the 2014-15 main estimates, the reductions amount to $13.5 million and are being achieved through a number of key initiatives that I will cover briefly.
Notably, there are reductions to House officers' office budgets in keeping with the decreases per year for the past two fiscal years. These amount to savings of $600,000.
Additionally, the reductions include significant savings that have been achieved by the increased use of flight passes and low-fare economy travel. As you well know, regular travel is a necessity for members, and it is an area in which we have been able to collectively achieve substantial savings.
The constituency office furniture and equipment improvement fund will be eliminated in 2014-15, resulting in savings of more than $1.5 million. This fund was used to supplement existing stocks of equipment and furniture for members' constituency offices. Going forward, members will make use of their own office budgets should they wish to supplement or improve their office furnishings.
Furthermore, savings of $3.6 million are being achieved through the reduction of personnel-related costs. Since January 2014, employees of members, House officers, and research offices are being granted vacation leave in lieu of automatic lump-sum vacation payments. This change brings our practices in line with the standard practices used by nearly all public and private sector employers.
For 2014-2015, there are further reductions to the Liaison Committee funding envelope. These reductions are in line with measures taken by members of parliamentary committees, as they too continue their ongoing efforts to limit spending and find efficiencies.
Additionally, further cost savings and reductions for the House of Commons Administration are being achieved through a combination of budget reductions, administrative operational efficiencies, attrition and a limited number of workforce adjustment situations.
The House Administration management team has put forth great efforts to limit the impact on its employees, and where there have been impacts, a work force adjustment policy is in place to facilitate employment continuity for indeterminate employees.
The final item that is included in the 2014-15 main estimates is a reduction of $1.6 million to employee benefit plans. This is a non-discretionary statutory expense that, in accordance with Treasury Board benefit rates, has decreased from 17.4% of salaries to 16.5% of salaries.
This concludes our overview of the House of Commons main estimates for 2014-15.
I would now like to move on to the House of Commons request of $5,048,736 in supplementary estimates (A). This request included funding for three items.
The first item, which was previously approved by the board, is for $81,000 to fund a 1% economic increase for House administration senior managers as of April 1, 2013. This economic increase is in line with the 1% increase approved by the Treasury Board for the executive group throughout the federal public service.
The second item, for $1.2 million, is for a 2014-15 annual adjustment of members' sessional allowance and additional salaries. This funding is statutory in nature and is based on an index published by Employment and Social Development Canada.
The final item included in the supplementary estimates is funding of $3.8 million required for the ongoing yearly maintenance and life cycle replacement costs for information technology assets. As established in the Long-Term Vision and Plan, there is a need to equip all buildings in the parliamentary precinct with information technology and related infrastructure required for access to information services in order to ensure the effective functioning of Parliament.
The board approved this funding on a five-year basis starting in 2014-2015, and the House Administration must return to the board on a yearly basis to refresh the five-year estimates via the main estimates process.
I am confident you will agree that the 2014-15 main estimates and supplementary estimates (A) reflect both the Board of Internal Economy's and the House of Commons' commitment to continued cost containment. We have been able to find efficiencies and make reductions by carefully analyzing our expenditures. While I am pleased that the main estimates I discussed here today represent a 7.2% reduction over those I presented two years ago, I assure you that we will continue to make every effort to find further efficiencies while providing high-quality support to parliamentarians.
At this time we would all be happy to answer your questions.
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to start by congratulating you, your executive team, and really all of the MPs in the House for the cost savings and expenditure reductions that have been achieved. I think it has been a real team effort. I think we're setting the benchmark and setting the trend for the reality of the world and certainly Canada today that you live within your means, and that expenditures are reasonable and according to appropriate rules and within appropriate levels. I want to congratulate everyone involved in that. It's great to see a 7.2% reduction over the past two years, so kudos to all of you for that great work.
I would like to talk about the $1.4 million that you are requesting with respect to the new MP disclosure system. Can you give us more of a breakdown of the $1.4 million? Is it software-related or capital-related? Is it for employees who need to be hired to administer the new enhanced disclosure system? I think all MPs are looking forward to this, because it will be a uniform system across the board for every MP disclosing expenditures in a similar way throughout. I think it's a great initiative. I'd just like a better breakdown of the $1.4 million, please.
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2014-05-29 11:17
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Perhaps I could ask Mark to answer regarding some of the specifics in terms of the percentages, but I can tell you that most of it will be going to staff, to bringing on employees to manage all of the transactions.
One of the points that came up during the discussion on this was that members of Parliament and their staff travel a great deal more than even ministers and staff of ministerial offices and other sectors of the public service do, so tracking all of that will require additional human resources. There will also be some one-time software costs and licensing types of expenditures for the computer aspects of disclosure.
I don't know if we have a more detailed breakdown with regard to percentage.
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Mark G. Watters
View Mark G. Watters Profile
Mark G. Watters
2014-05-29 11:18
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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Chair, we are planning on hiring—well, we actually did because this was done in the fall of last year, and the committee agreed with the request for supplementary estimates last year to fund this partially—13 employees, 11 of those in my sector, in finance, and 2 in IT, as well as ongoing support for the good care and nurturing of those employees, in terms of offices and supplies, and those types of things, and mostly to look after the interrelationship with the members.
We get a lot of questions from members about their accounts and those are answered as those transactions are processed. Often they're answered again. When the reports are ready to be published, we get questions and members say, “Can you please recall for me and reconcile for me the use of my points? I'd like to go over those reports again in more detail.” We do a lot of transactional work and mostly clerical work with members and their offices.
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View Craig Scott Profile
NDP (ON)
View Craig Scott Profile
2014-05-29 11:47
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Thank you very much.
The next question may go through you, Mr. Speaker, but Mr. Watters might be in a better position to answer it.
We had some questions from Mr. Butt about the amount of extra budget that will be needed to have a properly functioning office with respect to higher transparency of MP expenses. It was indicated that a fair chunk of that would be towards personnel.
I'm just wondering, have we gotten to the point where...? Are there any issues around health of employees related to stress due to workload flow in any departments, including in finance? Are we absolutely content that we have the right number of personnel, or are we actually getting to the point of losing efficiencies because of stress issues?
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Michelle Doucet
View Michelle Doucet Profile
Michelle Doucet
2014-04-01 8:47
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to speak to you today.
I am accompanied by two colleagues from the Privy Council Office—Mr. Ward Elcock and Ms. Karen Cahill. As you may know, Mr. Elcock is the special advisor on human smuggling and illegal migration. As such, he coordinates the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling. Ms. Cahill is the executive director of the finance and corporate planning division of the corporate services branch in the Privy Council Office. In this capacity, she is also the deputy chief financial officer for the department.
My introductory comments are about the 2014-15 main estimates for the Privy Council Office (PCO) as well as its report on plans and priorities for the same year.
The PCO is seeking $118.8 million in the 2014-15 main estimates. This is an overall reduction of $4.6 million from the amount the PCO sought in last year's main estimates, which was $123.4 million.
The PCO's main estimates for this year are mainly related to the following.
A decrease of $4.4 million in savings was identified as part of the budget 2012 spending review. The PCO contribution to this exercise will total $9.2 million in savings, taking full effect today, in 2014-15. The PCO is one of many federal organizations that undertook this review with the goal of returning the government to balanced budgets, while at the same time improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs.
To support these objectives, the PCO has undertaken several deficit reduction measures, including: transforming business processes across the department to achieve administrative efficiencies, further integrating the intergovernmental affairs function within the department, modernizing and streamlining the government communications function, and streamlining the cabinet system to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making.
The vast majority of PCO expenses consists of salaries and associated operational costs. As a result, most of the savings needed to be generated by having fewer employees within the department. These reductions were achieved through a fair and transparent workforce adjustment process where all affected employees were treated with respect and every possible effort was made to identify the best possible solution for each individual.
There is also a decrease of $1.4 million related to statutory authorities mostly related to contributions to employee benefit plans, which was made pursuant to Treasury Board Secretariat instructions.
In addition, there is a decrease of $0.3 million related to three efficiency exercises. The first one is the continuation of the consolidation of pay services to PWGSC's Centre of Expertise in Miramichi, New Brunswick. The two other efficiency exercises are for measures announced in Canada’s economic action plan 2013: namely, the consolidation of the procurement of workplace technology device software and the reduction of travel costs.
These decreases are partially offset by an increase of $1.2 million for activities related to the continued implementation of Canada's migrant smuggling prevention strategy, headed by Mr. Elcock. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Elcock's mandate is to coordinate the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling.
In the last two years, Canada has successfully secured cooperation in transit countries in Southeast Asia and west Africa. The PCO works closely with four other federal agencies to further Canada's objectives on this important initiative. Approved funding of $1.2 million for 2013-14 was sought through the 2013-14 supplementary estimates (B) and presented to this committee during the PCO's last appearance. Funding for 2014-15 is now included in our main estimates.
An increase of $0.4 million represents the portion of wages and salary increases to be paid to employees during fiscal year 2014-15, in accordance with specific collective agreements that took effect last year.
This completes the explanation of PCO's 2014-15 main estimates.
I will turn now to PCO's report on plans and priorities for fiscal year 2014-15 to give you an overview of PCO's planning highlights.
To begin, it is important to note that the PCO's sole strategic outcome is to ensure that the government's agenda and decision-making are supported and implemented and that the institutions of government are supported and maintained.
In this regard, the PCO will continue to play a central coordination and advisory role within the public service to support the government in achieving its stated objectives for the year. The PCO plans to successfully meet this strategic outcome by focusing on four key operational priorities during the year. None of these are new priorities, but some of them have been updated recently to better highlight the importance of certain areas of the department's work. For example, you will note under priority one that the PCO is now reflecting its advisory and support role for portfolio ministers, in addition to the Prime Minister.
This role has always been done in the past and has always been reported under the plans for this priority, but the revised priority now accurately reflects that the PCO supports the Prime Minister and the portfolio ministers in exercising their overall leadership responsibilities by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support on the entire spectrum of the government's policy, legislative, and government administration priorities. This includes, among other things, advice on social and economic affairs, regional development, foreign affairs, national security, defence, Governor in Council appointments, intergovernmental relations, and the environment.
The second of PCO's priorities will be to support the deliberations of cabinet and its committees on key policy initiatives and coordinate medium-term policy planning. This priority has also been updated for this year to better reflect the importance of the advisory and support roles PCO has always played for cabinet and its committees.
What that looks like is that PCO manages the day-to-day activities that support the work of cabinet and its committees, such as scheduling and support services for meetings, as well as the distribution of cabinet documents.
PCO will work throughout the year to provide guidance and a rigorous challenge function to departments to advance policy, legislative and government administration proposals that are high quality, prepared in a timely manner and focused on addressing priority areas identified by the government.
The PCO's third priority is to enable the management and accountability of government. The PCO provides strategic advice on whole-of-government transformation initiatives, public service renewal, and other management reforms, which will ultimately contribute to sound government administration, enhanced productivity in the public service, and improved services to Canadians.
To this end, the PCO will support the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Deputy Minister Board of Management and Renewal in the identification of whole-of-government proposals to advance the government's priority for improved efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, the PCO will actively engage and collaborate with implicated departments and other central agencies in the implementation of these proposals.
In 2013, the Clerk of the Privy Council launched the Blueprint 2020 engagement process. As you may know, this process sought the input of all public servants on a clear vision for the future of the public service, and to determine what changes were necessary to make that future a reality. PCO will continue to support the clerk in order to achieve this vision, both across the public service and within PCO itself.
In addition, PCO will continue to provide advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council on the human resource management of senior leaders. This includes supporting the learning and development of senior leaders, undertaking succession planning and performance management, and supporting the Deputy Minister Committee of Senior Officials.
In keeping with the major transformational initiatives taking place across the public service, PCO's fourth and final priority is to strengthen the department’s own internal management practices.
During the year, the PCO will continue to support the Government of Canada's human resources modernization initiative, which aims to consolidate and enhance the delivery of human resource services across the government. This will be achieved in large part through the adoption of common human resource business processes and the implementation of further process improvements to deliver better human resource services to clients.
In addition, PCO will continue its efforts to implement the new directive on performance management to ensure that PCO has a high-performing and adaptable workforce. PCO will also support the Government of Canada's efforts to enhance information technology through the modernization of computer desktops, the implementation of the email transformation initiative, the establishment of government-wide secure network connectivity, and the consolidation of Government of Canada data centres. To that end, PCO will be working closely with its key IT business partner, Shared Services Canada.
Finally, PCO will implement the Government of Canada’s shared travel solutions initiative, as well as undertake a review of the department’s financial processes in order to align them with the Government of Canada’s financial business process modernization initiative.
In conclusion, it is through these initiatives and activities, done in support of PCO's four organizational priorities, that the department will be able to successfully fulfill its overall strategic outcome.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to explain the initiatives related to PCO's 2014-15 main estimates and our report on plans and priorities. We would be pleased to address your questions.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:06
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. It's always a pleasure to see you. To the other witnesses as well, thanks for coming.
I'd like to start off with a general concern which should be a concern all Canadians and all parliamentarians have, and that is the ability for us to do our job, to ensure oversight on expenditures. It seems you get a failing grade when we listen to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Fréchette, who kind of kindly slams you, Minister, for reducing significantly parliamentary oversight. For example, the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that nearly two-thirds of expenditures here are only getting cursory oversight.
How do you answer the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Canadians with respect to the decrease or lack of transparency in these particular mains?
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you for the question. It is an important one for parliamentarians and for Canadians as well.
The responsibility for oversight is shared. It is obviously part of Treasury Board's responsibility in its meetings and activities to provide oversight, but it's also parliamentarians who have to take up the responsibility of oversight as well. We've done a number of things to improve what we call expenditure management to enhance the tools that are available to explain, dig into, and to develop and implement the government's spending plans.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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Why is the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that almost two-thirds of expenditures are only getting cursory oversight?
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Yaprak Baltacioglu
View Yaprak Baltacioglu Profile
Yaprak Baltacioglu
2014-03-25 9:08
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Thank you very much for the question.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer points out what my colleague, Mr. Matthews, pointed out. The statutory expenditures are going up while the program expenditures, because we're in an era of reduction, are coming down. Your oversight in terms of the statutory expenditures is that Parliament approves the statutes under which these moneys are distributed. Beyond that it is formula-driven, because however many children you have under the statutory program, you end up paying that. It's a formula-driven oversight and we do have annual reports.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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I understand that, but there's still less information given to Canadians publicly about what's going on with expenditures.
I don't have a lot of time. Five minutes is not a lot of time.
You've removed EI spending from the estimates. We're talking about 85% of projected budget spending that is not reflected. What's the motivation for removing EI expenditures?
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View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good day to my fellow members. Thank you for having me here for the first time in my role as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. I remember my visits to this committee when I was parliamentary secretary. My greetings to Mr. Godin who was a member of the committee at that time and is one still. All the other members have changed.
So, let us begin.
I would like to recognize this committee's achievements. Your study on immersion programs across the country is an indication of your commitment to promoting our national languages. I was, however, a little disappointed that I did not receive an invitation to appear, especially given the fact that, as the product of an immersion program myself, I have often expressed my concerns regarding the changes that have been made to programs since I was in school.
That said, the vitality of our national languages is important to me both as the minister and as a member of the Franco-Manitoban community. I am honoured to work in both Saint-Boniface and Ottawa toward the advancement of French and English, as well as official language communities.
As you know, in the summer of 2012, we undertook official language cross-Canada consultations. Canadians told us that we have made significant progress in key areas since 2008. However, they also mentioned that there was still work to be done to unleash the full potential of our linguistic duality and contribute even more effectively to developing our minority communities.
In its report on the previous Roadmap, your committee shared the concerns expressed by the general public and representatives of organizations in francophone and anglophone minority communities. In the budget tabled on March 21, 2013, our government committed to measures reiterating support for our national languages and showcasing their importance for our identity. A week later, we rolled out the Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages 2013-2018.
This new strategy for official languages translates into $1.1 billion invested over five years in education, immigration, and communities. I'm pleased to confirm that all of the road map's initiatives are now funded on a permanent basis. This is important as only three-quarters of the funding in the previous road map took the form of ongoing support. Road map 2013 to 2018 provides clear testimony of our continuing commitment to official languages in this country.
As I explained in the 2011-2012 Annual Report on Official Languages that I tabled in Parliament last November, Canadian Heritage oversees two main programs supporting official languages. One aims to develop minority official language communities. The other's objective is to promote French and English in Canadian society.
Our programs support the offer of minority-language services at the provincial and territorial level in sectors such as education, justice, culture and health. Our actions have tangible results. For example, working closely with the provinces and territories, we are supporting minority-language education. Every morning across our country, more than 240,000 students in minority communities go to school in their own language.
We support second-language learning. A total of 2.4 million young people are learning French or English as a second language in Canada, more than 340,000 of them in immersion classes. Our young people are among our greatest resources. That is why I am pleased that we were able to offer bursaries to 7,800 students in 2011-2012 that enable them to improve their skills in their second national language. We also created some 700 summer or short-term jobs for bilingual young Canadians. These jobs allow them to practice their knowledge of French and English.
The annual report also provides details about my role in coordinating official languages support within federal institutions. In 2011-12, Canadian Heritage adopted a broader approach to coordination to make the accounting process uniform among all institutions. For three years we've been using this approach, adopted jointly with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
Some 170 federal institutions now have the opportunity to showcase their achievements, which provides Canadians with a complete picture of national efforts to promote French and English.
In the interest of efficiency, we also launched a review in 2013 of our support for organizations in official language communities. Through this review, we want to ensure that our measures effectively meet the needs of communities, particularly in key areas such as youth and culture. This review is being carried out in consultation with community organizations. Our investment levels remain unchanged. I simply want to ensure that we are achieving the best possible results.
The Commissioner of Official Languages has also acknowledged these results. In his 2012-2013 Annual Report, he applauded the efforts to date of Canadian Heritage and other federal institutions with regard to respect for official languages. We will be continuing along this path. We welcome the Commissioner's report and the recommendations in it. They will be used to inform our government's actions. I want to mention here that, last year, our government renewed the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser, for three years. This reappointment was applauded by numerous key stakeholders in official languages. I also want to note that I agree with the Commissioner when it comes to the importance of promoting our linguistic duality as part of large-scale events.
Let's talk about celebrations.
We are currently conducting online consultations and holding roundtables across the country to learn more about how Canadians want to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017. The consultations taking place are mindful of our commitment to promote our linguistic duality as part of the celebrations.
The Commissioner also mentioned in his report that he will be monitoring the implementation of the protocol for agreements for minority language education and second language instruction. I am very pleased that we recently renewed our co-operation with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. The protocol for agreements that we signed with the council provides for more than $1.3 billion in federal investment over five years to support the provincial and territorial governments in the area of official languages in teaching.
we have taken concrete action to promote respect for national languages. We will continue our efforts in this regard, because our action generates results for Canadians and benefits for minority communities.
Thank you for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:33
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Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my Fall 2013 Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. I am accompanied by assistant auditors general Wendy Loschiuk and Maurice Laplante, and principals Gordon Stock and John Affleck.
This report touches on a range of long-standing issues the government has been struggling to address, with potentially significant impacts for Canadians.
Rail safety is one such issue. Fourteen years ago, Transport Canada recognized the need to shift from an inspection-based oversight approach to one that integrates the oversight of safety management systems. This shift is ongoing. Much work remains to be done, and the transition is taking too long.
Transport Canada completed only 26% of its planned audits of federal railways over a three-year period. Most of these audits were narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of railway safety management systems. The department has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems for complying on a day-to-day basis with Canada's framework for rail safety.
Our audit of Canada's food recall system showed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does a good job of managing most aspects of recalls. However, the weaknesses we saw in both follow-ups with industry and in large emergency recalls leave significant gaps in the system. While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I'm not confident the system will always yield similar results. The weaknesses we found in decision-making and follow-up stand in the way of the continuous improvement of a system intended to deal with food safety incidents in Canada.
In this report, we also looked at how the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on a list of possible Canadian residents with accounts in a European bank. The Canada Revenue Agency's initial work on offshore banking information shows promise. However, with more lists to look at and changes in legislation that will give the agency access to more information, I believe that it needs to formalize its approach to deal with the increase in its workload.
In another audit, we looked at border controls to prevent illegal entry into Canada. It is very important for the safety of Canadians that controls at the border work as they are supposed to. I am very concerned that our audit found too many examples of controls not working.
Though the Canada Border Services Agency has made significant progress in some of its efforts to detect high risk travellers, it often does not get the information it needs to identify these travellers before they arrive in Canada. Furthermore, even when the agency has the information, we found that controls do not always work. We also found that the RCMP does not know the extent to which it is successful in intercepting people who enter the country illegally between ports of entry.
Though it is not the first time we have raised these issues, border controls are still not working as they should. With better analysis of existing information and better monitoring, many of these issues can be fixed.
Our audit of disaster assistance to agricultural producers is an example of a program with a disconnect between the program's objectives and its outcomes.
Providing quick assistance to agricultural producers is a key goal of the AgriRecovery program. While Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has delivered assistance to producers for large disasters within their targeted timeline, those producers impacted by disasters with a smaller total payout often wait more than a year for financial help.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada needs to streamline its processes for smaller initiatives, and it must track whether it is meeting its timelines.
Let's now move on to our audit of online government services. We found that, since 2005, the government has not significantly expanded the services it offers online to its citizens. As Canadians rely more on the Internet in their day-to-day lives, they expect the government to provide them with online information and services that address their needs.
The government has estimated that savings can be realized by providing better online services for Canadians, but there needs to be a concerted client-focussed strategy. Departments need to work together to make this happen.
Our audit of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's role in supporting emergency management on first nations reserves showed that the department is in a cycle of reacting to emergencies. It has not been able to focus on what can be done to prevent and mitigate these events.
Some reserves continue to be adversely affected in significant ways by repeated emergencies, such as floods. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal government and other stakeholders are unclear. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada must work with other stakeholders, including first nations, to reduce the human and financial costs of emergencies over the long term.
We also followed up on our audit of internal controls over financial reporting. Eight years after the government made it a priority to have in place effective internal controls over financial reporting, I am concerned that several large departments are still years away from knowing whether these controls are in place and working effectively. With annual spending of nearly $300 billion across government, effective internal controls are a necessary part of safeguarding public assets. It is imperative that departments get this work done without further delay.
This report also looked at the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, specifically whether it has been designed and managed to help sustain Canadian shipbuilding capacity and capability over the coming decades. It's still early, but so far the strategy has resulted in the transparent and efficient selection of two yards to build ships for the navy and the coast guard.
Although only a few contracts have signed to date, and it will be a few years before any ships are delivered, the national shipbuilding procurement strategy shows promise. As with anything new, there are risks involved, and these will need to be closely monitored on an ongoing basis.
A look over the audits that we are reporting on today shows that, in many cases, the results need to be improved. Even when the government recognizes a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions. The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadians, both directly and indirectly.
Departments need to focus on critical success factors that are proven to work. These include setting clear priorities, applying lessons learned, and monitoring deliverables against timelines and objectives.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.
We are happy to answer any questions the members may have. Thank you.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:43
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the Auditor General for being here today along with his staff. Obviously, it is a very important function to make sure that Canadians are getting value for money. I certainly look forward to working with you during my time on this committee.
I'd like to start with chapter 1 of your report. Specifically, I want to understand not just the recommendations, but also the problems that are at hand.
First of all, it's my understanding that the Treasury Board policy on internal control was implemented back in 2009. To me, it sounds as if the purpose was to shift the department's focus from audited financial statements to mandatory annual public disclosure of their risk-based assessment of controls over financial reporting and their planned improvements. It's moving from that. It sounds to me as if they're moving from just keeping the numbers, tracking the numbers, to keeping an eye on other priorities such as inventories, liabilities, etc.
Could you explain a little bit more what that shift is?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:44
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The internal control systems are important for many different reasons. They are there to help protect the government's assets. They are there to make sure that all of the revenue that the government is owed is collected and recorded. They are there to make sure that expenses are authorized.
Financial internal controls are not just about producing statements. They are about many other things, such as protecting government assets.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:45
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Thank you for that.
Your report in paragraph 1.7 states:
While the departments had made some progress toward completing their annual risk-based assessments, none of the departments had fully assessed their internal controls for financial reporting.
I'm bearing in mind that this particular committee takes a non-partisan approach. We're not about the policy per se; we're about value for money. I was disappointed to hear that there was an illusion that none of the seven departments had made improvements, but it sounds to me as if two particular departments made some significant progress. Is that accurate?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:46
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We found that two of the departments involved in this audit, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of Finance, completed all of the work necessary to put in place their system of internal control, assess that system of internal control, determine if there are any gaps in it, address those gaps, and put in place a monitoring system. Two of the departments we looked at had completed the work we expected them to have completed.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:46
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So assertions in this chapter stating that the departments do not have controls over spending are not necessarily accurate. What we're talking about is transitioning to a higher level of accuracy and control from a system where they only monitored through statements. I also believe that it has to do with accountability, as in the Comptroller General's overall position in helping guide departments to comply with the policy.
I think that's another issue you've taken up with the departments. Is that correct?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:47
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Again, it's important for the departments to put in place these systems of controls. I think that's been a priority for a while now, to make sure there are good systems of controls in place. Certainly, there is a role there for the Comptroller General's office as well to encourage these departments to get the internal controls in place.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:47
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Because the policy itself didn't actually set deadlines, is it a fair characterization to say that your office, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Comptroller General's office disagreed with the notion that the Comptroller General, as part of the central agency oversight, would have more of an active role in trying to bring those departments into compliance? Is that correct?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:48
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One of the things we noted—and I think it's in the table that's in the chapter—was there were at least two departments that told us they were going to have this work done by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. There were three departments that told us that, and in this audit we found that two of them didn't have it done. That was a concern for us.
Also, yes, we spent a lot of time discussing with the Comptroller General's office what their role is and, I guess, what activities they undertake to encourage these departments to put their systems of internal controls in, assess them, and make sure they have monitoring processes in place.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 15:49
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the Auditor General and the department for coming.
I have a quick question regarding chapter 1. My friend across the way has been talking about that.
In your comments I think you stated that this actually is not a new audit of a similar situation, but an audit was done of this some time ago and the government committed to making immediate changes on how they do this. Is that a fair summary of what the last one said? I don't have it in front of me today, obviously. I don't think you do either, Mr. Ferguson, but it seems the gist of it was that this was done before and somehow it was going to get fixed, and it's still not fixed.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:49
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This audit was a follow-up audit of an audit we had completed in 2011. The reason we came back and looked at it again so quickly in 2013 was that some of the departments told us they were going to be finished in 2013.
I think it's clear in the chapter that other than for the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of Finance—and I want to be clear that for those two departments, we judged their performance to be satisfactory—the other departments we looked at, as well as the role of Treasury Board, we judged the progress that had been made since the last time we did the audit was unsatisfactory.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 15:50
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I guess I would use the term.... I won't ask you to comment, but you can comment if you would like to, of course, Mr. Ferguson. I always love it when you comment.
It would seem when you did the audit the government made a commitment to complete something. You went back and checked, because they said they would do it quickly, and what you found in this particular case is that a couple of departments managed to make it, and a whole pile of them didn't get there at all.
I don't know if you want to comment on that. It's more of a comment from me. I recognize that's not a direct question.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:51
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Again, I think the summary of the audit was.... It was a follow-up audit. When we're doing a follow-up audit, what we are looking at is what departments have told us in the past, and whether they have done what they said they were going to do. Then it's very clear in a follow-up audit. We look at what they have done, and we judge it to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I think our determination is very clear throughout the chapter.
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View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Then we go back to what you say in chapter 1, about the monitoring issues that seem to be severely lacking. It's been going on for quite some time, where we really need to do a lot of catch up on monitoring of these programs to find out if we're getting the measured success that we so desire. Certainly, when it comes to procurement, such as ship building, or even other types of equipment of that size, and the right decision about options, it seems to me that it's prolific across many departments where we lack the amount of monitoring in order to make these decisions.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:41
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As I mentioned in my opening statement, a number of these issues have been around for a while. Departments have been working on them for a while, but they haven't been able to get them resolved. We think they need to go back to the things that have been proven to work in terms of setting deadlines, learning lessons, setting objectives, and those types of things in measuring performance to make sure some of these files move forward.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 16:52
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I would certainly concur with that, sir, in the sense that if you don't know what the dates are when you're recalling a particular product, you may be recalling stuff that doesn't need to be recalled, but that's on the plus safety side, in a sense. It's a loss to the producer or the processor. The problem is if you have the wrong date, and you were supposed to have recalled the tainted material the day before and it's now out there. That seems to me to be a glaring gap when that confusion starts.
However, I want to move on to chapter 7. You indicated that with a hard cap, if I can use that term, in the budget, which the government has talked about before in the House and you've identified, you suggested that perhaps they will be faced with some choices. What do you see those choices being if they, indeed, stay at the same dollar figure that has been proposed, if there's no movement in opening up that budget in the next number of years?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:53
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To clarify, Mr. Chair, the question referred to chapter 7. I think you're referring to chapter 3 on—
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 16:53
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Oh, sorry. Yes, it's chapter 3. I beg your pardon, Mr. Ferguson. You're right. I got ahead of myself; I want to go there next.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:53
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Really, the types of choices, I think, are the normal types of choices you would see in any large project, whether it's acquisition of military equipment, acquisition of a building, or an information technology project where there are constraints. There's the amount of money you want to spend, there's what you want to buy, and there's when you want it delivered. I think people in the consulting business will usually tell you that you have those three constraints and you can have any two of them.
That's really what this is about. There are budget caps, there's the number of ships they want, there's capability they want in those ships. When you put all of those things together, I think it's a normal part of this type of large project that at some point in time there will have to be considerations made about whether there needs to be more money in the budget, whether it's fewer ships, whether the capability of the ships can be reduced, and we've already seen that within these projects. They're faced with having to make considerations in some of those areas.
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
Good morning to everyone.
We're here with the order of reference of Monday, October 21, on the review of the Board of Internal Economy.
Welcome to all today.
Madam Legault, it's great to have you here with us again. We're going to let you make an opening statement, and then we'll ask you questions.
Please go ahead.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:01
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Good morning, Mr. Chair.
I am here this morning with Nancy Bélanger. She is the general counsel at the Office of the Information Commissioner.
Mr. Chair, my remarks will be very brief this morning.
I really welcome the opportunity to provide my views to the committee on the motion to increase the transparency and accountability of the House of Commons. I will limit my comments this morning to whether there should be modifications to existing laws to ensure greater transparency and accountability. You will not be surprised to hear that I am advocating this morning in favour of extending the coverage of the Access to Information Act to the administration of Parliament.
Access to information legislation gives citizens a legal framework to seek and get answers about how the institutions that govern them spend their tax dollars. The legislation also sets out the limitations to that right—as it is not an absolute right—and the independent review of disclosure decisions.
In my view, the only way to ensure transparency, accountability and effective oversight is for parliamentary institutions to be covered by the Access to Information Act.
Both the Standing Committee on Justice, in 1986-87, and the Access to Information Review Task Force, in 2002, made similar recommendations.
Internationally, the UK Freedom of Information legislation applies to the administration of Parliament but it exempts records if their disclosure would infringe the privileges of Parliament. Discussions with my colleagues at the Information Commissioner's Office of Great Britain led me to believe that these provisions are working fairly well. It is my understanding that that is what the committee was told by IPSA during its review. Obviously, IPSA is subject to Britain's access to information legislation.
During the hearings thus far, there has been a lot of discussion on proactive disclosure and whether or not the new rules set out by the Board of Internal Economy are sufficient.
In my view, proactive disclosure of expenses is a necessary step to making detailed information available to the public. Consistent proactive disclosure across the board for all institutions of Parliament can be done in a detailed way, in an open, accessible, and reusable format, on a regular cycle, and in a timeframe that preserves the relevance of the information.
So proactive disclosure is a good thing, and the more of it, the better. However, it isn't enough. In order to promote public trust in public institutions, there is a need not only to increase the availability and the quality of information but also to ensure access to that information. Citizens want to be able to validate the information that is provided to them or to obtain more details about an issue of interest, or simply know that the right is there for them to exercise when needed, which allows them, really, to determine the legitimacy of the spending and not just its legality.
In my view, bringing Parliament under the Access to Information Act, with appropriate safeguards, would guarantee that right of Canadians.
Thank you.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Legault, for being here.
Thank you, Madam Bélanger, for being here as well.
As you know, the real purpose of this committee is to determine whether or not the Board of Internal Economy should be replaced with an outside independent agency. You may have some comments on that, but I understand from your opening statement that you really want to concentrate your comments on access to information and how it applies both to Parliament and, I assume, to individual members of Parliament as well.
You speak of proactive disclosure and the need for that. As I'm sure you are aware, two of the three recognized parties in Parliament, the Liberal and the Conservative parties, have undertaken to proactively post hospitality and travel expenses from their members of Parliament. The NDP has refused so far to do so. I don't know why, but I'm sure they will have some explaining to do about that.
Specifically, I want to get into how members could or should post their expenses online because there is always going to have to be that balance between access to information and privacy concerns. We have heard, at least in a written submission from the Privacy Commissioner, a cautioning to members about some of the infringements on privacy when posting some of the information of their expenses online. So that's where I'd like to ask you how you see that balance should be and perhaps could be affected.
I'll give you, perhaps for a point of reference and context, a specific example, because it was mentioned in the Privacy Commissioner's written submission. If there were, say, a group of constituents who came to Ottawa to meet with a member of Parliament, and the member of Parliament then subsequently took them out for dinner and posted that expense online, what level of detail do you believe should be on that web posting?
The Privacy Commissioner is cautioning us about naming names. The commissioner suggests perhaps the affiliation or the organization that the constituent or the individual represents rather than the name. But if constituents are coming down on a personal visitation as opposed to a corporate or organizational visitation, would it be sufficient, then, in your estimation, for a member to post that hospitality line as “dinner with constituent” or “dinner with stakeholders”, and the amount? Or do you think there needs to be more information than that? If you do, how does that balance off against the concerns that the Privacy Commissioner has?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:08
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Let me take us back to more generic principles, because I think we're losing ourselves in the details of one specific meal.
Let me explain where I'm coming from, because my understanding is that the motion that is before the committee is also going to look at whether amendments need to be made to any other acts in order to promote the desired level of transparency and accountability.
In preparing today, it's fine and dandy to say that we're going to disclose more detailed expenses or we're going to decide whether we're going to scan receipts and post receipts. But at the end of the day, Mr. Chairman, the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the Senate Ethics Officer all together account for roughly $500 million of taxpayers' dollars. None of that is subject to access rights for Canadians. Ministers' offices are not subject to access rights for Canadians.
I think that when the committee looks at the level of transparency and accountability we have for Parliament, parliamentarians have to decide what level of accountability Canadians deserve in 2013 and specifically in the context of the recent events that we've been living through in Ottawa. In terms of what should be posted publicly, there are various levels of disclosure, and various levels of disclosure are being proposed, and as far as I can tell, we have been discussing MPs' expenses.
In preparing for this, I've also looked at the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy. There are also budgets allocated to members responsible for national caucus research offices. These are not disclosed anywhere, as far as I can tell, nor is there any level of granularity afforded to those kinds of expenses. There are House officers, including the Speaker's office, that receive a separate budget. In fact, they are specifically exempted from disclosure under the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy. No documents, nothing that's being tabled before the Board of Internal Economy or being discussed before the Board of Internal Economy, is actually disclosed or disclosable. In fact, under the Parliament of Canada Act, the members of that board have to swear to secrecy.
That's the legislation that the committee will have to look at, in my view, in changing the rules that would apply to the Board of Internal Economy.
So really to answer the honourable member's question, Mr. Chairman, yes, obviously if anything is disclosed one has to always be mindful of interests of privacy, of interests of constituents, of interests of parliamentary privilege, of interests of solicitor-client privilege. All of these are properly protected under the Access to Information Act.
When one looks at deciding what level of disclosure is required, I think that the U.K. model in that respect is interesting, because Parliament is actually subject to the access act. IPSA is subject to the access act. Our conversation with the assistant commissioner in the U.K. basically reveals that the more disclosure there is, the fewer access requests to Parliament there are. They in fact have very few complaints. In terms of the specific level of details on receipts, I understand that there is presently a case in court in the U.K. on that issue. So it is an issue that is not decided.
From my perspective, that's the only thing I can say. The more proactive disclosure there is going to be, fine, but it still doesn't give people the right to make access requests and find about these kinds of receipts and about the actual events surrounding those expenses. There is no way to properly protect full privacy, parliamentary privilege, and solicitor-client privilege unless you have a proper legislative framework surrounding it.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you, Madame Legault and Madame Bélanger for your presence here today.
I was quite amused by Mr. Lukiwski. After all the Senate scandals with the Conservative and Liberal senators, he's now promising to do better but in the same breath also seemed to hedge on the whole issue of what we've been mandated to do by Parliament, which is replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body—not to study the question, but to do it. Mr. Lukiwski will have the opportunity, of course, Mr. Chair, in the coming days to prove that Conservatives will do better, after all of these repeated scandals and all these problems with transparency.
As you know, Madame Legault, the NDP is a strong ally of yours. We had Pat Martin just last week calling for a complete reform of what is a broken Access to Information Act. I know you've been a strong advocate for that. The NDP is your strong ally on it. Liberal and Conservative governments have broken the act, and the principle is that when taxpayers' money is being used, Canadians should have access to that information.
We also fully support your call to have the Access to Information Act apply to the administration of Parliament. I don't understand why the other parties seem to object to that; it's just common sense. And you said it so eloquently: we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that the Conservative government just seems to want to keep beyond what citizens should be able to access.
So we're strong allies.
What I wanted to do to start off was ask you, in terms of the issue that is in front of us—the whole question of independent oversight.... We've had the Auditor General say very clearly that there needs to be an independent organization that is responsible for MPs' expenses. We support that fully. That's what the motion says that was adopted by Parliament.
You've referred to IPSA as well, to IPSA's process, which also allows for access to information at the same time as it applies the independent oversight that the Auditor General was so strong on just a few days ago.
My question to you is, do you agree with the idea of independent oversight of MPs' expenses, and do you agree with the approach that IPSA has taken, both in terms of MPs' expenses and independent oversight and in terms of access to information?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:15
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Mr. Chair, again it's a very complex question. I'm not an expert in how IPSA works versus the Board of Internal Economy. I really think that the Clerk of the House is the best person to put these kinds of questions to.
Personally speaking, in terms of administrative efficiency it seems to me, from what we have heard and seen so far, that the Board of Internal Economy administers the House of Commons well, and it has a whole slew of officers—an administrative officer, a financial officer, and all of these things—who seem to be working very well. What is lacking is the independent oversight.
Now, the committee can decide to recommend to create another body that would be an independent oversight body, but if that body is still not subject to access to information or if that body is hired through the administration of the House, there has to be some reporting that is done to the Board of Internal Economy, to the Speaker. So I'm not sure that solves the issue the committee seems to be trying to address, which is to get out of the self-supervision that seems to be at issue.
It seems to me that the Office of the Auditor General provides independent oversight, and if the House administration were subject to the Access to Information Act, there would also be independent oversight through complaints to my office and through Canadians being able to make access requests. So if one wants to look at the economic administration of it, or the efficiencies related to it, you already have two independent officers of Parliament who are independent from the administration of the House.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Yes, we appreciate that, and you're calling for changes to the Access to Information Act. I should mention to you that when the Auditor General appeared before us, he said that because of the cutbacks we've seen under this Conservative government in the Auditor General's department, he could undertake comprehensive audits of MPs' expenses, but it would cost Canadians, because he'd have to cut back on important audits elsewhere. As we have seen with the F-35s and military procurement, there is a whole range of issues on which the Conservative government has been appallingly irresponsible when it comes to managing public finances.
So the Auditor General's scope needs to be expanded. What he said is that he needs those resources in order to undertake a comprehensive audit of MPs' expenses at the same time as he does the valuable work of looking over all of the various instances of misspending that we're seeing from this current government.
In your case, you are saying that IPSA is a model. But do you have any specific suggestions, beyond having the Access to Information Act apply as well to the administration of Parliament, that would create an IPSA-like model?
Now we're getting into the details of how we transition to an IPSA-like model. Do you have any specific recommendations that you could make about how we can undertake that transition and assure access to information for the taxpayers who pay our salaries and who should know where that money is being spent?
Do you have any specific additions to what you had in your statement?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:18
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First of all, I didn't say that IPSA was the model. I basically said that IPSA is subject to the Access to Information Act.
Whether the Board of Internal Economy.... If the whole administration of the House is subject to the Access to Information Act, whether you actually need to create another body is for the committee to determine. In looking at the costs of being subject to access to information, I did a brief basic estimate, looking at the overall amount of money that's being spent in the government and the amount that is usually spent on access to information—which is 0.06%, by the way. So of the total cost of the whole of government, how much money is allocated to access to information in the whole federal system? It is 0.06%. If you apply that to the budget of the House of Commons, it is about $400,000 that it would cost to subject the House to an access to information regime.
Whether my office could sustain an increase in complaints.... As I testified before the ethics committee in the last Parliament, my office is basically submerged with complaints at this time.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
And this is a concern with other independent parliamentary bodies. We're seeing those bodies starved of resources.
You are saying that you need more resources to adequately protect the taxpayers' interests.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:20
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Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
In listening to your presentation, Ms. Legault, my ears perked up when you indicated that proactive disclosure is a good thing. I think that we and the vast majority of Canadians, if not all, would agree that proactive disclosure is a good thing. I notice that Mr. Lukiwski also picked up on that particular point. It is something on which, even though there are two parties in agreement about progressing, we have already taken the next step. We are saying that Liberal MPs and Liberal senators have to participate in proactive disclosure.
The issue, of course, is that it has that much more meaning if in fact it is administered to all political parties and is done through the administration. We hope to be able to achieve that. It's been difficult, because the NDP do not want to participate in proactive disclosure, but we'll continue to try to get those reforms brought in.
That was more of a political statement than anything else. I will get to my question.
You also made the comment that “in order to promote trust in public institutions...”. Well, we have made other suggestions, such as having performance audits conducted on expenditures on a more regular basis.
I'm interested in knowing your thoughts about the value of having performance audits be conducted by Canada's Auditor General.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:21
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I think that's something you could ask the Office of the Auditor General. Mr. Ferguson was here, and I think he's the best person to determine the value of the audits.
I think what I've read is that the audits they are proposing to do are going to be completed in a period of 18 months. When institutions are subject to the Access to Information Act, there is an obligation to respond within 30 days. So the accountability that the two mechanisms provide is different. When you conduct an audit, then you determine whether the rules are being complied with and whether the rules lead to efficiency in administration of the program. When you make an access to information request, taxpayers can also determine for themselves whether they consider that the rules are legitimate, whether the spending under the rules is legitimate, or whether they consider it to be illegitimate.
I think the simplest example of a public outcry was when we had disclosure of the $16 orange juice. That was in compliance with the rules; it was an available expense. I think people who have a hard time making ends meet at the end of the week consider that it is not appropriate or legitimate for people who spend public money to incur those kinds of expenses. That's the difference between being able to have an access to information request answered and having an audit answered. They are two different types of accountability mechanisms that exist in Canadian law at this time. The question is, when Parliament spends all of this money that belongs to Canadians, what level of disclosure and what accountability mechanisms are appropriate?
I think parliamentarians have to lead by example. They are accountable to Canadians and they have to lead by example in terms of what mechanisms they will decide are appropriate to supervise their activities.
I actually went on the websites before coming here. The Library of Parliament has no disclosure of anything that the Librarian, whom I know very well, does, whereas the Parliamentary Budget Officer has disclosure. The Senate Ethics Officer.... It's impossible for Canadians to actually determine properly what money is being spent and where, except in aggregated format as part of the public accounts or the public proactive disclosure of MPs' expenses.
What I'm saying today is—
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:24
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I guess, Ms. Legault, what I am getting to is that, whether it's a question of more detailed reports coming from the Auditor General or of putting in a mandate under which they are doing these audits every three years, it actually complements that process to see forward movement on access to information, so that the two of them, hand in hand, can ensure more accountability and transparency.
Would you not agree to that?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:25
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Yes.
If you conduct performance audits, you will have more accountability and transparency every third year for something that happened in years prior. That's the problem: you're basically looking at the past all the time, so that your accountability will be dealing with something that occurred in the past. It's something that is not available during election time; it is something that is not available during prorogation of Parliament. The House administration, the Senate administration, the Library of Parliament, all of these things continue to operate. They continue to enter into service contracts; they continue to spend money; they continue to manage people. All of these things deserve accountability and transparency. If you do something every third year, it's not sufficient.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:25
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In an ideal world, let's say I meet with a senior on pension because he's having issues with the Canada Pension Plan, and I meet him over at McDonald's for lunch. What should I state on the form?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:25
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That's what's going to have to be determined, if people are proactively disclosing specific receipts: how the parliamentary function aspect versus the partisan function aspect and the constituency work are being protected.
You're going to have to look at what is within the definition of “parliamentary function” under the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy; that is the extent of what is going to need to be disclosed in order to make a determination on whether that expense is valid.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:26
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If we look at that specific example, should I be putting in the constituent's name? Whether it is disclosed or not, should I be putting that constituent's name on the receipt, saying “I met with John Doe over lunch”?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:26
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Let me answer from the perspective of an access to information commissioner. If I were to look at something like that; if, for instance, you were subject to access to information and that information were being requested, I would have to look at whether or not this information is personal information of your constituents. That is how I would look at it: whether that information is personal information to your constituent. Then I would look at whether or not there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.
That's how I would look at it.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
Before I get into a couple of questions, Madame Legault, again I want to correct the record. My colleague Mr. Julian has a habit of introducing revisionist history in this committee. He mentioned earlier that this committee has a mandate to replace the Board of Internal Economy. It most certainly does not. We are conducting studies to determine whether or not there could be an independent oversight review body, but certainly there is no mandate for this committee to do so.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Julian. I'm sure you'll have your opportunity in a moment.
I have a couple of questions. You've talked about access to information in institutions such as the Speaker's office, the Library of Parliament, and the like, saying that there should be more information disclosed so that ordinary Canadians.... Would that extend to officers of Parliament—to your own office, as an example?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:28
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We are subject to the Access to Information Act, and your—
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
My question is, on your website do you have proactive disclosure of everything your office spends its money on?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:28
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Yes, we are basically complying with all of the proactive disclosure rules of the Treasury Board Secretariat, and we are subject to the Access to Information Act as well, since the Federal Accountability Act.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Would the correct course of action be, or would it be something that could correct what you consider to be a failure in access to information—an ambit of access to information—if the rules and the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy were changed? I believe right now, if I'm hearing your correctly, that the biggest reason you feel there is a bit of a failure lies not in the fact that they're not complying, but that the rules and bylaws perhaps are too restrictive in terms of access to information.
Would that be a correct characterization on my behalf? You said you examined the rules and the bylaws before you came here. If they were altered somewhat to increase transparency in your view, would that be a proper route to take?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:29
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I think that would be good. As I said, any additional proactive disclosure is excellent; there is no question about that.
What I'm saying is, even if you do that, there is no level of proactive disclosure that will replace being subject to the Access to Information Act.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Then perhaps for the benefit of members of this committee, you could, within about a minute, talk about the access to information requirements that you think the Board of Internal Economy should be subject to. If you can deal with some specifics, I think that would be more helpful than the generalities.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:30
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I do think that the Access to Information Act should be amended to cover the administration of the House and the Senate. I think there should be a proper provision—
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:30
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No, no, I will get there.
And there should be a proper provision for the protection of parliamentary privilege, which is crucial. That needs to be embedded together.
The access act would then provide protection for personal information, solicitor-client information, and so on, so that the discussions occurring in the administration of the House, such as discussions that are being conducted or documents that are being reviewed by the Board of Internal Economy in making and implementing the administration of the House, would be subject to the act, but would have the appropriate protections for the appropriate level of confidentiality that's required when one discusses legal matters, when one discusses labour relations matters....
But having the whole House administration subject to the act needs to be embedded in the access act, and there would need to be an amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act because there is, in section 50, a provision for secrecy for the Board of Internal Economy. That would need to be addressed. Even if you want to open up the Board of Internal Economy, I think that provision in the Parliament of Canada Act needs to be addressed somehow.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thanks very much, Chair.
Thank you very much for your attendance today. We appreciate it. It's very helpful.
I would like to just give a clarification from this side of the House, notwithstanding Mr. Lukiwski's view of things. The actual motion that was passed unanimously by the House of Commons didn't just say, “Oh hey, take a quick look at that and see what you think.” It was far more specific. The unanimous mandate from the House was to “conduct open and public hearings with a view to replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body”.
So this isn't just a drive-by hearing—this has meaning.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
I'd like to just offer a bit of a vision of where this side so far is beginning to evolve to in terms of what we'd like to see. There's still hope that we'll all come to agreement, because that's still the best: if it's unanimous.
But here's where we are. We agree with the idea of a stand-alone, independent, arm's-length agency, as referred to in the motion, and we do like the IPSA model. We had them here the other day. We asked them questions.
It's our thinking that it allows for the kind of.... If we go with that model and accept the principles they have, it seems to us that it would satisfy some of the requests and requirements that you're putting forward on behalf of the Canadian people to allow access to information to be a part of IPSA, a Canadian version of it. Also, the Auditor General has said that he very much likes the idea that IPSA is subject to audits by the National Audit Office, which is his counterpart. So for two of the biggest legislative concerns, not from an insider old boys' club of MPs, but from the public point of view in terms of what they would like and need, we see this model as allowing and requiring at least those two changes to legislation to give IPSA access through the AG and through your office.
We believe that a stand-alone mandate by Canadians...and IPSA goes so far as to regulate the process of who gets hired. It's an open competition. Their stand-alone mandate is to be accountable to the British people for the supervision of MP expenses and their claims, so it removes some of that conflict that does happen when MPs are sitting around and it's MPs' interests versus public interest, and guess what? Guess how it's going to go and who's going to get the benefit of the doubt nine times out of ten? Whereas we think that if there's an independent mandate of Canadians who are accountable to Canadians for the supervision and accountability of our expenses, that kind of benefit of the doubt to the insider is not going to happen.
Lastly, it still allows BOIE to continue, because their work is not just MPs' expenses, and most of that work can then be done in public because there's no need for privacy concerns: they've all been removed to the IPSA shop.
That's kind of where we're evolving. We'd very much appreciate your thoughts on that.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:35
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Mr. Chair, I feel as if I'm reciting media lines, but, really, in my view, I think that one has to also look at the cost of IPSA. I think it's somewhere around £6 million or $6 million Canadian. Anyway, it's in the range of six million, which is a lot of money. Unless the administration of Parliament is brought under the access act, whether or not you add an independent body like IPSA, it will not solve what I consider to be the accountability and transparency deficit of the administration of $500 million of taxpayers' dollars.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-21 11:36
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Thank you, Chair.
Madam Legault, I've heard you say $500 million more than once. I suspect that $500 million includes the salaries of members of Parliament and senators, many things that are very, very public. I don't know where else that number would come from. The vast majority of that $500 million is quite available, I do believe.
But I have looked at your website and I can't find any disclosure. Would somebody have to use access to information to obtain the information for your department, or is it available to the public online?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:36
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It is, in the Proactive Disclosure section on the website, and lists “Travel expenses”, “Hospitality expenses”, “Contracts over $10,000”, “Position reclassifications”, “Proactive disclosure of grants and contributions over $25,000”, etc.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-21 11:37
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Okay. I couldn't find it here, so maybe it's my lack of ability on the computer.
I want to be sure that what we're talking about in this committee is proactive disclosure. I had the feeling that what you're talking about is access to information by your office, by requests that would ultimately go through that process.
Are we talking two different things or are we talking the same thing?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:37
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Well, Mr. Chair, the motion actually indicates that the committee is going to look at whether or not there is a necessity to amend any other acts in order to provide accountability and transparency. This is the extent of my presentation today.
Proactive disclosure is part of the spectrum of transparency and accountability. You have to decide what level of proactive disclosure is necessary. I'm saying that even if you do have a high level of proactive disclosure, access to information is a tool by which people can verify and legitimize the expenses that are being made by anybody who uses taxpayers' dollars.
My office receives access to information requests based on some of the things that are proactively disclosed; for example, access to information requests based on minutes of our management meetings. People have all sorts of access requests because they want to find out what, exactly, is being done, and how the money is being spent, and whether they think it's appropriately spent.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-21 11:38
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Okay, I appreciate that.
If Parliament took your advice and brought all of Parliament into that realm of disclosure in the privacy of information, how many more staff members would you calculate it would take for your department to be able to handle whatever the increase would be in demand?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:39
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I really can't tell. I really don't know. What I've tried to do is see how much it would cost to have an access to information office within the administration of the House. Based on the percentage being spent right now, it would be around $400,000, and would be a few people. Again, if we look at what's going on in the U.K., they have a lot of proactive disclosure, which has led to few access to information requests to the Parliament in the U.K. What they did is, once they received access requests, they then started to proactively disclose what had been requested on a proactive basis, and there have been few complaints to the information commissioner's office.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Legault, for your input.
I had wanted the committee to hear from the Privacy Commissioner, and she sent us a brief. Nothing you are saying contradicts what the commissioner said about personal information and privacy. But I would like to hear your thoughts on a point Mr. Lamoureux brought up.
How much information should we disclose? It's important for us, but there are two sides to disclosure. To my mind, it makes perfect sense for my constituents, or the general population, to know how my budget is being spent, because, at the end of the day, it's their money. That's no problem. Like it or not, however, other people are sometimes involved.
For instance, if I sign a service contract with the community television people in my riding, what problem could that cause for them, in terms of other media, since they are also involved? Kevin mentioned taking someone to lunch. Obviously, someone who wants to keep the discussion completely confidential will come to my office, where we can close the door. And the discussion will remain confidential. But even in that case, I have to tell you that my office is located right across from a local newspaper, and the reporters have called me up before to ask why so-and-so came to see me. In those situations, we don't give them an answer.
Basically, if we go out to eat with someone, do we have to disclose who the person is and what the meeting was for? We also want to know whether certain pieces of information need to be disclosed when it comes to the contracts for our employees.
Of course, there are guidelines. But I would like you to elaborate on what we need to do to prevent certain pieces of information from getting out and being made public, information that could harm people who are not members of Parliament.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:42
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That's what makes the matter so complex. The legal frameworks that were created, such as the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, are comprehensive. The institutions subject to those acts do what they have to do, whether it involves contracts, discussions or documentation. The safeguards in those legislative schemes are there precisely to protect that information when access to information requests are made.
Some information is sensitive from a business standpoint, some elements are protected under the privileges granted to your client, and some elements have to be protected because they constitute confidential information. If the act applied to the House and Parliament, it would include safeguards for parliamentary privilege. That's what makes it so difficult to answer your question. Is document A containing information B subject to proactive disclosure? The reality is the answer is very complex.
That is why figuring out the level of specificity that applies in the case of proactive disclosure is complicated, with receipts, for instance. It would be very tough to do without following a procedure to ensure the information that should be protected is protected.
Whether it's realistic to subject administration to that type of disclosure is for the committee to examine and decide. What you're really doing is trying to invent a totally new system, beyond the existing legal frameworks, in terms of your own rules. And if you want to do so when it comes to the existing rules and the Board of Internal Economy bylaws, you are going to have to develop a framework that covers all those questions. That's the complex task you will have to undertake if you approach things that way.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm going to reiterate by following up on Mr. Christopherson's comments about what we're actually mandated to do, because I sense from the other side—and we've seen this in the House with the Prime Minister refusing to answer questions about the Senate scandals—there's a move away from what is actually written.
Mr. Chair, I know people in places like Regina and Burnaby and other places across the country will be wondering what exactly happened here. I want to make sure that we have on the record the motion itself, which is to conduct open and public hearings with a view to replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body. It follows that we will propose modifications to the Parliament of Canada Act and any other acts as deemed necessary, propose any necessary modifications to the administrative policy and practices of the House of Commons, and report its findings to the House no later than December 2 in order to have any proposed changes to expense disclosure and reporting in place for the beginning of the next fiscal year.
It's very clear, Mr. Chair. What we are asked to do is to replace the secretive internal self-policing Board of Internal Economy, and folks in Regina and North Vancouver Island and Burnaby and Newfoundland are expecting us to do that. With that, I'll turn my time over to Madam Groguhé.
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View Sadia Groguhé Profile
NDP (QC)
View Sadia Groguhé Profile
2013-11-21 11:45
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Legault, for your comments.
Clearly, the issue that concerns us above all is rectifying the lack of transparency and accountability. We firmly believe in the need to entrust that accountability function to an independent agency, ideally.
You talked mainly about the Access to Information Act, which you believe should be amended in order to ensure that transparency and accountability.
Aside from the United Kingdom, which you already mentioned in your opening remarks, could you give us some examples of other countries with access to information laws that are working optimally?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:46
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As far as parliamentary transparency and accountability are concerned, the government with the most advanced legislation, the Parliament that is most subject to access to information legislation, is Great Britain's. IPSA is subject to access to information. The British Parliament created an independent agency, and all of it is covered by the legislation.
In terms of general legislation, as you know, I am in the process of examining that whole issue. Soon, I hope to establish what the Canadian model will look like, a model I hope will be the best in the world. Right now, I don't believe a single international model exists. Different models each have elements that are useful, but I firmly believe we can create our own Canadian model and that it can be the best out there.
Be that as it may, I would say that Great Britain currently holds the top spot when it comes to the transparency of Parliament and its institutions.
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View Sadia Groguhé Profile
NDP (QC)
View Sadia Groguhé Profile
2013-11-21 11:48
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With respect to proactive disclosure, you say it's not enough and has its limitations.
Do you think that, like IPSA, an independent agency could significantly improve the state of disclosure, including, of course, as it relates to MPs?
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View Ted Opitz Profile
CPC (ON)
View Ted Opitz Profile
2013-11-21 11:48
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I do need to correct something that the members opposite have said. “With a view to” often means to consider as an option. This is a study to reflect on the potential need to replace or make changes to, and that means “with a view to”. It doesn't categorically mean “this will happen”. You can't situate the estimate, meaning “predetermine an outcome”, before we arrive at that.
Additionally, my friends opposite are not transparent. As my friend from the Liberal Party pointed out, they refuse to be transparent, and in fact, Mr. Julian only has the most basic of first-year expenses from this Parliament on his website. To me, this doesn't appear particularly transparent, open, or accountable for anybody who potentially wants to lead this country. We'd end up going from having what we built as the greatest economy in the G-7 to having the NDP GPS drive us off the cliff. That's something I find very disturbing.
Madam, I'm having some concerns because I think what you're proposing, in many respects, is layers and layers of additional, burdensome administration. There is a lot going on in the House already. There is a lot of accountability. We are the government that put in the Federal Accountability Act in the first place to be able to accommodate this. Our side and the Liberal Party have both agreed to proactively disclose, and you have to give credit to parliamentarians for willingly wanting to disclose the details of our expenses.
In fact, when you do look at something to replace or to change, Mr. Sills from IPSA said himself that you really have to determine if there's a problem big enough to prompt a change. That is something we're also determining, and I'm not sure I see a problem big enough to do that.
Having said that, we've also had two former Speakers and the Clerk here and all said that the Board of Internal Economy is working well and has the appropriate level of disclosure and that things are announced and produced in the House for disclosure to the public, and all of these experts, these former Speakers, all of these people who have spent decades doing this and working intimately with the Board of Internal Economy have said this to us over the last couple of weeks.
Why are they wrong and you right?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:51
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Mr. Chairman, if parliamentarians consider that they are providing enough transparency and accountability to Canadians, then great. I think it's for parliamentarians to decide and it's for Canadians to decide.
People who are testifying to the effect that the Board of Internal Economy functions well are people who are members of the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy functions in secret, as per the Parliament of Canada Act.
So you're right; they're experts—they are part of it. I really can't comment on that. My comment is that in 2013—in an era of open government, open information, and open data—we should submit to some body that administers millions of taxpayers' dollars and they should be subject to the Access of Information Act. The layer of bureaucracy that is required to do that is to have an access to information officer and analysts who analyze requests from Canadians. My office already exists.
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Julian. When you're made chair, you can make these decisions. I'm growing a little tired of your questioning things I do.
Thank you very much for coming today and having fun with us.
We will suspend for a minute while we bring in our other witnesses.
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
I call us back into session.
We have a new panel of guests here, but they're an old panel.
Madam O'Brien and Mr. Watters, thank you for coming back. We had some questions left from the last time you were here and have some new ones in the interim. We will take an opening statement from you, as short as you can make it, and we will try to get through a full round.
Committee, I'll pre-warn you that we're going to try to get to some committee business at the end for some direction on the report. We'd like to end this session a little bit before the top of the hour.
Madam O'Brien.
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Audrey O'Brien
View Audrey O'Brien Profile
Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-21 11:58
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Good morning, Mr. Chairman, honorables députés.
I am pleased to be here with Mark Watters as we return for what I believe will be the final session of hearing witnesses in your study on the Board of Internal Economy. I have followed your hearings with interest.
I found the comments and suggestions made by those who have appeared before the committee very informative. I won't give an opening statement, but I would like to make a few comments that, in my view, will help clarify certain situations that seem to be mired in confusion.
In the first instance, let me simply say that with regard to the salaries and pensions of MPs, the Board of Internal Economy has nothing whatsoever to do with that. The Parliament of Canada sets the annual basic remuneration for members and the additional remuneration for certain office holders. It's the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act that sets pensions. So that's not in our remit.
Secondly, because this too seems to be a source of some confusion, the board has an equal representation of government and opposition members. It's chaired by the Speaker, who's elected by secret ballot by all members. It operates on the basis of consensus.
I've left with the clerk, and I think she has distributed to you, a report on the statistics on the views per page of the information on our website. That was a question I'd had. I have to warn you that these numbers are maybe a bit disappointing. Certainly they're far from overwhelming.
I'm sorry to say that I think it's the lack of direct experience with what is already posted that may lead people to the conclusion that there isn't very much information available or that they don't have sufficient information. Those kinds of comments I think tend to fuel mistrust of the Board of Internal Economy, mistrust of us as the House administration, and by extension, of course, mistrust of you yourselves, as MPs. On the contrary, I believe still, and I think the facts bear us out, that every dollar is accounted for and audited. I'd suggest that a great deal of information is already available. Now, more can be made available, and more is already in the works, but I certainly would urge people to become familiar with what is already on the website.
Another little point that Mr. Taylor-Vaisey from last night made was that it was not the entertainment value of the Board of Internal Economy that journalists were after, but rather the content.
I'm sorry if my facetiousness might have led to some confusion, but when I was talking about the “ordinariness” of the discussion, I was trying to dispel the idea that the Board of Internal Economy was a Star Chamber. I mean, I've always thought of the Star Chamber as rather intriguing, and wonderful. But because the board is constantly described as the “highly secretive” Board of Internal Economy, it tends to get a little atmosphere of Star Chamber about it when, to use a homely example, I think it more likely resembles a condominium board of directors, that sort of thing. That's just to set the record straight.
Finally, I was particularly interested, of course, as we all were, in the testimony of the Auditor General. As members know, the Auditor General's office conducted a performance audit of the House of Commons. The AG came in at the invitation of the board. In June 2010 that invitation was given, and the report was tabled in June 2012. It's a process that took almost two years—two years less a bit if we take it that the first summer was a bit of a lull.
That required us as the administration to devote many resources, in terms of time and people, to working with the Auditor General, which we were happy to do. The OAG made eight recommendations in the report, and the administration agreed with all of them. We've completed mitigating action on five of those, and the three others are well in progress.
I have to say, just as a small point of clarification, that not one of those recommendations had anything to do with the systems or procedures in place concerning the verification of members' entitlements, allowances, and services. I think that's an important point to realize.
That's it, Mr. Chairman. With my colleague Mark, I will be happy to answer questions.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I have one more point about clarification, if I may, Madam O'Brien.
In the spirit of revisionist history that I keep referring to, my friend Mr. Julian has stated, on a number of occasions now, that there's a movement toward voting as opposed to consensus at the Board of Internal Economy. We've heard that claim refuted by both former speakers.
You yourself spoke of that consensus when you first appeared before us, but now, since we are on television and Mr. Julian seems concerned with the people who are watching, so that they get the right information, could you please remind the committee of how the board traditionally works in terms of reaching decisions? Is it through consensus primarily, or is there a movement toward voting and having a decision based on that?
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Audrey O'Brien
View Audrey O'Brien Profile
Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-21 12:03
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Mr. Chairman, through you to Mr. Lukiwski, when I testified, appearing at the first meeting of the committee, I said that the board operated by consensus. It's my belief that this is an accurate description of how the board operates.
I did say that there had been one vote in my almost nine years' experience as secretary to the board. I believe last night Speaker Milliken referred to one or two instances where there had been votes, some of which predated my time as secretary. Again, those are by far the exceptions.
In terms of consensus, the way the discussions work, I believe as former Speaker Fraser explained it, very often the items that come up can be dealt with quite quickly, and there's agreement reached very quickly. In some cases, the issue is a bit more contentious, and it may take one, two, or possibly three meetings for people to come to a meeting of the minds. That's really the way we operate. I think it's safe to say that the people on the board would regard something that came to a vote as a failure of our usual processes.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you for that clarification.
I want to now, with the time we have left, delve a little deeper into your comments about the Auditor General's audit of the Board of Internal Economy. You said there were eight outstanding recommendations, which you all agreed upon, five of them mitigated, three still outstanding, I assume.
More on a, say, overarching view of things, in the report was there any suggestion either through direct recommendations or inference that the board was not fulfilling its duty and perhaps would be better served by having a replacement, independent, outside agency conducting the affairs that now are conducted by the Board of Internal Economy? I ask this because I can only assume that part of the audit was to examine your overall performance, and normally when audits are completed there are notes from the auditor.
So was there any indication, in your estimation, that the Auditor General was unhappy to the point where the BOIE should in fact be considered for replacement?
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Audrey O'Brien
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Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-21 12:05
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In fairness, Mr. Lukiwski, I don't think an examination of the role of the board was part of the mandate of the Auditor General. The Auditor General was coming in to see whether or not the administration adequately supported the Board of Internal Economy and executed its directives.
I can quote from the report:
The House of Commons Administration has the necessary policies in place to deliver services and advice to support Members of Parliament. It has appropriate policies and control systems in place to oversee expenditures and ensure that they conform with the by-laws, policies, and directives of the Board of Internal Economy.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Then I suppose—and I asked this question of the Information Commissioner—if you were complying with and following all of the rules and the bylaws as set out, then if there were any need to change the way in which you operate, it would start with looking at the rules and bylaws and perhaps expanding them, changing them, or amending them to some degree.
Would that be correct?
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Audrey O'Brien
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Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-21 12:06
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I'm not sure that is correct in the sense that I think the audit didn't go one step behind that to ask if these policies are the correct ones. I think that's one of the difficulties with this discussion of the board: that many different issues become conflated.
We're talking about the Board of Internal Economy and the administration as the executing arm, if you will, or the executing body for the decisions of the board, and we're talking about information about those decisions. If you want to get into a situation where you ask if these decisions are correct and if these allowances are the right ones, to my mind that's a different issue.
It's a very rich discussion in many ways, but I think sometimes what happens is that there are so many things at play and that people are talking about different things while using maybe the same vocabulary.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Good.
If you have been following the discussion, you probably have seen this comment in the blues or the transcripts. Mr. Sills from IPSA spent a great deal of time with us talking about the need for IPSA and how IPSA operates.
I noted with interest that many of the operating practices of IPSA are similar, or seem to be similar, to those of the Board of Internal Economy. But the need for IPSA to be formed was surrounding, of course, the expense scandal in the U.K., and from my view, our rules and the bylaws would make it almost impossible for the same type of expense abuse to occur here.
But at the very end—this is the point I want to get your opinion on, and I understand it's tough to make an objective opinion when you're in a highly subjective situation, but nonetheless—Mr. Sills said his advice to us would be that we as a committee would have to determine whether or not there was a problem large enough for a need, then, to replace the Board of Internal Economy. I personally haven't seen, over the course of my nine years here, any problems large enough to match the extent Mr. Sills referred to as the reason IPSA was formed.
Can you comment on whether or not, in your experience, there have been problems to the degree we saw in the U.K. with members' expenses or anything on the financial side of things in the House?
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Audrey O'Brien
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Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-21 12:09
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Mr. Chairman, I think this is a very important question.
One of the things we were particularly pleased with when Mark and I visited London and talked to John Sills, and his colleagues at IPSA and the colleagues at the House of Commons, was finding that the processes we have in place and the kinds of policies that determine those processes are very similar to what IPSA has in place.
They are every bit as robust in terms of the determination of the legitimacy of expenditures, and the policies are every bit as strict, even down to the fact that we have a financial portal, which people are finding perhaps difficult to adjust to because it's not just paper anymore, but that's another added layer of safety in terms of saying you have to meet certain threshold criteria.
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View Craig Scott Profile
NDP (ON)
View Craig Scott Profile
2013-11-21 12:10
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks so much for being back, Ms. O'Brien and Mr. Watters.
I want to set the scene. What we'd like to discuss, as much as we can, with you is what the transition to a more independent structure could look like. Let's leave aside the policy debates the other side seems to want to continue to have on whether we're going to have such a body.
I would note that Mr. Opitz, who is no longer with us, really did mistake the nature of the motion. He said that we're here to study “as an option”, which is language that does not appear in the motion. The motion says that we are to conduct open and public hearings with a view to replacing the Board of Internal Economy, and so that is the spirit in which we'd like to continue the rest of our questioning.
What would it take to transition to a more independent organizational structure, like IPSA, while not necessarily losing all the benefits we see with how the BOIE works? My colleagues are going to ask more specific questions.
I want to put paid to another possible misunderstanding. Ms. Legault, who was here earlier, suggested that we really have to look at the cost. Of course we have to look at the cost, but she cited the £6 million figure that IPSA cited, but at the same time, we were told that amount was either less or roughly the same as what the same functions had cost before. Whether or not that's going to be as easy for us to make it a wash in the future is something to discuss, but it's inaccurate to leave the impression in people's minds that the IPSA structure somehow cost an extra £6 million. It didn't.
Before we start the questions, I want to end by getting back onto the consensus point to see how that might work in an independent structure. The reason this NDP motion is here is that we believe not only with Madam Legault that the Access to Information Act should apply more broadly to the parliamentary administration, but also that we need much fuller disclosure of MP expenses, and we want this to be non-selective. Parties don't get to decide which expenses to disclose; just travel or just hospitality, for example, which is what the Liberals have done. It should be full disclosure, and here's the key: we believe that not only must the rules apply to everybody, and that's why we're trying through this multilateral process, but also that independent third-party verification adds to public confidence and to the accuracy of the information. Accuracy and completeness of information is much easier if the body tasked with it has an arm's-length relationship to those who are being reported upon; us, the MPs.
We have a fairly clear view: we want to see everybody move in this direction. Now, the two other parties keep hammering us to say that we want rules applicable to everybody, and at the same time, the Conservatives haven't done a thing. They keep talking about the fact that they plan to do something—we haven't a clue what it is—and the Liberals have completely botched what they planned. We have the leader of their party putting out one expense, when we know he travels all around the country. Whether he's hiding behind the leader's office, I don't know. The Conservatives have done nothing.
If we don't get to the point where we have everybody’s agreement that we go to a multilateral system with new rules, and that everybody knows what fully disclosed expenses will be necessary, then we're going to have to see if we can come up with our own, better system for ourselves.
Here is my question. Consensus doesn't mean unanimity, correct?
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