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Results: 1 - 100 of 144
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 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 Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am quite amazed by some of the Conservative comments by Mr. Opitz and Mr. MacKenzie about expenses. Mr. Opitz was critical of the fact that I've been posting, for seven years now, and that all NDP members actually post direct links from their websites to their expenses as members of Parliament. The reality is I've been doing it for seven years. People do talk to me about them at Tim Hortons, because they can access them. The NDP is the only party that does that. Every single NDP MP has that direct link.
I looked for that for Mr. Opitz and Mr. MacKenzie. They don't even have links to their expenses, so their constituents have no idea what they're spending. It's a little sad and a little unfortunate, so I'm certainly hoping they'll follow our lead on accessibility.
I want to come now to the issue of transition, which Mr. Scott raised.
We are really happy to have both of you back, Madam O'Brien and Mr. Watters. We really appreciate your kicking off and finishing up the study portion.
We do have the mandate to put in place independent oversight. The Auditor General says, “Bring in independent oversight”. The public is saying, “Bring in independent oversight”. Conservatives and Liberals may not be in agreement, but Parliament mandated us to do it, and, by golly, that's what we are supposed to do on behalf of Canadians. I'm wondering then what the transition to independent oversight might look like. I'd like your recommendations or comments on the model of putting in an independent oversight body, a little bit like what is done in Manitoba, which then follows up on administration that takes place through the House, or an IPSA model such as we see in the United Kingdom, which certainly has the advantage of not costing more but actually costing a little bit less than the existing House of Commons framework around finances.
Let's just move ahead with the mandate this committee was given. What is the transition period you foresee? What are the measures and the steps we need to take? What kind of model do you see for independent oversight so we can do away with the secretive, self-policing of the Board of Internal Economy once and for all?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:01
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Thank you.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to participate in your examination of the administrative oversight systems, policies, and practices of the House of Commons, including the role of the Board of Internal Economy. With me today is Clyde MacLellan, Assistant Auditor General.
I'm pleased that the House of Commons and this committee wish to explore the practices of provincial and territorial legislatures and other Westminster-style parliaments with respect to administrative oversight; to consider modifications to the roles of institutions, such as the Office of the Auditor General in that oversight; and to propose any other necessary modifications to the administrative policies and practices of the House of Commons.
I would like to start by mentioning a few broad principles that I think the committee could consider during its deliberations. Before this meeting, I provided the clerk of the committee with a short paper that elaborates on these principles. I would also refer the committee to our June 2012 Report on the Administration of the House of Commons of Canada. In this June 2012 audit report, we mentioned that demands have been increasing for political and government representatives to be held accountable for their use of public funds.
In particular, we noted that members of Parliament hold positions of trust and have responsibilities to their specific constituents and to Canadians in general that are considerable. In my opinion there are three fundamental elements that contribute to the fulfilment of these responsibilities. They are transparency, accountability, and good governance.
I believe that providing detailed public disclosure of members' expenses, and having clear policies and processes for those expenses, establishes an environment of transparency, and transparency is the foundation of accountability.
In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the Board of Internal Economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements. Regardless of the role of such a body, it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.
I also believe that independent comprehensive audits, including financial statement audits, compliance audits, and performance audits, would not only strengthen members' accountability but would also enhance the public's confidence in the governance mechanisms of the House of Commons.
The committee may therefore wish to consider whether the mandate of the Office of the Auditor General should be amended to include this role. The right to conduct such audits, at the discretion of the Auditor General, should be clearly described in statute. Because we regularly conduct all of these types of audits, the Office of the Auditor General has a unique ability to contribute, and we are ready and willing to take on this role.
Canadians expect members of Parliament to spend the moneys they receive for the functions of their office in an ethical and prudent manner and for approved purposes. Members are accountable to one another in the House of Commons and to the public for their actions. It is their responsibility to carry out their assigned mandate in light of these expectations. I therefore believe that the changes the committee will decide to make, while respecting the many unique aspects of the institutions, need to be significant enough that a reasonable person with a healthy degree of skepticism would be satisfied that the rules are being consistently applied and sufficiently monitored.
In conclusion, members of Parliament must be properly supported in order to carry out their duties effectively. Refining the mechanisms that promote transparency, accountability, and good governance will enable members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities and meet the expectations of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank you, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. MacLellan. Your comments are very important for our report.
We have just come back from a constituency break week. I've been in my riding, which I think is similar to other ridings across the country. Canadians are very concerned about the Senate spending scandals and are concerned about what they have seen from both Conservative and Liberal senators and how they have acted. There is some real concern out in the public mind right across the country that enough is enough. We really need to put in place a really transparent regime.
So the NDP brought forward their motion in June, and happily we were able to get the support of other parties to move towards ending the self-policing regime that exists, the Board of Internal Economy, which you made reference to.
I noticed in your presentation that you referenced very clearly the point that governance could be strengthened by either having an independent body that would advise the board, or that this independent body could be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements.
My question to you is very simple. I think in the public's mind they want an end to self-policing. They want an end to this perception that the MPs are policing themselves. What they would like to see is an independent body they can have confidence in.
You provide two doors. Is your preference that this independent governance, this independent body, be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements? Do you not feel that is an important way of re-establishing the public trust that I think has been shattered with the Senate spending scandals?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:16
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Certainly, what we have done, Mr. Chair, is to indicate that we believe that some sort of independent oversight is important. We have indicated it could be advisory or it could be authoritative. Certainly, my preference would always be that it have some sort of authority, but that's not my decision to make. That's a decision for the committee to recommend.
Again, I think, in general—and I tried to make the comment in the opening statement—at the end of the day what's important is that whatever change is put in place is going to be a change that a reasonable, independent person harbouring a certain level of skepticism will believe has been sufficient, so they can be confident that the rules and expenses are being appropriately monitored.
I think the other thing that is important to remember is probably that the ground of this type of situation always shifts so that what people believe to be perhaps acceptable right now may not be what people perceive to be acceptable sometime in the future. So I think it's also important there be some mechanism to make sure that's all being monitored. And on that mechanism, again there should be some component that is independent or coming from the outside. My preference would be that it have a certain level of authority, but it could be advisory as well.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-19 11:35
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I have a minute and a half left.
I will try to be brief.
In your document, in point 9, you discuss the role of the Auditor General. If there were an independent committee, should it play the same role, or, rather, have a different mandate in that regard?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:35
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In terms of the role of the Auditor General, that would be the role of an independent committee, which would be advisory or would assess certain situations and make decisions. That would be a very different role from the audit role. The audit role would be to come in after the fact to see if everything had been processed properly.
If you sort of drew a line, the independent committee would be on one side of the line and the auditors would be on the other side of the line, so the roles would be very different.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:43
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The model we are suggesting incorporates two aspects on the governance side. One is the aspect of independent audit. The other is the aspect of having some sort of independent body as well to help oversee the process.
I would say that model is very much the same type you would see in a large crown corporation or in any other large corporation where, for example, you would have an audit committee. That would be a committee that we as auditors could interact with to make sure we're sending messages and they understand the messages, and they could help whatever board is responsible to figure out how to manage these types of expenses.
The role of the independent body would be to help make sure that when we came in, our audit wouldn't find anything. That's where you want to be. You don't want to be in a situation where things are being processed and then you are relying on the audit to find things. You want to be in a position where the audit is really confirming that things are operating properly. That's why we think the system would be better if there were an independent advisory body on the side, processing things before the audit happened. So the two would be integral parts of improving governance.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:45
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We have indicated that we believe they need to be independent and they need to be appointed independently. I think you will find a couple other provinces where they have independent members sitting on a board. I believe in a couple of provinces the Chief Justice of the province appoints those people. So there should be a way to have independent people appointed.
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View Craig Scott Profile
NDP (ON)
View Craig Scott Profile
2013-11-19 11:45
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for coming and also for your brief. Along with your remarks the brief is very helpful. It's essentially in accord with the NDP's motion to replace the Board of Internal Economy with some form of independent body, but also to draw from comparative experience on the whole transparency front and address the question of how we go about providing adequate disclosure of MPs' expenses.
The Scottish and the Alberta models are mentioned specifically in your brief, and they're both of great interest to us. As I understand them, they go much further than the much vaunted, proactive efforts of one of the parties around this table, well beyond hospitality and travel, and they include supporting documentation. Have you had a chance to look at the Alberta system, which you don't directly recommend but you suggest we look at closely? Would you recommend that as a system that would work here?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:46
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We haven't gone into either one of them in any detail. What we did as part of preparation for this meeting was look to see what's going on in other areas. We identified those two as areas that we think would be of interest to the committee to look at further, but I can't give you enough detail on it to really go any further.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:58
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We haven't said one way or another to replace the board or not replace it. Certainly, the functions of the board have to be done by somebody. How the board would interact with this independent committee is something that would have to be considered.
We think some form of independence would be the important thing that needs to be added to the process.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair. I appreciate that.
Thank you again, Mr. Ferguson, for your answers.
Just to pick up on the discussion that you were having, I think it's still fair to say that all the examples you've given in here—unless I've misread them—are actually examples of arm's-length independent agencies. I saw nothing in here that was a kind of beefed-up BOIE, but more what you've referenced. By that I mean—we've talked about Alberta, although you don't reference it here—the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, which each have independent mandates, different from the BOIE, so that it's not MPs telling the country, “Okay, every MP's expenses are okay.” It's other people, arm's length from us, saying, “Yes, they're okay. These are the rules.”
I would just ask you to comment on that.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:59
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Certainly in the paper we provided the committee there are examples of those independent bodies. There are other examples as well, perhaps Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, where a couple of independent members have been added within the existing system. So there are both models out there.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 12:00
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Again, I think what we're saying is that there needs to be independence, both from the audit perspective and from the internal audit committee type of perspective. Whether that is advisory or it's authoritative, again, really, we can't make that decision, obviously. But what we feel is important, again for this committee, is that it's really about what people outside of this room think. As I've said, it's not just the reasonable person per se, but whether the reasonable person looking at it with skepticism thinks that any changes you put in place have gone far enough. That's what we're bringing forward.
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:05
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Chairman, I'm very pleased to be asked to appear before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs today. At IPSA we're very proud of what we've achieved over the past four years and I'm glad to have the opportunity to share some of our experiences with you.
As you know, IPSA was created by the Parliamentary Standards Act in 2009 in response to the MPs' expenses scandal in 2008. Parliament decided that the scandal was so serious that the only way to restore public confidence was to take both regulation and the payment of MPs' costs and expenses out of Parliament's hands, to create an independent regulator.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in 2010 refined IPSA's role, giving it the power to determine MPs' pay and pensions as well, and creating the role of the compliance officer, which I'm happy to discuss further during questions. That independence is what defines IPSA. It allows us to take decisions about the rules we set, about the administrative services we provide, that we believe are in the public interest. We frequently consult, we always listen to all sides of an argument, especially when they are backed by evidence, but ultimately the decisions are ours.
A second crucial characteristic of how IPSA operates is transparency. The House of Commons in the U.K. had begun to publish receipts before the last general election in 2010, but that was after resisting their publication in the courts and then, unavoidably, after the full details had been leaked to the media.
For IPSA, publication of information about MPs' claims for business costs and expenses has been a priority from the start. We first published claims in November 2010, and have been doing so on a two-monthly cycle ever since. We also publish aggregate data for the preceding financial year, ending in March, every September. This transparency, as well as complying with the aims of the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act, allows the public to see what their MPs are spending and to decide for themselves what they think of it. It means that there's strong accountability and better understanding of the financial support an MP needs to undertake his or her parliamentary duties.
A third important element is how we provide support to MPs in carrying out their parliamentary duties. Quite unusually, we provide the payroll services, model contracts, and pay ranges for MPs' staff and, of course, we pay their costs and expenses. So we both regulate and provide those services.
Our system is based on reimbursement on the provision of evidence. But we also pay some suppliers, like landlords, pooled research services, and stationery suppliers directly. This means the MP doesn't have to pay the money out of his or her account first. MPs also have access to an online rail ticket service and have a payment card that can be used for a range of transactions. What this means is that it's possible for an MP to now pay for up to 70% of claims by value through direct payment.
We didn't have all of this from the start. IPSA moved from a blank sheet of paper on the chief executive's desk in October of 2009 to a fully functioning organization with an office, with an online claims system and a new scheme of rules, in time for the new Parliament on May 6, 2010, a really quick process.
The Office of Government Commerce in the U.K., reviewing our implementation program, said we had achieved the impossible. There were certainly challenges operationally in the early days, not least because of the registration requirements before claims could be made, and the time needed by some MPs to get used to claiming online. Some MPs also experienced cashflow problems, and we addressed those in the short term through the swift introduction of an interest-free loan of up to £4,000.
It was a learning process for both MPs and for IPSA. There were tensions. But over time most of these problems have subsided, and we have a system that works well. Most MPs and their staff are familiar with the rules and the IT system. Claims are generally paid within seven to nine working days of receipt. As I noted earlier, many of the high-value transactions can be paid directly by IPSA. Salaries are paid promptly and accurately, and every two months we publish the details of over 30,000 claims.
In policy terms we keep an eye on how the rules are working, and we review them and consult every year. We're about to open a new consultation next week. But our focus has shifted in the last year or so to MPs' pay and pensions, where IPSA's powers were brought into force in 2011. We have run two consultations, the first an open exploration of the issues; the second a focused consultation on a proposed remuneration package that features a pay increase of about 9% to begin after the 2015 general election in the U.K., and a reform of MPs' pensions to bring them more into line with the rest of the public sector. Our board will be taking decisions independently later this year.
So, to end, what are our priorities right now? First, it's to complete the work on pay and pensions. Second, it's to continue our preparations for the 2015 general election. We'll be doing that in cooperation with the House of Commons and with MPs themselves. And thirdly, we continue to look at ways of streamlining our processes to make sure we are maximizing value for money and delivering our services as efficiently as possible.
I hope that gives you something to get the ball rolling. I welcome questions, Chairman, from you and from your committee.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
I have a few questions. First, let's talk about the composition of your organization. How were the members of IPSA selected? Was it the governing party who selected all of the members? Did the opposition parties have a chance to nominate some members? Did you go through a selection process? Quite simply, how were you and others on IPSA selected and what kind of a vetting process was there?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:12
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Well, we have a board, which is enshrined in legislation, with five members. The chairman is Sir Ian Kennedy. We have an ex-High Court judge—this is required by statute—Sir Neil Butterfield; an auditor, Anne Whitaker. An ex-MP, Tony Wright, a well-known MP, was the ex-chair of the public administration committee, amongst other things. And then we have one other board member who doesn't have to have a particular role, who is Liz Padmore, who chairs a National Health Service trust in the U.K.
Now, those have all been selected by open competition. Sir Ian was selected as chairman in 2010, and was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. This is not a government appointment and it's not an opposition party appointment, but the Speaker was heading up that process. So Ian was selected then, and a number of other board members.
They will have three-year terms and all decided not to apply again. So we have a new board, apart from Sir Ian, from the beginning of this year, the people I've just described. Again, they were all selected through open competition by a panel that was again chaired by the Speaker, John Bercow, and included our chairman and a number of other public figures with expertise in senior appointments.
As for the other members of the team, initially, IPSA was, as I said, created extremely quickly, and our chief executive, Andrew McDonald, was a civil servant connected with the Ministry of Justice, which then had the policy responsibility for constitutional matters. So Andrew was appointed as interim chairman. The senior members of the team, including me, came by a number of routes. I personally was seconded from the Ministry of Justice. I've been there for three and a half years. Other directors since then have been appointed through open competition.
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:14
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It is, yes. It's audited by the National Audit Office and we are also often scrutinized by parliamentary committees. Our budget has to be agreed by a special committee, which is the Speaker's Committee for IPSA, again chaired by the Speaker, obviously, and that comprises MPs from various parties and some lay members as well.
So they're not in the business of telling us exactly what to do, obviously, because we're independent, but they do agree to our budget. As I say, we're audited by the National Audit Office. We have been scrutinized by the public accounts committee, and we've had a number of other parliamentary committees looking at us over the last three years.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
I would assume that, as in any new organization—as you say, you started with a blank sheet of paper—there were growing pains. What were the audit findings with respect to the administration of your organization? Did they have any specific suggestions on how you could improve your function? Were there any problems that they determined needed to be corrected?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:15
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In our first year, quite quickly, we had the value-for-money review by the National Audit Office. Now, this is most unusual for an organization of our size in its first year, but obviously given the political sensitivities of what we do, there was a lot of interest in that.
The National Audit Office, if I recall—I'm afraid I don't recall all the detail now—gave us a pretty good report, and we were very pleased with that. But it did make a number of suggestions. An example was how we validate claims. When we started—and you may not be surprised, given why we were created—those individual claims were checked two or three times to make sure we got it right. Over time we've streamlined that, and one of the things that the NAO has been very keen to see us doing is to use a much more risk-based approach to the validation of claims. So with the fairly bog standard claims with a low risk, you don't need to spend too much time on those, but what you can do is audit them later. And we're doing a lot more of that now, where our audit team takes a look at patterns and outliers and things like that, and that picks up some of the more unusual claims. But yes, we've been pretty heavily scrutinized.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
I'm curious. You may not have enough time to answer this fully, but if not, hopefully we can get back to it a little later.
From the transparency standpoint, you mentioned that you publish the findings you have on MP expense claims. What do you publish and how to you publish them? At what level of detail do you publish all of the claims that are submitted to your organization?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:17
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Apart from highly sensitive security-related claims and claims having to do with disability, where we just provide an aggregate figure once a year for all MPs, we basically publish everything. The way we do it is that we extract the relevant information from those claims and report that. What we don't do at the moment is actually publish the receipts themselves. We thought long and hard about that at the beginning and took the view that, firstly, it was an unnecessary and very expensive process because you have to redact a lot of information, because of personal information and that kind of thing, and that costs a lot of money.
But also we were concerned because redaction is, to be honest, a mind-numbing process for the people who have to do it. There's always a risk that personal information could be missed. The way we do it cuts out that risk. We publish the information itself.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Sills, for being here with us today. We're looking at an independent oversight of MPs' expenses, and we just had our very respected Auditor General of Canada come before this committee, and he said he very much would like to see independent oversight of MPs' expenses. So obviously we're looking at the types of models we could put into place for that independent oversight to bring an end to self-policing of MPs' expenses.
I want to know this, just to start off. With the transition to IPSA, was there real resistance to having independent oversight of members of Parliament, and where did that resistance come from, if there was, and what was the character of that resistance?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:19
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I think it's fair to say there was resistance at the beginning. It's a very different relationship, when you've got an independent regulator, from when it's done in-house. And although Parliament obviously did vote for our creation, I think there were a good number of MPs who weren't really that happy that we existed. The resistance, I guess, took a number of forms. One was that quite a lot of MPs didn't really want to have to submit their claims online. They were used to doing them in a paper-based system, and since this required more time and effort, we did have some difficulties with that at first.
As I said earlier, we were heavily, heavily scrutinized for an organization of our size, and that takes up a lot of time for a small organization. And there was a certain amount of hostility, it's fair to say. One of the things we did early on was have a lot of seminars with MPs from different parties, and it's fair to say we didn't get a warm welcome.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Fair enough.
I'd like to talk more specifically now about how IPSA functions. Mr. Lukiwski just asked about the findings on claims, which is important. I understand that the minutes of IPSA meetings are made public. Are the meetings held in public? If some meetings are held in camera and some are public, what are the criteria for going in camera?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:21
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We don't hold meetings in public. Our board meetings are private, but we do publish the minutes of those meetings. We don't routinely publish board papers, but under our freedom of information act people can ask to see them and then we will make a judgment about whether it's in the public interest to release those papers. We have released a fair number in the past.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
You are subject to your freedom of information act. Is there an appeal process if IPSA chooses for whatever reason not to release that information?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:22
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Yes, there is. It is quite a complex process. It works in a number of stages. First, if we say we won't publish information, for whatever reason, the requester can ask for an internal review that has to be carried out by a senior member of IPSA who wasn't involved in the original request.
If after that review we are still saying no, then the requester can take the issue to the information commissioner, which is the body that oversees freedom of information and data protection in the UK.
If they are still not getting the answer they want, they can take it to a tribunal. Then it can work its way up the justice system. So there are a number of steps. People often ask for internal reviews. It is quite a frequent occurrence.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
May I ask if you have had situations where it has gone to the information commissioner and then to a tribunal? How long did that process take to get access to the information?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:23
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There haven't been many, but there's one in process at the moment. In fact, it's a very interesting one. It relates to one of my previous answers, which had to do with somebody requesting to see some receipts. We said no. The internal review agreed not to show them. So the requester went to the information commissioner, who said yes. We are now appealing that decision.
We have been to a lower-tier tribunal and we're about to go to an upper-tier tribunal. That hearing is going to be taking place later this year. So it could be an interesting outcome.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
My final question has to do with how the board makes its decisions. We have a Board of Internal Economy, which has in the past functioned by consensus. Unfortunately, it seems to be moving to a majority model now. Where there is some difference of opinion, does your board rule by consensus or is it a majority vote that decides?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:24
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I think the current board in particular is very keen to do things by consensus. It's been in place for nearly a year now and as the director I go to all the board meetings. It doesn't come down to a vote if there's a good argument. Directors coming from quite different backgrounds can have different views on matters. Having been advised by policy officials like myself, they work very hard to find consensus. If they had to vote they would, but we work through consensus if we can.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:25
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I'm trying to think, but not a real “hands up because we can't decide this”. People work hard to find consensus. We've had votes in the past but not this time around.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:26
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Welcome, Mr. Sills.
I have a few questions that I would like to get on the record. One of them is dealing with the process when members of Parliament say they want to be able to move in a certain direction and incur another expense. For example, with advertising, we don't think we should have a party logo on it. There would be a discussion and a decision would be made by the Board of Internal Economy, and then it's passed on.
What role does IPSA play in regard to guidelines for what a member of Parliament can or cannot spend money on? Or is that brought to IPSA?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:26
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We have a set of rules that govern all MP's expense claims, and we consult on those rules. When they started we had extensive consultation, and we review them every year. As an independent body we then set them, and that's it, basically: they are the rules.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:27
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Are you approached by the House or any of the committees who say they would like you to consider extending that sort of a benefit of expenditure, or to change something?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:27
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We have regular discussions with all the parties, and other political figures. When we consult we always make the effort to discuss matters with them and seek their views.
We also have a parliamentary group called the IPSA-MP liaison group with a number of senior MPs, which meets from time to time to discuss issues. There are plenty of ways of having those discussions.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:28
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So the board would take it upon itself to meet with different caucuses, and independents, to get a sense of their feelings and thoughts.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:28
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What sort of an appeal mechanism do you have in place? For example, what happens when an MP puts in a claim, he or she gets a response, and they are not happy with the response? Who do they appeal to?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:28
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In the first instance, they could ask for IPSA itself to review it. We have an audit team that would review the decision.
If they are not satisfied with that, they can go to the compliance officer, who is independent of IPSA. He is appointed by the IPSA board but he operates independently. If an MP isn't happy that something hasn't been paid, then he or she can take it to the compliance officer. It's relatively rare, but it has happened.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:29
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It's meant to meet once a month, but it quite often meets more than that. It has one formal board meeting a month, but we have been holding a lot of workshops because of a huge range of issues that we're dealing with at the moment. The board has in recent times been meeting two or three times a month, but that is unusual. It is generally one meeting.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:29
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As a committee, you don't meet publicly. Is there any sense that there could be a need or a justification to allow it to be open? Can someone come in and participate, or watch?
What would the rationale be for not having it open to the public?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:29
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It's interesting. At the beginning there was talk of having cameras and so on, but we decided that we didn't think that was going to work. So what we do is to publish those minutes.
For example, when we consult we'll always report back on the views of the public and the reasons for our decisions and so on. At this point in time, I don't think there's much appetite for actually holding public meetings.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:30
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One of the issues that has come up in the province of Manitoba—and I really believe in this—is that they have actually appointed a commissioner who sets the salaries and pensions of MPs. It's non-debatable, and it takes effect after the following provincial election.
How precisely do you establish a member of Parliament's salary and pension benefits, and when does it take effect?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:30
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Well, we have the power to do that now. We've been consulting about that. We've already determined MP's salaries. These are backbench MPs, by the way, not government ministers' salaries. We said for the current year and the next year that they should get a 1% pay increase, which is the same as the rest of the public sector.
The decision on what happens after the next election is what we're consulting on, and we will set the exact salary and the pension contributions, benefits, and so on. We are working on that at the moment. We have consulted very widely, but it will be IPSA's decision alone.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:31
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We've consulted in all sorts of ways. We do it in the traditional way, with a consultation paper inviting responses; we have an online survey; we've done quite a lot of opinion polling. Last year we conducted a number of citizens' juries, which I know is something that has happened in Canada quite often, whereby you can really get to understand what the public are thinking, if you're with them for three to four hours getting more information. That was extremely helpful. Obviously we consult MPs.
For something such as the pensions, we've worked a lot with the trustees of the MPs' pension fund. In fact, I personally am one of the trustees—IPSA has a member on the MPs' pension fund.
We basically look for as many ways to consult as we can.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 12:32
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Through the committee and the establishment of the committee itself of IPSA, there are some mandatory positions, I believe. You said, for example, there's the High Court judge; I think you mentioned the auditor. Then it is left, is it, for the other three spots to be appointed by a hiring committee of the Speaker, which the Speaker would chair?
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:32
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They're all appointed by open competition, but what the legislation requires is that we should have a High Court Judge, an auditor, and an ex-MP. It is not specified what the chairman's background should be, and it's not specified what the background of the other board members should be. But those three are there in statute.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-19 12:33
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Thank you. I'd just like to clear the record. I think somebody suggested that our Board of Internal Economy is moving to a voting system. That's not true. The Clerk of the House said that there has been one vote in eight years. It deals by consensus.
Sir, I wonder whether you could explain to us a bit about what discretionary spending is available to the independent backbench MPs.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:33
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What discretionary spending is available? Well, we set budgets in a number of areas—staffing, office budget, accommodation, residential accommodation—and within those budgets' limits, as long as it's for parliamentary purposes, it's up to the MP what they claim. In that sense, they have a good degree of discretion about how they use their budgets.
As far as individual claims are concerned, we obviously determine them.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:34
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Yes, travel is another one of the budgets. That's not capped, because obviously an MP from Scotland—the other side of the country—and an MP from near to London are going to have very different travel expenses. They are done on the basis of an uncapped budget.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-19 12:34
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Then my question would be, if you had an MP who lived in the countryside and were to travel around in his riding—to various smaller communities, maybe—would you report his travel on an individual basis?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:35
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I'm trying to remember. I don't think we do that for every individual journey. We just say where it was to.
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:35
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We don't publish receipts, but on what we call constituency travel, the MP makes the claim. Basically, they have a mileage rate, and so they just say how many miles they've travelled, where from, and where to.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:36
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IPSA costs every year about £6 million. We're both the regulator and the provider of payroll and expenses. And of course, as an independent organization, you have to have all the normal overheads—HR, IT, and so on.
So the total is £6 million. We dispense around £160 million of funding, so this is a relatively small proportion of the overall total.
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John Sills
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John Sills
2013-11-19 12:37
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It's around £20,000 to £25,000. It depends whether the office is in London or outside London. It's slightly more for London. London is about £24,000, and others are about £21,000.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Sills, for your time today. It's been very helpful and very informative.
In the creation of IPSA, was the vote unanimous in the House of Commons?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:37
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That's a good question. I'm not sure I can quite remember that. I think it may have been, or with very few in opposition, because I think all MPs recognized at the time, given what had happened, that it was important to create IPSA. Also, it went through extremely quickly. I think it was a couple of months at most for the whole process.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
It's impressive.
Another big question is, are the British people satisfied? Do they feel that their parliament has turned the corner and is rising to the level of accountability they expect?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:37
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That's a very good question.
We do survey the public. Support has gotten better; it's just under 40%. The last time we surveyed the public, 40% of them thought things had gotten better. But of course, the stories are over. You may have seen, only yesterday, that an ex-MP pleaded guilty over expenses. That has nothing to do with the current Parliament, but an ordinary member of the public won't necessarily make a distinction.
So I think it's fair to say that most members of the public will probably say things seem okay but that we're still not that trusting. There's a long way to go, I think.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Were there any further measures proposed that you didn't take that would have gone even further? You mentioned receipts as an example and said that you had decided not to go there. Was there anywhere else that you could have gone, that was looked at, and that you chose not to go to but may go to in the future to bring the rest of the Brits onside?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:38
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One things that is asked frequently is, why we don't just have an allowance for something such as accommodation in particular, to make it nice and simple but less transparent. We have considered this in the past but think the time is certainly not right for it at the moment. You'd lose the transparency, and that's the absolute key for us at the moment.
We have refined our rules. Some of the rules on things such as accommodation for family members, for example, have been relaxed over the years. We're always open to change.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
You mentioned that the budget is about £6 million. I have two question, and you may not be able to answer.
Do you have any idea how that £6 million compares with what was being spent before, when doing somewhat comparable work, but in house?
My other question would be, is there any level of pay, and if so, what is it, for the members of IPSA, in terms of wheels within wheels within wheels?
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John Sills
View John Sills Profile
John Sills
2013-11-19 12:39
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On the first one, the overall cost including expenses is still slightly below what the House of Commons used to cost. It's very hard for us to make a meaningful comparison between ourselves and the House of Commons administration, because of course they were part of a bigger organization, and so a lot of their overheads wouldn't have been as clear, because they would be in the wider organization. It's pretty difficult to say precisely what the difference is.
In terms of the amounts we pay our board members, I'm afraid I can't remember them right now. They're on our website, and I'd be very happy to provide the information to your researchers.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
That's fine; our researchers can find it very quickly.
I'd like to follow up on a question Mr. Lamoureux asked, which I thought was really good, because it ties into the notion I had put forward earlier that there—
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
No, I was talking about the admin. In other words, how does £6 million to do this now compare to the cost of doing similar work prior? He said actually it's probably a little less, but it was difficult to do apples to apples.
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View Scott Reid Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Sills. It's Scott Reid here.
I just wanted to inquire about your description of your processes for meeting, which sound like they are somewhere between what we would refer to as in camera and open meetings. You say that you publish minutes of the IPSA meetings. I gather that you do not publish verbatim transcripts. Is that correct?
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View Scott Reid Profile
CPC (ON)
You said that under your open access law, or sunshine law, people can make a request to see further information, and at that point papers are released. When you say “papers”, do you mean reports that have been prepared for you, or do you mean that at that point the verbatim discussions are released?
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