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Results: 1 - 15 of 70
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:01
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
At the last meeting of the Board of Internal Economy, we were asked to provide more information on the five additional positions we would like to create in order to continue providing full support to all committees.
At the request of the Board of Internal Economy, we revised the briefing note you have in front of you. Our key message this morning is that this request has nothing at all to do with the pandemic. The pandemic actually delayed the request. We would have still asked for these resources, but probably sooner.
The reasons why the House Administration needs these additional resources can be summed up in three points.
First, we have seen over the past decade a significant increase in committee activity. Committees have been sitting longer and hearing from more witnesses. In addition, the number of witnesses appearing by video conference is on the rise, and that started even before the pandemic.
Beyond the statistics and trends, it is important to mention that the work these resources do is not just the work that is seen in committee. As just one example, more witnesses means more time contacting and planning for these witnesses to appear. In addition, our teams often contact more witnesses than actually appear, as not everyone is available based on the committee schedule. Often multiple interactions are required to coordinate an appearance. This all amounts to more work for the team acting on behalf of the committee to make those meetings happen. This is but one example of all the work that is being done behind the scenes by the teams supporting committees.
Also, as video conferencing technology has improved and become more accessible across the precinct, members have used these tools to reduce travel costs for witnesses, to allow witnesses who might not otherwise have time or be able to travel to Ottawa to appear, and to allow easier access to international witnesses. However, as the number of witnesses who appear via video conference grows, this also takes more resources and time to coordinate, to test the connectivity of each witness and to make sure it is as positive an experience as possible for all concerned. This is in addition to the time during which those resources are available during the meeting when they are ready to support and resolve issues.
Second, we have seen the modernization of many tools and services used to support committees over the last 10 years. These are tools such as online and more accessible electronic libraries of all committee documents for members and their staff, a social media presence for committees, and more documents publicly available via the committees' websites, such as the large number of briefs received by committees as part of their various studies. That is along with the fact that there's increased access to and improvements of the video conferencing system, which is now available in all committee rooms. This is contrary to the situation that existed in the past, when there was only a limited number of rooms in which it was possible to video conference.
Members asked for these services in support of their committee work. In response to members' wish, tools were put in place as time went on to improve services and make it easier for members to do their committee work. Those new services, however, have resulted in a heavier workload for the teams who support those activities.
As a third and final point, the House team has always worked hard to support additional committee activities within the existing resources that the board has provided. As could be seen over the course of the last decade, committee activities have grown but no requests for additional resources have been made to support these activities.
When new committees, such as a special committee, are added, we have to reassign staff and sometimes have clerks double up on committees. This situation has become difficult to sustain, and the teams find it increasingly difficult to meet the client service expectations of members. This is why we are requesting these additional resources at this time.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. We'd be pleased to answer any questions the board may have.
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View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:05
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Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and through you to Mr. McDonald, thank you so much to you and all those who have been working to support committees in what has been an exceptionally difficult time through a pandemic.
My first question is in relation to the addition of special committees, new committees. Do you have a sense of what the cost would be for the formation of each of those new committees?
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Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:06
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As I just mentioned, we don't really do it as a specific cost per, so I don't have that information. In essence, the way we do it is that we use the existing resources and we reassign them to be able to support the committees as best we can within our existing envelope. We're finding now that because of the level of activity and because of the extra work we're asking our staff to do, we're getting to the point where it's increasingly difficult to be able to ask them to take on another committee. That's why we're asking for the additional resources today.
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View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:06
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Just on that, if I could, Mr. Speaker, I don't know exactly the number, but at this point we have in the order of magnitude of 26 or 27 committees. We have in contemplation, I've heard, potentially four additional special committees.
If we were to get to 30, 31, 32 or 33 committees, can you speak to what effect that would have on your ability to deliver service to committees?
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Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:07
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As always, we would evaluate that. If new committees were added, whether standing committees or special committees, we would evaluate that. If need be, we would come back to the board and ask for additional resources.
We're looking at what the current demands are. Based on those current demands, we feel that the additional resources we've requested are the ones that we need in order to be able to support that. Should the number of committees increase, then we'd have to look at that again and we might have to come back to the board again.
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View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:07
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I'd just make the comment, Mr. Speaker, that we are a big and broad nation. Of course, many issues face us, but I do think at some point....
We have standing committees for a reason. I am concerned with the proliferation of special committee after special committee after special committee. We have standing committees. I think we should attempt to use those standing committees. I think we should be judicious in adding new committees. I know that there are a lot of important issues, but most of these issues can be dealt with within the existing framework of committees.
When we're having these conversations around the strain that this is placing on resources, and we're having conversations about the difficulty of staff to be able to populate all of these, that is significantly compounded every time we move from 26 to 27 to 28 to 29 to 30, 40, 50. I don't know when it ends. At some point we have to recognize that there are restrictions on the ability for us to serve them, let alone how many members are present to populate them.
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View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2021-12-09 11:09
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My comments are along the same lines. In an effort to accommodate existing committee operations, resources are being stretched thin, as you pointed out, Mr. McDonald. Having to provide support to committees that can be added periodically does indeed increase your workload.
At the same time, with respect to regional caucus meetings focused on specific topics and held on an as-needed or regular basis, members are being told that they can't necessarily count on the services they are accustomed to receiving, because those resources could be assigned to the new committee or special committees.
Eventually, we are going to have to think about adding resources to support the organization of those very important meetings, which take place within every party. We were accustomed to that service. I think we need to do that before we think about adding services to support new committees that are created by Parliament from time to time.
I wanted to bring this up, and I will keep pressing the issue until a level of service comparable to what was provided in the last Parliament is restored.
Thank you.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McDonald, it's always nice to have you here, on familiar ground, in the House of Commons. Like you, all Canadians, are welcome in their House of Commons, for that matter.
When it comes to parliamentary democracy, there is no room for the straining of resources—the proverbial tightening of the elastic. A parliamentary democracy must address the needs that are most pressing as they arise. No one gets up in the morning wondering what committees could be created simply for the fun of it. In recent years, we have witnessed the creation of committees that were entirely relevant. Take, for example, the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Five or 10 years ago, no one anticipated that there would be so much conflict in Canada's relationship with China. The issue really had to be addressed.
I want to remind everyone that the creation of committees is not based on the will of one parliamentary group, creating committees simply for the fun of it. We saw that yesterday, in fact, when our motion was duly voted on in the House. At the end of the day, parliamentarians are the ones who can—and must—decide whether it is warranted, in accordance with their conscience. Obviously, it is something that has to be examined.
This is what politics is all about. When we have some ideas to address some specific issues, there is room for that and there is a tool for that. That's what we call a “special committee” on a special issue. That's fine, but I think, Mr. Chair, that we have to keep in mind that democracy is not an elastic and we cannot, just for the fun of it, create something just for the pleasure of it. If there are some serious issues to address, we need to have a serious special committee on that. I don't want to put aside the responsibility of all of the committees.
Committees exist in earnest. They have real work to do. Certain issues have to be addressed by certain committees. One does not preclude the other, however. As Conservatives, we are, of course, always mindful of the use of public funds and so forth, but we are, first and foremost, parliamentarians with issues to deal with. As long as we deem it necessary to have a special committees handle a certain issue, we will keep doing what we did yesterday, in other words, recommending the creation of a special committee in the House, and the House will decide.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2021-12-09 11:13
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Thank you.
I appreciate your coming back with a bit more detail and with some revised proposals. That's appreciated. What I think I'm hearing here is that currently some of the essentially temporary needs we're facing are being managed with some amount of overtime and some casual staff. That's fair. If I'm understanding that right, how are those resources being covered now? What budgets are those coming from?
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Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:14
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Through you, Mr. Chair, I know that during the pandemic we've been re-tasking people—as was mentioned by Stéphan last week—from all sorts of different service areas, people who have the knowledge and the experience and expertise to be able to come. In some cases we've helped train them up to be able to support committees in particular, but also other activities during the pandemic. That's really not what this is about. The pandemic has been a specific situation. A lot of those resources will go back to what they're.... For example, we've been asking the Parliamentary Associations secretaries to come in and work as committee clerks because there's been no parliamentary international travel, as we know. They can come in and lend a hand. We've been able to support those types of activities by re-tasking people that way.
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Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:15
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Thank you, Mr. Richards.
As Ian pointed out, the pandemic situation we see as a temporary situation, so we're managing it in a temporary fashion. That's why we're not asking for resources in terms of the pandemic situation. We're reallocating resources and changing the level of service in certain respects to make sure to support it, because as we see it, hopefully, it's temporary. It has been almost two years, but that's the way we've been managing.
As Ian pointed out in his opening remarks, this request for resources would have happened earlier had it not been for the pandemic. It's a question of incrementally adding responsibilities and tasks. Technology has definitely been a pressure in terms of the resources, but it offers great opportunities for committees and the House—for example, to meet more witnesses, to have more meetings and to be cost-efficient in terms of travel by witnesses. That request would have come earlier, as I said, had it not been for the pandemic.
If a special committee or other tasks are added, we're also able—there's always kind of an ability—to manage it through overtime and so on, but at some point, there's a trigger point where we cannot manage and ask our staff to be on overtime all the time. That's why we're making that request.
As you saw, now we've transformed our demand in terms of temporary relief for this year. It's our commitment to you that during the current year we'll reassess in terms of whether we have a permanent need for those resources. I believe that we do, but that being said, we're going to take a second look in terms of the current year. Hopefully, we'll be out of the pandemic by then. Then we'll be able to assess and come back to the board in terms of the cycle of the next main estimates.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2021-12-09 11:17
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I guess the challenge I see here is that we are dealing with a temporary situation, a pandemic situation. I know you're indicating that you feel there are ongoing needs. I just find it hard to picture how we're able to really fully and properly assess those at this point, because we are in fact managing in a temporary situation.
There have been, and probably will continue to be, for the next little while, resources that are being reallocated, as we're hearing and as we're discussing right now. As an example, committees aren't travelling, so there are resources available because that is not happening, and parliamentary associations aren't as active or active at all. There are ways to reallocate.
I'm not looking to try to make things difficult, but I'm really struggling to see how we can make proper decisions about how we move forward when we're in the middle of an emergency situation and dealing with a different-from-normal scenario.
I was obviously happy to approve the very clear ongoing needs that we approved last week. I still struggle, though, to make a decision about how we move forward when we don't actually know what moving forward is fully going to look like. I do appreciate that you've indicated that if new committees are set up and if situations and needs change as a result of that, you could come back to the board. I would certainly encourage that to happen if and when that needs to happen for those specific circumstances, but I struggle with making a decision when we're....
As it stands now, we're sort of looking at June as the end date for some of these hybrid situations and things. There's a travel ban on until the end of March, so we're still in a situation of having three to six months of trying to manage through something. I would much prefer to see us evaluate this and determine the needs going forward at the end of those six months, when things, we all hope, go back to normal. Maybe then we can understand fully what “normal” is going to look like going forward.
That would be my suggestion. I think this is something we should defer until the temporary measures are lifted.
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Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:20
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I appreciate that, and you're right in terms of committees not travelling and those types of activities. That actually has allowed us to support more resources in the current hybrid context. However, these resources that are freed from travelling do not necessarily have the same competency and skill set that are needed to support the ongoing operation in terms of the technology and the witnesses and video conferences. It's a different skill set.
The other fact I would like to put on the table is that, while the pandemic is ongoing, we are in the process, as you have probably noticed, of resuming more normal operations. We have data on physical presence in the precinct in the last couple of weeks that shows us that people are coming back to the precinct, with an average of over 2,000 individuals accessing the precinct, which was not at all the situation, for example, prior to the election.
We are resuming our operations in a more normal fashion, recognizing that the House still has an order for hybrid sittings in committees. The actual fact is that the administration is resuming its operations in more of a pre-pandemic context, which again gives us a bit less leeway in terms of reallocating resources, because we're returning, in a way, to normal activities.
That's why we're making this request, and that's why we feel that we need those resources to properly support the House, its members and its committees.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2021-12-09 11:22
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I guess I can appreciate that. I think we all hope that's where we're headed, and very soon. I just think it's difficult to judge based on the last few weeks, because obviously we've now put in place new hybrid provisions for all the functions that we perform as parliamentarians. We don't fully know exactly what the usage of those is going to be. We don't know what percentage of committees on average will be in person and what percentage will be virtual. We don't know the same for the House or for voting and things like that. I know those things aren't necessarily what we're talking about, but I think all these things do tie together to some degree.
Again, I struggle with the idea of making a decision about something without knowing all the information, and I don't think we do right now. My suggestion would be that when we do have that information, we come back and have another look at this. I know that this is asking for three or maybe six months of managing through, but we have obviously approved some additional resources, which I think will help. We can get those in place and utilize those.
I'm of the belief that I would rather have all the information when we come back and look at this in three months or six months, when we're in a position to know exactly what things look like.
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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't really agree with what my fellow member just suggested. I think the explanations provided in the documents we received leading up to today's meeting are quite clear, and even quite specific. Top of mind for me are all the staffing considerations. Any organization attempting to modernize itself has to deal with the issue. We have had the benefit of witnesses and evidence demonstrating that the House Administration has done everything in its power to optimize the use of human resources in order to deliver pre-pandemic-level support in accommodating members' needs.
What I take from the documents is that, even before the pandemic, the House Administration was operating at full capacity to keep up the pace, level and quality of support members need in fulfilling their duties. That requires not just analysts, researchers and clerks, but also IT staff. All of those resources are needed to support this level of activity.
At the last meeting of the Board of Internal Economy, my fellow member asked, and rightfully so, for additional information. In my view, that information has been provided to us and is sufficiently clear.
It's not normal for the House Administration to have to rely on its employees doing an unreasonable amount of overtime just so that it can provide the level of support that parliamentarians as a whole require. It's fine for a little while. The pandemic exacerbated the reliance on overtime. That is my understanding after reading the information provided. To keep up its performance, an organization cannot rely on making its staff work overtime or pulling people from one section in order to prop up a busier section.
I gather that the additional resources being requested would allow the House Administration to continue providing high-quality service, while allowing employees to work a reasonable schedule without always having to be ready to do overtime. What's more, the House Administration had already conducted an assessment and was going to submit this request regardless. As we have been told, even without the pandemic, we would have probably received more or less the same request for new resources.
As far as the modernization of IT services is concerned, some good practices may be here to stay. I'm glad to see that parliamentarians are returning to Parliament in person, because, as we all know, hybrid sittings not only require more resources, but are also more demanding for interpreters and other categories of personnel. The fact remains, the level of activity and the desire of parliamentarians to create committees and to study pressing issues demand agility, proficiency and a high level of performance from the House Administration. That means the level of service must be steady and balanced.
I want my fellow members here today to know that, when you have a stable organization, you can also look after your employees and manage operations on a more personal level. In light of everything that has happened, we need to give the House Administration the ability to look after its staff while delivering high-quality service to parliamentarians.
For those reasons, I don't quite agree with my fellow member, Blake Richards. We often have the same concerns, but I think not giving the House Administration what it needs to better support us in our work is akin to clipping its wings.
I am in favour, then, of this recommendation.
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