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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:31
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Thank you Mr. Chair.
I'm here to present the proposed 2021-22 main estimates for approval by the Board of Internal Economy. The estimates summarize the funding for items already approved by the board. There will accordingly not be any new funding requests during this presentation.
The proposed main estimates for 2021-22 total $543.7 million, an increase of 5.3% over the main estimates for the previous year.
In compliance with the Parliament of Canada Act, the House must prepare an estimate of the sums that will be required to pay the expenditures for the fiscal year to come and shall transmit the estimate to the Treasury Board, with the estimates of the government of Canada.
The main estimates for the House of Commons include an estimate of voted appropriations and statutory items. The voted appropriations are estimated at $383.5 million. They include the expenditures of MPs and senior officials; committee, parliamentary association and exchange expenditures; and administrative expenditures.
The statutory items are estimated at $160.2 million. These include salaries and allowances for members and House officers; contributions to members of Parliament retiring allowances; and contributions to employee benefit plans.
These main estimates include the cost of living increases based on previously approved policies and existing legislation. These are the office budgets and supplements for members and House officers, as well as the travel status expense accounts for 2021-22, which have been increased by 1% for a total of $1.7 million. This is in accordance with the adjusted consumer price index.
The main estimates also include a budget adjustment of $1.2 million to some members' office budgets to account for changes in elector supplement, following the general election in 2019. In addition, the sessional allowance and additional salaries for members and House officers have been increased by 2.1% or $1.3 million, as provided by the Parliament of Canada Act.
Economic increases for House administration employees, which were approved by the board earlier this year, amount to $5.6 million, which has been included in the main estimates for the next fiscal year.
In addition, these main estimates include the funding related to initiatives that have recently been approved. That is a net increase of $4.5 million for the long-term vision and plan, $6.6 million for security enhancements for members, as well as the $5.2 million in funding to stabilize various administrative functions within the House administration.
The main estimates include a decrease of $1 million related to the funding for conferences, associations and assemblies, leaving $300,000 for the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, which was postponed from this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now planned to take place in August 2021.
Finally, an increase of $700,000 in contributions to members' pension plans has been included due to the revised contribution rates for members.
I would like to point out that while we are still considering uncertainty surrounding the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on operations and associated public health measures that will be required, these main estimates have been prepared using the planning assumption that operations would return to near normal during the upcoming fiscal year.
This has been done to ensure that sufficient funding is available to meet the needs of the House over the coming year. That being said, we'd like to assure you that we will continue to monitor these unprecedented and evolving situations, and will take any necessary adjustments over the course of the year to ensure we can continue to adapt operations of the House to make sure we meet the needs of members in the fulfillment of their parliamentary functions.
In conclusion, it is recommended that the board approve the proposed 2021-22 main estimates for the House of Commons for the amount of $543.7 million.
This funding will be divided between two programs: $321 million for members and House officers, and $222.7 for the House administration.
This concludes my presentation on the proposed main estimates. We can answer questions the members may have.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much.
I honestly find it disturbing that the main estimates show an increase of approximately 5% over last year. The inflation rate is around 1%. In the presentation you just made—and I thank you very much for it, Mr. Paquette—you say that salaries rose, which is normal, but also that expenses for computers, security and administration also increased. You also discussed the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had during the past year and that it will also have over the next fiscal year.
Mr. Paquette, I'm going to ask you two questions. First, can you tell us, in general terms, about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential repercussions for next year's main estimates?
Second, do you anticipate that the main estimates won't be as high? I think people expect that overall budgets won't increase significantly during the pandemic and that they'll be reasonable. If the main estimates rise considerably relative to last year, but the supplementary estimates are much lower next year, we'll approach a balanced budget. However, it will be more disturbing if there are just as many increases in the supplementary estimates.
Thank you for all the details included in these estimates.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:38
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There is an item on expenditures during the pandemic a little further on in the agenda. We'll be discussing the impacts on this year in greater detail. As for the current trend, some expenditures are lower because we can't travel, create events or provide training. The reductions are greater than the additional costs stemming from the need to adapt to this new environment. We will address those items in more detail.
Here's some brief background. Some changes have occurred in the House administration and the House itself over the past two or three years, and many new technologies have been adopted. There is the new Parliamentary Precinct as well as the West Block and the new buildings. New statutes are having an impact on occupational health and safety—you mentioned security, Mr. Julian—as well as accessibility.
What we see in the proposed main estimates for 2021-2022 is the investment we need to develop the competencies and capacity that will ensure this transformation continues into the future.
As for the supplementary estimates, all we have at this stage is the reprofiling of funds, which is one of our standard practices. We aren't anticipating these amounts. This year—and I mean the current year—we requested a little more than a reprofile of funds, since previously negotiated collective agreements had a retroactive effect. Without anticipating surpluses that might have resulted from the pandemic, we wanted to ensure we had the necessary funds to meet our financial requirements.
At this point, we believe that no projects or initiatives will raise our supplementary estimates above normal levels. We are seeking only the usual reprofile of funds for next year.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there any other questions? I see there aren't any.
Do we approve this recommendation?
Agreed. Very well.
Now we will move on to item five, quarterly financial report for the second quarter of 2020-2021.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:41
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There are a couple of things I wanted to touch on. One was similar in nature to Mr. Julian's questions, but I'll leave it for the second part.
The other side of this is that some areas have seen decreases as well. One of them was the office of the law clerk and also legal services. I'm just concerned because I know at the health committee, the law clerk indicated to us that there were some resource constraints he faced in vetting some of the documents that he is going to have to do in response to the order made by the House on the 26th of October.
I'm just wondering if we can have any comment on that decrease in resources, and whether the law clerk has the resources he needs now to be able to process those documents that the House and its committees have asked him to vet and to redact.
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Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2020-12-03 11:42
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Thank you, Mr. Richards.
The indication about increases in resources for the legal services at the House were increases that occurred in this past year. In terms of your question with respect to the committee, I did appear in front of the health committee last week and gave information about what we are expecting in terms of the potential volume of disclosure. We indicated that we had organized our resources to be prepared to deal with the task that the House has given us and we gave some parameters in terms of volume and the time that it would take us to review a certain number of documents.
To give a sense to the committee, there had been some testimony about documents being in the millions of pages. That gave us a sense that it may take some time, but we were prepared to do what was necessary to achieve our task.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:43
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You don't feel there are any additional resources that you require to be able to complete that in a timely fashion.
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Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2020-12-03 11:43
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We indicated we could conduct the review of about 50,000 documents in seven days. There was talk of a much higher number than that, but we don't know yet how many we will receive. We also indicated that we would advise the committee as soon as we knew the specific number so that next steps could be considered.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:44
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On the other side of things, I share the concern generally about some pretty large increases. Mr. Julian has addressed them to a large degree, but I want to touch on it specifically. Looking at line items, there are some pretty huge increases in specific line items. Two of the largest were employee relations, which is a 78% increase, I believe, and human resources service centre, which is a 76% increase. One of the others that is among the larger ones is occupational health, safety and environment, which is up 26%. Those all seem to group together in the category of labour and employment issues.
Is that driven by the pandemic or is there something else that it's responding to? Those are pretty alarming increases.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:45
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I'll start, and then ask my peer, Ms. Laframboise, to add to it.
Some of that are the increases related to when we talked about the capacity for HR services for members. That was increased last year, and now we're stabilizing the funding. Then there was some capacity relating to some of the new legislation that was also stabilized this year. If I'm not mistaken, there has been some reallocation of resources and alignments within HR.
I'll let Ms. Laframboise address the items more closely.
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Michelle Laframboise
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Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:45
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Thank you, Mr. Paquette.
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Michelle Laframboise
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Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:46
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In essence, one of the questions you asked was around the large increase to the HR service centre. That group is a new unit that was put in place in response to the implementation of the enterprise resource planning program and system. The ERP is an integrated resource planning function that, over the long term, is going to help us align and streamline our resources and stabilize the organization indefinitely, which in the long term will help us manage our funding and our resources better.
That is one piece of it. The other part you spoke about was occupational health and safety. There absolutely has been an increase in that function as a result of the implementation of Bill C-65, keeping in mind that we onboarded the members and the organization to a relatively significant piece of legislation, put in place the regulations, and adopted and incorporated new programs and new policies. There was definitely a significant amount of training to onboard Bill C-65. That is definitely an increase as well.
Our plan going forward is to stabilize the organization, to leverage the enterprise resource planning in the integrated business planning piece and to maintain and continue our protections and our policies under the auspices of Bill C-65.
Those are the bigger pieces of what you asked about.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:48
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What you're saying to me is that it's been established in response to Bill C-65.
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Michelle Laframboise
View Michelle Laframboise Profile
Michelle Laframboise
2020-12-03 11:48
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A very large portion of it is Bill C-65.
As I mentioned earlier, we have 17 programs and policies that need amending. The employer's obligations are significant and require a lot of work up front. In the long term, hopefully we'll be able to stabilize that, potentially looking at aligning and streamlining some of those resources going forward. It is absolutely my plan to do that.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:48
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Okay.
More broadly, I want to get a sense of what measures are in place internally to slow down expenditure growth. Mr. Julian mentioned that we're seeing an increase of over 5% in what we're seeing here, but I believe if you look back from 2014 until now, there has been a 29% increase in the expenditures in the House's estimates. This is a pretty large increase over a five- or six-year period.
I'm wondering what measures are in place to ensure that this expenditure growth can be slowed down. What should the board being looking at? Is there any advice you can provide us on what we can be looking at as a board in terms of measures that can be put in place to ensure that we have stronger fiscal prudence and stronger controls and to make sure that we're not seeing these continual increases year over year?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:49
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I can reassure you that definitely in the last two or three years we have been putting a lot of effort into making sure, if we come forward with any requests for funding, we do an assessment and make sure we restabilize some of the resources and realign where we can to make sure the requests are only for what we need.
There has been a progression of many legislative changes or other demands around services. The cost of living is obviously one of the big ones here, and there are some pieces above and beyond that. There are incremental services when we look at some of the pieces of legislation around disclosure and legislation around health and safety. Then we have the increased capacity around services for members, around HR, around the security that's more recent and around the onboarding. The most significant portion of the growth over the last three or four years has been the onboarding and taking control of the various new buildings in the parliamentary precinct. For those we made sure we challenged the work with the experts and just asked for what we needed to maintain these various systems and the tools given to us for that assignment.
Many of these things are outside of the control of the administration to react ahead of time to try to manage these. We try to make sure our request for funding is limited to what is needed to maintain and support the infrastructure.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:51
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I wanted to come back to this idea of finding ways to put in place controls for better fiscal prudence, but you sort of led me into my other question, which is about the fairly large increases in terms of the employment figures.
We saw an increase, I believe, from 1,827 to 2,214. That's about a 21% increase. It's a pretty big jump. A couple of the bigger jumps were in procedural services, which we saw go from 261 to 442, and then in the office of the deputy clerk of administration, which we saw more than double in size from 37 to 77. I'm wondering if that's an increase because there are more part-timers with the pandemic or if that's really a legitimate full-time equivalent increase. What's driving this huge 21% increase in the employment figures?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:52
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The report we provided to you, with the documentation at this time, represents the staff on force at the time we prepared the documentation. It gives you a full sense of how many people we have working at the precinct. Previously, the 1,700 or so people you saw were representing more or less the numbers that we're looking at: the actual full-time indeterminates, full-time long-term terms, or long-term terms part time. It didn't have some of our short-term seasonal workers and it didn't have many of the other people we have who are supporting and who are not necessarily there on a permanent basis at the precinct.
For you to have a full picture, we made sure we had the complete on-site at that particular point in time. My apologies; we should have had a note to that effect on the documentation that we were presenting a different number, not a growth in numbers.
That said, there has been some growth, given all of the items I identified earlier. Many of the services we offer require the capacity to support that, and that growth is there, but it's not the 21% difference that you see in the documentation.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:53
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What you're saying is that what we're seeing there is a snapshot in time, and the 21% wouldn't be an accurate portrayal of the growth. What would be more accurate in terms of a percentage of growth?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
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I don't have that number in front of me. We could reproduce the report you received last time for the main estimates on the same basis so you can have that, and we can provide that to the board members to have a better analysis.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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That would be appreciated.
Could you ballpark that for me? I wouldn't hold you to it, of course.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
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No, I can't at this point, because I look at so many different numbers and I don't typically have the FTE numbers or full-time staff with the financial ones.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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Perhaps you could give us a better picture of what the growth would be in terms of FTE.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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Just going back to what I was on before with regard to measures that can be put in place, I understand about responding to legislative changes and things like that, but obviously 29% is far over and above inflation, for sure, in terms of the expansion of growth.
I'll throw out something that comes to mind for me. What about looking at requiring some sort of offsetting decreases where there are new increases in spending? Is that something the administration would welcome? What kinds of suggestions could you give us that we can look at in terms of ways we can ensure that we're not seeing such continual growth?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:55
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Definitely, we can work with the board members and list out all the various services that we provide and provide an opportunity to balance off and maybe reduce some of the service levels or the types of services we offer to support members.
We can also offer to look at what I'll call the back office that supports all of these to make sure we keep those under control going forward. We have been doing some of this, but we can definitely work with the members of the board to do a bit more.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I just want to reconfirm, based on the new questions, are we still in accordance with the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Now we will move on to item five, quarterly financial report for the second quarter of 2020-2021.
I will let you continue your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:56
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Now I would like to present the second quarterly report for the 2020-2021 year. I just discussed next year, but now come back to the current year. Since it's very difficult to explain this year's financial trends without considering the actual impact of the pandemic, I'm going to present the second quarterly report at the same time as the report we prepared for the update on pandemic-related expenditures. Items five and six will thus be presented together.
I'll begin with the quarterly financial report, which compares cumulative financial information from the current year with that from the same quarter of the previous year. I would emphasize that it's somewhat unusual to compare the two years as they are two atypical years. The factor we've cited this year is the pandemic, which has substantially affected our expenditures. Last year, it was the general election, which also had its own trends. The comparison between the two years is influenced by atypical spending habits, as we will see in the results I'm about to explain to you.
In the September 30 report, approved authorizations for 2020-2021 amounted to $539 million, an $18 million, or 3.5%, increase over authorizations for 2019-2020.
The most significant changes were a $5.9 million rise in economic increases for certain House administration employees, $4.4 million for significant investments and an amount of $3.1 million due to cost-of-living increases for members and senior officers. In addition, a $1.7 million increase in authorizations is attributable to budget adjustments following the general election.
As of September 30, expenditures totalled $230.8 million, compared to spending of $240.1 million for 2019-2020, a decrease of $9.3 million, or 3.9%.
The expenditures are also presented by type of cost. The most significant decrease in expenditures relates to the reduction of $8.1 million in transportation and telecommunications, which is due to the significant decrease in travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expenditures for professional and special services have decreased by $4.8 million, mostly due to the reduction in temporary help for members and House officers, and training and hospitality across the whole organization as a result of COVID-19, as well as the difference in some of the timing of certain payments to external partners from one year over the next. The decreases were also partially offset by the cost of accommodating the virtual House proceedings and committees.
In addition, the expenditures for material and supplies decreased by $2.7 million due to the temporary closure of the food services and the printing facilities as a result of the pandemic. The decrease was partially offset by the purchase of consumable items such as the face masks and hand sanitizer used across the House of Commons.
The expenditures for computer, office equipment, furniture and fixtures has decreased by $1.1 million, primarily due to the differences in timing of certain payments from one year to another as well as a decrease in equipment purchased relating to the managed computing for constituencies initiative. The decrease was partially offset by the cost incurred for virtual House proceedings and committees and by the costs incurred for the equipment that was used to enable the House administration employees to work remotely during this pandemic.
I will also elaborate a bit more at the end of this presentation on some of the COVID implications of our various other costs.
I also note that salaries and benefits increased by $4.3 million, mainly due to the cost of living for members and their employees, as well as House administration. This increase was partially offset by the fact that we had a reduction in part-time staff and overtime as a result of the pandemic.
Finally, the report provides a comparison of the utilization of our authorities between the two years that shows a decrease of 3.3%, which was not unexpected given the current situation.
It's important to mention that the House promotes an efficient use of our resources, and we continuously strive to minimize the requests for incremental funding whenever possible. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closely monitoring and considering potential savings as well as any financial impact when making funding decisions in this truly exceptional year.
Given this, I'll take a couple of minutes to highlight the financial impacts the pandemic has had on the House spending. This is looking at the analysis that was provided in your tab 6 for background. You'll see that in addition to the reassignment of resources and the cancellation or slowing down of certain initiatives, we have had significant expenditures relating to specific measures taken for a total of approximately $4 million.
Those include about $1.5 million invested to accommodate the virtual House proceedings and committees; $1.2 million for external printing services; $340,000 spent for constituency office reconfiguration and COVID-19-related supplies; and $380,000 for the House administration for computer equipment and personal protective equipment such as non-medical masks and sanitizing products. We have also noted that we've had approximately $500,000 of administrative salaries and overtime specifically related to the activities for the current situation.
Overall, though, when looking at the various patterns that I mentioned previously, the reduction in certain costs like travel and material and supplies more than compensate for these increased costs related to the pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, this concludes my presentation. I can answer any questions members of the board may have.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
I'd like to make two observations. A figure of $341,000 is reported for the purchase of equipment and constituency offices reconfiguration. I'm referring to document 6 here. So the cost to fit up offices to accommodate people and to purchase disinfectants and masks amounted, on average, to $1,000 per constituency office. Is that correct?
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Are there any members who didn't have to reconfigure their offices?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:03
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Yes. Some decided not to open their offices. In some cases, as a result of the existing office configuration, there was no need to erect a physical barrier or install transparent plastic panels. Quite a large number of members have not yet had to incur those expenses.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
I see.
One line above, I see expenditures of $1.2 million for external printing services for householders.
Is that the amount saved by the normal printing service, that is to say the House of Commons service?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:04
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I believe the economic gains are slightly less than the amount of that expenditure because we continued paying the salaries of employees at our printing centres. We saved money on equipment and supplies, but the figure I have combines all the services that were interrupted, including food services. So I don't have the exact amount for printing services.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
What were the duties or the output of printing service staff during that time?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:05
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We were in isolation, and employees were using the “other paid leave” code. The offices hadn't yet been configured, and the necessary adjustments had been made so employees could work safely in the printing centres.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
So production was stopped at that time. Is that correct?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:05
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That's correct.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:06
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Okay.
I guess the first question is that I don't know if there was maybe as much detail as I had hoped. Regarding the reassigned staff, I'm still a little unclear. I know that this was a question I asked previously. I think this is partly in response to that. I'm still a little unclear on those reassignments.
Can you give us a bit more of a breakdown on those? Are we talking about ongoing reassignments? Were these only temporary assignments? What sorts of reassignments did we see? I'm not asking for every bit of detail, but maybe you can give us some of the greatest in number in terms of the reassignments. What types of reassignments were they? What sorts of areas were people reassigned to and for what length of time?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:07
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Given that most of the reassignments that have been taking place relate to our DSRP team, I'll ask Mr. Stéphan Aubé if he wants to elaborate a bit more on what they basically are not doing or doing less of and doing now.
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:07
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Thank you for the question, Mr. Richards.
There are about 120 people within the DSRP, which is our shop here, who had to be reassigned from a roles perspective. Some of their duties had to be reassigned towards the support of the virtual Parliament, and we basically took a lot of the technical people that we had in operational issues. We had to stop some of the services so that we could reassign them to the support of virtual committees and the virtual chamber, sir.
That number represents around 120 people within my organization, who we reassigned from their existing responsibilities to their new responsibilities, recognizing the need that was created by the virtual committees and the virtual chambers.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:08
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How much of that would be dedicated to other things? Obviously we're still making plans for other things such as a voting app and other ways to adapt. What sort of a percentage of these reassignments would be related to the development of future responses we're still working on?
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:08
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I've categorized in three buckets the resources that we've assigned to the virtual Parliament. There's the virtual chamber, and we have a group of around 30 people who have been reassigned and are dedicated to supporting the virtual chamber. There's a group of 77 that has been assigned to supporting the virtual committees. Also, then, there's currently a group of 13 that has been reassigned to the voting aspect.
For the voting aspect, there were different phases to it. At the beginning, from May to June, we had five people working on validating the concept. After that, it evolved, after the motion, from five to 13 in the fall, sir.
Specifically with the voting compared to the other one, I wouldn't say these are permanent resources assigned there. I'd say these are people who are working on that in addition to virtual chamber support and virtual committee support.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:09
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That's understood. Okay.
Where have these people typically been reassigned from? In other words, what sorts of things are being left to the side or not being done to maybe the capacity we would have liked as a result of reassignments?
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:09
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I'll give you an example that you probably know. The ambassador service that we offer to members in the committees and also for their offices is a group of fewer than 20 people. We took that group and had to reassign them to the onboarding for members for virtual committees and also for the virtual chamber. That's an example of the changes we've made.
We've also had to reassign some of our security force to work on specific items relating to ensuring the security for these virtual meetings. We did some changes there. We also looked at the support that we offered for some applications to people who were working in that area. We basically also reassigned them to specific operations roles related to the virtual chamber and virtual committees. That's the type of decision we had to make in order not to increase costs to the organization, because the incremental costs from our perspective for virtual Parliament, as of September, were really around $1.2 million. We were able to maintain that incremental cost load because of the reassignments we've done.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:11
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While we're on the topic of virtual Parliament, with regard to committees, we've obviously been told that with logistical issues and maintenance issues with the systems, the approach that we've been using, this hybrid approach for committee meetings, is going to have to stop for about a month during the upcoming winter adjournment. If I remember correctly—I might be off a little bit—but roughly from December 19, for about a month, we would see a shutdown. What we're told is that this would prevent committees and even Parliament, if it needed to be recalled, from being able to sit in any kind of a way, even if there is an emergency situation that develops.
We've seen that in the past this sometimes does happen while the House is in adjournment. Can we get a bit more of an explanation, especially for Canadians who might be following the proceedings today? What exactly is going on there? Why is it happening? What could be done to ensure that there is an ability for emergency situations to be dealt with? Could it be done in some kind of a staggered fashion so that even one committee could be accommodated where there might be an emergency? Obviously, there are reasons that needs to happen and we certainly wouldn't want to shut down our Parliament completely for a month if that was necessary.
Can we get some explanation on what's happening there and also an indication of what could be done to ensure that there is an ability to function in a limited capacity if an emergency situation arises?
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:12
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Mr. Richards, I will just make one comment to start. I can guarantee you that if there would be an emergency, the House would be able to return. That's the first point that I want to make. We pride ourselves on ensuring that the House sits, and we will guarantee that this happens if ever there is such an emergency.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:13
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Could I just add to that? In relation to committees, there are obviously times when an emergency committee meeting is required. Can we have the same assurance and guarantee that it would be possible, if needed?
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:13
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If there would be an emergency and the Speaker would require us to make this happen, Mr. Richards, we'd certainly find a way to make this happen.
Having said that, what we're planning to do is maintenance that we usually do when the House is not sitting. This year has been an extraordinary year. We haven't had a chance to do the maintenance that is required to some of our core systems. When I'm speaking about maintenance, I'm not talking about general IT maintenance of a network and stuff like that. I'm talking about the broadcasting systems that support the chamber and the committees. We need to do the necessary maintenance in order to prevent failures to these systems this winter, sir.
The approach that we've taken in order to minimize risk is that we're going to focus on the core systems at the beginning, during the Christmas period. We're going to be working over the Christmas period from the 28th through to the fifth in order to update and maintain these systems and replace the systems that need to be replaced during that period. Then after that, our plan, sir, is to start focusing on committee rooms, one at a time, in order to start ramping up the systems as we can.
We are taking a staggered approach in order to minimize risk to the organization, but it does have an impact on our ability to offer services to all the committees, as I have just mentioned, due to the changes we need to make.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:14
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I understand. I want to just make sure to make it clear that we appreciate that there's been a lot of change and adaptation required. You guys have done a really good job of trying to ensure that we're keeping pace with what's required under very difficult circumstances. I do understand that this can sometimes involve stuff that's far beyond my comprehension in terms of technical capabilities.
I appreciate the work that you're doing. I really do appreciate the assurances you've just given us that there would be some way found to ensure that, in those urgent and emergency type situations.... That was my big concern. I'm really glad to hear that there will be ways to accommodate that, if needed.
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View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-12-03 12:15
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll just note that I'm noticing that these meetings are running a lot longer. The frequency of meetings is starting to increase significantly because we're taking a long time to get through the business.
I would encourage members to avail themselves of the opportunity before the meetings to try to go through as many of these questions as possible. We typically move through these agenda items a lot more rapidly. I'm just concerned that we're not getting through these items with how much time we have. I'm concerned about the frequency of meetings we're having with BOIE. We're going to start turning it into a weekly meeting here, Mr. Speaker.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I agree with Mr. Holland on this. We have some extremely important decisions to get to. I've found the staff are very good at providing answers on the financial records.
There are also questions that really are a matter for House leaders and whips to discuss in another forum. We need to focus on the work that we need to do as a board of internal economy. For example, today I can't go past one o'clock and we're not going to get to the end of the agenda, which means we'll have to meet again next week. We're meeting now on a weekly basis.
Mr. Holland's comments are very valid. We have to be concise and focused. We have to do the work we have and ask the important questions, but there are many ways of asking those questions beforehand and also of making sure that the issues that are a part of another domain, like House leaders and the whips' meetings, are kept there.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:05
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The next two points, not only the quarterly report, are about financial information, and since the pandemic is influencing the majority of our financial trends, I will present them together. That way, we can get better organized for questions.
To begin, I will present the quarterly financial report and tell you about the decrease we have proposed for supplementary estimates (B) for this fiscal year. It should be noted that a quarterly report generally gives a good idea of spending trends from one year to another. However, in this case, we are comparing an election year with a year that is part of the COVID-19 pandemic context. In both cases, we are not talking about typical years, and so the trends cannot really make it possible to facilitate comprehension as is the case usually.
In the report dated June 30, the approved authorities for 2020-21, in the amount of $516.4 million, appear to indicate a decrease of $4.4 million compared with the 2019-20 authorities. That is because the Board of Internal Economy approved the $17.4-million financial rollover this past July, which could not be reflected in our report dated June 30.
If we look at the overall trends, we can see that there was an increase of $4.4 million for various important investments, an increase of $3.1 million for cost of living expenses and an increase of $1.7 million for budget adjustments following a general election.
On June 30, the expenditures totalled $114.3 million, compared with expenditures of $121 million for the previous year. That is a decrease of $7.4 million.
The expenditures are also presented by type of cost. The most significant decrease in expenditures relates to the reduction of $6 million in transportation and telecommunications. This is due to the significant decrease in travel as a result of the pandemic. The expenditures for professional and special services have also decreased by $2 million, which is also due to the reduction in service contracts, training and hospitality, again as a result of COVID. As well, there is the difference in timing of certain payments to our external partners during this period. This decrease was partially offset by the cost to accommodate the virtual House proceedings. In addition, the expenditures for materials and supplies have also decreased by $2 million. That is as a result of the temporary closures of the food service facilities and the printing facilities as a result of the pandemic.
On the other hand, expenditures for computers and office equipment have increased by a little over $1 million. This is primarily due to the purchase of equipment to accommodate the virtual House proceedings and committees and to enable certain employees to work remotely during COVID-19.
Finally, the report provides comparison between the utilization of authorities from one year to the next, and we see a slight decrease of 1.3%, which is not unusual, given the current situation.
It's also important to mention that the administration promotes an efficient use of resources and we continuously strive to minimize the request for incremental funding whenever possible. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID pandemic, we are closely monitoring and considering any financial impact when making funding decisions throughout the year.
Also, given what has happened, we have reviewed our request for the 2020-21 supplementary estimates (B). As you know, the COVID pandemic has resulted in the postponement of the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference to 2021, as well as the cancellation of the 29th annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Funding for these conferences had been included in our main estimates for the current year. With the change in plans, this funding will no longer be required this year. As a result, we have offset our request with the current request for a carry-forward for 2021 in the supplementary estimates (B), and as a result, we've revised our request down to $6.3 million for a carry-forward, instead of the $17.4 million.
As for the next point, given all the financial trends the pandemic has significantly affected, we prepared you a summary of the major expenditures stemming from decisions made in the current landscape.
To add relevance, we prepared a summary of expenditures by covering the period up until mid-September, which is a bit more useful for you. Contrary to the report I just presented, this one does not only concern the first quarter. This report includes the following expenditures: $1.4 million in investments for operating the virtual House; $1.1 million paid for outside printing; $287,000 for the purchase of equipment and supplies for members' offices; and the purchase of IT equipment and supplies totalling $396,000 for the administration.
It should also be noted that a significant realignment of our staff was necessary to support the new ways of doing things and that this did not directly impact our expenditures. We continue to monitor those changes. We will submit a report to the Board of Internal Economy with our future quarterly reports.
This concludes my presentation. I am ready to answer your questions.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Paquette. I would just like to compare apples to apples.
There are additional expenditures of $3.1 million on September 17, but we see that some of the spending was reduced because of COVID-19. Yet, this continues in the financial statement of June 30. If we compare the money saved up until September 17 with the additional costs, what is the impact of COVID-19 on parliamentary operations?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:12
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In terms of updating our expenses, the analysis period just ended last week. We'll give you a more complete analysis in a few weeks. The fact remains that, to date, all trends show that the savings exceed the additional disbursements.
It should also be noted that a portion of the savings relate to travel. However, since the members' travel is included the Members By-law, these funds can't necessarily be reallocated automatically. Regarding the other business expenses, the other travel related to voted appropriations, we can see that the savings exceed the expenses. Existing resources are actually being used to realign and support the new approach.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I want to know how many employees on Parliament Hill have been dismissed or laid off since the start of the pandemic.
How many regular full-time employees have we lost? How many aren't working because of COVID-19?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-10-08 12:13
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I don't have an exact human resources analysis on hand. I know that, to date, there have been no layoffs as a result of COVID-19. However, perhaps Mr. Parent could provide some information on this matter.
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Pierre Parent
View Pierre Parent Profile
Pierre Parent
2020-10-08 12:13
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Good afternoon, Mr. Julian.
We haven't laid off any full-time staff. We simply haven't called back the people who were on call. Under these circumstances, no full-time employees have lost their jobs. I can't give you the exact figures at this time.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Could you provide the figures at the next meeting?
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Pierre Parent
View Pierre Parent Profile
Pierre Parent
2020-10-08 12:14
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We should certainly be able to find those figures.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-10-08 12:14
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Thank you.
On the $3.19 million specific to COVID, is that new spending only, or does it include the value of existing resources that would have been deployed towards pandemic-related items?
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