Evidence of meeting #23 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was savings.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Gary Corbett  President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
  • Ryan Campbell  Compensation and Policy Officer, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
  • Michel Rodrigue  Chief Information Officer, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

We will reconvene. This is the 23rd meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

We are dealing with a study on the new entity Shared Services Canada, and as we undertake the study we're very pleased to have as our first witnesses representatives from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, PIPSC. Welcome to the three of you: Mr. Gary Corbett, president; Mr. Michel Rodrigue, chief information officer; and Ryan Campbell, compensation and policy officer.

We understand you will have opening remarks, and then I hope you will be amenable to questions from the committee.

4:35 p.m.

Gary Corbett President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Yes, we have opening remarks. Bear with me; they are more like speaking bullets than a speech.

I want to thank you and the members of the committee for having us here today.

As many of you know, PIPSC represents 60,000 members, and roughly 18,000 of those members work as IT professionals. We make up the largest component of the federal government's IT staff, with approximately 80% of those members expected to be within Shared Services Canada.

From our point of view, Shared Services Canada is a big and risky project. We believe PIPSC members—the people we represent—are key to the success of this project. PIPSC supports the concept of shared services, but it's how it's done. It's not a matter of whether it's right or wrong; it's how it's done that really will make or break this type of project.

As you know, in the literature there are examples of good ideas gone wrong. I'm talking about the Australian experience, where after seven years and $350 million later, there's certainly not a successful outcome. Overall we recognize that there could be value in this project, and we're trying to work in good faith with the government and with the Shared Services Canada regime management to make this happen.

PIPSC IT members do recognize that there is room for more streamlined and more efficient IT services in the federal government. But it's also important to note that these efficiencies will not be realized if there is not a plan up front and if there's not enough foresight to be able to work through some of the strategic issues, and not just on the level of the everyday operations of Shared Services Canada that we were brought in to talk about right now.

First of all, PIPSC members are always among the first to identify solutions. We want to be solution-based, and we have the knowledge of working at the work site to bring this to the table.

Initially when Shared Services Canada was announced, we were disappointed with the lack of consultation and the lack of transparency. Despite the legal obligation for the employer to consult with us, we really had to fight hard, in terms of sending letters to the ministers, in order to be consulted properly on this. I think that after some pressure, we were steered to work with Shared Services' senior management.

Since then we have been included in some consultation processes, and we are committed to continue to work with the employer throughout any implementation. But there are still many unanswered questions causing some uncertainty within our membership. For example, we still have not seen the business plan. We still don't have a clear budget for this, nor a human resources plan, which, as you can imagine, is very important to us as a bargaining agency: to look at where this is going and to look at how the people we represent are going to land on their feet or how they are going to be protected in some way as they move between agencies and departments.

In September 2011 we received the PricewaterhouseCoopers data centre feasibility study. We received this, by the way, from a journalist, which I think is indicative of part of the problem: if we were involved from the get-go, we would be able to provide some insight or foresight into the types of directions this needs to take to get to where the government wants to be with this. As we said, receiving it from a journalist is probably not the best way to receive it.

Upon review of this report, some fear emerged regarding the potential improper implementation of how we're going to proceed down this road to get there. Certainly from my members' point of view, there was a fear that this would result in some significant and probably unnecessary job losses, even to the point of boiling down some of the 320 data centres within local communities to a smaller number of data centres. As you can imagine, some of these data centres are in local or remote areas and in smaller communities, where one job is a huge economic impact compared to one job in a larger centre.

With the creation of Shared Services Canada, we also fear that there is a potential increase for unnecessary and excessive outsourcing, which we believe is expensive. There's less accountability. It has the opportunity or the ability to compromise standing principles in human resource practices, such as bilingualism, for example. That is also a concern to us--that should it be going in that direction, we want to make sure that those principles are upheld for our membership.

Our view is that providing IT internally is less expensive that contracting it out. More to the point, we're looking at the Government of Ontario experience back in 2005, when we had a commitment on the part of employer up front that said we're going to go down this road and we promise there will be no job losses. Right up front there was a commitment to the employees, to the bargaining agents. As I understand it, they have identified significant savings from going in that direction. We haven't seen the same offer and the same collegial spirit of working together on the part of this particular initiative this year at Services Canada.

The overall message is that our members are public servants and they're committed to the public good and they want to work together to find savings. Our members are also best situated to facilitate a smooth transition to the shared services model, which we believe can work if we do it right. Mistakes in the planning processes can lead to a dysfunctional shared services project outcome. We're worried about that. Ultimately, we need to ensure that Shared Services Canada is an entity that serves Canadians in the best way possible. While protecting our members out there, there's a continued opportunity to work together.

I'd like to pose that as our submission, and I'm be available to answer questions.

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Mr. Corbett.

The committee should be aware that the PIPSC brought a briefing binder with them, most of which is in both official languages, but one chapter of it is in only one language. That chapter is the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which members have had delivered to their office in both official languages in recent months. Given that we have that document in both official languages, I'd like to ask for unanimous consent of the committee to overlook the bilingual languages obligation and circulate the briefing document from PIPSC. Any objection?

Okay, hearing no objection, the clerk's assistant can then circulate the briefing binder.

With that, we can open our questioning. First, on behalf of the official opposition, is Denis Blanchette.

Denis, five minutes, please.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome to the committee, Mr. Corbett, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Rodrigue.

Creating shared services is a very major issue in federal public administration. Like you, I agree that, given the sums of money involved, something absolutely has to be done. All around the world, people are doing things along these lines. Some have failed and others have been more successful.

Having seen how things are getting under way, do you have the impression that we are on the right track, or do we have to change direction already so that we don't run into a brick wall?

4:40 p.m.

President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Gary Corbett

I feel we've started out slowly on this. Personally, I'm an engineer, and we like to plan things. We say that when you fail at the plan it's planning to fail.

As an organization, we haven't had access to any of those planning documents, if they exist. When we came in to work with Shared Services, we were basically told that we're going to develop all of these plans. This was when we were talking to the management. Did the plans exist? If they don't exist, then how do you know that you can reach your outcomes in terms of savings? I think it's gotten off to a very slow and rickety, rocky start if it's looking at saving the kind of money that the government's expecting it to save.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

The PricewaterhouseCoopers document mentions possible savings of between $45 million and $293 million depending on whether you see the glass half empty or half full. Do you think those are reasonable estimates?

4:40 p.m.

President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Gary Corbett

I think if done properly, again, there can be savings. I can't quote the numbers exactly. I'm going to leave that to Ryan. Anything, if done properly, has a potential to make savings. I can't exactly comment on the numbers.

Perhaps, Ryan, you might want to say a few words.

4:40 p.m.

Ryan Campbell Compensation and Policy Officer, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Sure.

According to the document, there's definitely the potential for savings. What is uncertain is when those savings are actually going to come. The report itself says that the cost is going to be between, I think, off the top of my head, $150 million and $350 million. You'd think in a project like this that the costs are going to come at the beginning and the savings are going to come at the end.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Of course, you always have to spend money at the outset so that you can save money later. When you go by that principle, the chances of success are better.

You mentioned a rough start. In your view, is there a way to make the next steps less turbulent? What would you recommend to make the next steps smoother and the project a success?

4:45 p.m.

President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Gary Corbett

As I said when I started out, I think putting the stakeholders at the front end, rather than calling them in when you've decided, goes a long way to planning and ensuring the success of any project. With respect to the savings, yes, agreed. You'd have to put money in the front end to make it all work, but if you don't do it properly, the result is add-on cost and longer runs to achieve your objectives. I think that's what happened in the Australian experience. It just gets bogged down in the kinds of technicalities we're currently dealing with in consulting with the employer now. There are technicalities arising, in terms of labour relations technicalities, that seem to have been overlooked—legislation, collective agreements. These are going to slow down the process significantly. If we had got together to plan those things up front, we probably would have been better able to deal with them, with cost efficiencies.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

You have about 15 seconds. Actually, you don't have any time, realistically.

Thank you, Mr. Corbett. Thank you, Monsieur Blanchette.

For the Conservatives, we'll go to Scott Armstrong.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you.

I want to thank you all for coming. I know it was short notice, and we appreciate your attending committee today. You were able to get quite a briefing package together under such short notice, too. That must have taken quite a bit of work under such short time constraints.

In the spring of 2010 the Auditor General noted that many of the government's IT systems were "...supported by old infrastructure and are at risk of breaking down. A breakdown would have wide and severe consequences—at worst, the government could no longer conduct its business and deliver services to Canadians."

Would you agree that there's a real need to modernize the IT services the government possesses?

4:45 p.m.

President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Gary Corbett

I absolutely would agree. As a matter of fact, we would go one step further to say not only would we identify to modernize that, but in doing so we'll provide the people who work for the public service, my members, mobility to move through the system and use their talents.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you.

The shared services consolidation is considered an industry standard. Organizations such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, the Canadian banking industry, and others have undertaken similar projects. This is kind of an industry standard, something we're seeing worldwide. Wouldn't you agree that it's helpful to take this industry standard as a guideline as we progress through this?

4:45 p.m.

President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Gary Corbett

I think guidelines are important. I will say yes, but I would also say that if they're moving forward towards delivery of that IT service, I'm sure they have a planning process as well.