Evidence of meeting #26 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was estimates.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

I call the meeting to order.

Good afternoon, all. It's great to be back here today.

We're looking at our estimates. We have with us today the Speaker of the House and the Clerk of the House. It's always great to have them and the guests they bring to this committee.

We're going to start off with an opening statement. Mr. Speaker, go ahead, please. Then we'll go to questions.

March 8th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Speaker of the House of Commons

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here today and to present the House of Commons supplementary estimates (C) for fiscal year 2011-2012. I am joined today by the Clerk. Following a brief address, we'll gladly respond to any questions that you may have.

The proposed supplementary estimates (C) for the House of Commons total $11.7 million. I would like to stress at the outset that all items in the House of Commons supplementary estimates were presented to, and approved by, the Board of Internal Economy.

For reference purposes, you have been given a document showing the voted appropriations and statutory appropriations that are included supplementary estimates (C).

To facilitate today's discussion, I will provide a brief overview of each item in the order in which it was presented.

Let's begin with the voted appropriations. The voted appropriations in the supplementary estimates (C) total $2.7 million. Here are the details.

To begin, the supplementary estimates (C) provide additional funding of $413,840 for fiscal year 2011-2012 to cover the revised elector supplement. This funding is necessary because of an increase in the number of ridings that are now eligible for either a new or revised elector supplement.

According to the official electoral list published following the May 2011 general election, these changes affect 60 ridings. As you know, members who represent densely populated constituencies receive an elector supplement that remains in effect for the duration of a parliament. This graduated supplement is added to the basic budget when there are 70,000 or more electors on the final list of electors for the constituency.

Next, the supplementary estimates (C) allocate $294,552 for miscellaneous requirements. These funds were allocated to help members with special needs carry out their parliamentary functions.

The supplementary estimates (C) also include funding of $7.3 million for election costs that arose from the general election of May 2, 2011. Of this amount, $4.7 million were statutory appropriations. The remaining $2.6 million represents voted authorities to cover costs such as severance pay for staff of members and House officers who were not re-elected, provisions to help former members resettle, provisions to allow former members to complete outstanding parliamentary business and operations in their Ottawa and constituency offices, and provisions for costs associated with moving a constituency office to a new location.

Supplementary estimates (C) also reflect the fact that a sum of $556,000 from fiscal year 2011-2012 was reprofiled to fiscal year 2012-2013 to enhance the House's asset management system. The current asset management system provides limited information to support the effective management of the life cycle of assets. The upgrades that will be made with this allocation of funds will help to improve the ongoing management, accounting, and reconciliation of assets, while providing support for strategic and operational planning.

This project was scheduled to be completed in 2011-2012, but it had to be delayed because of the general election and the Auditor General's performance audit.

The supplementary estimates (C) also include the reprofiling of $105,000 in funding for the implementation of a new online recruitment tool. This new tool will help improve the staffing process, which is currently time-consuming and somewhat inefficient.

The current economic climate has resulted in an ever-increasing number of applications being received for every position that is advertised. Without the ability to pre-screen, the staffing process can take so long that the House runs the risk of losing the most qualified candidates.

A new online recruitment tool is critical to ensure that the House remains competitive in today's market.

In addition to the $2.7 million in voted appropriations that I just outlined, these supplementary estimates (C) also include an amount of $9 million in statutory appropriations.

As you know, statutory items are those that Parliament has approved through other legislation that sets out both the purpose of expenditures and the terms and conditions under which they may be made. Statutory appropriations are therefore displayed in the supplementary estimates for information purposes only.

Referring once again to the document that has been provided, the first of the statutory appropriations in the supplementary estimates (C) is a $3 million increase to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances and Retirement Compensation Arrangements accounts.

This increase reflects a Treasury Board decision. As we know, the Treasury Board is responsible for determining and managing these accounts based on actuarial calculations.

In addition to the $2.6 million in voted appropriations to cover election costs, the supplementary estimates (C) also provide for $4.6 million in statutory appropriations required to cover severance pay for members who were not re-elected.

Finally, the supplementary estimates (C) include funding of $1.3 million for fiscal year 2011-12 to offset the increase in travel costs for the travel point system.

The travel point system ensures that all members have equal access to travel resources, regardless of where their constituency is located, and each fiscal year members are allocated 64 points. Travel under the travel point system is a non-discretionary statutory expense, as per the Parliament of Canada Act.

The current budget is not sufficient to cover rising travel costs, and this is why an additional $1.3 million has been allocated.

That concludes my brief overview of the House of Commons supplementary estimates (C) for fiscal year 2011-2012.

At this time, the Clerk and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you very much. You're so informative that I'm sure we have no questions.

However, we'll offer questions to the members, starting with Mr. Kerr. You have seven minutes for the first round.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. You're so generous, and I appreciate that.

Welcome to the Speaker, the Clerk, and the House staff. It's nice to have you here, and I promise I won't ask about reserving rooms for receptions or that sort of thing today. We'll leave that alone. For a rookie star, you did very well and seemed to understand your budget.

I know we're going to get into a lot of detail; probably I'll be sharing my time, because I only want to focus on one thing first.

What came as a great surprise to me as a chair of a committee is that even with all the upgraded rooms and terrific facilities we have, we can only have two live coverages at one time. I haven't yet received an answer, not that I've dug that deeply, but if we had, for example, an ombudsman in today, we couldn't get it covered unless we tried to bump another committee.

I'm wondering if you could explain that background. Are there plans to make changes to accommodate more?

I certainly know that a number of the rooms are set up for that purpose, but because we can only cover two, it means that a number of witnesses and meetings go by without their having the opportunity to be covered. I've had members ask about that, and this seemed to be the opportunity to raise it.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

That is an excellent question. I know there is always competition for limited resources when it comes to these types of things.

I will have to ask the Clerk to handle the more technical aspect of what the IT department may have had to deal with on that.

12:10 p.m.

Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

As you say, we have the two rooms set up for televising committees. We realize there is pressure on the use of those rooms.

Over time, one of the problems we're facing is that with the long-term vision and plan and all the renovations that are being planned for new committee rooms, that is likely to be in the mix. We don't have any plans right now to allow for televising in all the committee rooms.

That is partly because of the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House of Commons and the televising of not only committees of the House of Commons but also of the Senate on CPAC. The number of hours of television exceeds the amount that is feasible to distribute via CPAC, so we're trying to resolve an ongoing balance.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

You're saying there are only two rooms that could do the televising. There aren't more rooms.

12:10 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Two are permanently set up for it.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

You're saying the others would be temporary, if that.

12:10 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

That's right.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Okay. That's maybe part of the confusion, but in terms of the teleconferencing, are there still only two that can do that at one time?

12:10 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Oh, no. I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about the televising.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

I was, but I just—

12:10 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

The teleconferencing is in the new rooms—for example, at 1 Rideau. We have set up the meetings to allow for teleconferencing, because that's one of the ways in which we think technology can assist committees in having access to witnesses across the country without incurring either the time or expense involved in travel.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

I'm not going to continue pursuing.... I get it and I appreciate the answer, but I gather that with the sense of some restriction coming on budgets, it may be some time before we go beyond the two rooms. It wouldn't be a top priority right now, I gather.