This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #41 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 million.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michelle Doucet  Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office
Bill Pentney  Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Plans and Consultations, Privy Council Office
Marc Bélisle  Executive Director, Finance and Corporate Planning Division, Privy Council Office
Greta Bossenmaier  Senior Executive Vice-President, Canadian International Development Agency
Arun Thangaraj  Director General, Business Planning Resources Management and Systems, Canadian International Development Agency
Julia Hill  Director General, Planning, Operations and Specialists Directorate, Geographic Programs Branch, Canadian International Development Agency

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We'll convene the 41st meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Today we're dealing with just that: estimates.

We've invited the Privy Council Office to present their estimates for this year. To do so, we would like to welcome Michelle Doucet, the assistant deputy minister of corporate services.

Madame Doucet, welcome. With you, I understand, is Mr. Bill Pentney, deputy secretary to the cabinet, plans and consultations—welcome, sir—and Marc Bélisle, executive director, finance and corporate planning division.

Welcome again, Marc. It's nice to see you here.

Madame Doucet, you know the routine. There are 10 to 15 minutes for opening remarks, if you like, and then a round of questioning from the committee members. You have the floor, Madame.

3:30 p.m.

Michelle Doucet Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon. I am pleased to meet with the members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

As you explained, I'm accompanied today by Mr. Bill Pentney and Monsieur Marc Bélisle. Without further ado, I will begin to explain PCO's 2012-13 main estimates.

The overall decrease of $13.9 million to PCO's financial requirements from $140.7 million, as reported in the 2011-12 main estimates, to $126.8 million in the 2012-13 main estimates, is mainly related to the following.

There is a reduction of $7.4 million since PCO transferred, on an ongoing basis, all of its information technology budget for the delivery of e-mail, as well as its data centres and network services, to Shared Services Canada.

There is a reduction of $3.9 million for the sunsetting in March 2012 of the Afghanistan Task Force. Since April 1, 2012, PCO has had a small team in place that will be providing a coordination role with respect to Canada's presence in Afghanistan

There is a reduction of $2.2 million for strategic review in order to reflect the savings to be achieved in the second year of implementation for strategic review. By 2013-14, PCO's ongoing budget reduction will total $5.7 million. The $2.2 million is the total cumulative amount of savings for the second year, given that $1.1 million has already been achieved in the first year, 2011-12.

There is a reduction of $1.1 million for security-related initiatives. In 2010-11, PCO sought ongoing funding to enhance the department's security in order to focus exclusively on the highest priority elements. PCO received $3.1 million for the first two fiscal years. Starting in 2012-13 and for ongoing years, PCO will receive $2 million per fiscal year. During the first two years of this initiative, PCO had to incur one-time fit-up and start-up costs for some initiatives, which explains the reduction of $1.1 million for 2012-13.

Finally, there is a reduction of $0.5 million for adjustments to employee benefit plans, which is a statutory item.

These reductions are partially offset by the following.

First, there is an increase of $1 million for the operation of the Office of the Special Advisor on Human Smuggling and Illegal Migration. The Special Advisor is responsible for coordinating the government's overall strategy and response to migrant smuggling, including through engagement with key domestic and international partners to promote cooperation.

As well, there's an increase of $0.5 million for the operation of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, known as the Cohen commission. The original terms of reference for the Cohen commission directed the commissioner to submit his final report by May 1, 2011. However, it became clear that more time would be needed. Therefore, a first extension was requested by the commissioner to submit his final report by June 30, 2012. An amount of $1.3 million is included in PCO's 2012-13 main estimates in order for the commissioner to submit his final report by that time. The increase of $0.5 million mentioned above represents the difference in funding for the Cohen commission between PCO's 2012-13 main estimates and those of last year, 2011-12.

By way of update, when we were before you on March 5 of this year, we informed you that the commissioner had made another request for an extension to the Prime Minister to submit his final report by September 30, 2012. This is due to the breadth of the mandate, the scope of document production, and the complexity of issues under investigation. That request was granted, but does not change the commission's global budget of $26.4 million over four fiscal years.

PCO's 2012-13 main estimates in the amount of $126.8 million do not reflect the decisions as announced in Budget 2012. The mechanism to decrease PCO's authorities in accordance with the Budget 2012 decisions will be the supplementary estimates process. By way of reporting to Parliament on these budget decisions over time, PCO will be using the quarterly financial reports to provide Parliament with regular and timely reporting on the implementation of these measures. This approach is in line with past calls by the Parliamentary Budget Officer to use these quarterly updates as a key vehicle for keeping Parliament informed of such spending changes.

Budget 2012 has made public the high-level results of the government's effort to reduce the deficit. PCO's portfolio total savings for this exercise are $12.2 million. This amount includes a $1.1 million reduction for the elimination of the Public Appointments Commission Secretariat, and a $2 million reduction for two other agencies under the portfolio. PCO's departmental contribution to this exercise totals $9.2 million in savings by 2014-15 to support the government's return to a balanced budget. As we modernize and transform the way we do business, we are cognizant of the need to preserve the right level of service to the , cabinet, and portfolio ministers, as w Prime Ministerell as maintain our core and unique capabilities to support the government.

To achieve the ongoing savings, however, we will have to change the way we work in some significant ways. For example, the Intergovernmental Affairs function, IGA, will be further integrated within PCO in order to eliminate duplication between elements of IGA and other PCO secretariats. This will provide more integrated advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

The cabinet system will be streamlined, which will result in reduced administrative burden and produce savings over time.

The government communications function will be modernized and streamlined, including a new approach to media monitoring and analysis.

The Corporate Services Branch will review its business processes and adjust service levels.

All other branches will find ways to modernize their business processes and to achieve administrative efficiencies to meet savings targets.

In closing, I would like to thank you for giving my colleagues and I this time to inform you of the ongoing initiatives in the 2012-13 main estimates.

We would be pleased to respond to your questions.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Madame Doucet, for those remarks.

We're going to try to get through one complete round of questioning. We would like to stop sometime before the one hour we have allocated for this, at 4:30, so we can do the votes on the estimates for those particular programs that are referred to our committee. So if we could save 10 minutes at the end, we could accomplish that as well.

For the NDP, the first questioner is Linda Duncan for five minutes.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for coming before us.

The first question I would like to raise...and of course this is the ongoing dilemma that we're reviewing in this committee, the timing of the mains and the budget and this process that we go through.

In the meantime, it has been revealed to us since the mains that the office of appointments is going to be ended. The obvious question, I guess, is that for all of these years we've continued to budget about $1.5 million to support a commission that doesn't exist.

Can we anticipate that in fact this $1.3 million, or whatever it is, will be removed from the PCO?

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Michelle Doucet

Thank you for your question.

The government is eliminating the Public Appointments Commission Secretariat, as it has significantly strengthened the rigour and accessibility of the public appointments system over the past five years. Improvements put in place to strengthen the public appointments system include advertising public appointment opportunities on a dedicated website and conducting open selection processes for leadership and full-time positions.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, the subsequent estimates documents will be used to amend PCO's reference levels for the decisions that were made in the budget, including the government's decision to eliminate the secretariat.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you.

I will move on to the Chief Electoral Officer, and I wonder if you could explain something to me. As has been pointed out by my very brilliant colleague here, likely the budget for the Chief Electoral Officer goes up and down leading into an election, and potentially leading away from an election and during an election. We're kind of in a down period, but matters have come to Parliament's attention since the mains again, and that involves the investigations into the “robocalls” issue.

I'm just wondering if you could speak to, in the mains, whether the budget might go up, or if you think the current budget will handle the potential costs of additional calls for investigation by Elections Canada. I'm presuming that would be in the ambit of this budget.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Michelle Doucet

Thank you for the question.

The Chief Electoral Officer, while part of the PCO portfolio, has their own chief financial officer, and that is not me, so I'm not able to respond to your question. The chief financial officer for the elections agency would be able to do so.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Is it possible, Mr. Chair, then, that we could have them come in, since this is under the ambit, as I understand it, of the PCO? I'm putting that request in for discussion later.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

We will make note of that, Linda. Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you.

I'll move on to the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board. I'm very aware of its incarnations because of being impacted by the massive spill in Lake Wabamun in Alberta a number of years ago, and I value their work greatly.

It's occurred to me, in looking in that budget.... First of all, I have to say I find it very odd that it's in the PCO. Maybe you could explain that to me. Secondly, I note that the budgets for one mechanism of transportation are going up and others are going down. I'm just wondering how within PCO...or how that board estimates. I would presume it's like a contingency fund.

I worked in the field of environmental enforcement, and I was in fact the first chief of enforcement for Environment Canada. It was one of our struggles to try to get the government to set aside a specific contingency fund, because of course you don't know there's an accident until there is an accident.

I'm just wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on how the budget under the PCO for this is established. Is it established in the way of a contingency fund?

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Michelle Doucet

I must tell you that my answer to your question is the same as my answer to the last question. The transportation safety board has its own chief financial officer, who I'm sure would be delighted to respond to your questions. I can't do that.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I'm growing concerned.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

I am too. We might not have all the people we need here.

Well, if these are items that fall under the main estimates of the PCO, then questions dealing with the main estimates of the PCO are entirely in order and relevant. We do expect officials here to be able to answer those questions.

I guess we'll just have to make a note of that and revisit this issue at a later date.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I'm simply going on the basis of the main estimates provided to us. I just presumed that someone would be here to speak to those. I would like to have elaboration on that, because I think it's an important aspect of the PCO mandate.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

I think it's a fair point.

The clock has stopped.

Did you have something you wanted to say on this, Mike?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Yes, Mr. Chair.

I think it's our responsibility, as members of Parliament.... I'll give you my example from the industry committee, when I was there.

The industry committee has a whole litany of organizations that report underneath the industry minister. But when we were dealing with estimates, if you wanted to talk to one of the agencies, you had to invite them. The actual deputy minister and the chief financial officer for the ministry couldn't speak for them.

I think it's a message that we need to make sure MPs know, that even though it might come under the umbrella of whatever organization, if you have an organization within there that you'd like to speak to directly, you need to put them on the invitation list to come here.

I fully understand Ms. Duncan's frustration. I was frustrated with it at first because I didn't realize it, but after that we got to it.

It's a point that I think, under our study on the estimates process, we can make.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

It's not something I want to spend a lot of time on at this juncture, but I do understand. In fact, this is one reason why the minister is usually the one who is invited to defend their main estimates. Obviously PCO is an exception. I don't think anything should be off limits. I suppose we could serve notice of the types of questions we're going to be asking, but when you invite one mega portfolio, be it Heritage, Industry, or whatever for the main estimates, you shouldn't have to know the secret handshake in order to get in and ask those questions.

You have a few seconds left, Linda.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

If I could just follow up on this matter, Mr. Chair, I'm not raising anything that isn't actually.... These are the designated matters under the main estimates. I am logically asking about the items that PCO has chosen to bring forward to the main estimates. I'm not trying to be difficult. I guess my question would be, are we expected to vote on these?

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Yes, you are.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Well, I do not feel prepared to vote unless I can ask my questions. That's my job.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Actually, your job is finished for now, unfortunately. We're out of time.

But thank you. I think those are very relevant questions. I think they illustrate some of the shortcomings in the way we deal with estimates. And Mike is right. It's a subject that can and should come up in the context of the report we intend to write.

Next, for the Conservatives, is Jacques Gourde for five minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I thank the witnesses for being with us today. It is always a pleasure to see you again.

Ms. Doucet, in your opening statement you mentioned that PCO had transferred all of its information technology budget for the delivery of email, as well as its data centres and network services, to Shared Services Canada.

I would like to know how things will work in the future, without those budgets.

3:45 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Michelle Doucet

Thank you for your question.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, 100% of the IT operating and salary budgets for PCO's e-mail, data centres, and networks used in the processing and storage of up to secret level information—not including top secret, but up to secret level information—has been transferred to Shared Services Canada. PCO will continue to manage e-mail data centres and networks used in the processing and storage of information above the secret level.

In addition, PCO will continue to deliver application and database maintenance and development services as well as to distribute computing services. You might ask what this means. That would include things like the help desk, desktop support, and peripheral support. Peripheral supports are the little bits that go with your computers—the mouse, keyboard, printers, external USB hard drives, scanners, digital cameras, and things like that.

In terms of managing our applications, PCO right now has a portfolio of 160 applications, which contains a mixture of commercial off-the-shelf software that many of us are familiar with as well as in-house-developed applications and systems. An example of an application that is managed by PCO is the cabinet papers information system, which is required to facilitate the control, preparation, distribution, and return of cabinet documents.

Clearly PCO will be working very closely with Shared Services Canada to coordinate the delivery of services now in the Shared Services Canada portfolio through a business arrangement to ensure that accountabilities related to the ongoing delivery of the affected e-mail network and data centre services are clear and that expectations and commitments on the part of both Shared Services Canada and PCO are well understood and documented.

This arrangement will foster close collaboration between the two entities and ensure that the Prime Minister's Office, our portfolio ministers, and PCO itself will receive sustainable, timely, and cost-effective e-mail, data centre, and network services in support of existing and new IT-enabled business processes.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Ms. Doucet, the last time you appeared before this committee, you mentioned the number of employees at the Privy Council Office and you outlined how that number had changed over time.

I know that your last appearance here was not that long ago, but I was wondering if there had been other important changes at the Privy Council Office, and if that is the case, which ones. I would also like to know whether we are talking about attrition, reassignments, or cuts.

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Privy Council Office

Michelle Doucet

Thank you for the question.

My answer would have two parts. One is a shorter part and one is a longer part.

I'm just conscious, Mr. Chair, of the time.

When I was last here on March 5, I talked about the population of PCO as of March 1. I talked about our workforce in terms of two pieces: one, the core folks who work at PCO, and then the folks who come and go who are what we call determinant employees or folks who are on assignment for other departments. At that time I explained that we had 855 employees in terms of our core workforce. The remainder were 72 folks who were determinant or on assignment for other agencies.

A month later that has gone down, and I can tell you that as of April 1, which are the numbers I have, our core population was more or less the same. It was down one to 854, but that temporary population has gone down to 56, for a total of 987, combining the two. The total at March 1 that I gave you had been 1,017.

That is the first part of my answer to your question.

I believe you asked in your question as to whether there had been other initiatives affecting our workforce at PCO, and there have been, as a result of the announcements in the budget. I am happy to speak to those now or later on.