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Evidence of meeting #39 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 million.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marc Mayrand  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada
Belaineh Deguefé  Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Policy, Planning and Public Affairs, Elections Canada
Mark G. Watters  Chief Financial Officer, House of Commons
Audrey O'Brien  Clerk of the House of Commons

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

The committee will have that discussion. Thank you very much.

We will suspend for a couple of minutes and put our next panel in place.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

We will call the meeting back to order.

We're still looking at estimates, and we have a new panel of guests with us. We have Speaker Scheer with us today. Great to have you here, sir.

Madam O'Brien, always good to have you.

Mark Watters, is this your first appearance on estimates at our committee?

12:20 p.m.

Mark G. Watters Chief Financial Officer, House of Commons

I've been before, sir, for supplementaries.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Excellent. Great to have you back. I see a lot of help in the benches behind you, should you need it, but I know neither of you, of course, will ever need it.

Let's go ahead. You have an opening statement, Speaker Scheer, and we'll then get to questions by members.

May 29th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeSpeaker of the House of Commons

Thank you very much, Mr. Preston. It's a pleasure to be here today.

It is a pleasure to be here before you again, this time to present the House of Commons main estimates for 2012-13.

The main estimates total $445,935,033 for this fiscal year. This represents an increase of approximately $4.2 million or 0.97% over fiscal year 2011-12. As you would expect, all items included in the main estimates were presented to you, and approved by the Board of Internal Economy on November 28, 2011. The House administration conducted a stringent review of requirements in preparation for these main estimates prior to presenting them to the board.

For reference purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes from fiscal year 2011-12 to fiscal year 2012-13.

I will now go over the increases, nil increases and reductions with you according to three major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; and employee benefit plans.

To begin, let's go over the board's decisions with regard to the budgets for members, House officers, and presiding officers. As you may recall, last fiscal year the board decided to continue adopting the restraints introduced in the 2010 federal budget. As such, members' office budgets, including supplements as well as House officers' and presiding officers' budgets, remained at the 2009-10 levels.

For the current fiscal year, budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers have seen increases in some areas and decreases in others.

The board approved permanent funding of over $3 million via the main estimates for 2012-13 and subsequent years to reflect contributions to the retiring allowances and retirement compensation arrangements accounts for members of Parliament. The MPRA and the RCA are non-discretionary statutory accounts. The MPRA account is established to provide pension benefits to eligible members of Parliament who contributed to the plan. The RCA account is established to provide for benefits with respect to pension credits accrued by members of Parliament that are not payable out of the MPRA account.

The cost to the House of Commons for contributions to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board based on actuarial calculations. As per the Treasury Board policy with respect to members' pension accounts, regular actuarial reviews are conducted by the Chief Actuary of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to assess these accounts and adjust contributions as needed. Some of the factors taken into account during reviews include increases to the salaries of members, the likelihood of members retiring, the rate of return on the retirement accounts, the number of pensioners, and longevity improvement factors.

Next, the board approved permanent funding of $1.3 million via the main estimates for 2012-13 and subsequent years to offset rising travel costs under the Travel Points System.

As you know, the Travel Points System ensures that all members have access to the same travel resources regardless of their constituency's location. Each fiscal year, members are allocated 64 travel points. Transportation costs for these trips are charged to a House administration central budget.

Travel under the travel point system is a non-discretionary statutory expense, as per the Parliament of Canada Act, which states in subsection 63.(1):

For each session of Parliament, there shall be allowed to every member of each House of Parliament such actual moving, transportation, travel and telecommunication expenses as that House may, by order, prescribe.

Previous budgets were not sufficient to cover rising travel costs. In the past, a portion of the in-year operating surplus from other budgets within the statutory funding envelope was used to offset the shortfalls related to the travel point system. These surplus funds are no longer available. The cost of travel, and in particular air travel, has increased in recent years due to a number of factors beyond our control. The additional funding for the travel point system addresses these increased costs.

A budget increase of $1.2 million was approved to cover additional requirements for other personnel costs for members' and House officers' employees. Other personnel costs are a non-discretionary expenditure for which the employer is responsible. They include such elements as lump-sum vacation pay, severance pay, termination benefits, and maternity and parental leave. In this case, the budget increase is required because of an increase in payments related to the number of maternity and parental leave claims, termination and severance pay, as well as lump-sum vacation pay.

The board also approved additional permanent funding of $828,000 to align the funding for members' office budgets and members' travel status expenses account allocations with the budget allocations that are provided to members. Over the years, members' office budgets and members' travel status expenses account allocations did not match the funding requested through the main estimates because allocations were higher than the funding. Recent budgetary restraint measures have left these budgets virtually unchanged since 2009-2010, which has resulted in budgetary constraints.

Moving on to the revised elector supplement allocations, the board approved permanent funding of $452,000 via the main estimates for 2012-2013. In subsequent years the revised elector supplement allocation is based on the final number of electors published by the Chief Electoral Officer. 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 at least 70,000 electors on the final list of electors for the constituency.

The official electoral list published following the May 2011 general election shows that 60 constituencies are eligible for either a new or a revised elector supplement.

Now, I would like to go over a few reductions to the budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers.

There's been in a decrease of $76,000 in salaries for House officers due to the reduction in the number of recognized parties following the general election on May 2, 2011. This amount also includes an adjustment to the annual motor vehicle allowance for the Speaker and the Leader of the Official Opposition, in accordance with the Parliament of Canada Act. House officers' budgets were also reduced by $3.8 million. The budgets were established for all parties based on the results of the May 2, 2011 general election, in accordance with the formula approved by the Board of Internal Economy.

Next I would like to go over a few items relating to the House administration.

In February 2011 the board approved temporary funding of $786,000 for fiscal year 2011-2012 and nearly $4 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 for the 127th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, to be held in Quebec City in October 2012. That amounts to a total of nearly $4.8 million in funding, which is shared under the usual 30-70 cost-sharing arrangement between the Senate and the House of Commons. The board also approved the carryover of any remaining funds from fiscal year 2011-2012 to fiscal year 2012-2013. The IPU General Assembly is the main statutory body that expresses the views of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on parliamentary and political issues. It meets twice a year, in the spring and fall, and brings together more than 1,500 parliamentary delegates to study international problems and recommend actions.

It is quite the honour to be a host nation, as the political, economic and cultural benefits of hosting an IPU Assembly are significant. For Canada, it will serve to underscore our long-standing commitment to the principles of parliamentary democracy, help reinforce bilateral and multilateral partnerships, and showcase Canada's rich cultural heritage and diversity. The Parliament of Canada has previously hosted IPU assemblies in 1925, 1965 and 1985.

In December 2010 the board approved permanent salary funding of $18,000 required for the House of Commons page program for fiscal year 2010-2011 and subsequent years. The increase in the annual allocation for pages is needed to ensure that the program remains competitive and capable of attracting the most qualified candidates from all regions of the country. The annual page compensation will increase by $468, from $12,890 to $13,358, an amount equal to the average increases in tuition at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. A review of this provision will take place at the end of fiscal year 2015-2016. For 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the decision was made to fund the increase internally.

Going back to December 2010 again, the board approved temporary funding of $98,000 for fiscal 2011-2012 to implement the occupational health and safety and workplace safety and insurance claims management system, as well as permanent funding of $45,000 for fiscal year 2012-2013 and subsequent years for the support and maintenance of the system. During 2011-2012 the project team completed the request-for-proposal process and retained the required resources to develop the system with the temporary funding of $53,000.

The deployment of the Occupational Health and Safety/Workplace Safety and Insurance Claims Management System will take place during the 2012-13 fiscal year. The last item under the House administration theme is the Members' Financial Portal. There is a reduction of $220 thousand for fiscal year 2012-13 for that item.

Again, back in December 2010 the board approved temporary funding of $299,000 for fiscal year 2011-12 to implement the first phase of the members' financial portal, as well as permanent funding of $79,000 for fiscal year 2012-13 and subsequent years for one full-time equivalent position.

The first phase of the members' financial portal was developed and launched by the House administration accounting officers in the fall of 2011. The pilot portion was initiated at the beginning of March 2012 with ten participating members. The intention is to progressively deploy the first phase of the financial portal to all members in the coming months.

The last item I'd like to discuss is employee benefit plans. EBPs are a non-discretionary statutory expenditure that applies to salary expenditures. For fiscal year 2012-13 the Treasury Board Secretariat has adjusted the annual rate for employer EBP contributions from 18% to 17.6%. That amounts to a reduction of more than $1.1 million for the current fiscal year. EBP contributions include the following costs to the employer: the public service superannuation plan; CPP and QPP; death benefits; and employment insurance accounts.

This concludes the overview of the House of Commons' main estimates for 2012-13. I believe these main estimates aptly represent the House of Commons' commitment to sound resource management.

The clerk and I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you very much.

We'll go to a five-minute round to start.

Mr. Lukiwski.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you, Speaker, for being here.

I have a question that is not covered in your opening remarks. You may be somewhat reticent to comment on it, but it's certainly been a favourite subject of this committee, so I'll ask your indulgence. If you can give some feedback I would appreciate it. It deals with security services.

It's been long felt by this committee that we should combine security forces between the Senate and the House of Commons, but that is not really an issue, unfortunately, this committee can deal with. It's an issue that's dealt with by the Board of Internal Economy, which you chair. So I won't ask you to comment on what kind of a study you may be undertaking with regard to security services, but I will ask you that if there were combined security forces between the House of Commons and the Senate, what savings would you anticipate as a result of such a move? Have you got any kind of estimate of an approximate saving that you might be able to share with this committee on that hypothetical basis?

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Sir, you're asking a politician to answer a hypothetical.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

As the Speaker, I thought you were beyond the politics of it all.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

I would start by saying that, as I mentioned and as the clerk mentioned when I appeared before you for the supplementary estimates, there is an acknowledgement of the need to look at combining the security forces on the Hill. To that end, the Board of Internal Economy has struck a security subcommittee, which will be any day now meeting with our Senate counterparts to start to develop that initiative to proceed down that route.

In terms of proposed cost savings, I imagine that would be one of the first things the joint committee would look at, at exactly how much that dollar amount would be. I don't know if Mark can put a dollar amount at this point, but just knowing that there would be some reductions in redundancies and overlaps, we anticipate that there could be some cost savings, and of course not just the cost savings but a more efficient delivery of service.

When you're dealing with the Hill, if you count everybody, the three or four different policing entities from Wellington to inside, with the rationalizing of some of that, ultimately, the expectation would be more efficient delivery service as well.

It's early days yet, so I wouldn't want to put too many specifics down, but the two committees do plan on meeting to start to work on this.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I can't remember, quite frankly, but do you have at your fingertips the cost for the services that we're currently paying? How much do we pay for security services on the House of Commons side, and how much are the security costs on the Senate side?

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Do we have that with us?

12:35 p.m.

Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons

We don't have that, Mr. Chairman, but we can certainly make that available in a written response at a later date.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I'd appreciate it, and I think this committee would also appreciate it if you have any updates after the Board of Internal Economy completes its study. I realize that information is confidential until you choose to release it, but I think the committee would certainly appreciate any information updates that you could give us on that.

With that, Chair, I know that my colleague Mr. Williamson has a number of questions. If I may, I'll cede the rest of my time to Mr. Williamson.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

He has a minute and a half of your time.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

I'd like to talk about the flight passes, Speaker and Clerk, if you could indulge me. As a new member, I was first of all quite surprised at some of the cost that I was initially incurring to get home from Ottawa. I spoke to several people and eventually was able to use the flight passes. It's a great initiative, and I'm curious to know how the uptake has been. Is this an issue you're trying to press onto other members as well? If so, what kinds of cost savings do you expect from that? I notice your costs are going up. I suspect if members were to move to flight passes, costs would decline greatly.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

I can ask Mark to talk about the specific uptake at this point, but I can tell you that the board did spend a considerable amount of time to identify savings in travel as part of the strategic operating review. Is that as of now? Ultimately, with full implementation of what the board has approved and for your edification, we are moving toward a system whereby flight passes will be the norm. Right now, it's possible, but we're moving to a situation where to go from the constituency to Ottawa, that will be the norm. It's anticipated that will result in $5 million in savings.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Am I done?

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Yes. That was your minute and a half. We'll get you back, I hope.

Madame Groguhé.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for your presentation. The researchers provided us with a document. On page 1 is a table on the main estimates and it lists a total appropriations amount of $445,935,000. There is a difference in the third part.

Could you provide more detail on the reason for the difference?

12:40 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

We don't have that document.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Okay.

12:40 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

It's a reference document for members.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

But the same information appears on page 2 of your document.

Could you provide some detail on the reason behind that difference, beyond what it says on page 2? Is it possible to get some further information? Will it be the same for all subsequent years?

12:40 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

On page 2 of which document? Forgive me, but I'm not sure which document you're referring to?