Thank you, and good morning. It's always a pleasure to come and visit this great group of parliamentarians.
I am very pleased to be here today, along with Marc Bosc, the deputy clerk of the House of Commons, and Mark Watters, the chief financial officer.
We're also joined by other members of the House administration's executive management team: Stéphan Aubé, the chief information officer; Richard Denis, the deputy law clerk and parliamentary counsel; Pierre Parent, the chief human resources officer; and Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms.
Today, I will be presenting the House of Commons' main estimates and the supplementary estimates (A) for 2014-2015. I will begin with a presentation on the main estimates and will conclude with information on funding requested in the supplementary estimates (A).
The 2014-15 main estimates total $413,725,137. This represents a decrease of 3.5% compared to the 2013-14 main estimates funding levels, and a 7.2% reduction from the 2012-13 main estimates. For reference purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes for the main estimates between 2013-14 and 2014-15.
I'll proceed by providing an overview of each line item, along with four major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House administration; reductions under the structural operating review; and employee benefit plans.
To start, I would like to speak to the budgets for members, House officers, and presiding officers. Even when we exclude the reductions achieved under the strategic and operating review, this portion of our estimates was reduced by over $1.1 million. This figure includes both the statutory increases to the sessional allowance and additional salaries, as well as the statutory reductions to the members of Parliament retiring allowances account, and the retirement compensation arrangements account. The reductions seen as a result of both pension adjustments amount to $1.9 million.
As you may remember, the cost to the House of Commons for contributions to members' pension plans is determined and managed by Treasury Board, based on actuarial calculations.
Let us now look at matters that relate to the Administration of the House of Commons.
First, you will note that the main estimates allocate $1.4 million for increased transparency resulting from changes to the public reporting of members' expenditures.
This funding requirement is further to the announcement made by the Board of Internal Economy in October 2013 that we will move to an enhanced disclosure format, as well as towards quarterly reporting for the Members' Expenditures Report.
Notably, these changes to improve transparency will include the presentation of service contracts as a stand-alone category, separate members' accommodation expenses for members' per diem expenses, and subdivide the hospitality category. Additionally, more information will be made available regarding the use of all special travel points, and this will, as well, be disclosed quarterly.
The first enhanced quarterly members' expenditure report covering the period from April 1 to June 30 will be published by September 30 of this year.
While the funding requirements are not reflected in these main estimates, I do want to mention that the members' expenditure report for the second quarter of fiscal year 2014-15 will be further enhanced to bring House of Commons reporting for travel and hospitality expenses in line with proactive disclosure practices of ministers' offices. Extensive system changes are currently under way and will be reflected in a further report which will be available to the public by December 31, 2014. Increasing transparency has been a priority of the Board of Internal Economy for some time, and the board remains committed to finding ways in which we can continue to improve.
Moving on from disclosure, the main estimates also allocate an additional $190,000 in compensation for House administration employees. This funding is specifically used to cover economic increases for 2014-15 for collective agreements ending after March 31, 2014.
Additionally, the main estimates once again account for temporary funding for two parliamentary conferences: the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie and the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic region. These two upcoming conferences will be excellent opportunities to showcase Canada, foster parliamentary diplomacy and advance Canadian objectives internationally.
The funding decisions for both of these conferences were taken by the Board of Internal Economy, in keeping with the recommendations by the Joint Interparliamentary Council.
The 40th annual session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie requires temporary funding of $184,000 for 2014-15. This session will be taking place this July in Ottawa.
Further, the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region requires temporary funding of $132,000 for 2014-15. The event will be held in Whitehorse this October.
There is also a $25,000 increase that is required for pages' remuneration under the House of Commons page program. In December 2010 the board approved a permanent annual increase to the compensation for pages that is equal to the average increases in tuition fees at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. I am certain we can all agree that we want to continue to recruit top young Canadians for the page program. By linking their pay to their tuition rates, we ensure that they remain fairly compensated for their valuable work. For fiscal year 2014-15 the annual compensation for each page increased by $536 to $13,584.
Finally, you will note that the main estimates reflect reductions for two instances of temporary funding: the online recruitment tool and asset management. This combined funding of $669,000 is no longer required.
Let us now turn to the reductions that are being achieved as a result of the House of Commons strategic and operating review. As you know, on March 12, 2012, the Board of Internal Economy approved a savings and reduction strategy that is seeing spending for the House of Commons decrease by $30.3 million, or 6.9% of the overall budget.
For the 2014-15 main estimates, the reductions amount to $13.5 million and are being achieved through a number of key initiatives that I will cover briefly.
Notably, there are reductions to House officers' office budgets in keeping with the decreases per year for the past two fiscal years. These amount to savings of $600,000.
Additionally, the reductions include significant savings that have been achieved by the increased use of flight passes and low-fare economy travel. As you well know, regular travel is a necessity for members, and it is an area in which we have been able to collectively achieve substantial savings.
The constituency office furniture and equipment improvement fund will be eliminated in 2014-15, resulting in savings of more than $1.5 million. This fund was used to supplement existing stocks of equipment and furniture for members' constituency offices. Going forward, members will make use of their own office budgets should they wish to supplement or improve their office furnishings.
Furthermore, savings of $3.6 million are being achieved through the reduction of personnel-related costs. Since January 2014, employees of members, House officers, and research offices are being granted vacation leave in lieu of automatic lump-sum vacation payments. This change brings our practices in line with the standard practices used by nearly all public and private sector employers.
For 2014-2015, there are further reductions to the Liaison Committee funding envelope. These reductions are in line with measures taken by members of parliamentary committees, as they too continue their ongoing efforts to limit spending and find efficiencies.
Additionally, further cost savings and reductions for the House of Commons Administration are being achieved through a combination of budget reductions, administrative operational efficiencies, attrition and a limited number of workforce adjustment situations.
The House Administration management team has put forth great efforts to limit the impact on its employees, and where there have been impacts, a work force adjustment policy is in place to facilitate employment continuity for indeterminate employees.
The final item that is included in the 2014-15 main estimates is a reduction of $1.6 million to employee benefit plans. This is a non-discretionary statutory expense that, in accordance with Treasury Board benefit rates, has decreased from 17.4% of salaries to 16.5% of salaries.
This concludes our overview of the House of Commons main estimates for 2014-15.
I would now like to move on to the House of Commons request of $5,048,736 in supplementary estimates (A). This request included funding for three items.
The first item, which was previously approved by the board, is for $81,000 to fund a 1% economic increase for House administration senior managers as of April 1, 2013. This economic increase is in line with the 1% increase approved by the Treasury Board for the executive group throughout the federal public service.
The second item, for $1.2 million, is for a 2014-15 annual adjustment of members' sessional allowance and additional salaries. This funding is statutory in nature and is based on an index published by Employment and Social Development Canada.
The final item included in the supplementary estimates is funding of $3.8 million required for the ongoing yearly maintenance and life cycle replacement costs for information technology assets. As established in the Long-Term Vision and Plan, there is a need to equip all buildings in the parliamentary precinct with information technology and related infrastructure required for access to information services in order to ensure the effective functioning of Parliament.
The board approved this funding on a five-year basis starting in 2014-2015, and the House Administration must return to the board on a yearly basis to refresh the five-year estimates via the main estimates process.
I am confident you will agree that the 2014-15 main estimates and supplementary estimates (A) reflect both the Board of Internal Economy's and the House of Commons' commitment to continued cost containment. We have been able to find efficiencies and make reductions by carefully analyzing our expenditures. While I am pleased that the main estimates I discussed here today represent a 7.2% reduction over those I presented two years ago, I assure you that we will continue to make every effort to find further efficiencies while providing high-quality support to parliamentarians.
At this time we would all be happy to answer your questions.