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Evidence of meeting #42 for Official Languages in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was languages.

A recording is available from Parliament.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Ghislaine Charlebois  Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

All right.

Thank you.

Mr. Dion, you have the floor.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the commissioner and his team for being with us today.

When did you make that submission to modernize the office's IT system?

9:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That was in July 2011.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

When you made that submission, were you going fishing or did you have serious reasons to believe that it was normal, that it was according to procedure and that you had a chance of succeeding with the Treasury Board?

9:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

We made a long-term effort to work with all the institutions that are part of the Treasury Board submission process. There was quite an intense consultation of people at all levels of the Treasury Board, and our arguments were favourably received. Ultimately, all that was lacking were the necessary signatures of the ministers so that it could be discussed by the Treasury Board people.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Did you rely on precedents and other organizations that had obtained Treasury Board funding that way to modernize their IT systems?

9:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

We had initially hoped to make that presentation before the parliamentary group that had been introduced as a pilot project at the time. The pilot project ended and, even after an extension, it was not transformed into a permanent accountable institution for officers of Parliament.

So at that point, we decided to proceed with a Treasury Board submission. For nearly three years, every time an officer of Parliament made a submission for supplementary funding, we did it before the parliamentary group. That's what we intended to do, but we realized that we could not wait indefinitely, even though, in principle, all officers of Parliament acknowledged the importance of a parliamentary group. So we decided to make the submission to the Treasury Board.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I understand from your answer that all the steps had been taken, that you had hoped to get a positive response and that all that was left to do was to obtain the ministers' signatures.

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That is correct.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

So can we call the present situation a disguised 7.8% budget cut, since that is what this represents in your budget?

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That is the interpretation that I tried to explain in my statement.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

All right. I wanted to get you to say that.

So we have a 7.8% cut at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. I believe that everyone has to interpret it that way. You have to call a spade a spade.

In your budget, you say—

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

There is only one distinction, if I may: when we have finished paying, our core budget will be the same.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

That is what you are promised. In the meantime, you are facing a budget cut. In your budget, we note, in particular, the headings "Promotion of linguistic duality", "Protection of language rights" and "Internal services". Internal services represent one-third of the budget. I would like to understand something. Here we are talking solely about the internal services of the office of the commissioner, aren't we? So one-third of the budget goes to internal services. At first glance, that seems enormous.

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Two points must be understood. First, we are a small organization. We have to use services that may seem insignificant, but that are very important for our operation. That is why we began talks with the officers of Parliament. We want to be able to use shared services to reduce that amount.

Second, unlike what is being done in other organizations, this amount includes the costs of the office of the commissioner, my travel and my work. Third, it also includes the cost of $6.4 million intended for the transformation of the IT system, which is being prepared.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Commissioner, I don't doubt that everyone works hard, but we are all in a difficult situation.

I'm going to read a passage from your last report, if I have enough time. It shows what a tough situation people are in. When I say "people", I mean the people we serve, Canadians, who want their two official languages and their communities to advance. And I quote:

It is even more unfortunate that budget constraints too often prompt the government and federal institutions to make decisions that, under the pretext of improving or trying to improve efficiency or effectiveness, may have long-term negative effects on all aspects of federal language policy.

In the present circumstances, the communities have virtually no flexibility and cannot achieve economies of scale, since they are in the minority. However, you say your solution to this 7.8% cut will be to conduct fewer audits, whereas you should in fact conduct a lot more.

Is there some way to focus your efforts on internal services and to continue your audits?

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

We hope that modernizing our IT system will enable us to cut some internal costs. We officers of Parliament are discussing the possibility of using shared services, which would also reduce the burden of some internal services.

I am going to ask Ms. Cloutier whether there are any other factors that we can consider.

9:20 a.m.

Lise Cloutier Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

We conducted an exhaustive analysis of all organizational management costs. For example, by implementing a videoconference system, we will considerably cut travel costs. We are lowering a lot of discretionary spending, hospitality and training expenses. We are trying to maximize shared solutions, particularly as regards software, and we are trying to cut project costs as much as possible, while maintaining the protection of language rights and the promotion of linguistic duality.

In short, we are monitoring internal service costs very closely.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

From what I heard, a cost of $6.4 million will be associated with the IT system. So that means that, in view of the fact that there 163 employees, this represents nearly $40,000 per employee.

9:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

We are not just talking about computers here, but about the entire information management system. When we decided to modernize our approach to handling complaints, we discovered that our old system prevented appropriate information sharing. Its a system that operates in silos. Once the transformation is complete, we will have a genuine information management system. It will enable us to manage complaints in a more flexible and more effective manner and to reduce the number of steps that we must currently take as a result of our old system.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Le président Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

I believe Mr. Trottier has worked for IBM.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Yes, and I appreciate your efforts.

Thank you for being here today. I know that the office of the commissioner is doing a good job with regard to the protection and promotion of linguistic duality in Canada.

I have a few questions about the main estimates of the commissioner's office. Then I would like to ask a few specific questions about my city, Toronto.

With regard to your budget, the allocation between internal services, promotion and protection is approximately one-third for each of those three parts. Has that been the trend for a number of years? Is that changing? What are the projections in that regard?

9:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Once this considerable four-year investment is complete, I hope the internal services percentage will be reduced.

Once again, I'm going to ask Ms. Cloutier to answer your question in greater detail.

9:20 a.m.

Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Lise Cloutier

The part of the budget allocated to internal services, which you see in the Report on Plans and Priorities, includes an additional amount of $1.2 million, which was added to fund our integrated information management solutions project this year. Obviously, once we have completed the investments in the shared services optimization initiatives and all the other initiatives that we are pursuing, the cost of internal services will be proportionately lower than the cost of the other two activities.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

That's what we expect; we find ways to work more intelligently. That's one theme that we note in all the departments, when we ask them about their efforts in this new environment.

Mr. Fraser, in your presentation, you talked about a new framework, or efforts to establish a performance measurement framework. It's one thing to talk about costs, investments, if you will, but performance measurements are something else. Could you give us an overview of how you measure your efforts to see whether you are succeeding in what you do?