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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Finance

Issue 7 - Evidence - Meeting of March 11, 2008

OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met this day at 10:16 a.m. to consider a draft budget.

Senator Joseph A. Day (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: While the budget is being circulated, I can tell members of the committee that there will be no meeting tomorrow, unless you want to meet to deal with this report, which we would love to get done. Otherwise, we will address the report after the break. That will give our staff time to do a proper job.

After the break, the first thing we will deal with is Senator Ringuette's private member's bill concerning Canada- wide selection. We will deal with that on Tuesday, April 1. On Wednesday, April 3, we will either do clause-by-clause consideration of Senator Ringuette's bill if we do not need to hear more witnesses and deal as well with the report on human resources.

The second week we are back, we will continue with the work we were doing on the statutory agents of Parliamentarian that were created under Bill C-2 one and a half years ago. The first person we would like to talk to, if he is available, would be Senator Fortier, Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He would address the Procurement Ombudsman and why that position has not been implemented after all this time. We believe that the Director of Public Prosecutions will be in place by that time, and we should bring him or her in to talk to us early in the new mandate.

The RESP bill may come to this committee if it goes anywhere in the Senate. We were also told this week that there will likely be a budget implementation bill, and we are told that it may deal with the RESP issue. It could be a very interesting piece of legislation for us. In addition, we have been told that there is Supplementary Estimates (A) coming before the summer break, so we will deal with that supply bill when we get it. We also must deal with the full supply bill before the end of June. As you can see, we will have before us several pieces of legislation as well as other work.

If we have time, we will deal with an issue that arose from our earlier hearings with respect to the four regional development agencies and their roles vis-à-vis Infrastructure Canada.

Senator Di Nino: The budget implementation bill you are referring to will be here this week.

The Chair: It is in the House of Commons.

Senator Eggleton: Is it there now?

The Chair: No. I am told there is a good chance it may be presented this week or next in the House of Commons.

Senator Di Nino: Do we have to deal with that this week?

The Chair: No, we will not deal with that until it has passed the House of Commons. It will be interesting to see if the RESP legislation is dealt with as part of that bill.

For your consideration, senators, we now have before us a draft budget for the full year. However, I understand that every other committee that has taken a draft budget before the Internal Economy Committee has been told that they will receive funding to the end of June only. Internal Economy is reviewing all of the policies and processes. They want a full-year budget from us regarding our review of the estimates and what we may spend.

I have prepared a budget that totals $125,000 plus. The first aspect of the budget deals with general expenses. The money for research/administrative assistance reflects what is happening in another committee. In talking to colleagues, I understand that it may be reflected in a number of other committee budgets. It may be something that the steering committee decides to avail itself of if approved by the Internal Economy Committee and the Senate. It is the same for a consultant.

You should strike out the words "sole source.'' That was an attempt at being open and transparent. However, it was decided by the steering committee that we would not include those words.

Senator Murray: Good.

The Chair: The rest of it relates to working meals.

We had a consultant last time but did not need one. The primary reason to have one would be to cover issues that the Parliamentary Budget Officer would typically be able to deal with. However, until that position is filled, we may need some backup.

Let us look at the next page. This covers any one senator on our committee who will be chosen by the steering committee to travel outside of Ottawa to help promote any one of our reports or to develop material related to committee work.

Senator Stratton: Has this ever been done by this committee before?

The Chair: No, and it may not this time. However, this report creates the possibility.

Under the heading "Activity 2: Conferences,'' this has not been done, although it has been approved and not used before. Assuming this budget receives approval, if any of you see a conference that would be helpful in allowing you to do your work as a member of this committee and you would like to go to the conference and report to the committee on what you have learned, we will have funds to do that.

Senator Murray: Mr. Chair, when committee budgets are presented in the Senate, sometimes there is an indication in the Debates of the Senate of the budget and expenditure for, say, the previous two or three years. Can someone tell us what the budget was for the fiscal years that ended March 31, 2008 and March 31, 2007? Can we know what the budgets and actual expenditures were?

The Chair: That is a good idea. We do not have that.

Senator Eggleton: What is the budget? You should have a projection. You should have a budget if you do not have that. It would be helpful.

The Chair: Do you have the budget for last year?

Lynn Gordon, Clerk of the Committee: It consisted of some working meals and the application for the conferences. However, I do not think they forwarded that money to us.

The Chair: No. We did not spend it. He wants to know the budget amount.

Senator Ringuette: It is the difference between what was approved in the budget and what was really spent?

The Chair: I am looking at the budget for 2005-06. The approved budget was $145,000 and the expenditures were $64,000. In 2006-07, the approved budget was $17,000 — must have been an election year — and the expenditures were $7,000. I do not have figures for 2007-08.

Senator Murray: You must have the budget.

The Chair: No, not on this list.

Senator Eggleton: This basically looks like a big contingency. There are no specific plans in any of this.

The Chair: No.

Senator Eggleton: Why are we asking for an allocation of all this money? I used to be at Treasury Board, so I do not appreciate that.

Senator Murray: If we decide we want to spend more money, we go back and ask for it.

The Chair: The Internal Economy Committee bases its allocations on the look from each committee for the full year. They do not want committees coming back for little things. If we decide to send you to a conference, to try and run that through the process —

Senator Stratton: That is not true. It happens all the time that committees come back with minor items that come up through the year and present them to the Internal Economy Committee. I do not see the need for loading a budget that will have no identified purpose. It is silly. To me, it is irresponsible.

Senator Eggleton: I agree. Considering we seem to have a track record of only spending 50 per cent of what we budget for anyway, I do not think that is a good form of budgeting at all.

Senator Di Nino: I have the same concern. Last week, the Internal Economy Committee sent out some guidelines. Are these being followed in preparation of the budget?

The Chair: Yes. We carefully read the guidelines and tried to reflect those in the budget.

Senator Murray: Can we be specific about this? If we were intending to suggest that you cut this thing down, I take it, just from overhearing discussions with the steering committee —

The Chair: We were pleased you were able to be here for the steering committee meeting.

Senator Murray: — you have almost $28,000 under "Activity 1: Meetings and Other Matters Related to Committee Business,'' which might or might not eventuate. Then you have activity through conferences in the amount of $29,000.

If you wanted a pared-down budget in both cases, you would take out the $27,900 and the $29,300. I do not know about the general expenses, professional and other services, consultants, working meals, et cetera; I do not know how much of that is hypothetical and how much is real.

The Chair: Last year we budgeted $30,000 for a consultant and did not use it.

Senator Murray: There you go.

The Chair: We did have that option available to us in the event a situation arises and we need it.

Senator Ringuette: In regard to Activity 1 and Activity 2, may I suggest that the two be amalgamated and called "Conferences and Committee Business,'' with four participants instead of one senator for 10 days and one senator for 10 nights, one staff, et cetera. I suggest amalgamating these two. It would provide flexibility and remove $28,000 from the budget.

The Chair: We could combine the two headings.

Senator Ringuette: Yes.

Senator Di Nino: It would reduce the amounts.

The Chair: What figure would it be reduced to?

Senator Ringuette: If ever there is an issue, I think the $29,000 is pretty accommodating.

The Chair: We have not used conferences in the past, but I was hoping we might start educating some of our colleagues in conferences. You want to restrict it in terms of the number of people.

Senator Ringuette: Keep the flexibility and combine meetings, conferences and committee business.

The Chair: I understand. You would leave it at four, but we would have to give some details and break it down.

Senator Di Nino: Are these in the new guidelines?

The Chair: Yes. Is four enough?

Do senators understand what is being proposed? The suggestion is that Activity 1 and Activity 2 be combined and that the total amount would be as per Activity 2: Conferences, which shows $29,360. All the figuring is the same. It would just mean that in the year, only four senators would be able to do something.

Senator Stratton: In a line item budget, you have a degree of flexibility to change it. This proposal would meet that requirement. If someone needed to communicate a report, they could still do that under this second category with the $29,500. That is subject to approval of the steering committee, but it is there. If you did travel, you must report the actual expenses after the trip and at the end of the year.

Senator Ringuette: If we put four participants in our budget submission, does that restrain us?

Senator Stratton: No. If you wanted to send two or one, the flexibility is there to do that; but you do not go up to eight.

The Chair: You cannot. There are only four for the year; this draft contemplates one at a time.

Senator Stratton: It may be two, for all we know.

The Chair: We might send two at one time.

Senators, is there any further discussion?

Senator Stratton: One issue still bothers me. Under "General Expenses'' is an item entitled "Research/ Administrative assistance'' for $20,000. What has happened is that the Standing Senate Committee on Security and Defence put that line item in. Just so you know, the Subcommittee on the Review of Committee Budgets approved that for the National Security and Defence Committee until the end of June on a temporary basis because the individual is looking for another job. This is purely temporary.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Maybe she should be looking for another job; I do not think we said she was.

Senator Stratton: Okay, she should be looking. Senator Nancy Ruth is on the National Security and Defence Committee; thank you for clarifying that.

My issue is that this person is essentially assistance for the chair. That has to be clear around this table. This $20,000 is purely for assistance to the chair.

Senator Nancy Ruth: It would be more useful if it was for assistance to the committee rather than the chair.

Senator Stratton: If you want it that way, then make it clear.

Senator Nancy Ruth: It is a hugely important distinction in the budget committee.

The Chair: Yes.

Every expenditure here is for the committee. The consultant would be for the committee as well.

Senator Stratton: I am a little loathe to approve this because it is a precedent; it has not been done before. It has always been managed by the clerk, and also by the staff person of the chair; at least, that is the way it was when I did things as chair. Therefore, this is a precedent.

The Chair: One committee has already been approved. As I indicated to my colleagues earlier, there would be no expenditure on this without steering committee approval.

Senator Stratton: This is until the end of June with respect to the National Security and Defence Committee; is that right?

Senator Nancy Ruth: All the contract positions are until the end of June.

Senator Stratton: On a trial basis.

Senator Ringuette: What are "all the contract positions''? Are there more than National Security and Defence Committee?

Senator Nancy Ruth: Four positions in the Defence Committee are on contract; it is an issue in a variety of places.

Senator Eggleton: I still have some difficulty with this, as one who has spent years at the city and federal levels fighting padded budgets.

I would hope that the budget subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration would look at this system. I think you should be expecting committees to put down what is realistically justifiable and saying to them that they are welcome to come back. Keep a global budget in accordance with how much has been spent in previous years for all the committees so you have some flexibility, but if committees are expected to really do their jobs, expect their budgets to be justifiable, realistic and not padded, and let them know that they can come back to the Internal Economy Committee. Say to them, "You are welcome to come back; we would rather you do that than try to do this.''

Senator Stratton: I completely agree. This is a padded budget under any terms of the description of a padded budget. I think it is wrong to do it because we will get inflated budgets that are unrealistic.

Senator Eggleton: They are under the impression that the Internal Economy Committee does not want them to come back.

Senator Stratton: I disagree.

Senator Eggleton: I have heard that a lot, so you have to send out a message saying that they are welcome to come back.

Senator Stratton: I will talk to the committee chair and say, "What you see coming from this committee is an example of a padded budget so that they do not go back.'' I think you have to cut that off at the pass or you will get inflated budgets.

Senator Ringuette: We will have a sup (A) and a sup (B).

Senator Di Nino: Internal Economy has not appreciated committees coming back with supplementaries, but it may have to be done. The good thing is it has to be justified. It is not a question of a padded budget; I agree with the sentiment. I think that Senator Eggleton's suggestion is a good one; that it be a realistic budget of things we anticipate will be required, with no padding, and if we have to go back then we will fight for it.

The Chair: We are proposing to reduce this budget by $27,951, which puts us under $100,000 for the budget.

Senator Stratton: That is a step in the right direction.

The Chair: Subject to that change, all those in favour of the budget for submission to the Internal Economy?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Contrary minded?

On division, thank you.

Many good points have been brought up about where the Internal Economy Committee should be going. These points have been made before, but we have a member of the Subcommittee on the Review of Committee Budgets here with us who is listening and taking notes attentively.

Senator Nancy Ruth: She reckons that in this ballgame, anyway you do it we will still play with it.

The Chair: Thank you for that.

We have the HR report. I will not ask you to sit here and read it, but if you would like to take it with you, the clerk assures me that this one reflects all the changes we made previously. This is the report that caused us some frustration earlier. We will not deal with it now, but you can take it with you. We will deal with it on Wednesday when we come back. I appreciate your comments. Hopefully, the new one will reflect that. To avoid confusion, throw away the six copies that you got of the other one and start over again.

Senator Nancy Ruth: What is the Wednesday date?

The Chair: On April 1, we will be meeting to deal with the Canada-wide issue; and April 2 is Wednesday, when we will deal with Senator Ringuette's bill clause by clause, plus this human resources report.

If anyone would like to speak on any of the reports that we have floating around, the year-end report will be in, and we have the interim supply and sup (B) reports. If you could, members of this committee should make comments on those reports because I know they will be adopted this week.

Senator Murray: The supply bill itself?

The Chair: We may sit late Wednesday to receive the two supply bills, sup (B) for the end of this year and interim supply. Those two bills will be coming Wednesday night and we probably will deal with them on Thursday in the Senate.

Senator Murray: If there is going to be any debate, we should probably have it on the report.

The Chair: Absolutely; that is what I was thinking.

The committee adjourned.

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