THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION
OTTAWA, Thursday, June 13, 2019
The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration met this day at 8 a.m., in public and in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), for the consideration of financial and administrative matters.
Senator Sabi Marwah (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning. Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
My name is Sabi Marwah. I have the privilege of serving as chair of this committee. I would ask senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson from Ontario.
Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson from Quebec.
Senator Forest: Éric Forest from the Gulf Region of Quebec.
Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain from Quebec.
Senator Moncion: Lucie Moncion from Ontario.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean from Ontario.
Senator Dalphond: Pierre Dalphond from De Lorimier, Quebec.
Senator Mitchell: Grant Mitchell from Alberta, Treaty 6 territory.
Senator Verner: Josée Verner from Quebec.
Senator Wells: David Wells from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.
Senator Plett: Don Plett, Landmark, Manitoba.
Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tkachuk: Senator Tkachuk from Saskatchewan.
The Chair: A copy of the public minutes from June 6, 2019, is in your package. Are there any questions or changes?
If not, can I have a motion to adopt the minutes? Senator Forest? Thank you. It was moved by Senator Forest to adopt the minutes. Agreed? Carried.
The next item on the agenda is a clarification of statements.
Senator Saint-Germain: Given that the senator I have questions for isn’t here, I ask that the agenda item be deferred to that meeting.
The Chair: That’s fine. Let’s move on.
Item No. 3, parliamentary presentations, is a report of activities and expenditures on the Parliamentary Associations. I invite Colette Labrecque-Riel to the witness table. Senator Plett, I believe you will give a presentation, which will be followed by questions as appropriate.
The Honourable Donald Neil Plett, Senator, Senate of Canada: Good morning, colleagues. I will be brief, and if there are any difficult questions, Colette will answer them.
As the Senate Co-Chair on the Joint Interparliamentary Council, I am pleased to present the Parliamentary Associations’ Activities And Expenditures Report for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
As senators know, this annual report details the activities and expenditures of the 13 parliamentary associations. With me is Colette Labrecque-Riel, Clerk of the Council; her team is responsible for producing this report.
I wish to provide you with a general overview of the work of Parliamentary Associations during the last fiscal year, as described in this report, after which we will be pleased to answer questions.
During the 2018-19 fiscal year, the 13 parliamentary associations carried out 83 activities in 41 different countries. They welcomed 69 delegations from abroad, both within and outside of Ottawa.
The number of travel activities has decreased as has the average number of travelling participants per activity.
The total budget for Parliamentary Associations for 2018-19 was a little more than $4.3 million, a decrease of $263,040 from the previous year.
Total expenditures amounted to $3.9 million, of which $1.4 million went toward contributions or membership fees, and $2.5 million was spent on actual activities.
These expenditures represent a 91 per cent budget utilization with unspent funds amounting to $402,493.
Transportation costs continue to represent the most significant expenditures, amounting to 64 per cent of total expenditures.
In terms of the Senate’s participation in association activities, colleagues will note that 98 delegates were senators, representing 31 per cent of the total number of parliamentarians travelling. Of those 98 senators, while this is not provided in the report, I can confirm that 35 were from the ISG, 27 were Conservative senators, 35 were Senate Liberals and one non-affiliated.
Finally, those 98 senator spots were filled by 36 senators. As for funding, given that the Senate provides 30 per cent of the funding, the 31 per cent participation is well in line with that funding.
For detailed information regarding each of the 13 associations, I refer you to section 3 of the report.
Information for participants, transportation, accommodation, per diems, hospitality and working meals, miscellaneous and, finally, registration fees is provided for each activity conducted during the last fiscal year.
In conclusion, while Parliamentary Associations’ expenditures and activities during the 2018-19 fiscal year show a decrease over the previous year, it was the second most active in the last five years.
I remind colleagues that this annual report once reviewed here is presented in the Senate and then published to the Web. This is information which is made available to the public.
Finally, I would also like to report that in addition to determining various budgetary and administrative matters relating to Parliamentary Associations, the Joint Interparliamentary Council adopted a code of conduct for association delegates as well as a governance model for security matters related to association travel.
This concludes my remarks, and we are prepared to entertain questions.
Senator Marshall: This is something that Senator Plett mentioned, but I’ll ask Colette. The outgoing delegations are down and the incoming delegations are up. Senators who are members of parliamentary associations is down, and the number of senators participating in travel activities is down. Is that a trend, or are we seeing a rebound?
Colette Labrecque-Riel, Clerk Assistant and Director General, International and Interparliamentary Affairs, Senate of Canada: I haven’t done an historical analysis to see when during a legislature memberships or delegates go up or down. What I would guess, in terms of the Senate numbers, is that the changing dynamic in the Senate may have had an impact. With the arrival of a significant number of newer senators, the uptake for parliamentary diplomacy activities would likely be the last activities that newer senators would focus on. First would be chamber activities, then committee activities, and parliamentary diplomacy tends to come third. Of course, senators who are sitting here would know better than I, and some may be newer than others, but this would be my thinking.
Senator Marshall: A rebound.
Ms. Labrecque-Riel: It might be due to the arrival of newer senators who have not necessarily taken up parliamentary diplomacy yet.
Senator Marshall: Thank you.
Senator Saint-Germain: First, Mr. Chair, Senator Plett and Ms. Labrecque-Riel, I would like to thank you for the quality of this report and the clarity of the presentation. I really like the fact — I think it was very relevant — that you worked on a code of ethics to govern the behaviour of senators at these important events at which we represent Canadian democracy, and that you paid attention to security issues.
I have a question, and I don’t think it was addressed in the report. Often, in the Senate, we have access to the travel reports of each of the parliamentary associations. I would like to know what percentage of delegations met the requirement to prepare a report and table it in the Senate following foreign travel.
Ms. Labrecque-Riel: Following a mission abroad, all associations must submit a report to both chambers, in accordance with the regulations of both chambers. Sometimes there are delays. The time limit prescribed in the regulations is very difficult to meet. I think it always has been. The report sets out the objective of the mission, the content of which is nevertheless quite elaborate. An analysis is prepared by the analysts from the Library of Parliament who accompany the delegation. At the very end, a fairly summary financial report must be filed in both chambers and is published on the website.
Senator Saint-Germain: So you don’t intend to include the filing of these reports in the accountability that appears in the annual report.
Ms. Labrecque-Riel: Once the reports have been submitted, they are posted on the website. The electronic version of the annual report contains hyperlinks to the individual reports.
Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you again.
The Chair: Any other questions for Colette or Senator Plett? If not, thank you, Senator Plett and Colette, for the presentation.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Honourable senators, we need a motion to adopt this report in the Senate?
Senator Tkachuk: I so move.
The Chair: Moved by Senator Tkachuk. All agreed? Agreed. Carried.
The next item of the report from the Subcommittee on Long Term Vision and Planning. Senator Tannas will make a presentation on two separate items, which will be followed by questions from senators.
I invite Caroline Morency, Acting Director General, Property and Services, and Josée Labelle, LTVP Executive Advisor, to the witness table.
Senator Tannas, over to you.
Senator Tannas: Thank you, chair. Honourable senators, I have the honour to present the fourth report of the Subcommittee on Long Term Vision and Planning. I’m here to present two important updates relating to ongoing projects for the redevelop and rehabilitation of Parliament Hill.
The first update relates to both the interim and the end-state accommodation for the Senate. The interim accommodation will be places where we senators need to have our offices while the end state happens, which is essentially how the precinct will look and where we will be situated with our accommodations and our offices when everything is fully complete from the Long Term Vision and Plan. That’s the end state: When all the buildings are fully rehabilitated, new construction is complete, and the precinct is finished and ready for the next 100 years.
The 2006 Long Term Vision and Plan — 13 years ago — for the Parliamentary Precinct proposed that all senators’ offices would be located north of Wellington Street, which is behind the gates of Parliament Hill and on Parliament Hill. That was the original vision 13 years ago. This 2006 plan would require sufficient office space to house all senators in three buildings: Centre Block, East Block and a new development that was contemplated to the west and north of West Block, which is right along the river escarpment but on Parliament Hill.
The plan has changed a little bit — although it has not been formally changed — but there now appears to be no plan to build that third building on Parliament Hill on the escarpment. There is no plan being presented by Public Service and Procurement Canada on the west side of the West Block. So based on our current needs, which are the same needs we have always had, there would not be sufficient space in Centre Block, in the new Visitor Centre complex and East Block to house all senators’ offices.
Earlier this year, Public Works appeared before the subcommittee with a proposal for a new development called the Block 2 Redevelopment Project. This would house some senators’ and MPs’ offices during the upcoming rehabilitation and emptying of East Block and the Confederation Building. It would include two new buildings as well as the rehabilitation of some existing buildings within the same block.
Block 2 — and I think we have passed this out — is essentially the block on Wellington Street that runs from the corner of Wellington and Metcalfe, which is right where the Terry Fox statue and the Parliament Pub are, all the way down to the Victoria Building. That is what they call Block 2. The proposal is to build interim accommodation for us there in Block 2 that we would occupy while East Block is being rehabilitated for us and Confederation is being rehabilitated for MPs.
We have been told, and we have examined some plans, that it may make sense and there is an opportunity, potentially, for the Senate to remain in new Block 2 buildings or a new Block 2 building — a Senate building — after the East Block is rehabilitated. Thereby, we would have enough inventory for us to have full accommodation.
It’s a significant change from the north-of-Wellington plan for the end state for everybody, but it is a live alternative to the new west building that doesn’t appear that it will be built.
There are some additional factors to take into consideration before confirming whether or not to keep Block 2 as part of our end state final accommodation. First, there is a study going on, and there is the potential to develop an underground concourse that would loop or at least connect us underground all the way to Centre Block and to East Block. That study is underway. We want to see the results of that study, because I think it does have a bearing on what we would want to decide.
Second, we don’t have final plans yet for the Visitor Welcome Centre footprint and what that would look like, how much space we would have and what that space would be utilized for. So we think it makes sense to wait and see what that looks like as well.
The other thing is that, even with this proposed northwest building, our accommodations, the Senate chamber and all of our activities are in the northeast, so it may make sense for us to be in a full line in a fully connected Block 2-East Block-Centre Block. It may actually make more sense for us than the original plan. We want to see how all of those things develop.
Therefore, your subcommittee recommends that CIBA approve today the Block 2 Redevelopment Project as an interim Senate accommodation while the East Block is closed for rehabilitation.
Roughly five years from now, we would empty East Block and those people would go into the new accommodation that would be built at some point in the next five years for us. But we would consider that, today, to be interim accommodation.
Then, second, we would ask as part of this recommendation that the subcommittee be authorized by CIBA to further explore the feasibility of using the Block 2 redevelopment as our end-state accommodation as well. So that is our first item.
The second is the rehabilitation of the Victoria Building committee rooms 2 and 9. The Senate currently has a total of eight broadcast-capable committee rooms; three in the Senate of Canada Building, two currently in 1 Wellington across the street, with two more to become operational on the bottom floor by January 2020; two in the Victoria Building; and one in East Block. So we have eight, with two more coming on-stream next winter.
However, the subcommittee has been advised that three of these existing committee rooms are at risk of failure due to the age of the systems. Those are specifically committee rooms 2 and 9 in the Victoria Building, and committee room 257E in East Block.
We recently received a proposal to rehabilitate rooms 2 and 9 in the Victoria Building. Those rooms have not been renovated since 2006. Most of the equipment in those rooms is obsolete, and it is no longer possible to find replacement parts for much of the technical equipment.
There are also, as we know, issues with noise from outside traffic.
The IT and multimedia systems are no longer compatible with our newer systems in the Senate of Canada Building and in 1 Wellington. For example, all of our new broadcast systems are in high definition while those older rooms still broadcast in standard definition.
The proposal we first received estimated that it would cost around $11 million to completely refurbish these two rooms. The subcommittee felt that was too high, so we asked the Property Services directorate to work on some different options that were not so costly. We were presented with several options that would lower the costs, but would upgrade the rooms to a varying degree, rather than full upgrades to both rooms.
We also asked about the usage of these rooms and we were pleased to hear that since the move, committee meetings have, for the most part, been held in our new committee rooms. Only a handful of in camera meetings have been held in the old rooms since we moved to the Senate of Canada Building and 1 Wellington.
We have also been advised that, due to technical failures, both room 9 and room 2 have not been used for broadcast meetings in the last couple of months.
There has been a high demand, colleagues, for the use of the new committee rooms, but as I mentioned we have two new rooms coming on stream in our inventory that will be available in January when the new Parliament resumes.
In addition, some adjustments to the committee schedule and to the room allocations policy could help alleviate some of the demand on committee rooms here in the Senate of Canada Building and in 1 Wellington during sitting days.
Given that we have only just moved into our new accommodations, the subcommittee felt that more time is required before determining what our business needs will be. The one downside, honourable senators, is that by waiting it would mean that it might be two years before we were able to fully rehabilitate these committee rooms and bring them online.
We’re going to get to the recommendation here, but essentially, what we’re saying is we’re being told that it’s about a two-year project to upgrade these rooms and bring them back online. Our recommendation is that the Senate not proceed at this time with upgrading the broadcast systems in Victoria Building rooms 2 and 9, but that they remain in operation with existing broadcasting technology until such time as that equipment is no longer viable, and that the subcommittee be authorized by CIBA to revisit the state of these two rooms before March 2020 to determine what, if any, upgrades should be approved for broadcasting, audio and/or webcasting.
That is our report, colleagues. I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have.
The Chair: Why don’t we start with questions on the first issue, and that is the end state.
Senator Tkachuk: I have a number of questions. I don’t know why we would consider spending $11 million on the Victoria Building on committee rooms. I don’t know who comes up with these things. Public Works will spend as much money as they possibly can but the Victoria Building is not a building — I have no skin in the game because I’m leaving so I don’t really care, but I do care about the money.
Victoria Building should be levelled and a new building should be put up there. It’s not a historical building of any consequence, it has no architectural fundamentals that you would want to preserve for the future. It’s a piece of property we own, and I don’t think we need those committee rooms. Can we not have committee rooms that, as you say, are meant for steering and all that? We don’t need any broadcast, so rip all that stuff out. Just have nice committee rooms where people can meet in private if they want, or that people resident in Victoria can use for visiting groups that come in.
We use one of the seventh-floor meeting rooms for our caucus meetings on Wednesday morning. You can figure that out.
Regarding the whole idea of an underground tunnel, I remember the controversy over the other two tunnels. I don’t think we want to put future governments in that kind of a position. Gee whiz, we can get up in the morning — or most senators should be able to get up — and go to work above ground without needing a tunnel to get them there.
Those are my comments.
What is happening with the Chambers Building? Can’t we use that for office space?
Senator Tannas: Once we’re back in Centre Block?
Senator Tkachuk: Either then or even when the east offices are being rehabilitated, can’t we use the Chambers Building?
Senator Tannas: That would be possible.
Senator Tkachuk: It’s convenient. Move the staff somewhere else. I mean there are lots of other buildings they could be moved to.
Senator Tannas: The issue is that, at the same time as we do East Block, we’re emptying the Confederation building. The plan is to try and get accommodations that can be used afterwards and in the future for the next 100 years. There is a decision that has been made that says that this block, where we have the Victoria Building, the former U.S. Embassy — now the Indigenous building — and we have a bunch of empty space is now going to be part of the whole permanent parliamentary precinct.
The question is: Where should we go when we have to get everybody out of East Block? And when East Block is finished, we move those people back in and, to your point, Victoria Building is emptied. It’s not part of the permanent plan for us. It doesn’t make sense for us, right?
Where would Victoria Building senators go? Where would those offices be in the final end state now that we’re not building that other building on the Hill? That’s the issue there.
As far as the tunnels go, that’s part of the final step of the Long Term Vision and Plan. It’s not just us getting a tunnel underneath Wellington to the East Block and then onward. Don’t forget that the Visitors’ Centre is actually under the lawn so there is a lot of underground work that will already be complete.
In addition, there is a contemplation that a tunnel will come from West Block over to the Wellington Building, which is now part of the whole. That’s their recognition that they are not building a building on the Hill and that Wellington Building, the lovely new building that only opened a short time ago, I think will now be part of the permanent end state. That is for the House of Commons to decide. They are discussing the whole tunnel thing as well.
That’s why I think it makes sense for us to say, okay, we see where we’re going to be accommodated in the interim in a new building at the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington, and maybe, if everything lines up, this is the sensible place for us to occupy permanently. But we will make that decision once we have all the information, including tunnelling and costs, et cetera.
Senator Tkachuk: Okay. You’re pretty good with money, Senator Tannas, so I’m leaving it to you to keep the budget under control and my taxes down.
The Chair: I must agree, for $11 million, you could build a whole new building, but anyway.
Senator Tannas: With that information, chair, putting $11 million into the Victoria Building knowing that we will not be there very long — maybe 10 years — we just could not see it making sense. We’re not using those rooms right now and we have two new committee rooms coming online. So our recommendation was we leave it, we watch, learn and wait, and we know that the one thing we’re making a decision on here today is that, if all of a sudden we had huge demand, we have two years before we could get into that space. Our recommendation is we do it.
The Chair: I think it’s fair to say you’re preaching to the converted on that issue.
Senator Tkachuk: The good thing about keeping the committee rooms tight is that it will lessen the ability of the Senate to produce more committees, because they tend to proliferate.
The Chair: If I could request senators to confine questions in order, let’s deal with item No. 1, which is block 2, first, then we can go to the committee rooms. Otherwise we won’t be able to get to the individual motions.
Senator Wells: Thank you, Senator Tannas, for your good work on this and to the team that is assisting. I just want to know the end state again. It was not confusing, but there were a lot of moving parts there. So our end state would be Block 2 for the Senate, East Block and the Senate side of Centre Block for senators’ offices?
Senator Tannas: That is the option that we’re being asked to explore, so it would be almost in a straight line: Centre Block, East Block, across the street and what is now going to be our interim accommodation right on the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington.
Senator Wells: You also said it would be hoped, in the end state, that would be a permanent Senate building.
Senator Tannas: That’s the potential.
Senator Wells: I think that’s a good idea. I like the proximity. I also think it’s necessary, in this day and age and in this city, to have a tunnel system. While the buses are fine, given the traffic in the evenings when we’re still working, it is impossible to get to votes, to get to committees and to get to our offices. I think a tunnel system is long overdue. If we’re doing all this major infrastructure work, I think that’s a no-brainer.
Senator Tannas: It’s a good time to do it.
Senator Wells: There has been no discussion of building design or keeping in —
Senator Tannas: In our report you saw some very blocky designs. We’re a long way from that kind of design. We have lots of opportunity for input.
Senator Wells: Okay. So the tunnel system, if we were to go that way, it would link all the Parliament Buildings?
Senator Tannas: I’ve heard two stories. We’ve heard a horseshoe that could potentially go from our interim accommodation up and the other end of it would go to the Wellington building; and I’ve heard a loop. I think they are exploring both options as part of this feasibility study that is under way.
Senator Wells: And the cost would be borne by public service or a combination of the Senate and House of Commons?
Senator Tannas: The taxpayer. It would be under Public Works, under the Long Term Vision and Plan budget.
Senator Dawson: At my first committee at CIBA, I think the chair was David Tkachuk and at that time the end was not leaving Parliament Hill at all. A lot has happened since then.
Senator Tannas, we did say a few times to stop calling it the welcome centre. We have to find a new name because that is not what it’s being designed for. It’s more than that. That’s minor.
I totally agree. I won’t have to come back here, chair. For the second time today I agree with Senator Tkachuk that renovating the Victoria committee rooms is ridiculous. At $11 million, it is ridiculous, and we shouldn’t go that way.
I’m a tunnel person. I live at the Château Laurier but we don’t have to have a tunnel built at — which is the tunnel between East Block and Centre Block, which is very nice, very sexy and wide. We can have a tunnel like we have between Château Laurier, Wellington and here, which is very modest. It doesn’t have to be as expensive and elaborate as what we have between the East Block and Centre Block.
Senator Tkachuk: There used to be a tunnel there.
Senator Dawson: There was already a tunnel. They could have made a compromise. Anyway, that’s it.
Senator Munson: Just the whole idea is a campus. It’s going to be a campus. So you’re going to be on campus.
That’s the whole design and concept of what’s coming, not so soon to your theatre.
My big issue is the Terry Fox statue. The iconic Terry Fox statue which is in a prominent place. It’s not up high enough but it’s something that Canadians care about and should not be forgotten because it is the will of a man in the country.
With all this planning, I don’t want to hear from Public Works that we are going to have a prominent place for it. I would like to know where the statue is going to go, if there is a building there and what happens to it. To me, it should be on Parliament Hill with the other statues because it’s that important to our nation. I want a commitment from somebody who can tell me in the next little while where they are going to put that statue. Canadians stop by and they get their pictures taken there. It’s a source of pride and it’s very important to our country.
Senator Tannas: Duly noted and we will take that on. You’re on the subcommittee, so we’ll work on that.
The Chair: Are there any other questions on the Block 2 redevelopment?
Senator Forest: I would just like to point out that, in all this reflection, we have even discovered a new room on the third floor of the East Block, which is a nice surprise.
We are currently at the conceptual stage, but we must not forget the impact of the City of Ottawa’s work on the future of Wellington Street. The way all this is going to happen in the future will also have an impact on our choices. We are at the conceptual stage, but it seemed totally illogical to us to spend $11 million to upgrade two rooms in the Victoria Building, when this building will be renovated in a few years. Since we are talking about public funds, we must be careful. I think our decision was very thoughtful.
The Chair: If there are no other questions on Block 2 —
Senator Marshall: I don’t know about Block 2, but I want to know about the two new rooms coming onstream after January.
Senator Tannas: I may have this wrong. Are they on the bottom or the level up from the existing two 1 Wellington rooms?
Senator Tkachuk: They’re in 1 Wellington, I believe. There are two we’re using now and two after that.
Senator Dawson: They used to be used by the House of Commons.
Senator Tkachuk: They’re getting them cleaned up. We’ll have four there, which will be great.
Senator Dawson: Probably $10 million.
Senator Tkachuk: They’re pretty new, so hopefully $5 million.
The Chair: Colleagues, if we can, let’s vote on the Block 2 redevelopment.
It is moved by Senator Tannas that CIBA approves the Block 2 redevelopment project as an interim Senate accommodation while the East Block is closed for rehabilitation; and that the subcommittee on LTVP be authorized by CIBA to further explore the feasibility of using the Block 2 redevelopment in the end state. Do we have agreement, senators? Carried.
Moving on to the second item.
Senator Batters: Regarding these broadcast-capable committee rooms in the Victoria Building, I thought we upgraded all the broadcasting systems in the Victoria Building committee rooms a few years ago. I recall — and I think it was for that particular building — receiving updates about this from the Senate IT department at the Communications Subcommittee meetings we were having then. If it wasn’t that building, which committee rooms were they? Because I recall some major expenditures being made to broadcasting for committee rooms. I’m wondering where that went and why this needs to be spent.
Caroline Morency, Acting Director General, Property and Services, Senate of Canada: I will have to get back to you on that about the previous cost and implications that were made at the time. I’ll get back to this committee.
Senator Batters: Which committee rooms were most recently updated with broadcasting capabilities?
Ms. Morency: Overall, you mean, or at Victoria Building?
Senator Batters: Overall. This was a few years ago, so it wouldn’t have been for this. It was not yet for this bidding. It was for an existing building.
Ms. Morency: We’ll have to get back to you with the answer.
Senator Batters: Thank you.
Senator Marshall: I think all my questions have been answered, but tell us about the meeting room over in East Block. I think it’s 257. Do we need that? I have had one meeting in it since we’ve moved here. We don’t use that anymore, do we?
Ms. Morency: It has been used, but occasionally. That room is sometimes ideal for the occupants of East Block. That’s what the historical uses told us.
Senator Marshall: Will we need to do anything with that, seeing as we have lots of meeting rooms at 1 Wellington and here? Just forget about 257.
Ms. Morency: As part of the second phase of East Block rehabilitation, that will be considered as well. There might be additional committee rooms coming online once the full rehabilitation of East Block happens seven years from now.
Senator Marshall: But somebody makes an assessment of how many rooms we need at certain points in time. We don’t overbuild committee rooms, do we?
Senator Tannas: We’re in a bit of flux right now. The plan that we suggested to admin that they pursue, and to IT, is that we keep the East Block 257 for the next five years and then it will be gone. It will be under rehabilitation. But for the next five years, we rob parts for whatever we need out of Victoria and that’s the place we try and keep going. But at this stage, especially with the two new rooms, we’re hardly using East Block or Victoria, and we have two new rooms coming on. It’s a spare.
Senator Marshall: Okay.
Senator Tannas: And we’ll use all the parts from Victoria’s equipment and keep that up and going for the next five years until we get into the next place.
The Chair: If there are no other questions on this item, it is moved by Senator Tannas:
…that the Senate not proceed at this time with upgrading the broadcasting systems in Victoria Building committee rooms 2 and 9, that the Victoria Building committee rooms 2 and 9;
That they remain in operation with the existing broadcasting technology until such time as this equipment is no longer viable;
That the subcommittee be authorized by CIBA to revisit the state of these two rooms before March 2020 to determine what, if any, upgrades should be approved for broadcasting, audio and/or webcasting technology.
Is it agreed, senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Batters: On division.
The Chair: Carried, on division.
The next item, item No. 5, is a report from the Audit Subcommittee dealing with senators’ expense audit. Senator Moncion will present its seventeenth report with a recommendation for an audit for administration and senators’ expenses.
I invite Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, and Nathalie Charpentier, Comptroller and Deputy Chief Financial Officer, to the witness table.
Senator Moncion: The people who attended the meeting where we discussed this article were Senator Verner, Marshall, Dawson and me; Senator Carignan was absent. Senator Marshall replaced Senator Batters.
I will give you some background on the work done so far and what led us to talk about this point before I present the report. We had discussed this for the first time when we set up an internal audit. We were talking about some model, but also about the importance of having an internal audit. So we discussed it at the Budget Subcommittee. Then we discussed it at this committee. We have been mandated to evaluate a temporary solution to conduct an audit until decisions are made by the Senate. We are presenting to you today a temporary solution that was proposed by the group that has been working on this issue.
Without further ado, this is the 17th report of the Audit Subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
Honourable senators, it is my honour to present the seventeenth report of the Audit Subcommittee on the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
As part of the Senate’s commitment to transparency and accountability, your committee is of the view that the administration and senators’ expenses should be specifically audited on a regular basis to ensure that they comply with policies and practices, and that the controls and processes around expenses are efficient and appropriate.
The subcommittee believes that this should be started with an audit of the administration and senators’ expenses for the fiscal year 2018-19. Such an audit would be performed by an external auditor. Following this audit, a long-term strategy to audit administration and senators’ expenses will be developed in conjunction with an overall internal audit strategy and will be presented at a future meeting.
So your subcommittee recommends that the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration approve the proposed audit of administration and senators’ expenses for the 2018-19 fiscal year, in accordance with the suggested scope and approach, and that it authorize the administration to initiate an appeal process.
I’m available to answer any questions you may have.
In addition, we have provided you with a document entitled Audit of Administration and Senators’ Expenses. This is the briefing note that explains how it would work and gives the approximate costs associated with this audit.
Senator Batters: I’m glad that Senator Marshall obviously did a great job of replacing me at that particular subcommittee meeting, as I would have expected. And I’m glad to see that it’s being proposed that for this spot audit it would not be just senators’ expenses but also Senate administration expenses as a spot audit as well. I know that’s something that Senator Wells, who happens to be with us today, has pressed for in his audit oversight approach that he has been working on for quite some time, so I’m happy to see that.
I’m wondering if it could be added in here or relayed as part of this spot audit process that the procurement contracts dealing with procurement be one of the parts that would be part of this particular spot audit. Thank you.
The Chair: I think that’s appropriate.
Senator Batters: Thank you very much.
Senator Wells: Thank you, Senator Moncion, for your work on this. I have a couple of questions. On the question of an audit of administration and senators’ expenses, would senators’ expenses include office expenses? That’s by far the greater amount that senators would spend versus what is typically known in the public as senators’ expenses, which is travel or hospitality or something.
I think there should be a clearer statement of what senators’ expenses are, and I think that should be called “senators’ office expenses” or “senators’ office expenditures.” I think the word “expenditures” is better for administration as well, as “expenses” has a different connotation.
And would this be a systems audit for senators’ expenditures or would it be individual expenses of senators or expenditures of senators’ offices? Would it be a systems audit or an expenses audit?
Senator Moncion: What do you mean by “systems audit”?
Senator Wells: Would we be looking at the system that we have from the time an expenditure is requested and expended, and how that system is done? For instance, if we’re looking at procurement in the Senate, will we look at whether there are three bids or is there sufficient time? If there were requests from the bidders for clarification, did all bidders get that clarification? I’m referring to the system that we have rather than just how the expenses or how the expenditures were made.
Senator Moncion: If you look at the report under “goals,” you have the scope or what is going to be verified. We are proposing to go into an RFP, and these are things that can be specified within the RFP.
Senator Wells: Okay. Thank you.
Senator Marshall: I have no questions. I just want to say that I strongly support it, and I was very happy to be replacing one of my colleagues on the subcommittee the day that it was on the agenda. It was great timing for me. I wholeheartedly support it and I think many people aren’t surprised to hear that.
Senator Verner: Senator Moncion, I’m a member of the subcommittee. We discussed the various options. Do I understand correctly that it would be for a period of one year, not three, and that it is about $75,000 to $100,000 for one year?
Senator Moncion: Yes.
Senator Verner: It’s for all senators, not just one group of senators.
Senator Moncion: No. In the case of the first call we made, it is a sample of about 400 transactions of all kinds from all over the place, whether it is senators’ expenses, office expenses, procurement, and so on. This is random and left to the discretion of the external auditors. They use methods to do this work, and they have the expertise to do it. For this reason, in adopting this approach, we did not target a single person by asking auditors to verify all their expenses. It’s very broad and very random.
Senator Verner: That answers my question. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I must admit I’m also a strong supporter of doing an expense audit. It’s long overdue and I think this is something we should strongly encourage and support.
It is moved by the Honourable Senator Moncion that the report be adopted.
Senator Tkachuk: I have some questions.
The Chair: I’m sorry; Senator Tkachuk.
Senator Tkachuk: Just so I’m clear, there are the statutory expenses, which is like travel. I will just ask you, Pascale, are the hotel rooms — I can’t remember now, I’ve been away so long on this thing — part of statutory?
Pascale Legault, Chief Corporate Services Officer and Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, Senate of Canada: That’s correct.
Senator Tkachuk: So there are those, which are the travel expenses, and then there are the office budget expenses, so there are two.
Second question, Senator Moncion: Is this going to be done by the Auditor General or is this going to be done by a private auditing firm?
Senator Moncion: A private auditing firm.
Senator Tkachuk: Okay. We did that before the Auditor General came, but only two years before, maybe two and a half years before. There were some issues, but there weren’t any dramatic issues. Then when the Auditor General came, there were a lot of issues. I’m not sure whether it was because the Auditor General’s office wasn’t quite clear on what they were looking for or because the private auditor missed them, but they did them the same way. And so we responded to that private auditor, but at the same time, the Auditor General found other items.
Anyway, I just wanted to know. So you will have a private auditor do it, okay.
Senator Moncion: If I can nuance, I don’t know how you say that in English . . .
— the Auditor General has done a forensic review, which the internal auditor does not do. He conducts an audit based on the policies and practices in place. It’s much more thorough research than a regular internal audit.
Senator Tkachuk: You’re weren’t thinking of doing that.
Senator Moncion: No, not at all.
Senator Tkachuk: Okay. I’m good.
Senator Moncion: I would like to add an important element. A first look at the information we have received regarding the costs associated with the audit shows that they range from $75,000 to $100,000. We will issue a call for tenders, and it is an expensive exercise. We want senators to be aware of the costs associated with this exercise. We need this flexibility, in the evaluation of firms, to say that the Governance Committee has given us the flexibility to make the contract.
Senator Forest: Since this is a systemic and random analysis of expenditures — let’s take the example of the mess related to hiring an usher firm — the firm will analyze our purchasing or contract award processes.
Senator Moncion: That is what has been asked for in terms of procurement. Some things would be missing, but we won’t get to the bottom of it.
Senator Forest: Our main policies?
Senator Moncion: That’s it.
Senator Tkachuk: I have one more point. If we did an audit — or at least that was the intention, but I don’t know what happened to that intention — I think there was the intention that after the Auditor General, there would be a number of senators that would be fully audited, perhaps maybe three, four or five, who would be picked at random and would have a full audit done. But it would happen on a regular basis, maybe every two years, and there would also be an audit done that would be more cursory, as you suggest, of other senators.
It has been six years since the last audit and if you don’t do it on a regular basis, it gets lost in the weeds and no one gets around to doing it, and then troubles begin. You might want to think about that, but I’m leaving that with you, Senator Moncion. you’re very capable.
Senator Moncion: Thank you, sir.
The Chair: It is moved by the Honourable Senator Moncion that the report be adopted. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Agreed, carried.
Item No. 6 is another report from the Subcommittee on Estimates. Senator Moncion will present the tenth report, and Pierre Lanctôt and Nathalie Charpentier are available to answer questions.
Senator Moncion: Honourable senators, it is my honour to present the tenth report of the Subcommittee on Senate Estimates of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
On May 9, 2019, the subcommittee was mandated to study the proposed amendments and clarifications to the Senators’ Office Management Policy.
Your subcommittee met on June 11, 2019 to carry out this mandate. Your subcommittee agreed to the potential changes listed in the appended table and decided to postpone its decisions on other items.
Therefore, your subcommittee recommends that the changes proposed in the table attached to the 10th report be adopted and that the Senators’ Office Management Policy be amended accordingly.
I am available to answer any questions you may have.
The Chair: Senators, just for clarification, the items that were circulated just now really focuses on the item that we’re recommending for approval the previous report had everything so this is just easier to follow that’s all. There is no difference in the two reports. This just focuses on the items that we are recommending or that the committee is recommending.
Senator Moncion: The majority of the proposed changes are policy clarifications rather than policy changes. For example, there were practices written in one place in the rules that were not written in another. The aim was to align these policies, which required clarifications rather than changes.
The Chair: Any questions for Senator Moncion?
Senator Marshall was very helpful at the subcommittee. I attended the subcommittee myself and going through each of the items. And I think we came to a resolution. We agreed on the items that we decided to bring forward to this committee. I see no questions. It was moved by Senator Moncion that the report be adopted.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Agreed, carried. Honourable senators, the next item is on the Senate Committee of Selection’s intersessional authority. There is a briefing note in your package and Philippe Hallée will make a statement and answer any questions senators may have.
Philippe Hallée, Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and Chief, Parliamentary Precinct Services, Senate of Canada: This is a request from Senator Plett, as chair of the steering committee on the Committee of Selection, pointing out the fact that there is no intersessional authority of the Committee of Selection with respect to a power that is granted to that committee under SARS with respect to the allocation of offices that have not been allocated by the caucuses. When there are some vacant premises when they have not been allocated by the caucuses.
It is a power that is given to the Committee of Selection under Rule 4:03.2(2) of the SARs. And since there is no intersessional authority of the Selection Committee to deal with this over the coming months, after the dissolution of Parliament, there would effectively be no power for the Committee of Selection to allocate those premises.
The residual power belongs to CIBA with respect to the administration generally and office allocation. One of the requests from Senator Plett was to find a solution to make sure that, through the intersession, there would be such a power granted one way or another.
There are two options that have been designed. The first is an amendment to the SARs to provide for an addition to the provision in this case that you have before you. This would provide for the three current members of the steering committee to be acting as, essentially, the authority to allocate those premises during the intersessional period, albeit without the status of a committee, but nonetheless would be a permanent solution to bring to this. It would be very clear onwards that there is such a power for the steering committee members or the members of the committee that were on steering of the Selection Committee at the time of dissolution to make those decisions as if there were an intersessional authority without having it.
The other option would be for CIBA to strike a working group that would effectively do pretty much the same thing, but it would be an interim solution that can be done. The first solution requires an amendment to the SARs, so the process might be a little bit longer. Given the timelines we have right now, it might become an issue.
The second solution, obviously, is a little bit more accessible because it’s a working group that can be struck by a motion.
The Chair: What we have before you are two options. Option 2 is a more pragmatic option to deal with what Senator Plett wants to do for the four or five months that we’re going to be way. It is easier to manage and it does the same thing as a permanent solution. I figure this is something we can get done very quickly, and I think the mandate of that committee is noted in your briefing note.
Senator Forest: I think this is a temporary and exceptional situation. In my opinion, there is no need to amend the regulations. I would prefer to create a committee on a temporary basis, because it’s every four years, not a permanent situation.
Senator Plett: I agree that the second option in light of the time is the best one. I do not entirely agree that this is temporary, because this will happen, and not necessarily every four years. We sometimes have elections more often. We have prorogation for different reasons. I think this needs to be addressed when we come back. It’s something we should have picked up earlier but we didn’t. In light of that, I think the working group is the correct way to go for now, but certainly it’s not as good as the other option. I think it needs to be revisited when we come back, and an amendment has to be made to the SARs rules but I would encourage colleagues to support the second option for now.
Senator Batters: That’s certainly what our steering committee thought was the best option was option 2. Just on that, just a couple of things on the last paragraph of the draft motion if option 2 is the one that is proceeded with. That this committee wants, for the last paragraph it should say “recommendations” plural. When you say “committee” is that meaning CIBA or the selection committee?
The Chair: It’s our —
Senator Batters: We should probably clarify that. Because the advisory committee or the advisory working group would report to CIBA, so it’s part of that.
The Chair: That’s fine, too. It’s just that getting CIBA organized over the summer is just more difficult, that’s all.
Senator Batters: CIBA has intersessional authority actually to act over the summer unlike anything else, that’s why we’re doing this.
Senator Plett: It’s not going to be a tremendous amount of work. We have I think right now eight retirees over the period of time that we’re talking about, plus others could come along. So there is some work there. But certainly our steering committee can handle that, whom we report to is irrelevant to me, but I would suggest that it would be the steering committee or selection that do this, and we report to whoever you want us to report to.
The Chair: What is the will of the committee? Report to CIBA steering or to CIBA?
Senator Plett: I would suggest CIBA steering is the easiest. It’s over the summer, absolutely. Steering.
The Chair: All right, make it CIBA steering over the summer. I should read out the motion, can I have a mover? Senator Plett, can you move the following motion:
That an Advisory Working Group on the allocation of office accommodations be established;
That the membership consists of the three senators who, on the day on which the 42nd Parliament is dissolved, were Chair and Deputy Chairs of the Selection Committee;
That the quorum be three;
That the mandate of the Advisory Working Group be to recommend assignment to senators and their staff, on the basis of seniority and special needs, office accommodations that are not under the control of a caucus and are not reallocated by the caucus to one of its members; and
That Advisory Working Group make a recommendation to the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure as needed.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? Agreed. Carried.
Senator Saint-Germain: Following our meeting last week on the agenda item entitled “Usher Service in the Senate”, we continued the in camera discussion and did not conclude the public session. I believe it is important, for clarification purposes, both for Senate staff and senators and for the public listening to us, to conclude in a public session.
In this context, I have some questions for Senator Batters, who raised some points. I insist that I am fully respectful of the right and duty that we all have to ask questions. That is our role. Senator Batters asked questions, and she was entitled to do so. However, the conclusion reached by the committee is also important for the public.
Senator Batters, during the public portion of the internal economy committee meeting last week, you asked three Senate Administration officials if, to their knowledge, Arlington Group Risk Management —
Senator Plett: With the highest amount of respect for my colleagues, Senator Saint-Germain, I am troubled that this is even on this agenda. This was dealt with. This was dealt with whether it was in camera or in public. This was dealt with and this was concluded.
Senator Saint-Germain last week asked whether Senator Batters was happy with answers she had gotten. Senator Batters, or no other senator is obligated in any way to be happy or satisfied with anything, but when something is drawn to a conclusion, colleagues, it’s drawn to a conclusion. There is no possible upside to us beating and flogging this any further.
I strongly encourage, colleagues, as we are nearing the end of a very trying session, that we end on a note of congeniality and collaboration. This issue is dead. It does not need to be visited any further. It should not have been on the agenda. I don’t think it was put on to the agenda by steering.
Again, I am troubled that we want to continue this because, quite frankly, I was not happy with some answers I got. That’s my prerogative not to be happy.
Senator Tkachuk: I wasn’t either.
Senator Plett: For us to ask a senator, which — and I don’t want to presuppose what Senator Saint-Germain is going to ask, but to ask a senator, are you satisfied with an answer you got? I’m sorry, nobody is obligated to say that. Nobody is obligated to be happy.
So, chair, I’m asking that this be terminated now. That this not be continued with.
The Chair: I think Senator Saint-Germain —
Senator Saint-Germain: I also have my right to speak.
Without betraying the secrecy of our in camera deliberations, we returned to public session and granted the extension of the contract to the firm concerned. In my opinion — and I speak for myself — this means that, following the questions that were asked, we received sufficiently satisfactory answers to demonstrate that there was no link between the Administration’s staff, the senators or anyone around this table, and the company that won the contract. I want to reassure the public about this. This information has been made public, and I think it is important to point this out for the reputation of our employees, our committee and the Senate. It was entirely justified for the senator to ask questions. We took great care to verify the information — including in camera sessions, without betraying secrecy — and we demonstrated that there was no link.
Senator Plett: I believe this was concluded in public. I believe our committee took a decision on this. If it was concluded in public, it was concluded.
Senator Moncion: Several people raised this concern. Senator Batters asked a question that suggested there may be a link between Arlington and Senate employees. That was what we wanted to get clarification on, in public session, with the questions that were asked. We had the perception that there might be a connection, and that’s what we wanted to ask Senator Batters to clarify.
Senator Verner: I think exactly the same as my colleagues, Senator Saint-Germain and Senator Moncion. I believe that, indeed, questions must be asked. The Senate and its reputation have been quite badly damaged in recent years.
When these questions arose, I felt that something was going to happen, and that doubt had settled over the Senate employees. However, it turned out that this wasn’t the case, since the contract was awarded, as has been said in public. In order to maintain cordial relations with our employees, I believe it is important to ensure that the public has understood that our staff has behaved well and has not been involved in the question asked by Senator Batters.
I would like to remind everyone that the line is thin. I’m not saying we’re at that point. However, from the moment we speak — it is all in the tone, too — we must be careful. We have all participated in sessions to implement a policy against harassment in the workplace. I’m not saying we’re at that point. However, if this were to happen again on a regular basis, I believe there would be a thin line not to cross.
So, if we recognize that the staff has behaved well, I think it should be said in public session as well.
Senator Tkachuk: It was said in public. Questions were asked. The staff answered. We moved to approve the contract, on division, end of story. I don’t know why this — how did this get on the agenda, Mr. Chair? Steering should approve the agenda. I don’t think steering —
The Chair: It may not have been unanimous, but yes, steering did approve the item on the agenda. So let’s not go there. There’s no point of order.
Senator Tkachuk: Well, I just asked. It’s a good question to ask. There you go: You answered the question, so what’s the difference, right? I did ask the question.
Anyway, as Senator Plett said, this point of order has to be dealt with. I do not believe that we should pursue this any further until a ruling has been given, and I don’t think it should be given this —
I agree with Senator Plett on the point of order.
Senator Marshall: Thank you. I was going to bring this up under other matters, but I think I better raise it now.
We never saw the original contractor — the amendments. Is it possible that somebody could sit down with me and go over the original contract and the amendments — like purchasing; I’m kind of shaky on that. Maybe Pierre could go over it with me?
Senator Tkachuk: Didn’t we ask for that? We haven’t got that yet. We haven’t seen it. We would like to see it.
Senator Plett: That was going to be part of my question, as well — not just Senator Marshall. If there is a contract and there have been questions asked, that contract needs to be tabled here. Whether it’s something that can be done in public or in camera, I think we all have the right to look at that contract. There were questions.
We all have different tones, every one of us. I have a tone that is sometimes offensive to people, even when I don’t try to be. I have had people, when I’m speaking on the telephone, and they can’t see me smiling, actually think I am angry at them. It’s just simply something I try to control. When I speak calmly, then my tone is a little more reasonable. When I get a little excited, it sometimes becomes offensive.
So for us to start in this room judging a person’s tone of voice — her tone or his tone wasn’t very good, so we now have to question their integrity or their professionalism. This wasn’t repeated. Senator Batters asked three high-level, experienced staffers a question — each of them. They each answered the question. She took it no further. That was it; that was the end of it. And now we don’t like the tone of voice she used.
I didn’t ask those questions. I didn’t know whether they needed to be asked. I wouldn’t have asked them, but every person in this room had the right to ask those questions. These people were — whatever term we want to use — on the witness stand or whatever. They are adults. I don’t think they spent any sleepless nights over the questions. I didn’t. I accepted their answers. That should be enough for us.
As far as there being no foundation to ask the question, certainly there was foundation to ask the question. There were some questions as to what had happened, so Senator Batters asked those questions.
Chair, I raised a point of order. I think it is wrong to have this on the agenda, and I ask that we do not discuss this any further until you come back with a ruling on the point of order.
The Chair: We have speakers on the agenda.
Senator Tkachuk: Point of order.
The Chair: I don’t think there is a point of order. I think they are entitled to speak. The point of order — I’ll rule on it, but they are entitled to speak, Senator Plett.
Senator Tkachuk: Are you giving your ruling on the point of order? Are you all done?
The Chair: I do not see what the point of order is. The fact is that it was discussed at steering. It was on the agenda. Where is the point of order? What is the point of order on?
Senator Plett: The point of order is that it was dealt with last week.
The Chair: They are still entitled —
Senator Plett: This was dealt with last week, chair. If we’re not happy with the decision that is going to be made this week, can I have it back on the agenda next week?
The Chair: Yes, you can.
Senator Plett: Well, I hope the public is watching this and recognizing how ridiculous this is for us to keep on flogging one of our own here.
Senator Moncion: I have a comment about our role as senators on the internal economy committee. We have very competent employees who are paid to do their jobs properly. I understand we want to see the contracts and everything, but is it really the contract you want to see or is it the process to get to the contract that interests you? As senators, I don’t think we’re going to start looking at all the contracts that have been awarded by the Senate. In my opinion, we get too involved in operations. We have employees who are paid to do this. I understand that we want to make sure that the contracts are well done, but we must not overdo our role as senators. Yes, we are the watchdogs for the public purse, but we must also think that our employees do this work. I have a little difficulty with the idea that we want to go that far. I have no problem distributing contracts, but if we start questioning all the points and commas of a contract, I think we are going much too far.
The Chair: Thank you, senators. I think we have taken this long enough. If we have any quick comments, please be brief and let’s bring this to a close.
Senator Moncion: I’m done.
Senator Saint-Germain: As far as I am concerned, in conclusion, I’m coming back to our minutes. When we came back in public, we voted, on division, on the continuation of the contractual commitment with Arlington Group (AGRM), but we didn’t conclude that the Senate employees, in this case, had worked in a manner that was compliant and that there had been no relationship between anyone in the Senate, the successful supplier and the staff involved. It is important to record it in the minutes because it was alleged during the public part of the meeting, but we did not reach a public conclusion. That is the only point I want to make this morning in the interest of the reputation of the Senate and its employees.
Senator, I said from the beginning that the senator had every right to ask questions and that I respected that. I also believe that employees are entitled to respect for their reputation. We asked questions in public and we did not give any conclusion as to the answer to these questions, we, the members of the Senate. So I think it is important that this be recorded in the minutes. I have nothing more to add, thank you.
Senator Verner: I will answer very briefly. This is not just a question of tone, Senator Plett. I just wanted to get to the objective of the question asked by Senator Saint-Germain.
As soon as legitimate issues are raised, everyone has the right to ask questions here. I have never questioned that. However, if there are issues that are very specific, very sensitive to the behaviour and professionalism of employees, I think we should also conclude in public, for their own good as well. No one here has taken away anyone’s right to ask questions. That wasn’t the point I wanted to make at all.
Senator Forest: I believe that in any organization, good functioning must be based on trust and not suspicion. It is not a question of tone, because I believe that unlike Senator Plett’s tone, Senator Batters always has a gentle tone. Rather, it is a matter of trust between us as managers and with our leaders. We must be careful, because trust cannot be bought in a store; it is built and maintained through clear relationships with the managers who serve us and to promote the proper functioning of the Senate.
Senator Tkachuk: I would like to say that Senator Batters sees her responsibility as I do, and I think all of us do, that we’re spending public money. That’s what she sees. Senator Batters reads everything that comes to the committee meeting. Senator Batters is watchful of the public expenditures of money. If, once in a while, some peoples’ feelings are hurt, fine. That’s what happens. But that’s our job, so my view is, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
I think they answered the questions, it was ended, she didn’t pursue it any further and it’s over. Now we’re sitting around here talking about something that was decided last week.
I just think we have heaped enough — I think Senator Batters does a really good job looking after people’s money. I would like to end it on that positive note, and let’s go on to finish this meeting off.
Senator Plett: I will also be very brief. Senator Moncion said that we have great staff. I want to second that. I want to echo those comments. I am happy with our staff. Very happy. I am happy with the answers we got. I’ll speak for myself.
Senator Batters does not need to answer those questions if she chooses not to. If some of those staff are offended, they have mechanisms to file those complaints as well and say they were offended by a question. I don’t think that has happened. I want to simply look at one of those staffers that was questioned and say that I have the utmost confidence in your work and in the work of the others who were asked that question. But please colleagues, let’s draw this to a close.
The Chair: That’s a great way to end this meeting. It might be good to recognize this issue has been dealt with. Let’s bring it to a close. All agreed, senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Any other matters in public, Senator Dean?
Senator Plett: Senator Dean, go ahead. I have one as well.
Senator Dean: Thank you. Chair and senators, I want to make a proposal about a policy guiding us on the use of social media by senators and their staff. This came up last week. Senator Plett raised it and I raised it. I signalled at that point that I thought a look at our policies might be relevant.
Since then, we have seen some other discussions. On Tuesday, there was a question of privilege raised in the chamber again about issues associated with social media. That followed on the heels of another discussion in the Senate last week concerning language used on Twitter.
The preface to this is we all know there are positive aspects to social media, but there is also a negative side to it. There is a dark side. There is a side that is divisive and potentially a little bit nasty sometimes. I think we’re beginning to see this emerge in the context of the Senate in communications from both senators and their staff.
I’m going a little further here and say that I have certainly heard from senators who believe that this has gone so far that it is being experienced as aggressive and harassing and, in some cases, the term bullying has been used.
I’m proposing that we ask our Senate administrative and legal advisors to review the applicability of current policies and guidelines that could help govern the practices of senators and staff who engage on social media platforms and, in the event that these are insufficient to give us guidance on these issues, to recommend alternative policies.
We have done a little bit of homework. I note there are several current policies and guidelines that exist that could inform this review, and perhaps more than some of us might expect. We know that we have come to the conclusion of our discussion of the policy on prevention and resolution of harassment. It’s being finalized after a lot of study, and until that new policy is approved, the existing one, from 2009, remains in effect.
I note that harassment in that policy is partly defined as:
improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace [...] and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm.
I understand that the potential to extend the harassment policy to social media was raised in its development, but there was no agreement to do that.
Another policy I want to draw your attention to deals with a policy called the Acceptable Use Policy for the Senate Digital Network, which is applicable to all employees of the Senate, including senators’ staff. This includes some guidance on how to use Senate-issued devices. This was last revised by CIBA on October 20, 2011. I have a copy of it here.
One of the purposes of this policy is to define requirements for secure, ethical and appropriate use for the purposes of conducting Senate business. I note that in section 2.5 on Inappropriate Uses, it states:
The Senate expects authorized users to refrain from practices which would not bear public scrutiny, or might otherwise bring disrepute on themselves and the Senate.
In section 3.8, under Roles and Responsibilities, the policy notes that senators and/or managers are responsible for the promotion of best practices, ethical behaviour and discouraging inappropriate use, which clearly asks us to keep an eye on what our staff are doing.
In section 3.12(f), it also says that users are responsible for ensuring that personal views are not misconstrued as official Senate positions and that actions don’t reflect badly on the Senate.
There is one last policy to reference, and on this one, our administrative staff, as perhaps we might expect, are somewhat ahead of us in this area. In February of this year, the Senate administration approved guidelines on the use of social media to assist staff of the administration in the Senate.
This guide offers best practices and reminds users that they must:
. . . do no harm to the reputation of the Senate, senators or the Senate Administration..
It goes on to suggest that users must:
. . . maintain integrity, impartiality and neutrality at all times. Avoid any activity that might put at risk the nonpartisanship and impartiality of the Senate Administration.
In conclusion, Chair, I return to my recommendation that we ask our Senate administration and advisors to review the applicability of current policies and guidelines that could help govern the practices of staff who engage on social media platforms, and in the event that these are insufficient, to recommend alternative policies.
This is my closing comment. I recognize that we are all aware of parliamentary privilege and we’re aware of freedom of speech, but I think it’s clear, and I think we would all recognize that these are rights that do not override the right of senators and staff and people who work in the Senate to work in an environment that is free of harassment and intimidation. It’s in that context that I raise this proposal. Thank you.
Senator Plett: Very briefly, I’m certainly not going to, in any way, speak against what Senator Dean is suggesting. However, before we ask them to do that, I think the proper thing would be to put it on our agenda to have a discussion around this table about that before we ask anyone to start reviewing that officially and spending Senate resources on it.
I would suggest that we put this issue, if we have time, on next week’s agenda to discuss whether or not we want to go further with that recommendation. Yes, I have raised it, and I do not disagree with Senator Dean, but I think it needs further discussion before we go further.
Senator Forest: I agree with Senator Plett. It would be interesting to do a quick study of practices related to this type of policy in other organizations, without being comprehensive, but at least at the level of institutions like ours.
The Chair: I think it’s fair, but this is not a topic that’s going to take a five-minute discussion at next week’s meeting, to be very honest. I think you could talk about this for days to come to agreement.
We will take it under advisement. If we have room on the agenda, which I really doubt, otherwise we’ll defer it until we come back. I’m not sure, but let me take it under advisement as to how best we should proceed. There is clearly a need to look at our policies, see how they cover this, how to approach it, whether they need to be enhanced, whether they are inadequate, put it in one place — it is an issue that needs addressing.
Senator Tkachuk: It should be a written proposal. Senator Dean should do so, and we can all read it.
Senator Dean: I would like us to discuss and affirm today that the principle of there being in place a policy that guides the use of social media in this place is an appropriate instrument. I would like a vote on that. I’d like the vote to be recorded.
Senator Tkachuk: No, we’re not —
Senator Plett: No. That’s absolutely unfair to bring a proposal at the end of a meeting and ask for us to vote on a proposal like that. I will refuse to vote on a proposal like that, either yes or no, and I certainly would want the record to show that.
I want to discuss it. I am not opposed to Senator Dean’s proposal. We need to talk about it, but not today. For him to bring this forward today and say he wants to vote on it now is absolutely unacceptable.
Senator Batters: I agree the matter should be postponed for a future discussion so that we can actually have a detailed discussion on it, because there are some really complicated issues involved here. We’re not just like some sort of a corporation; we’re a political institution. There are fundamental differences with that. Free speech needs to be included in this discussion.
I note that Senator Dean just said in his opening comments that the harassment policy which was just developed a couple of months ago, at this very committee, specifically does not deal with the issue of social media. All of that needs to be taken into consideration when we deal with this topic, and it’s properly the subject when we can have more discussion and thought given to it beforehand rather than just an attempt to get something on the record quickly. Thank you.
Senator Moncion: I would like to add that there are already practices and policies in place. It’s just a matter of reminding people to follow them and be careful. Even before we discuss it again, we must mention to people that we must be careful, because it is a form of respect and integrity for the institution and for the people, whose rules are already written. However, we must come up with a better supervised solution, where information will be gathered in one place, but this already exists.
Senator Dalphond: I understand that Senator Dean has raised very important and key issues that I think deserve to be considered. However, I don’t feel comfortable to go further this morning, other than to listen to these important concerns being raised. I have to mention we have to design our own guidelines on that issue. We are not civil servants, we are not employees, we are parliamentarians. We perform specific functions in a democracy, and we want to be sure that we are not infringing or limiting freedom of speech. It is essential to the work we do here and it has to be done in a courteous manner that doesn’t bring disrepute to our institution. But we are a special group within a special institution, and Parliament is a special, critical and important institution in a democracy.
I think the concerns are valid, but we have to figure out how we adjust these concerns within our specific functions. I’m not prepared this morning to go further in such a debate without having more time to think about it, consider it and look around to see what is proper or not. I would propose that we postpone that debate to another day.
Senator Marshall: I’d like to see a written proposal with some background information, and I agree with Senator Forest. I would like to see some material on what’s happening in other organizations.
The other area I’m interested in is how we police it. Is the intent that we police it? I think I’d like to see some material on it beforehand.
Senator Tkachuk: Each caucus look after it.
Senator Tannas: Thanks for raising this, Senator Dean. By initiating it, you get to do some of the work on fleshing out a proposal. I wondered if, as you flesh that out — I mean, this is a problem that all liberal democracies are facing. We see it in the United States quite clearly. It would be interesting to know how other legislatures around the world are looking at this. I think that would be helpful for us all to know.
Senator Munson: We could contact President Trump.
The Chair: I think, senators, there are no other questions. To me it’s very clear that there is a consensus that this matter needs to be looked at and we have to put it together in a format that we can discuss with something in front of us rather than memorizing sections that relate to different sections of the code.
What I may suggest is that I will take that under advisement and figure out how best to deal with it. What the best forum may be, what information we need, and come back to you with a proposal as to how we should move this forward. It is something that needs addressing. I think we all agree with that.
Senator Tkachuk: Just to add one more point, I think that this is a discussion that our caucus will have, for sure. We will govern our own communication. We will not be relying on the Senate to tell us how we communicate a political message.
The Chair: Senator Plett you had another question on other items?
Senator Plett: Thank you, chair. I have two items that I’m going to raise. They don’t need to be debated or discussed, but they are two concerns that I have that I want to raise.
The first one is that last week we got what I thought was supposed to be a ruling on whether a senator had used some unparliamentary language. Typically, when we get these types of rulings, at the end, we can see what the ruling was. I didn’t see one. It basically said it could have been. Either it was or wasn’t unparliamentary language. I’m not wanting to put words in it, but it basically said it could have been.
I think the fact that it could have been, I think the record should show that it wasn’t, not that it might have been. Either it was or it wasn’t.
Chair, if you don’t think it was unparliamentary language, then the record should show that it was not unparliamentary language. I’ll leave that with you to think about for next week and determine whether or not you want to comment. You don’t need to do that today. I don’t want to discuss it today.
The other one is that last week I was raising a question of privilege in the chamber that two members of our caucus thought it was very important that they be there and they are members of the Communications Subcommittee. The Communications Subcommittee went ahead with both of our members not there. They could not be there because they were required to be in the chamber at that point. That concerns me, because that meant that our caucus was not represented at that meeting.
I would like to simply — again, in a friendly manner — request that if a caucus is not represented, decisions should not be taken at any Communications Subcommittee, or any subcommittee, for that matter, without steering having done that.
Again, chair if you want to comment —
The Chair: I will comment, Senator Plett. On that one, we did have quorum for the meeting, so we proceeded with quorum. I very purposely deferred any item where a Conservative senator may have input. I did not rule on that. I did not let it be discussed. We deferred it to a subsequent meeting. And that was done very deliberately.
To the extent that I knew Senator Batters had a comment on one issue and may have an issue on another issue, those items were deliberately deferred.
Senator Plett: I’ll accept that, chair, although I’m not happy with it.
The Chair: Okay.
Senator Batters: Excuse me, Mr. Chair, there were a couple of items that were dealt with at that meeting. There were a few that were deferred. The reason I could not come to that subcommittee — and I relayed that message — was that I was waiting to be able to speak on that question of privilege motion in the chamber. I tried to get up a couple of times, but there were other speakers ahead of me on the list, so I needed to wait for my turn to speak. I relayed that message, yet the meeting did proceed, even though I’m the deputy chair of that subcommittee.
I don’t think that particular item should have gone ahead.
The Chair: Duly noted. But as I said, we had quorum. We will move on.
Any other items on other matters? If not, we shall move in camera.
(The committee continued in camera.)