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THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration met by videoconference this day at 11 a.m. [ET] pursuant to rule 12-7(1), for the consideration of financial and administrative matters; and, in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), for the consideration of financial and administrative matters.

Senator Sabi Marwah (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good morning, everyone. My name is Sabi Marwah, I’m a senator from Ontario and I have the honour to chair the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. Today, we will be conducting a virtual meeting that will start in public, and the second portion of the meeting will be in camera.

Before we begin, I would like to remind colleagues of the best practices to have a successful meeting. First, please keep your microphone muted at all times unless recognized by name to speak. Senators are responsible for turning their microphones on and off during the debate.

Second, interpretation in this video conference will work very much like it does in a regular committee meeting; you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of English, French or no simultaneous translation. It is important that members speak in the language that they have chosen to listen to. If you do an intervention in English, you must select the English channel, et cetera.

Third, should members want to request the floor, please use the “raise hand” feature. Fourth, should any technical challenges arise in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair immediately and the technical team will work to resolve the issue. If you experience other technical challenges, please contact the committee clerk with the technical assistance number provided in your invitation.

I would now like to introduce the senators who are participating in this meeting. They are as follows: Senator Donna Dasko, Ontario; Senator Percy Downe, Prince Edward Island; Senator Renée Dupuis, Quebec; Senator Marc Gold, Quebec; Senator Mobina Jaffer, British Columbia; Senator Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador; Senator Yonah Martin, British Columbia; Senator Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba; Senator Lucie Moncion, Ontario; Senator Jim Munson, Ontario; Senator Josée Forest-Niesing, Ontario; Senator Don Plett, Manitoba; Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain, Quebec; Senator Judith Seidman, Quebec; and Senator Scott Tannas, Alberta; Senator Pierre Dalphond, Quebec; Senator Kim Pate, Ontario; and Senator Josée Verner, Quebec.

Welcome to all those viewing these proceedings across the country.

Senator Plett: Chair, Senator Carignan has now joined us.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Plett. Welcome, Senator Carignan.

The first item is a copy of the public minutes from September 10, 2020, which is in your package. Are there any questions or changes? If not, can I have a mover for the following motion:

That the minutes of the proceedings of Thursday, September 10, 2020, be adopted.

Senator Marshall: I so move.

The Chair: Senator Marshall moves the motion. Honourable senators, in order to determine if this motion is adopted, the clerk will proceed with a roll call vote. I ask every senator to unmute their microphones once their name is called.

Pascale Legault, Chief Corporate Services Officer and Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, Senate of Canada: Honourable senators, I will call the member’s name, beginning with the chair and going in alphabetical order. Senators should indicate if they vote for, against or abstain. As simultaneous interpretation will be suspended for the vote, I will conduct the vote in both official languages.

The Honourable Senator Marwah?

Senator Marwah: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Carignan?

Senator Carignan: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dasko?

Senator Dasko: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dupuis?

Senator Dupuis: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?

Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Gold?

Senator Gold: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Jaffer?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?

Senator Marshall: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Martin?

Senator Martin: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator McPhedran?

Senator McPhedran: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Moncion?

Senator Moncion: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Munson?

Senator Munson: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Plett?

Senator Plett: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Seidman?

Senator Seidman: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?

Senator Tannas: Yes.

Ms. Legault: Mr. Chair, we have 17 “yes” votes.

The Chair: I declare the motion carried.

Colleagues, item 2 is next and it is regarding the consideration of Request for Proposal we discussed at CIBA. Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer; Anne Burgess, Senior Parliamentary Counsel; and David Groves, Legal Counsel, have joined the meeting by video conference as witnesses. You may begin your presentation. Assume the packages you’ve sent out as having been read, so it’s over to you.

Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate, Senate of Canada: Honourable senators, at the CIBA meeting of August 27, 2020, members expressed their desire to increase transparency when making decisions on procurement processes and asked the administration to assess possible options to achieve this objective. The administration has identified three possible options and discussed them with the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure.

The first option is to continue the current practice of discussing RFP processes in camera but publish the committee’s discussion in public minutes of proceedings. The second option is to discuss non-sensitive information in public, discuss information that could impact the RFP process in camera and then return in public to conclude. The third option consists of discussing non-sensitive information in public, proceeding in camera to complete the discussion and concluding on the information that could impact the RFP process.

In conclusion, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure has considered the three options and recommends proceeding with the third option, as this procedure allows senators to discuss important matters publicly, thus adding transparency. It also allows for the confidentiality of elements that could impact the procurement processes.

This concludes my remarks.

The Chair: Gerry, do you have anything to add?

Gérald Lafrenière, Principal Clerk, Parliamentary Exchanges and Protocol, Senate of Canada: No, I think the procedural options before the committee are quite clear, so I have nothing to add. However, I’m happy to answer questions.

The Chair: Are there any questions for the CFO?

Senator Marshall: I would support option 3. I realize there are some issues that shouldn’t be raised in public, such as dollar amounts or a discussion of the evaluation criteria. Those wouldn’t be appropriate for public discussion, but I do see some merit in having a public discussion with regard to the merits of the proposals that come forward.

The Chair: Colleagues, I would remind you that we discussed this issue extensively at the steering committee. We figured that this was the best option to increase the transparency and have all the discussions in public. But when we came to vote on the motion, which included the dollar amount, we decided that we would do that in camera so as to preserve the integrity of the procurement process.

Senators, if we do adopt option 3, I caution you to be careful in not mentioning dollar amounts that may jeopardize the procurement process, and discuss any questions you wish to ask of the CFO or anyone else.

With that, and seeing no other hands up, I ask for a mover for the following motion:

That the committee begin its meeting in public and discuss all public items on the agenda, including discussions of proposed RFP processes; and

That the decision on whether to approve the RFP processes would only be taken once the committee has resumed in camera.

Can I have someone move the motion?

Senator Tannas: I’ll move it.

The Chair: Again, the clerk will begin to do a roll call.

[Translation]

Ms. Legault: Senators, we’ll proceed in the same way.

The Honourable Senator Marwah?

Senator Marwah: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Carignan, P.C.?

Senator Carignan: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dasko?

Senator Dasko: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dupuis?

Senator Dupuis: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?

Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Gold, P.C.?

Senator Gold: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Jaffer?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?

Senator Marshall: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Martin?

Senator Martin: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator McPhedran?

Senator McPhedran: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Moncion?

Senator Moncion: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Munson?

Senator Munson: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Plett?

Senator Plett: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Seidman?

Senator Seidman: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?

Senator Tannas: Yes.

Ms. Legault: We have 17 “yes” votes.

[English]

The Chair: I declare the motion carried. We are now moving on to item 3, honourable senators, which concerns a request for proposal for the procurement of standing offer agreements for workstations and peripheral IT equipment. David Vatcher, Director, Information Services, will now join the meeting by video conference as a witness.

Colleagues, now that we’ve made the decision to make the request for proposal in public, I would again remind you not to refer to dollar amounts or your personal opinion on the supplier or selection criteria as this could influence the bidding process. If the senators wish to discuss sensitive information, this should be done in camera.

David Vatcher, Director, Information Services Directorate, Senate of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable senators, I wish to obtain approval today from this committee to proceed with the competitive procurement process to establish one or more standing offer agreements for the purchase of laptops, desktop workstations and computer peripherals. The initial period will be for three years, plus two one-year options, and the estimated amounts are listed in your briefing note.

To provide some background, the Senate currently issues approximately 8 to 10 competitive processes each year for regular equipment purchases. This is time consuming and does not maximize volume discounts. We hope to streamline the procurement process and render it more cost-effective. We would also like to reduce our standby inventory and maximize warranty effectiveness. For all these reasons, ISD would like to secure standing offer agreements for the stated periods.

As you’ve read in the briefing note, our fleet of computers has shifted towards mobile units. The Senate’s workforce consists of approximately 850 people, including senators. As we continue to adopt a mobile stance, we forecast the Senate will purchase approximately 800 laptops over the next three years and replace 30 desktop workstations. Additionally, a variety of other peripherals, such as monitors, keyboards, mice and laptop docking stations are also forecasted to be required. We recognize that technology changes quickly, as sometimes do costs. As such, the two one-year options will only be exercised if beneficial to the Senate.

Our recommendation is that CIBA approves the initiation of a competitive process to establish one or more standing offer agreements for the purchase of workstations and identify peripherals with one or more suppliers for a three-year period, plus two one-year options for the forecasted amounts found in your documentation.

Thank you very much for your attention. I’m prepared to answer questions at this point.

The Chair: Senators, are there any questions for Mr. Vatcher? I see no questions. I see no hands up, so can I have a mover for the following motion — sorry, we’re going to have the motion in camera.

Senator Martin: I had one question for clarification.

The Chair: Please go ahead.

Senator Martin: It was actually in the briefing document that was provided under “analysis.” I guess it’s more of a statement to put on record that I agree that we have to purchase equipment in order to do our work in the Senate. But under the section of “analysis,” when it says that teleworking has become the new norm, I paused at that statement, wanting to understand if this is what we are anticipating. At this time, teleworking has been what we’ve had to use out of necessity, but in approving the expenditures — because equipment is absolutely necessary — I wanted to ask for clarification on that phrase.

Mr. Vatcher: Thank you very much for your question, senator. Over the past two or three years, ISD has purchased more and more laptops than desktop workstations. This is because our workforce is becoming increasingly mobile. People work from home, from different committee rooms, what have you. Of course, the last six months have sped up our efforts to move to a mobile workforce.

My crystal ball is no better than anybody else’s, but we wish to make sure the Senate is ready to do business in the future, either from a teleworking perspective or from the office.

Senator Martin: Thank you.

The Chair: I see no other questions —

Senator McPhedran: I think I did use the raise hand; thank you for recognizing my physical waving.

My question relates to the flexibility of a senator to make the decision to retain a desktop, and also to have the capacity for times when a senator comes in with their laptop and has a docking station. I’m asking this question of you, Mr. Vatcher, because yesterday I had an experience where I had back-to-back meetings and I had to rush back to my office from the Hill. I wasn’t carrying my laptop because I assumed that when I got to my office, I had the option of using my desktop. That was not the case. It had been completely disconnected, so I ended up in a situation where I was having to use my phone.

I want to thank your staff members. Someone came down very quickly to help and I was eventually able to join the call quite a bit later. I hope that the plan allows for this kind of flexibility because our schedules change very quickly and we are often mobile, even during this time of COVID. I happen to be in Ottawa so I was physically in a meeting that was conducted mostly outside.

If you could address that, please. Then I have a second question. You’re well aware of the fact that 700-plus laptops were purchased over the summer to respond to COVID, and we certainly appreciate the headphones that were provided, the laptops that were shipped to us all over the country. But many of us — many senators — have reported serious difficulties in being able to actually get online and participate. I heard you mention purchasing. You anticipate purchasing 800 more, if I’m correct in understanding that.

If you could clarify with regard to that statement, are we talking 800 more to replace the 700-plus that were purchased over the summer? If you could help me understand that decision and, in addition to that, whether the connectivity issues are to do with the laptop in many cases and not necessarily the Wi-Fi signal. That’s certainly my case; it’s related to the laptop. Have most of those issues been solved? Mine has not, but have most been solved? Thank you very kindly.

Mr. Vatcher: Thank you for your question, senator.

First and foremost, for this type of committee sitting and because of IT security and for IT security reasons, we have standardized the workstations that can connect and they must be Senate-issued workstations. We have gone to the laptop platform to allow flexibility of use in different places. I apologize for the inconvenience of not having found your workstation once back in your office. If you wish to use a workstation that is not your laptop from another place, we would have to equip it adequately with a camera and microphone. We could look into that for you, senator.

Considering the number of laptops purchased over the course of the last [Technical difficulties] and not just this past summer, the 800 laptops that we anticipate purchasing over the next three years are replacement laptops as their life cycle is three years.

Last, with connectivity issues, we follow up with every senator and team member that has connectivity issues to their resolution. I hope that answers your question, senator.

Senator McPhedran: If I may, I want to put on the record that while you were speaking, Mr. Vatcher, I lost part of what you said and a message came up on my screen telling me that my connection was unstable. I look forward to continuing to work with your team on trying to solve the issues with this. Thank you.

Mr. Vatcher: Thank you, senator.

Senator Dasko: Mr. Vatcher, I have a question about the standing offers. I assume you’ve used standing offers in the past for these kinds of services, but do you anticipate or is it the case where you would have, let’s say, only one firm being eligible after the RFP is issued and it closes? Does it happen that there’s just one firm that would have this standing offer for several years, or do you usually have a number of firms on your standing offer list?

Mr. Vatcher: Thank you for your question, senator.

In this particular situation, we would prefer to have two agreements or two firms that would answer and be eligible for us to purchase from.

Senator Dasko: Okay. Thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Lanctôt, did you have anything further to add to the procurement process?

Mr. Lanctôt: No, but on the number of agreements, we always try to have several suppliers. If one, for example, is out of stock, we can move to the next one. We will certainly be looking, as Mr. Vatcher said, to have two or three suppliers, and we have a procurement approach to distribute the purchases between qualified vendors.

The Chair: I see no other hands up so we shall proceed and go over the motion in camera.

Next we have item 4, colleagues, which is an MOU with the House of Commons for language training services. Vanessa Bastos, Lead, People, Culture and Inclusion; Diane McCullagh, Chief Human Resources Officer; and Anne Burgess, Senior Parliamentary Counsel will now join the meeting as witnesses.

You may begin your presentations and then we will open it up for questions.

Vanessa Bastos, Lead, People, Culture and Inclusion, Human Resources Directorate, Senate of Canada: Thank you, chair. Honourable senators, I’m here today to seek your approval to proceed with a memorandum of understanding the Senate currently has in place with the House of Commons for the delivery of language training services to both senators and Senate staff. To avoid any disruptions to training and to maintain language training services for staff and senators, we would like to establish an MOU for a period of five years, from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2025. The estimated value of this MOU is included in your briefing note.

The services under this MOU encompass administration of all aspects of the program, including hiring and maintaining a specialized teaching body, scheduling courses, managing registration, developing communications to promote the program, as well as coordinating logistics to be able to hold the training sessions.

As you understand, the estimated value of the MOU surpasses the threshold for sole sourcing that is permissible for the administration as set out in the Senate Procurement Policy and that’s why an exception to this policy is being sought. Some of the benefits that we envision from this motion include the fact that their training curriculum is well designed for parliamentarians in the parliamentary context, and it also reflects some of the parliamentary knowledge and expertise that the House is able to embed in its programs by being the primary provider of language training services for all institutions on the Hill. The fact that the volume of students they possess is large enough can help accommodate group training that is suited to employees’ competency levels, given that it allows them to more quickly achieve their language training proficiency.

Training services are also well adapted to the parliamentary calendar. The House offers a flexible cancellation policy that takes into account the parliamentary calendar and, additionally, the Senate only gets charged for the actual costs and services it uses. The MOU gives the Senate access to a permanent team and teaching body for language services that promotes both stability and quality in terms of the service, and consistency in terms of its training of the teachers. This model ensures that any turnover that occurs from a contractual perspective with trainers, which is quite common in this industry, is addressed seamlessly by a permanent staffing body that benefits the Senate.

Some preliminary research that has been conducted by HR and previous experience overseeing similar types of programs at other organizations lead us to know or suspect that it could be difficult to replicate a similar program to the one that the House offers at a relatively low cost for the Senate. Hence why a request for proposal process may not be in the best interest of the Senate.

Finally, I would like to conclude by stating that there’s significant value in the Senate and other parliamentary institutions leveraging each other’s expertise and infrastructure to achieve economies of scale, rationalize some of the costs and find efficiencies in the way we operate, which I believe are all principles that align with the public interest.

At this point, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, senators.

Senator Jaffer: I think they do a very good job of offering services to senators and staff, so I think we should go with the House of Commons.

I just have two things that I would like Ms. Bastos to discuss. First, I understand that during COVID and in the summer, normally they give full-time hours or four hours — I may not be exactly correct about the hours, but this time it was cut in half because of COVID. I just want to make sure there’s a way for staff who are doing the courses to catch up or be offered the rest of the course, because I understand the hours were halved.

Second, I find that sometimes they don’t have enough teachers, so they cannot give enough hours. They give us good service, but I suggest that we discuss that with them. Thank you.

Ms. Bastos: With regard to the summer period, the House of Commons had to transition much of their offerings online. It took a little bit of time until they were able to establish these services, hence why it affected the training over the summer. We’re continuing to work with the House to identify ways to resolve issues if individuals have not gotten the full training and will propose other solutions as they come forward. Certainly that is something to be considered.

With regard to the lack of access to teachers, they do have a permanent body of teachers that are part of their staff complement, but they will also contract out additional resources where necessary. Should we experience issues, I certainly encourage you to bring that to our attention so we can work with them to ensure there’s sufficient accessibility to training and teachers for senators and Senate staff.

Senator McPhedran: Ms. Bastos, thank you for the information you have given us. I would seek some clarification on the difference between what may be in the contract and what is happening de facto. My question builds on points made already by Senator Jaffer, but I’m going to be a little more specific. It’s my understanding from communications, while trying to set up opportunities to participate in this learning — is it de facto or in practice, or is it part of the contract that members of Parliament receive a primary position, and senators come second? Is that your understanding? I can tell you that has been our experience on at least one occasion and that was how it was explained to us. But could you clarify whether that’s in the contract and, if so, will you be continuing that practice in the contract, or is it something that has evolved as a de facto policy?

Ms. Bastos: There is no specification in our contract that senators take second place to members of Parliament. However, as indicated before, there could be instances where there’s a shortage of instructors and at that point, if there are any concerns, we’ll work with the House to ensure that senators are not disadvantaged in terms of being able to pursue their training, and if they are not able to accommodate it that we find other solutions to provide that service.

If that is a concern, it’s one that I would encourage you to bring to our attention because it’s part of the understanding that they’re able to accommodate the needs of senators and members of Parliament. So far, nothing has been brought to our attention, but should that be the case, we’ll ensure that we address it promptly.

Senator McPhedran: I will make sure we communicate with you next time.

Senator Downe: I see the breakdown of the cost over the last five years. I am wondering how many people participated over the last five years.

Ms. Bastos: I can tell you that on average, in the last five years, we have had 11 senators participate in training, completing an average of 229 hours of training; in terms of senator’s staff, an average of 39; and with respect to the administration, we have about 78 individuals that participate, on average.

[Translation]

Senator Dupuis: I was wondering whether a report had been prepared, at some point, on the breakdown of the use of services by senators and staff, but also on the type of services received, such as group or individual training. Is there a report available on the expenses incurred for each option, whether it’s group or individual training?

Ms. Bastos: We receive quarterly reports from our colleagues in the House of Commons. We match these reports with the list of participants. We receive all the expenses incurred for all groups, senators and employees of Senate groups, along with the administration.

[English]

The Chair: Senators, I see no other hands up on my screen, so I shall move the following motion:

That the Senate Administration be authorized to enter into a MOU for a 5-year period for a total amount of $420,000 with the House of Commons for language training services.

Senator Munson: I move the motion.

The Chair: I will ask the clerk to proceed with the roll call vote.

Ms. Legault: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable senators, we will proceed in the same fashion.

The Honourable Senator Marwah?

Senator Marwah: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Carignan?

Senator Carignan: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dasko?

Senator Dasko: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dupuis?

Senator Dupuis: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?

Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Gold?

Senator Gold: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Jaffer?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?

Senator Marshall: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Martin?

Senator Martin: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator McPhedran?

Senator McPhedran: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Moncion?

Senator Moncion: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Munson?

Senator Munson: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Plett?

Senator Plett: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Seidman?

Senator Seidman: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?

Senator Tannas: Yes.

Ms. Legault: Mr. Chair, we have 17 “yes” votes.

The Chair: I declare the motion carried.

Honourable senators, the next item concerns funding for the Progressive Senate Group. As you may be aware, the Senate Progressive Group has increased its membership from 10 to 11 senators, which qualifies them for additional funding under the Senate Administrative Rules. The purpose of this item is to determine where the additional funding is going to come from.

Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate, will now join the meeting as a witness. Pierre, do you have anything to add in terms of the budget and amounts?

Mr. Lanctôt: Honourable senators, as you can see in the briefing note, increasing the amount for the Senate Progressive Group as is calculated per SARs would increase the budget above the Main Estimates, which is why we’re looking for your advice and recommendations on how to proceed with the reallocation of funds.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: The issue at hand is not whether to authorize the Progressive Senate Group to have a budget. This complies with the rules. We must find a solution that would make it possible to not increase the budgets and that would allow the Progressive Senate Group to run. I believe that, during this special COVID-19 year, all groups and caucuses have saved money, out of necessity. For this fiscal year ending on March 31, 2021, if we expect that all groups will save money, the required budget will then be transferred to the Progressive Senate Group. The Subcommittee on Budgets is currently studying a formula that will be submitted to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration and to the various leaders. The formula concerns funding on a more regular basis for all groups and caucuses. I propose that we anticipate and provide the funding required for the Progressive Senate Group from the funds that will expire this fiscal year. If we must more clearly identify where the money is coming from, I propose that we do so on the basis of proportionality. In my view, we don’t need to identify the contribution of each group now, since we know that a significant amount of money won’t be used.

[English]

Senator McPhedran: I want to echo the approach that has been outlined by Senator Saint-Germain. I also want to ask that we become much clearer about any kind of a formula that’s being used.

We have had some significant changes. The Progressive Senate Group becoming a recognized parliamentary group is one of those changes. But the configuration of membership in the Senate is now substantially different than it has been for 150 years.

Now almost 80% of the senators claim independence and are not part of a caucus, as Conservative senators are, and are not subject to the rules that Conservative senators are, and the numbers have changed substantially in the Conservative caucus. To the best of my knowledge, and I welcome being corrected if I don’t understand this, the funding level for the Conservative caucus has not changed to reflect the decline in the numbers in that caucus relative to the rest of the Senate.

I think, before we focus on funding for one particular group, as important as that is, it is also very important that we understand the framework and principles that are being applied to making the decision, as the decision will affect all senators and all groupings within the Senate.

Senator Munson: Thank you for that, and for this wonderful consideration. It is appreciated.

I have a question for Pierre. If the money doesn’t come from other groups, where do we go to look for the money and how would it have to be approved? That’s question number one.

Mr. Lanctôt: Thank you, senator, for your question.

We could use the excess funds from the senators’ overall office budget. We anticipate there will be amounts available there, so we could use savings from committees, for example; committees that have travelled less. There are other ways to fund the shortfall other than reallocating within the group. We could look at the overall envelope of the committee groups.

Senator Munson: I’m speaking only as one member of the Progressive Senate Group and not as a member of steering of this group. If we have that kind of money, which has been saved because of COVID, I would hate to be tapping into other groups and their funding. I say that in the sense of offering some kind of permanency to the people that we’re hiring as a result of our recognition as an official group in the Senate. I would like to put that on the record.

Where the money comes from will be decided by this group, but I would hate to see it being taken from other groups in the Senate when there is another way of offering the Progressive Senate Group the amount of money that we deserve. Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Dupuis: Two issues that seem to overlap are the Progressive Senate Group and the funding criteria for parliamentary groups.

There’s a lack of transparency regarding funding for parliamentary groups or caucuses in the Senate. In the new situation created by Bill C-58, the Senate requires us to disclose information and to show greater transparency in our decisions and reports on the expenses incurred.

A situation existed and changed dramatically starting in 2016. However, this did not lead to greater transparency or to the establishment of verifiable criteria.

I believe that we must have this discussion and that the subcommittee on budgets must have this discussion. We must find a solution to accommodate everyone by March 31, 2021. This must be an opportunity to make a real decision.

The House of Commons website is very transparent in terms of the allocation of budgets and the criteria for budget items. It would be difficult to justify a continued lack of transparency.

[English]

Senator Plett: I would like to second what Senator Saint-Germain and our witnesses said at the start. There are surplus funds. The Progressive Senate Group has met the mark, and they are now entitled to the money. There is surplus money, so I think that is what should be used this time around. Who knows what March 31 will bring as far as numbers are concerned in any of our caucuses? This can be readdressed and revisited as we get closer to that time.

However, I want to also make reference to a few of the, quite frankly, very discouraging remarks that were made by another senator.

I am an independent senator. I happen to be a strong, proud Conservative, but I am an independent senator, just like everyone else on this call and everyone else in this Senate. For anybody to say that 80% of our Senate is independent, and the other 20% is not, is offensive to every senator in the chamber. I’m just as independent. Over the 11 years that I have been in the chamber, I have voted differently than some of my colleagues in my caucus; some of the colleagues in my caucus have voted differently than I have, even while I was on leadership.

The caucus that Senator McPhedran belongs to has voted 96% of the time for the government. For her to suggest that she is any more independent than I am, when she votes along the lines of the government, probably 90% plus, is ridiculous.

Our funding is decreasing just like everyone else’s. Again, if she would check the facts, our numbers are going down and our funding is going down. We have a funding formula for three of the groups that expires at the end of this Parliament. If our numbers will be down further at the end of this Parliament, and if we should not win the election, then our funding will again decrease. Everything has been done. We don’t need to revisit anything.

If we want to talk about a decrease in numbers, Senator McPhedran’s caucus has decreased by 15 this year alone. We aren’t revisiting the funding in their group, nor should we. We have a funding formula that has been set for this Parliament, and we have no business discussing that funding formula until this Parliament is over.

With that, chair, I second the motion. I believe it was a motion that Senator Saint-Germain made. If it wasn’t, then I will make the motion that the funding be taken from surplus monies that have not been spent and be transferred over to the Progressive Senate Group; and that where we get it from will be revisited at the end of March if there is not an election.

The Chair: I think we’ll deal with the motion at the end. We still have some senators with questions.

Senator McPhedran: I want to express respect for Senator Plett to be able to express his opinion and his experience.

I stand by my previous comments and I want to ask for reassurance that the wording of any motion about funding is explicit, that this is a one-time arrangement. I heard Senator Munson use the term “permanent,” and while I deeply respect the progressives and I would strongly support fair and adequate funding for them, I don’t think we should be setting any kind of precedent here that would roll over into the next fiscal year.

So I would ask for that certainty, please, with any motion that is brought to this committee today.

Senator Downe: Colleagues, I’m not sure why we’re discussing this; CIBA already decided some time ago what the allocation should be based upon the numbers and, as Senator Plett indicated, those numbers have now been met for the progressives and the money should be awarded.

Obviously, the money is there, but I’m concerned on long range — and I’m glad Senator Gold is on the call. I’m not sure why the Senate is providing $1.5 million to the person who represents the government and not the Senate in the chamber. That pot of money is referred to in our briefing note in the chart. I believe that money should come from the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister’s Office. Senator Gold is doing the work for them, not for the Senate. For example, I’m concerned that there were 76 written questions on the Order Paper when we prorogued. Of the 88 written questions submitted by various senators — Senator Pate, others, myself — only 12 were answered.

Surely, with a budget of $1.5 million, Senator Gold could do more for the Senate. If he’s not going to do that, the Privy Council Office should pay that and that money would come back to the Senate. In the short term, in this case, I support the motion before us.

Senator Munson: Briefly, back to the subject matter we’re supposed to be talking about, as the old saying goes, show us the money. The motion that is on the floor is a good motion because it’s a temporary fix, if you want to use that word. But let’s get on with it. I think it’s important. We have other matters to discuss.

Senator Saint-Germain: I want to confirm that it is a motion and that Senator Plett explained it very clearly. I insisted on the fact that it is an ad hoc situation for this fiscal year, and the Subcommittee on Estimates is currently studying the situation and has the mandate to make a proposal as for the other fiscal years. I also want to highlight the fact that each and every word used by Senator Plett to describe the current funding formula were accurate.

Senator Tannas: I want to make sure that we’ve got this clear. So we’re acknowledging the Canadian Senators Group, under the Senate Administrative Rules, as they exist, is now entitled to $460,000.

Senator Munson: That’s the progressives.

Senator Tannas: We are too, but I know what you mean. The Progressive Senate Group is entitled to $460,000 under the Senate Administrative Rules. We don’t set the Senate Administrative Rules. The Senate sets that. So this is done. They’re entitled to it; end of the conversation. The only question we need to address is where the money is coming from. Our job is to acknowledge that this money is to be paid to the Progressive Senate Group and we think it’s going to come from anticipated savings in the envelope of all the other groups.

However, unless we are going to actually force that saving, we may not have it at the end of the year; no one knows. So we should have a fallback, which is that failing there being any surplus in that envelope, it will come from other savings, of which we know we have at least $10 million, but probably more.

I don’t want us to get into a situation where suddenly somebody comes to us and says, “Oh, by the way, we’re short, it’s March 1 and we need to cut you back.” That doesn’t help any group. I want to raise the fact that we should identify the envelope of money to all groups as the first place for it to be allocated to. And if there is any more that needs to be allocated, it would go somewhere else.

[Translation]

Senator Moncion: I just want to say that there’s a set envelope for groups and caucuses and that you have this information. When funds were shared in the most recent budget, the different groups agreed to this.

One of our issues is that, if senators move from one group to another, a group that lacks legitimacy in terms of numbers ends up becoming legitimate. As a result, we don’t have a mechanism to reallocate funds. The leaders should agree on a way to reallocate the funds.

That’s why, within the formula, we must show flexibility when we review how the groups are funded. That way, the budgets will remain the same and we can work within the limits of the allocated amounts.

We fully understand that each group is legitimate and needs funds to be able to work. We mustn’t forget the principle that our budget remains set and that we must work within that budget.

I believe that, even from an accounting standpoint, we must adhere to this agreement. Otherwise, we would be taking money from other budgets that isn’t currently available, and the money tied to the current budget would increase the budget of the groups and caucuses. That’s not what we want to do.

[English]

The Chair: Senators, may I remind you that we’re talking about $60,000. It’s not a lot of money and we have a lot of surpluses in all the groups’ budgets, to the best of my knowledge. This is making a mountain out of a molehill here. We have enough room to accommodate it, so why don’t we say we will accommodate it and move on.

Senator Munson: I think it would be clearer and cleaner, Mr. Chair, as Pierre Lanctôt has mentioned, that there is surplus money there; and why put this doubt into other groups’ budgets because there could be lingering questions at the end? If it’s $60,000, the $60,000 is already there in surplus money that has been saved over the last seven months. Why don’t we make it simple and clean, and take the money from where it is at the present time? And then we can have a discussion, as time goes on, about adding it to the parameters of how many members you have to get money. To me, that would be a clean way of doing this.

Senator Plett: In essence, that is what the motion says.

The Chair: I think Senator Plett is right; that’s what the motion says.

Senator Gold: I simply want to advise senators, and all of those who are listening, that the rationale for the Senate rather than the Privy Council providing the funds for the operations of the Office of the Government Representative is to reinforce the independence of the Senate as an institution from both the House of Commons and the government.

The Chair: We should go on to voting on the motion.

Senator Plett: Call for the question, please, chair.

The Chair: Senator Saint-Germain, could you repeat the precise motion that we can vote on?

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: Here is the motion:

That, for the 2020-21 fiscal year, on an ad hoc basis, the Progressive Senate Group be authorized to receive an additional $60,000; and that this amount be drawn from the budget reserves of the various groups and caucuses, which will expire at the end of the year.

I could write it differently. It could be:

That the Progressive Senate Group be authorized to receive the $460,000 budget now that it is a recognized group.

It could start like this.

[English]

The Chair: I see Mr. Lanctôt has his hand up.

Mr. Lanctôt: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to make it precise. The amount that will be allocated for the remainder of the year would be $163,500. And the additional amount that is required for the overall budget of the group is $90,000.

The Chair: My mistake; I thought it was $60,000, but it is $90,000.

Mr. Lanctôt: I just want to make sure we all have the right numbers. Thank you.

Senator Moncion: And it’s not from the reserve but from the surplus.

The Chair: I think you are correct.

Senator Plett: From the surplus. Call for the question, please, chair.

The Chair: Can I have a roll call on that motion and proceed with the vote?

Ms. Legault: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senators, we will proceed in the same fashion as before.

The Honourable Senator Marwah?

Senator Marwah: For.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Carignan?

Senator Carignan: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dasko?

Senator Dasko: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dupuis?

Senator Dupuis: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?

Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Gold?

Senator Gold: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Jaffer?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?

Senator Marshall: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Martin?

Senator Martin: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator McPhedran?

Senator McPhedran: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Moncion?

Senator Moncion: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Munson?

Senator Munson: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Plett?

Senator Plett: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Seidman?

Senator Seidman: Yes.

Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?

Senator Tannas: Yes.

Ms. Legault: Mr. Chair, we have 17 “yes” votes.

The Chair: I declare the motion carried.

Senators, we move on to item 6, which is other matters. Do senators wish to raise anything under other matters?

Senator McPhedran: I would like to table for discussion the practice of sending agendas — just the agenda — to members of CIBA but not publishing those agendas for the public to see in advance of our meetings. We’ve had a number of items today where we have respected and promoted transparency and accountability. I would like to suggest for consideration of CIBA members the value — and of senators who are with us today who are not members of the committee but for the whole Senate — of having this very important committee and the agenda with all of the items that are going to be discussed, including those that are going to be discussed in camera, if indeed there’s a motion to go in camera.

I’m not talking about the details, and if there was going to be identification of a name where there might be some confidentiality concerns, I would suggest that could be redacted. But for the actual discussion that is going to take place, the fact that it’s going to take place is something that I would like to move that we decide that the agendas will be published previous to the meetings of CIBA.

I would also, with permission, like to make specific reference to items that are currently listed as confidential because they’re under the in camera portion of this meeting.

The Chair: Senators, does anybody have any thoughts on Senator McPhedran’s suggestion? Senator McPhedran, I suggest that we take this matter up with steering, discuss it and come forward with a specific recommendation for us to vote on. And we’ll do so at the next meeting.

Senator McPhedran: I appreciate that attention. Thank you.

The Chair: I see no other hands up, so we’ll now go in camera, senators.

(The committee continued in camera.)