THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 1, 2021
The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration met by videoconference this day at 12 p.m. [ET], pursuant to rule 12-7(1), to consider financial and administrative matters; and in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), to consider financial and administrative matters.
Senator Sabi Marwah (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning. My name is Sabi Marwah, I am a senator from Ontario and I have the privilege of chairing this committee.
Today, we will be conducting a virtual meeting that will start in public, with the second portion of the meeting to be in camera.
Before we begin, I would like to remind colleagues of the best practices for a successful meeting. Please keep your microphone muted at all times, unless recognized by name to speak. Senators are responsible for turning their microphones on during the debate. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of English, French or no simultaneous translation.
Should members want to request the floor, please use the “raise hand” feature.
Should any technical or other challenges arise, please signal this to the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve the issue.
I would now like to introduce the senators who are participating in this meeting: Senator Larry Campbell, British Columbia; Senator Claude Carignan, Quebec; Senator Dennis Dawson, Quebec; Senator Tony Dean, Ontario; Senator Éric Forest, Quebec; Senator Raymonde Gagné, Manitoba; Senator Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador; Senator Lucie Moncion, Ontario; Senator Jim Munson, Ontario; Senator Don Plett, Manitoba; Senator Judith Seidman, Quebec; Senator Scott Tannas, Alberta; Senator Tony Loffreda, Quebec; Senator Ratna Omidvar, Ontario; Senator Pierrette Ringuette, New Brunswick; Senator David Wells, Newfoundland and Labrador; and Senator Yuen Pau Woo, British Columbia.
Honourable senators, the first item is the approval of the public minutes from March 16, 2021, which are in your package. Are there any questions or changes? I see no hands up. I need a mover for the following motion:
That the Minutes of Proceedings of Tuesday, March 16, 2021 be adopted.
Senator Dean: So moved.
The Chair: Senator Dean moves the motion.
As a reminder, colleagues, votes will proceed in a similar fashion as the hybrid chamber does today whereby senators who wish to oppose or abstain are provided with an opportunity to do so. The absence of any opposition or abstention is interpreted as support for the motion.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand.
Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
The next item is a budget request from the Audit Committee. Shaila Anwar, Deputy Principal Clerk of Committees, will now join the meeting by video conference as a witness.
Honourable senators, you will recall that the Audit Committee submitted a budget request in February for $125,000 for the committee to hire an executive search firm to run the selection process to find candidates to be appointed by the Senate as external members of the committee, which the committee is required to have done before it can undertake its audit work. I understand the committee recently completed a competitive process and has hired Boyden Canada. However, we are now at the start of a new fiscal year, so the committee has submitted a new budget for CIBA’s approval. The new budget is identical to the old budget.
In addition to the budget, the committee has also submitted an emergency funds request for $10,000. Emergency funds are permitted under the SARs for precisely this type of situation, which is when a committee requires funds before they have a budget adopted by the Senate. I will note that once the budget is approved by the Senate, the $10,000 will be drawn from that budget, so in a sense, the emergency funds are like an advance on the committee budget. Given that the Senate is not sitting for another two weeks, the committee needs some funds to continue with this process.
As usual, a presentation will be followed by time for questions. It is my understanding that Senator Wells will present the two requests and that Shaila will assist in answering questions.
Senator Wells, you may begin your presentation.
Hon. David M. Wells, Senator, Senate of Canada: I have nothing to add to that. I’ve already been in front of CIBA steering with the initial request that was approved a few months ago. This is an exact same request for a new fiscal year. We did not expend any funds in the last fiscal year.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any questions for Senator Wells? Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That the budget application for $125,000 for the Audit Committee for the fiscal year ending March 2022, along with the committee’s request for $10,000 in emergency funds be approved.
Senator Marshall: I so move.
The Chair: Senator Marshall so moves. If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried. Thank you, Senator Wells.
Senator Wells: Thank you, colleagues.
The Chair: The next item concerns the Senate’s standing service agreement with Public Services and Procurement Canada, PSPC. Caroline Morency, Director General of Property and Services Directorate will join the meeting now via video conference as a witness. You may begin your presentation, Ms. Morency.
Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, Senate of Canada: Honourable senators, today I am seeking your approval for expenditures related to the mandatory services provided by the PSPC in Senate-occupied buildings. You have a briefing note on this item in your background material.
As the designated custodian of the Parliamentary Precinct, PSPC is mandated to provide building maintenance services such as operation, maintenance and management services for all mechanical and electrical systems, base-building work and other components of the Senate’s facilities. This includes minor accommodation, construction and renovation projects.
These services are provided to us under sole-source contracts. Over the last five years, we have spent approximately $570,000 with PSPC. Annual expenditures have varied due to the cyclical nature and timing of small-scale construction and renovation projects. But generally speaking, we spend approximately $100,000 per year on PSPC services.
For 2021-22, we’re seeking approval to spend $205,000 on PSPC services. This amount is higher than usual and can be attributed to the rental of additional simultaneous interpretation booths midway through the 2020-21 fiscal year to accommodate health and safety requirements from the Translation Bureau in their support of Senate Chamber and committee proceedings during COVID-19. There are no funds allocated for this request; however, we will work with the Finance and Procurement Directorate to reallocate funds in support of this request, if necessary.
If there is an ongoing requirement for additional simultaneous interpretation booths beyond this fiscal year, we will investigate options for this service and determine if a request for new funding should be made through the Main Estimates process.
I would now be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any questions for Caroline? Seeing none, can I have a mover for the following motion:
That the Senate Administration continue to proceed with sole-source contracts with Public Services & Procurement Canada for the provision of base-building maintenance, equipment rental fees, and standard accommodation construction projects for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, whose aggregated costs are estimated at $205,000.
Senator Forest: I so move.
The Chair: Senator Forest moves the motion. If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried. Thank you, Caroline.
Colleagues, next is Item 4, which concerns the Senate’s memorandum of understanding with the Translation Bureau for translation services. This item is for information only. Marie-Ève Belzile, Deputy Principal Clerk, will now join the meeting as a witness. Do you have any comments to make, Marie-Ève?
Marie-Ève Belzile, Principal Clerk, Committees Directorate, Senate of Canada: Good afternoon, senators. The Senate has an agreement with the Translation Bureau, the purpose of which is to outline the roles and responsibilities of the parties to the agreement as they pertain to linguistic services. This agreement has no legally binding effect, as the Translation Bureau provides services as per its statutory obligations under the Translation Bureau Act. It is a tool to ensure good communications and manage performance against service standards, resource requirements, client relationship and quality assurance measures.
This agreement was established in 2015 for a five-year term, with a clause that allows for successive extensions of one year until a new agreement is signed. The agreement was extended last year for a year, as there was work left to do to finalize the provisions of a revised agreement.
The purpose of the briefing note you received today is to inform you that the agreement will once again be extended by a year, under the same conditions, to include the lessons learned from the pandemic in that revised agreement that will be valid for another five-year term.
In the meantime, I can confirm that the lines of communication between the Senate and the bureau have remained open. We have regular meetings and challenges are discussed and resolved as they arise.
As per previous practice, a representative from the bureau and I, as the new Senate liaison person with the Translation Bureau, will be happy to meet with you again later this spring to provide an update on linguistic services.
I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any questions for Marie-Ève? I see no questions. Thank you, Marie-Ève.
Colleagues, next is Item 5, which is a request for proposal for the procurement of printer maintenance services. Again, Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, will join the meeting as a witness.
Colleagues, as we’re discussing an RFP in public, I would like to remind you not to refer to dollar amounts or your personal opinion on the supplier or any selection criteria as this may influence the bidding process. If senators wish to discuss sensitive information, this should be done when we go in camera.
Ms. Morency: Thank you, chair. The next item I would like to present relates to printing equipment maintenance. Again, I believe you have a briefing note on this item in your background material.
My directorate operates the printing services unit, which provides a wide range of printing products and services, such as document production, digital copying, as well as layout and graphic design services to senators and their staff, committees and the Senate Administration. Prior to the pandemic, we produced approximately 730,000 black and white and more than a million colour impressions per year.
In 2018, we procured four new, more modern and efficient digital printers, which operate under a cost-per-copy pricing model. A contract is in place for the cost of toner and maintenance based on the number of pages printed per machine. This contract expires on September 30, 2021.
Today, I’m seeking your approval to proceed with a competitive process to establish a new contract for the provision of printer equipment maintenance over a three-year period, with two option years.
The funds for this request are already allocated within the existing directorate budget.
I would now be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any questions for Caroline?
I see no questions. We will now continue with the rest of our public items and we will formally approve the RFP in camera.
We are now moving to Item 6, which is a presentation from the Subcommittee on Senate Estimates concerning the allocation of caucus and group and house officer budgets.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate; Nathalie Charpentier, Comptroller and Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate; and Marie-Ève Belzile, Principal Clerk, Committees Directorate, will join the meeting as witnesses.
Senator Moncion will be making some opening remarks and Pierre and Nathalie will assist in answering any questions.
Hon. Lucie Moncion, Senator, Senate of Canada: In August 2020 and again in December 2020, after the opening of the Second Session of the Forty-third Parliament, your Subcommittee on the Senate Estimates was given a mandate by the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, CIBA, to review the formula for determining the allocations of caucus/groups and house officer budgets with a view to establishing a fair and consistent approach to budget determination.
Further to this order of reference, your subcommittee met on a number of occasions. It heard from all leaders in the Senate and prepared a report that was circulated to members of CIBA in February 2021.
The report detailed your subcommittee’s observations during its study, described the methodology applied by the subcommittee, outlined a set of guiding principles and analyzed answers to a series of questions asked of all the leaders prior to their appearances to direct its work and provide recommendations.
Subsequent to the determination of the report in February, the leaders of each of the five groups met again with your subcommittee to discuss the recommendations of the report and the allocation of funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Leaders were provided with an opportunity to comment and express their concerns. As a result of these discussions, your subcommittee cannot recommend the adoption today of a durable formula that will be sustainable over time and adaptable to changes in the Senate. Nevertheless, your subcommittee believes that the work that was accomplished and included in its report should form part of the record, as it will be valuable to the next Subcommittee on the Senate Estimates in their work to make recommendations for changes to the finance rules included as an appendix in the Senate Administrative Rules and recommend a permanent formula.
In accordance, your subcommittee proposes a revised allocation of funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year that demonstrates prudent management of public funds, and respects budget balance and equity for all groups.
Based on its most recent discussions with the leaders, your subcommittee recommends that the following budget allocation for the 2021-22 fiscal year be adopted: for the Government Representative Office and the Independent Senators Group, $1,308,154; for the opposition party, the Conservative Party of Canada, $1,279,792; for the Progressive Senate Group and the Canadian Senators Group, $500,000 respectively. That comes to a total of $4,896,100.
I would like to take a moment to thank the members of the subcommittee — senators Marshall, Saint-Germain, Munson and Tannas — for their collaboration and their availability. We have had a number of meetings on the issue, and we have worked conscientiously to make a recommendation to CIBA.
I would also like to thank Marie-Ève Belzile, as well as everyone supporting her in her work. We have really appreciated your constant support and your utmost professionalism. I respectfully submit this report.
Senator Plett: I have a couple of questions. Let me preface my questions with thanking the committee. As the chair said, we were invited to make a couple of presentations as well. I am not unhappy with the allocation our group is given. And I’m not sure that I’m unhappy with the ISG’s or the Progressive Senate Group’s or Canadian Senators Group’s allocations. I have a bit of an issue with the Government Representative, who has a group of three, that he would get the amount of money he gets. However, I’m not arguing against that either. It’s an observation. I think there is some kind of inequity there.
Be that as it may, my two questions are as follows: The chair said that the subcommittee had not been able to reach an agreement. I was of the opinion that the committee had reached an agreement on the first numbers that we were given, and somehow their ideas were changed by meeting with the leaders. I would like that answered, whether there was an agreement at some point, and then leaders influenced the committee to not have an agreement anymore.
Second, I think the chair said they couldn’t make a recommendation, but this looks to me like a recommendation, though. I’m not sure whether I just lost something there. I’m not going to argue against the allocations that are here. I made my observation about the GRO; I maintain that.
As I said to the subcommittee when I was there, I thanked them and said we were happy with the allocation we were getting. I quite frankly could understand some of Senator Woo’s concerns that he raised. However, I also said that I didn’t believe it was my job to give Senator Woo money from our allocation. That was the only thing that I was opposing there, not that he not get the allocation that he has here.
Chair, thank you for the work you have done. I’m happy with the proposal that you have here, but I would like those questions answered. Did you initially have a proposal and now you are saying you couldn’t get agreement? Is this now the proposal, and where do we go from here? It took me a while to ask that.
Senator Moncion: I would like to answer the questions.
The first question that you asked, Senator Plett, was about the first agreement that we had reached. It was a recommendation that the committee was making. When we brought it back to all the leaders, some leaders had comments. They asked that they be seen again by the committee members. The committee members met with these leaders again.
If you remember, Senator Plett, we have asked every group and every caucus to provide a budget that was needed for the operations of their respective groups. We were working with this information.
There was a question of equity, again, as you mentioned in your comments. In meeting with the different groups on their different needs, we reconsidered at the committee level.
The other question you were asking is about the recommendation that we are unable to make. The subcommittee was supposed to come up with a permanent formula. It’s very difficult in the way that the formula is set right now, because we have to follow the SARs rules, and we are working with a $4.9 million budget. Trying to accommodate through the SARs rules and finding a formula was very difficult.
If you go back to the fourth report, you will see the amount of information that is provided and all of the items that were analyzed by the committee members. Going back to all that information, it was very difficult for us to come up with a formula that would satisfy and would be acceptable to all groups.
At the end of all this, our recommendation is only for the fiscal year of 2021-22. This process will have to be looked at again during this Parliament or the next, but we have to find a solution that is adequate for the functioning of every group and caucus.
We often hear comments about the GRO and the fact that there are only three in their caucus with the allocation of funds that are being made to the GRO. I will tell you that we were looking at every budget. We questioned every group on their staffing, their allocations and their needs. In every situation, I think that we respected the information that was provided. We worked with the numbers that we had and with the explanations that we received.
I take this opportunity to thank every leader of every group; they have been open to providing the information. They received our comments and questions, and they have answered adequately. I think members of the committee were very satisfied.
Senator Plett: Thank you, Senator Moncion. I won’t belabour it. I guess my comments stand. The other groups all have caucuses or they have groups that are fairly significant. Later on, perhaps in the in camera discussion and in other business — because it’s not on the agenda — I will be speaking about the very strange system of us having to give all of our staff 8% increases when we don’t get an increase in our budgets. That, to some of us, is very significant. I will be raising that item there; it’s not for here.
But that is one of the issues that I have, Senator Moncion; I’m saddled with an over $80,000 increase in salaries that somehow needs to be paid. Maybe the envelope should be bigger than it is, if we are expected to do this.
Nevertheless, those are comments, not questions. I thank you, chair, and your committee, for inviting us twice and taking our comments seriously.
Chair, just simply for the record, we are not opposed to what’s being suggested, and I thank the committee.
Senator Moncion: Thank you for your comments.
The Chair: I see no other hands up. I will read the motion.
It is moved by the Honourable Senator Moncion:
That the following budget allocation for the 2021-22 fiscal year be adopted:
Government Representative Office (GRO) $1,308,154
Independent Senators Group (ISG) $1,308,154
Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) $1,279,792
Progressive Senate Group (PSG) $500,000
Canadian Senators Group (CSG) $500,000; and
That the fourth report of the Subcommittee on Senate Estimates be considered a working document.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
Colleagues, Item 7 concerns the creation of an Advisory Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion Training. Vanessa Bastos, People, Culture and Inclusion Lead, and Diane McCullagh, the Senate’s Chief Human Resources Officer, will now join the meeting by video conference as witnesses.
Colleagues, before we begin, I should give you a bit of background. If you recall, we approved some anti-bias training at this committee several weeks ago. Upon advising the senators that this would be put in place, the steering committee received a letter from Senator Moodie on behalf of several members of the Black Caucus, recommending a lot of further work to be done on the whole issue of anti-racism and training basically.
Steering discussed that. We spoke with Senator Moodie at some length. We then had a second meeting with the steering committee and the Diversity Subcommittee of CIBA jointly with Senator Moodie. We discussed this and came to the conclusion that, if this work was done by the CIBA Subcommittee on Diversity, we were constrained by the fact that we have only one minority in that group. We have no members of the Black Caucus nor any Indigenous senators. Perhaps a far more efficient and fair way to do this is to create an advisory working group whereby the list of members on the advisory group could be expanded considerably to cover many different groups. Also, it wouldn’t have the same constraints as operating within the subcommittee of CIBA. This is not unique. We have done advisory working groups in the past, whether it’s on pensions or the artwork advisory group that we recently approved at this committee. We felt that was a more efficient way to try to get broader input into what needs to be done.
Vanessa and Diane, do you have anything further to add?
Diane McCullagh, Chief Human Resources Officer, Human Resources Directorate, Senate of Canada: No, senator. Thank you. Nothing additional to add. Also, just to state that Vanessa was unable to join us due to technical difficulties, but I am here to answer any questions, if there are any.
The Chair: I see two hands up.
Senator Ringuette: Thank you, chair. Why is this advisory committee only composed of senators? Shouldn’t we have staff representation on this committee? Because, essentially, it should be part of the process, from my perspective.
The Chair: Senator Ringuette, it is our understanding that staff will be consulted actively as part of the consultation process this group will undertake. Philippe, perhaps you can recall whether one of the members of the diversity working group is a staff employee? I can’t recall.
Philippe Hallée, Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Senate of Canada: If I may, there is already an advisory working group on diversity that has just been created in the last couple of weeks that is made up of employees of the Senate. It was not meant to be two working groups initially. It was meant to resuscitate the working group of employees that had existed some years ago, and then came the idea of this working group as a result of the decision of CIBA a few weeks ago. They can obviously work together and consult each other. That’s something that can be facilitated for sure.
The Chair: It is certainly the expectation I have that the staff will be actively consulted as part of the many other groups that are going to be consulted during the process.
Senator Plett: Under whose orders or directions was this working group of staff members started? Did the staff just all of a sudden decide they would put together a working group on diversity, or was that a direction from CIBA? I don’t recall CIBA having discussed that. That’s my first question.
The second one is more of a comment again. We approved exactly what the chair of the subcommittee asked CIBA to approve. I think we were unanimous in approving something, and then a handful of senators decided that wasn’t far enough; not senators that are on CIBA. Other senators said that wasn’t enough, and here we are, let’s then start another group.
I hope this will be taken in the context that is intended and not be taken out of context, but I quite frankly think for steering to come forward and say, “We are now going to form another group” or asking for approval to form another group without further discussion is premature, and I’m certainly not in favour of it.
The Chair: Vanessa or Diane, do you want to answer the first part of the question?
Vanessa Bastos, People, Culture and Inclusion Lead, Human Resources Directorate, Senate of Canada: Absolutely, senator. I apologize for the delay. I had a few technical issues.
With respect to the working group of staff, this was a group that was revived in consultation with the Diversity Subcommittee. The intent was to resurrect a group that had existed in the past and had supported the implementation of various initiatives that aim to drive at improving diversity and inclusion across the Senate.
Their work would really be focused on marking some notable moments and events in the calendar, such as Indigenous Awareness Week or events such as pride, which is coming up in the next few months. The goal would be that it would work in consort with the DVSC, the Diversity Subcommittee, to be able to drive other initiatives that could have an impact in terms of strengthening diversity and inclusion at the Senate.
Senator Plett: Thank you for that answer, but I guess my question is still, chair, since when does a subcommittee have the authority to go and direct anybody to start something? I thought that had to come through — I’m the chair of Long Term Vision, and we make decisions there, but before any of those decisions are implemented, it comes to CIBA for approval to implement any of the decisions that we make at our subcommittee. Is that not the normal process?
The Chair: Pascale or Phillippe, do you have any comments on that, in terms of is this within the mandate and authority of the subcommittee? Senator Jaffer, welcome.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you, chair. I could stand to be corrected, but I think that one of the recommendations in our previous report was to have that committee.
Senator Plett, I definitely stand to be corrected, but I think that was approved by CIBA. It was one of the recommendations.
Senator Plett: I would like that checked because I don’t recall that, and I was very much part of making comments on your report the last time. I do not recall that we approved any working group.
Senator Jaffer: No, senator, you’re right, it wasn’t from there. It was from the second report that was a number of years ago. It wasn’t last time, but it was a number of years ago. May I ask Vanessa to check? I don’t have the reports in front of me.
Senator Plett: It would have been in a different Parliament, in any event, not in this one.
Senator Jaffer: Yes, you’re right.
The Chair: Why don’t we take that question offline and we’ll get more clarification on the authority of setting up that working group and bring it back to the next meeting of CIBA.
Are there any other comments from anybody else? Senator Omidvar, you had your hand up and then you put it down. It’s up now. Please go ahead.
Senator Omidvar: I never put it down, but that’s okay. Thank you for recognizing me.
I have two short questions of clarification. One, does this advisory group to the Subcommittee on Diversity have a specific time frame? It says on the recommendation that it will submit its findings by June 30, so it’s a limited scope, limited time. Can I get some clarification?
The Chair: You’re absolutely correct.
Senator Omidvar: My second question is around the Subcommittee on Diversity itself. Are there any rules that prevent senators from attending these meetings as non-voting members of the subcommittee?
The Chair: It’s up to the subcommittee to decide, I would imagine. But the advisory group, I would imagine it would be open to anybody.
Senator Omidvar: No, I’m talking about the Subcommittee on Diversity itself. Are senators able to attend those meetings who are not members of that subcommittee and not members of CIBA?
Senator Jaffer: As Senator Omidvar knows, in the past, the subcommittee has invited people to the subcommittee meetings or has welcomed people who would like to attend.
At this time, because of having issues of rooms and all of that, just the subcommittee met, but, of course, the subcommittee welcomes anybody who’s interested in attending.
Senator Omidvar: But how do we know you’re sitting? This is part of the problem with the really important work that all of CIBA does. Because of the constraints around information, which I appreciate, we actually don’t know, Senator Jaffer, when your subcommittee is sitting.
I, for one, would like to attend, as you have invited me in the past, but now we have an advisory group where certain members will be selected. I’m looking for some openness and dialogue here. I support the establishment of this working group, but more importantly, I want to promote openness, participation and inclusion of senators in the very important work that you are doing at the subcommittee.
The Chair: Senator Omidvar, I’ve just been advised that senators have to be invited to any meeting of a subcommittee, so we shall take your comments under advisement and figure out whether that’s something we may wish to change.
Senator Omidvar: I would welcome that, thank you.
Senator Dean: I want to move the adoption of the motion, chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, before I move the motion, are any other comments anyone wishes to make? Then I shall read the motion.
Senator Dean moves:
That the Advisory Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion Training be established and authorized to examine issues relating to racism, diversity and inclusion training and to report their findings and recommendations to the Subcommittee on Diversity;
That the advisory working group be composed of up to seven senators from equity-seeking groups from each recognized party and recognized parliamentary group and include at least one non-affiliated senator;
That the advisory working group elect a chair from among its members;
That the advisory working group only meet when at least three of its members are present;
That the advisory working group work based on consensus, proceeding by vote only when consensus cannot be achieved;
That the advisory working group invite up to six external subject-matter experts to participate in relation to its work;
That the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration’s authority to reimburse witnesses for their reasonable travelling and living expenses be conferred on the advisory working group to reimburse the reasonable travel and living expenses of the external subject-matter experts; and
That the advisory working group report its findings to the Subcommittee on Diversity no later than June 30, 2021.
Honourable senators, I would also request that when the names of the senators have been finalized by Senator Moodie, that steering authorize the appointment so we don’t have to wait for the next meeting of CIBA to proceed. If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. I think, Senator Plett, you said you do not support it, so there is one. Anybody else?
Senator Omidvar: I have a question for clarification. It was not clear to me that it was Senator Moodie who was making the selection of the senators. Did I hear you say that?
The Chair: No, it’s done by consensus. Senator Moodie is the one who has been writing to us, Senator Omidvar. That is all.
Senator Omidvar: Will every group nominate their people?
The Chair: Yes, I expect there will be a consultative process, but there has to be somebody who takes charge and leads the process.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
The Chair: I see no other objections, so I declare the motion carried.
Honourable senators, Item 8 is a request from Senator Woo for an exception to the Senators’ Office Management Policy. Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, will join the meeting by video conference to assist in answering questions.
Senator Jaffer: Before that, may I clarify something? I think I misled you all. I had another working group in mind when I joined. I apologize, I didn’t know it was this one. What I said to Senator Plett was wrong and I apologize for that.
The Chair: Okay. Duly noted, senator. Thank you.
Senator Woo: Honourable senators, good morning to my western colleagues and to everyone else, good afternoon. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a presentation in support of the briefing note prepared by Senate Finance. The note refers to my having to stay extra days in Ottawa between March and December 2020 because of COVID-19, but it does not say why I stayed that many days.
We sat a total of 39 days between March 1 and December 31, 2020. The sitting days, however, were unlike any we have seen in a regular Senate session. Instead of following the published calendar of sitting days, we sat on an essentially ad hoc basis for that period. To be specific, we had 15 distinct blocks of sittings in that period, each block separated by at least one week. Ordinarily, I would have returned to Vancouver between each of the 15 blocks of sittings, and even more often if I returned on weekends between sittings.
COVID-19, however, meant our sittings were no longer scheduled but were at the call of the Speaker, with the call put out often within a few days of the day of sitting. This had the effect of making it impossible for me to know if I would have enough days of self-isolation before a sitting day if I travelled back and forth between my home and Ottawa. As you know, the recommended duration for self-isolation was 14 days at each end, which effectively meant that I would have needed 28 days between sittings in order to safely travel home and back again to Ottawa. All of that time would, of course, have been in self-isolation.
As it turns out, except for the month of August 2020, there was no 28-day stretch between sittings. As a result, I ended up staying in Ottawa through the summer in constant anticipation of the Senate being recalled. There were a few times when I booked a ticket to return to Vancouver only to find out a few days before my flight that the Senate was recalled for the following week. I subsequently cancelled those flights.
In July, I got fed up with sticking around in Ottawa and I returned to Vancouver. But a few days after returning home, the Senate was recalled. Since I was already committed to 14 days of self-isolation, I skipped that sitting, but I was at every other sitting between March and December 2020, and as a result spent far more days in Ottawa than in a normal year.
Some of you are aware that I had surgery last year at the Ottawa Heart Institute. That procedure was done in late August and I took off about six weeks from work. The time between my operation and my return to the Senate in mid-September was entirely on my own account and is not part of the claim that you are considering today. That said, the fact that I had a heart condition made me want to take even more seriously the public health advice against air travel, both before and after my surgery.
As the memo from our Finance Directorate explains, section 7.10.4 of the SOMP states that:
A senator may stay in the Parliamentary District for a weekend between two sitting weeks if the cost is not greater than the round trip between the senator’s provincial/territorial residence and the Parliamentary District.
I don’t know what the imputed cost of a round-trip ticket between Ottawa and Vancouver is, but I am sure that 15 round trips — to use a very conservative estimate — would be significantly more than the incremental living expense allowance that I am requesting today. Thank you again, honourable senators, for the opportunity to present. I’m ready for your questions.
Senator Plett: I’m sorry that I’m taking a lot of time here today. Again, I am not initially opposed to this, but I do have a couple of questions.
A year or two ago — and Senator Moncion will be able to fill us in because she was chair of the committee — we adopted a policy, which I think it started off at my request, because I was staying extra days in Ottawa as a result of my duties, and I was running out of living allowance time. Certain senators, depending on what committees they sat on and their leadership positions, and so on and so forth, got a bump-up. I don’t know what it was; maybe $7,500? Senator Moncion is nodding, so maybe that is the right number.
Senator Woo makes a good point at the end that the cost of flying back and forth to Vancouver would have exceeded $5,000, without question. But I would like to know whether the $5,000 would be over and above that $7,500 or whether Senator Woo never qualified for some reason for that $7,500, because I would have thought in his position that he should have.
One argument that I do want to counter — I think we need to be careful and many of us have used this argument to no avail — that when we are coming to Ottawa from other places, for example, some of us winter in Florida in other winters than this one. For example, last winter I drove from Florida to Ottawa instead of flying to Manitoba and then driving or flying from Winnipeg. I can legitimately charge mileage if I drive from Winnipeg to Ottawa but not from Florida to Ottawa, even if it’s less money. So we need to be careful that we don’t use that as the argument, Senator Woo. I do support the fact that you are absolutely right; it would have cost more money. These are questions I have for clarification. I’m certainly not going to oppose the request here because, quite frankly, I accept the explanation.
Senator Moncion or Senator Woo, if Senator Woo didn’t have that $7,500 uptick, my opinion is that he would have qualified for it.
The Chair: Pierre, could you respond to the $7,500? Senator Moncion, were you going to clarify the $7,500?
Senator Moncion: Yes, I was. There are conditions that need to be met in order for any senator to have access to that $7,500, and it is when we sit over a certain amount of days, because the calculation is based on 75 sitting days. So in this circumstance, it does not apply because we haven’t sat more than 75 days. But these are exceptional circumstances because of the pandemic. These are two different situations.
Senator Plett: Thank you. That’s fine.
The Chair: Are there any other questions? I don’t see any other hands up. Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That Senator Woo’s living expenses budget be increased by $5,249, for a total annual budget of $31,049.
Senator Moncion moves the motion.
If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
We’re moving on to Item 9, which concerns the creation of a prayer or meditation room in the Senate of Canada Building. Again, Caroline Morency, Director General of Property and Services, will join the meeting by video conference as a witness. Caroline, is there anything you wish to add to the briefing note?
Ms. Morency: Nothing in particular. I do have some speaking points. If you wish me to go over them, I would be pleased to do so.
The Chair: I think some of us have been down here before but some may be new, so why don’t you go over a few points, Caroline.
Ms. Morency: Thank you, chair. During the design of the Senate of Canada Building in 2012, a meditation/prayer room was envisaged within the SCB. However, the creation of the ISG in 2016 led to a reallocation of the space in the building, and the meditation/prayer room was subsequently eliminated due to space constraints.
In early 2020, at the request of the steering committee, we revisited the potential to create a meditation/prayer room in the SCB or 1 Wellington. We concluded that there was potential to have a meditation space in the room where the historic “Kitchen Accord” was reached in the former Government Conference Centre, which is situated on the fourth floor of the SCB. There was also a possibility to have a room in the Victoria Building on the first floor in existing vacant space.
These options were presented to CIBA in March 2020, where the members asked us to explore the possibility of using a space that is closer to the chamber. At the time, they identified three specific rooms for further review.
Two of these rooms are allocated to the Speaker’s office, which has confirmed an ongoing requirement for the space.
The third room, B135, accommodates a librarian from the Library of Parliament, who supports ongoing Senate operations. This room is located in a high-traffic area next to the cafeteria dining area and public washrooms, which is not suitable for a quiet meditation/prayer room.
After an extensive review of the potential spaces in the SCB, as well as consultation on these options, we can confirm that the “Kitchen Accord” room on the fourth floor is the only feasible space available in the SCB at this time. The room is vacant and could be fitted for less than $1,000, so no new funding would be required.
If this committee would like us to create a meditation/prayer room in this space, we will proceed with the fit-up this spring.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have on this item. Thank you, chair.
The Chair: I have three senators with their hands up.
Senator Marshall: This issue was discussed probably five or six years ago in reference to the “Kitchen Accord.” At that time, the Newfoundland senators on CIBA had indicated that they didn’t support converting the kitchen into whatever because former premier Brian Peckford, who was a participant in the patriation agreement, said this issue of the accord being done in the kitchen was a fallacy, that it wasn’t correct. So at the time we discussed it back in 2015, Newfoundland senators on CIBA didn’t agree with it. Former premier Brian Peckford also wrote Senator Nolin at the time to express his disagreement with what was being planned.
We’re going to use that room now for a prayer room, I would support that.
Senator Munson: Thanks to Senator Marshall for that intervention. No matter how you interpret history, I did witness something taking place in that room many years ago, and there could be different interpretations of what took place in the constitutional talks.
We do need, from time to time, especially during this time, a place to pray or to meditate. I feel that because of where we’re at as a society, this is central to who we are, also as a nation. I have been the person who has been pushing this whole issue of doing it here in the Senate of Canada Building as opposed to having to walk to the East Block or any other place. I find that when we were in the Centre Block, each of us from time to time needed a moment to meditate or to pray. That was being done in the small room beside the Aboriginal Room in the Centre Block. For that reason, I think we certainly need this room.
Senator Jaffer: Historically, when I arrived in the Senate, we didn’t have a room. I was approached by many employees saying they have no place to worship. Some of us pray five times a day. I had approached CIBA, and that room in Centre Block was assigned. I really appreciate the support of Senator Munson, Senator Marshall and Senator Tannas in creating this room, because it enables us, while we are working, to take a few minutes to say our prayers. I appreciate that very much.
The Chair: Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That Room 428 in the Senate of Canada Building be converted into a meditation/prayer room.
Senator Munson moves the motion.
If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand.
Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
Caroline, there’s one other issue I want to point out in this regard. Somebody mentioned to me that the room may be used by the pages for whatever reasons they want to use it. We should make sure, if that’s the case, we find an alternative home for them.
Moving on to Item 10, it is my honour to table the Fifth Report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure concerning the quarterly financial report, QFR, of the Senate of Canada Building for the quarter ended December 31, 2020.
Pierre Lanctôt, CFO, will join the meeting as a witness.
I should mention that steering reviewed the QFR as the Audit Subcommittee was not recreated this session, and the new Standing Senate Committee on Audit and Oversight is not fully organized. Once the Audit and Oversight Committee is fully organized, it will study all future QFRs.
Pierre, is there anything you wish to add? It looks like we’re in a great surplus, but go ahead with any comments you may have.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate, Senate of Canada: Thank you, senator. Actually, I don’t have other comments. The year is almost over now, and we will be finishing close to the forecast, so we have a surplus that we have been using to the best extent possible during the year.
The Chair: Just for the record, you can say what the surplus was at the end of the year since the QFR 3 is no longer applicable. How much was the final surplus? Do you have an estimate?
I think QFR 3 was around $13 million, so I assume the final year-end would be between $10 million and $13 million.
Mr. Lanctôt: We’re about $15 million.
The Chair: Okay. Colleagues, for the record, that was a surplus for the Senate for the last fiscal year since we are in the new fiscal year now.
Thank you, Pierre. We look forward to seeing you back in a couple of weeks with the final numbers for the year.
Senator Moncion: I have a quick question. Since steering has been looking at the quarterly financial reports, will they also look at the year-end report?
The Chair: I would imagine we would have to, Senator Moncion.
Senator Moncion: I’m glad Senator Marshall is part of your group because she will be looking into some of the items we have issues with that are coming up in that year-end report.
The Chair: I’m banking on Senator Marshall too.
Senator Marshall: I would be looking at those statements, Senator Moncion, even if I wasn’t asked to do it. So yes, I’ll definitely be looking at them.
The Chair: Colleagues, we’re moving to Item 11.
Honourable senators, I have the honour to present the fourth report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure concerning the adoption of a Revised Information Management Policy. Steering has reviewed the proposal and is now recommending its approval.
David Vatcher, Director of Information Services Directorate, will join the meeting as a witness. Are there any comments that you wish to add to some of the salient features of the new policy?
David Vatcher, Director, Information Services Directorate, Senate of Canada: Our new Information Management Policy has been extensively updated since its last iteration in 2009. It now incorporates notions from what used to be the Information Security Policy in a single document.
The important thing to know about this policy is it deals exclusively with Senate Administration information throughout its life cycle. It does not extend to the security or handling of committee information. All parliamentary proceeding information and committee information are thus excluded from the scope of this policy until they are transferred to the Senate archives as official records.
Key changes include the reference to information on the electronic format, the clarification of security classification, new mandatory information security measures and to training for all.
This new policy will benefit the Senate and reduce costs and vulnerabilities by keeping only current information in accordance to the retention and disposition schedule and security measures. It will also foster informed decision making and facilitate compliance and transparency.
Mr. Chair, I’m ready to take questions.
Senator Moncion: Have you also checked what legal retention period is associated with various documents? For example, corporations have meeting minutes that must be retained indefinitely, while other documents have to be retained for only a seven-year period. Have you looked into that? There are archives, which may lead to a lot of paperwork having to be retained needlessly.
Mr. Vatcher: Thank you, senator. We did check with external institutions to ensure that our “RDS,” our document retention cell, would respect the rules and practices for various types of documents.
Senator Moncion: Do you have supporting documentation or is that a verification you carried out?
Mr. Vatcher: Absolutely, we have a document we call the “RDS,” the Retention and Disposition Schedule, which we could easily share with you and which we have simplified so as to retain only the information necessary to the Senate for a specific period of time.
Senator Moncion: Is that management done by a human or by a machine?
Mr. Vatcher: I’m happy to answer that the management is done by a human. That said, when we process the information, we make sure to properly identify its date of creation in order to retain it only for the prescribed period of time for that type of information. So certain systems help us eliminate information at the end of its useful life.
Senator Moncion: You have a lot of documents that will be retained on servers because you will use cloud computing to retain permanent information, right?
Mr. Vatcher: Actually, for the time being, we are not talking about using cloud computing to store information, which could be confidential. Information will be stored on the Senate infrastructure we just purchased and implemented. So we will be able to store our own information on our own servers and ensure that back-up copies and archives are created according to the best practices.
Senator Moncion: That’s reassuring. So this means that, if the equipment becomes obsolete, you will know it in advance and you will be able to migrate the information from an obsolete system to a more modern system, correct?
Mr. Vatcher: That’s correct, senator.
Senator Moncion: Your answer really reassures me. As for employee training, how will you ensure the quality of the information that will be placed in various document retention compartments? You talked about employee training. How will you ensure the quality of what is being integrated into electronic systems? You are surely very familiar with the expression “garbage in, garbage out”.
Mr. Vatcher: We are actually currently preparing training that will be given to all Senate staff. It is a short training session of about one and a half hour. The goal of the training will be to ensure that employees know what information must be retained and how that should be done. All information-related provisions will be explained during that training to ensure that the information retained is the right kind. We will also provide guidance to senators’ offices and directorates to ensure that the right information would be retained on our drives and in our infrastructure.
Senator Moncion: How will you ensure that quality?
Mr. Vatcher: We have an information management team at the ISD that works closely with the various offices of senators who request assistance, as well as with Senate directorates. We provide them with ongoing support to ensure that the information is handled correctly.
Senator Moncion: Regarding anything to do with protected documents, you talked about data encryption. You did not talk a lot about passwords. How will you ensure access and protected access?
Mr. Vatcher: Thank you once again for your question. First, access to information is really managed based on the need-to-know principle. Our infrastructure consists of various degrees of data encryption for that information. So you will have access only to your own data, the data to which you are entitled. That is based on your information and on your network account. That is how we will control what information is available and to whom. Does that answer your question?
Senator Moncion: That partially answers my question. So we are talking about protecting documents through passwords and about password management.
Mr. Vatcher: Yes. As for your work documents, we do not expect you to have to use passwords for documents to which you or your office’s employees have access, as that information is reserved for your office and is protected by our infrastructure’s access system.
The use of passwords is often implemented when we communicate with external entities. For example, a document can be protected by a password, transferred using one of our software programs, then the password would be sent by email, in a separate email, so that our collaborators would have access to the information. However, internally, in the Senate, we are currently not expecting our directorates or senators’ offices to be protected by passwords related to documents.
Of course, you have passwords related to your account or reserved for network access, as that is how we protect your documents.
Senator Moncion: Okay. I have many other questions for you.
Mr. Vatcher: I would be pleased to meet with you.
Senator Moncion: Yes, as I could keep going for another half an hour.
As I said to David, I have a lot more questions about this policy. I will meet with David in order to have more clarity on other aspects of this policy.
The Chair: Following your discussion with David, if you believe there are some changes that need to be modified, please let us know. We will see how to best handle them. Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That the fourth report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be adopted.
Senator Forest: I propose the motion, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: I think Senator Forest moves the motion. If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand.
Pascale Legault, Clerk of the Committee: Could we have someone else move the motion? I was instructed that Senator Forest has been replaced by another senator.
The Chair: Okay. I see Senator Campbell putting his hand up. Senator Forest, I think you are still here but you have been replaced. Somebody must have said something.
Senator Forest: I was not told. I apologize.
Senator Moncion: Are you sure it’s not Senator Forest-Niesing?
The Chair: No. Why don’t we let Pascale get in touch with you and let you know what is going on.
Senator Loffreda: I replaced Senator Forest-Niesing. That was the replacement.
The Chair: Senator Campbell moves the motion. I see no objections or abstentions. We shall proceed. I declare the motion carried.
Colleagues, Item 12 is a report for the Subcommittee on Human Resources on casual work policy. It is being postponed to a future meeting of CIBA.
We’ll move to Item 13. It is my honour to table the seventh report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure concerning three decisions taken by steering on behalf of CIBA since the last meeting. This report is placed before you for information. Are there any questions that I can answer?
Senator Moncion: Chair, I wanted you to explain number 3 on Item 13 where you are talking about the board information management solution. Could you explain this one? And if there is an explanation here, the translation of French doesn’t say the same thing as in English. I wanted to make sure that I understood what this item is all about.
The Chair: I think steering was discussing the possibility — administration had raised with us — of using a board management solution rather than this paper-based solution, moving to a digital world whereby everything would be sent to senators digitally. There are many board information management packages out there. We looked at several and it was presented to steering. We came to the conclusion that the timing was just not right for us to pursue it.
Senator Moncion: Thank you. Could you ask that the translation be corrected? It’s not important here because it’s not something we are going to be agreeing to, but when I read this in French, I had to look at the English version to understand that there was a discrepancy in what was written in French and English.
The Chair: Pascale, could you handle that?
Senator Plett: I have a question, chair. I was going to give a bit of a report from Long Term Vision. With the remarks I was going to make on behalf of LTVP, are they intended to be in camera or were you not aware of them?
The Chair: I was not aware of them. They are not on the agenda. If you would like to make them now, is that appropriate, without giving notice, Pascale? What is the procedure on this? I have no objection if you wish to make comments.
Ms. Legault: Senators may raise matters under other matters if they wish, so if Senator Plett wants to raise this, now is appropriate.
The Chair: Please go ahead.
Senator Plett: Thank you for giving me some time to provide what I think is a very important update. Normally, I would have presented a report on behalf of the Subcommittee on Long Term Vision and Plan, but this matter came up rather urgently and I thought it best to advise all CIBA members as soon as possible. I will try to be brief, however, it is important that senators understand the complex nature of Long Term Vision and Plan in terms of construction projects on Parliament Hill and the impact on the Senate.
As you know, the mandate of LTVP Subcommittee is to supervise all steps related to Long Term Vision and Plan, and in particular to examine the best ways to ensure that the rehabilitation of a building that will be occupied by the Senate is completed in the best interests of the Senate.
The temporary closure of Centre Block meant that some senators in leadership positions moved their offices into the Senate of Canada Building while other senators were relocated to offices in the Chambers Building at 40 Elgin. The rest remain in offices in East Block and Victoria Building. East Block is also undergoing significant rehabilitation work now, as the senators in that building are very well aware.
According to the 2012 long-term plan, senators were expecting to move out of East Block in a few years, around 2028, so it can be fully rehabilitated. A new building directly across the Hill called Block 2 is being planned, which would include a substantial number of senators’ offices, with East Block occupants being relocated into that building. Once Centre Block and then East Block construction is completed, it was expected the senators from the Senate of Canada Building, Victoria Building and 40 Elgin would then be relocated to new accommodations in those two rehabilitated buildings.
When all of these construction and rehabilitation projects are completed, all senators would be located to the east of the Peace Tower with senators’ offices in the Centre Block, East Block and possibly in a new tower at the intersection of Wellington and Metcalfe Streets across the street. This is my simplified explanation to the Senate’s long-term plan, but it is important for senators to know that a project of this size and scope is the result of years of planning and preparation.
Furthermore, this strategy has been endorsed by the Senate, the House of Commons and by cabinet, and is now expected to take up to 10 to 15 years to complete.
Recently Public Services and Procurement Canada came to our committee with a new proposal for the Senate’s consideration. We were given new information about the status of the Victoria Building and corresponding opportunity to temporarily relocate more senators’ offices to 40 Elgin. Essentially, PSPC is proposing changing the sequence of construction by advancing the rehabilitation of the Victoria Building ahead of East Block. This is a complex plan to begin with that has already undergone significant planning, complicated approvals and extensive analysis. For a project of this magnitude that has already undergone multiple layers of planning and approvals, we were actually quite surprised to be presented with such a significant change proposal at this stage.
Changing the plan now will undoubtedly have domino effects that need to be properly studied and given the significant investments involved, the subcommittee felt that it needed more time and details from PSPC before making a recommendation on the Senate long-term accommodations plan to this committee, CIBA.
The subcommittee has serious concerns about the rationale to advance the construction of the Victoria Building. We have asked PSPC for more comprehensive costing and schedule, as well as any documents related to the condition of the building for the various move sequences being proposed in the interests of ensuring the responsible and economical use of public funds.
We have also asked PSPC to look at other potential scenarios, such as advancing the rehabilitation of East Block, considering that significant work on that building is already under way.
While we believe more time is needed to properly consider the best option for the Senate with respect to the decision to advance the construction of Victoria Building or East Block, given the Senate does not possess any temporary space for senators’ office accommodations, we do not want to dismiss the opportunity to relocate senators’ offices to 40 Elgin as a temporary space during the construction or rehabilitation of Senate-occupied buildings. Given that there is a time sensitivity for PSPC to obtain the Senate’s direction on the 40 Elgin opportunity and not knowing when the next opportunity would be to present this to CIBA, I felt it was necessary to provide you with this important update today.
If members are in agreement, I would therefore like to propose, colleagues, that we advise PSPC to pursue the opportunity to lease all additional available space, including parking at 40 Elgin, to use as a temporary space for senators’ accommodations until the major rehabilitation projects on Parliament Hill are completed and that the subcommittee continues to examine the various timing and sequencing options for construction and rehabilitation of other Senate-occupied buildings. The subcommittee will be pleased to report back to CIBA once we have completed a more thorough examination of the facts.
Chair, I would be happy with that to answer questions. Caroline Morency, Josée Labelle and Julie Lacroix are all on the call as well to help answer any questions. There is some urgency in the 40 Elgin situation. But with what PSPC dumped on us the other day, our committee was not comfortable making any decisions for many reasons, cost certainly being one of them. Regardless of what we do, whether we empty Victoria Building or East Block, we are going to need 40-plus office spaces and 40 Elgin became available. As you know, we already have 17 offices in 40 Elgin and another 40 became available. With that, I’ll entertain questions.
Senator Tannas: Thank you for that, Senator Plett. It wasn’t clear to me, so maybe you could tell me if they are actually suggesting now — because Victoria Building is in what sounds like some urgent repair requirement mode — that they throw Block 2 away and we don’t ever pursue Block 2? Instead, we rush into a renovation of Victoria Building and then repopulate that building and forget about Block 2. Is that what they are suggesting?
Senator Plett: It is not forgetting about Block 2. Colleagues, I have a bit of an issue. Those of you who have served with me on Long Term Vision — and you, Senator Tannas — know some of my frustration with Public Works. No, they are not doing away with Block 2. We hear all the time they do annual inspections of our buildings. Now all of a sudden in one annual inspection, they found $28 million worth of renovations that needed to be done to Victoria Building. When I do some costing, I find that we can probably build a new building for just over that.
We were given that the other day and we simply said we didn’t believe it was a decision that could be made this quickly. But no, certainly Block 2 would go ahead regardless of which scenario we use first, Senator Tannas. Block 2 would still go ahead.
The Chair: Senators, if I may interrupt, I would remind colleagues this is in the public portion of the meeting. So if there is anything sensitive or confidential, I would be careful what we say.
Senator Plett: I apologize, chair. I won’t use numbers anymore.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
Senator Moncion: Like you just said, Senator Plett, you were provided with a lot of information on a short-term basis last week. Today we are looking at making a decision on documentation that we haven’t received and that we haven’t looked at. I understand the urgency here, but I am very uncomfortable in going forward with making a decision today if I don’t have more information. I’m in Victoria Building and this is going to affect me, so I’m looking at my own situation. I just want to be reassured that whatever is being brought forward, I understand well and I can explain it. At the moment, I don’t think I have all the information that will help me make a decision right here on the spot.
Senator Plett: The committee will do what they deem best, but let me assure you, Senator Moncion, that East Block will be renovated at some point. Victoria will be renovated at some point. That is not in question here. That is why we are saying we need to put that on hold. We need to put that decision on hold so that we can get more information, which is exactly what you are asking for. Regardless of which scenario we go with, whether we vacate Victoria Building now — and when I say “now,” that’s in four or five years from now. It’s not coming up next week that we would vacate anything. This would be in a few years from now. But whether we vacate Victoria Building first or East Block first, it’s about an equal number of offices that are affected and we have an adequate number of offices at 40 Elgin.
The opportunity to possibly lease that space became available. That is the urgency, Senator Moncion, not to decide whether or not you’re moving out of Victoria Building or whoever is in East Block moving out of East Block. This is only to allow Public Works to go and negotiate or work with getting lease space available. So we are not giving them any approval here, which is why we said the other day at our Long Term Vision meeting that this is a decision we need more time on. Without using numbers, this is simply a decision of such magnitude that it cannot be decided by a committee of five senators over a couple of hours. That part isn’t an urgency. The only urgency is the lease at 40 Elgin, which will be required regardless of where we go.
Senator Moncion: I understand, Senator Plett, the lease availability. I will advocate on agreeing with that lease because right now in the East Block, there is construction going on and it’s horrible for staff and anyone who works in that building, having to work with the noise and the repairs that are going on right now. So if there is going to be ongoing repairs on the East Block, at some point it should be taken into consideration because that’s going on right now. There is not a lot of construction. I think there is construction in the garage at the Victoria Building, but that’s about the extent of it. For the health and safety of our staff in the East Block, it’s something to think about to start transferring these staff to other buildings. That’s just my two cents here. I don’t have a lot of information to base this on other than what I see right now.
Senator Plett: Let me tell you, your two cents’ worth are the same two cents’ worth that many of us have, Senator Moncion, on that particular issue. Before I became the leader of our caucus, my office was also in East Block and I’m with you 100%. That’s why I would be an advocate for vacating East Block, but that is a decision that we can’t reach as quickly. Regardless, we have 40-some offices in East Block. We have 40-some offices in Victoria. So it doesn’t matter which way we go, we need the additional office space.
Senator Munson: Thanks for that, senator. I think that is why the entire CIBA committee needs to see the same documents that Senator Plett has just talked about. It is so that we can really take a good, hard look at what has been presented to us just the other day. We have to go there and take a look at it.
Our subcommittee did meet with them in private. Also, we should be able to have a conversation amongst ourselves so that everybody feels they’re involved.
Since I’m passing praise around a lot today and since I was talking about kindness week before a committee earlier this morning, I’d like to kindly say that Senator Plett basically leaves no stone unturned when it comes to Parliament and the Centre Block. He’s a hawk. It’s very important for us because as a committee, we are now going to be meeting our colleagues in the House of Commons, and we have to work in some kind of tandem in doing this.
In closing, I am on the Long Term Vision and Plan Subcommittee, but I have a new term now for a bunch of reasons. I’m a short-term vision planner, too, because I am leaving in about four months, and I’m thinking that when I’m 90, I’ll be looking forward to entering the Centre Block and taking a look at whoever is still around and what has taken place.
Senator Plett: I’m certainly with you there.
Colleagues, what I’m asking for is approval only to have PSPC pursue the opportunity that has presented itself to lease office space and certainly not to make a decision. We will have further meetings with PSPC, but I think it would be a good idea for PSPC to make a presentation to the entire committee. That way, you could all ask them pertinent questions.
I’ll leave it at that, unless there are other questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Plett. That was a very comprehensive presentation. Clearly, LTVP has far more information and detail than we have had the opportunity to go over. Thank you for suggesting that we’ll bring back the bigger issues to this committee at some point.
On the urgent decisions that need to be made, such as the leasing of space, I’m comfortable with the judgment that LTVP has made, that we do need additional space. Colleagues, unless any of you object, I’m okay with supporting that request from Senator Plett.
Senator Moncion: I have a little bit of concern because we need to look at costs.
The Chair: They’re pursuing the option of leasing. We’re not signing the lease until we come back.
Is that correct, Senator Plett?
Senator Plett: That is absolutely correct. But at some point they have to be able to go, and we need to give them the authority to pursue this.
By no means, Senator Moncion, are we asking them to sign a lease.
Senator Moncion: Duly noted.
The Chair: Senator Plett, I see no objections, so you have agreement to start pursuing that option.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much, colleagues.
The Chair: Is there anything else under public business or other matters, colleagues, before we go in camera? We will begin the in camera portion of the meeting.