THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 11, 2021
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), in consideration of financial and administrative matters; and, in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), in consideration of 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 the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. Welcome back, everyone. It’s really good to see you all again, even if it is only virtually. 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 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 and off during the debate.
You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of English, French or no simultaneous translation. As a reminder, colleagues, the new version of Zoom no longer requires senators listening on the floor channel to switch to either the English or French channel when they speak. Accordingly, senators may speak in either language on the floor channel.
Should members wish 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 the meeting: Senator Larry Campbell, British Columbia; Senator Dennis Dawson, Quebec; Senator Tony Dean, Ontario; Senator Éric Forest, Quebec; Senator Josée Forest-Niesing, Ontario; Senator Linda Frum, Ontario; Senator Raymonde Gagné, Manitoba; Senator Mobina Jaffer, British Columbia; Senator Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador; Senator Yonah Martin, British Columbia; Senator Lucie Moncion, Ontario; Senator Jim Munson, Ontario; Senator Don Plett, Manitoba; Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain, Quebec; Senator Judith Seidman, Quebec; Senator Scott Tannas, Alberta; and Senator Rosemary Moodie, Ontario. Welcome to all of you across the country who are viewing these proceedings.
Colleagues, the first item is approval of the public minutes from December 10, 2020, which is in your package. Are there any questions or changes?
Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That the Minutes of Proceedings of Thursday, December 10, 2020, be adopted.
I see Senator Forest moved the motion. As a reminder, colleagues, votes will proceed in a similar fashion as the hybrid chamber 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. I see no raised hands, and, seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
Senators, the next item is an update from the Subcommittee on Diversity concerning a proposal for bias awareness training for senators and staff.
Geneviève Garneau, Senior Advisor, Talent Management, and Vanessa Bastos, People, Culture and Inclusion Lead, will now join the meeting by video conference as witnesses.
As usual, the presentation will be followed by time for questions. It is my understanding that Senator Jaffer will make opening marks and then Geneviève will walk us through the proposal. Senator Jaffer, you may begin your presentation.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer, Senator, Senate of Canada: Good morning, senators. I’m speaking on behalf of the Diversity Subcommittee, and the members of the Diversity Subcommittee are Senator Seidman, the deputy chair, Senator Tannas and Senator Dean. As the chair said, Geneviève and Vanessa are also with us today to help us answer questions, and they will also have a presentation.
The unconscious bias training opportunity being proposed today consists of an online self-paced e-learning course that would provide the Senate community with key foundational knowledge and skills to understand what an unconscious bias is, the different types of biases that exist, how they impact us in many aspects of our personal and professional lives, and some of the practical strategies we can use to manage our biases and reduce their negative impacts.
Our scan of the marketplace last fall confirmed the availability of professional quality e-learning products that are based on the latest science of unconscious bias and tailored to the workplace. By opting for a course that has already been developed by diversity and inclusion experts, the Senate can move quickly to offer this foundational training to senators and staff at a reasonable cost.
Indeed, our initial research suggests that a quality course may be sourced and deployed to all senators and Senate employees for under $15,000 before taxes.
The e-learning courses we explored range between 60 and 90 minutes in duration. If approved and endorsed today, Senate Human Resources will work closely with procurement to secure a qualified provider through a competitive procurement process with a view to deploy the course to the Senate community by spring 2021.
Senators, this course will not be mandatory and it will be for the staff and senators. I will ask if there are any of the Diversity Subcommittee members who want to add anything to what I have said. I don’t see anything.
By way of background, senators, we’ve been working on this since last April. There have been different versions of this, and we believe this is the best version for the Senate to look at. Thank you, senators. We will now go to Geneviève, who will present further.
Geneviève Garneau, Senior Advisor, Talent Management, Human Resources Directorate, Senate of Canada: Thank you very much, Senator Jaffer. Good morning, senators.
Indeed, we are proposing an online self-paced e-learning course in order to address this important topic. We acknowledge that this type of course is essential in achieving meaningful progress in tackling issues of discrimination and anti-racism at the Senate, and that it is part of a multi-pronged strategy that we proposed in order to address diversity and inclusion at the Senate.
As Senator Jaffer outlined, if approved today, we will be looking at quality products that are available in the marketplace in order to source such a course and to deploy it as early as this spring.
At this time, senators, I would be happy to answer any specific questions you may have on this initiative and how it may fit in our longer-term plans.
The Chair: Colleagues, I’ll open it up for questions.
Senator Frum: I understand from Senator Jaffer that this course would not be mandatory, but that it’s for senators and their staff. I want to understand the protocol to ensure that a senator does not compel a staff member to take this course if a staff member doesn’t want to. How do we ensure there’s no coercion of staff members who will be forced to take the course if they didn’t feel they needed to take the course?
Ms. Garneau: If I may start to answer that question, I believe on our end, on the side of HR, we will be marketing the course as voluntary and certainly not be exercising any specific pressure. We may encourage our employees and senators to do the training, but there will not be a mechanism to force anyone or to monitor closely to suggest that anyone should be forced. We really hope that by providing a very quality course and simply offering it, those who are very interested in the matter and who seek to expand their knowledge on diversity and inclusion matters simply have the opportunity to do so.
Through word of mouth and by providing a quality experience to those learners, we hope the word will spread around and people will opt in on their own terms. If they do not, there will be other ways in which we can provide diversity and inclusion materials to all of our Senate community.
I don’t know if Vanessa would like to add to my response.
Vanessa Bastos, Lead, People, Culture and Inclusion, Human Resources Directorate, Senate of Canada: No, I think it’s precisely that, Geneviève. We have no intent to monitor completion. We will certainly have some statistics available if the question were to be asked, but we will not do extensive follow-through to verify who has or hasn’t attended.
To Geneviève’s point, we also want to ensure that this is one option amongst other ways of diversity and inclusion training that will be accessible to individuals and that by virtue of doing that, we hope to pique the interest and have individuals participate, seeing the benefits that this can bring in terms of strengthening the inclusion and respect in our workplace.
Senator Frum: That’s a good answer. I just want to be clear on that last point about collecting statistical information. I presume that you’ll maintain confidentiality and anonymity for those who participate.
Ms. Bastos: Absolutely. We will be providing general information in terms of the number of participants, but nothing further that would identify who the individuals are that actually attended the course.
Senator Frum: Thank you.
Senator Marshall: My question follows up on Senator Frum’s, but from a different angle. Why was it decided that individuals would be strongly encouraged to take the course as opposed to making it mandatory? The harassment training was mandatory. Could somebody address that issue? Why have we stepped back and are not making it mandatory?
Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much, Senator Marshall, for asking that question. The committee struggled with that very much. We felt that at first, we did not want to make it mandatory and just encourage people to take it. Also, we did not want a negative reaction from senators or the public that we thought there were any biases in the Senate. But I myself have biases; we all have biases. We felt that this was a better way.
Geneviève and Vanessa can also tell you this, but there are all kinds of studies to say that it’s better not to make it mandatory. It’s more effective not to have mandatory training.
Geneviève, or Vanessa, do you want to add anything further?
Ms. Garneau: Precisely to your point, Senator Jaffer, the studies we have looked at do suggest that it’s most effective when people have the opportunity to opt into the training as opposed to feeling like it’s imposed. We do want this topic to be a safe topic for people to learn about and to inquire about, and we want to do that by providing the option, the opportunity. In terms of adult education, it’s always best for the learning experience to not feel coerced or that it is being imposed upon them.
Senator Marshall: Did I understand you correctly that there won’t be any tracking as to who opts in? Will it just be statistics or names? How will you track it?
Ms. Garneau: I believe Vanessa was able to answer part of that question. Indeed, we will not be tracking specific individuals but, rather, looking at completion rates, which will maintain the anonymity of the participants.
Senator Marshall: Thank you.
Senator Moodie: I wanted to continue on the questioning around the decision to make this a voluntary versus mandatory course. Could you shed some light? When you started to look at the standard of practice and the state of diversity training within Canada, across other sectors, what did you come up with when you did your research on whether or not voluntary versus mandatory is the standard of practice? I understand that you found some studies that suggested otherwise, but I’m wondering what evidence you found on the standard of practice across Canada on offering diversity training within organizations.
The second part of my question is more a request. Could I ask for these studies to be forwarded to me, Geneviève, so that I can also look at them myself? As a committee, when you obtained research and when you considered this issue, can you shed some light on what you found?
Ms. Garneau: Absolutely. The research we conducted consisted of reading various research papers and scholarly articles, some of them from the Harvard Business Review, some of them from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. I’ll be happy to share those articles with you, senator.
Some of the findings we saw are that there are different aspects to making this training effective in the workplace. One of them is making it optional, but there are other aspects to make sure the objectives we have for the training are realistic. This type of training is very much effective if it’s meant to raise awareness and build the skills of the learners involved.
We also saw that the design of the training is very important as well. This includes the way we approach the matter, making sure it’s not in a context of blame or shame but, rather, as an open dialogue and a safe space for people to engage in conversation.
We also note that when people in authority endorse the training and take it, this can also help boost its effectiveness as people will be more attentive to the subject matter, be more open to the content and see it as a positive thing to do.
In terms of the state of diversity and inclusion training across Canada, we know that this type of training is being deployed across many workplaces, not just on unconscious bias training. Many organizations are now providing general foundational training related to diversity and inclusion, but they also address key topics such as cultural competence and specific training on the realities and contexts of different equity groups or minority groups.
Senator Moodie: Can you comment on whether or not that is predominantly voluntary, or is it mandatory in these organizations that you surveyed?
Ms. Garneau: We know that in the Public Service of Canada, for example, there are various training modules that are available on a voluntary basis for public servants on unconscious bias training and other diversity and inclusion themes. I cannot speak to all of the different workplaces and whether they provide it as mandatory or non-mandatory. Some may be opting to make it mandatory. Sometimes we do that in order to show a clear commitment or a strong stance on a key topic. But we can ascertain that when that is the decision that is made, it can have a negative impact on the learning experience, and it can actually be counterproductive in terms of boosting diversity in an organization.
I hope that answers your question, senator.
Senator Moodie: It does. Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I wanted to first thank you for this initiative, which I recognize to be a very important and useful first step in developing the much-needed institutional awareness on this issue. However, on that topic and to your earlier reference to the longer-term plan, what can we expect as a reasonable next step, and what’s projected as the long-term, multi-step initiative?
Ms. Bastos: Perhaps I can answer that, and Geneviève, feel free to comment as well.
As you know, in the past year, the Senate has been working on this initiative, but also looking more broadly at the initiatives that it wants to put in place to really look at diversity and inclusion from different lenses. Part of doing so is re-establishing a clear strategy of some of the areas in which we have an opportunity to enhance our effectiveness. For that purpose, we are first relaunching an employee-driven advisory group that will be focused on diversity and inclusion issues at the Senate. Out of this group, we also intend to conduct some kind of assessment to understand the perception and potential gaps that exist from an employee’s perspective as it relates to diversity and inclusion, and subsequently be able to address those, be it through awareness groups, creating resource communities for employees that will be ways to bridge some of the gaps where they exist or improve representation in areas where we recognize that the Senate is perhaps lagging.
One of the other aspects that we worked on with the Diversity Subcommittee is approving a long-term vision for the sustainability of the diversity and inclusion function over time, and that will also be supplemented by some training and awareness that we want to build around diversity and inclusion issues — precisely to Geneviève’s point — to continue to dialogue around some of these topics, to better understand where some of the gaps potentially exist and what can be done in concrete terms to improve our awareness and effectiveness in addressing some of these concerns. That may entail looking at some of the policies we have in place, it may entail potentially strengthening some of our management practices to be able to foster further inclusion and improve representation of groups that are not necessarily part of the Senate.
We specifically have a mandate as well to look at increasing the presence of Indigenous youth in our midst, and we’ll be putting together a program that will look to attract Indigenous youth to the Senate. It’s really a multi-pronged approach that will span over a number of years to address various aspects and facets of diversity and inclusion, and I want to anchor that by establishing some clear outcomes and goals that allow us to measure and evaluate our progress over time.
Senator Forest: Given that the course is not mandatory, although highly relevant, have you considered a communication strategy that would encourage senators and their staff to take this online training?
Ms. Bastos: I can answer this question, and my colleague Geneviève will be able to add elements to my answer. Yes, this is part of our strategy. As my colleague was saying, we have the opportunity to encourage people, through our actions, to develop their knowledge and expertise in this field. We must therefore demonstrate, through our communications, the benefits that can result from participating in this training. This will be a lever that we will use to encourage the majority of our employees and senators to participate. Subsequently, the training will give us, at the grassroots level, a common language, a common perception of the unconscious biases we all have. It will also allow us to have better conversations and more focused exchanges on other topics related to diversity and inclusion.
Senator Jaffer: I would like to add to that. Senator Forest, you brought up a very important point. What we were envisaging is that the leadership of CIBA would be a good place; if CIBA members took on the training, that would be showing good leadership. With harassment training, in my perception — and Senator Saint-Germain may correct me — at first it started slowly and then more and more people wanted the training. We are very much hoping that if CIBA, the leadership — meaning all of us here — take the leadership and take the training, it will be a good example for our colleagues. We’re thinking that the impetus will be from us all here.
Senator Moodie: Following up on your long-term plan, Vanessa, I’m wondering if you can give us a sense of what your timelines are around these. You talked extensively about the plan, but we don’t have a sense of the timeline. This is not to be provocative, but we are a bit behind the curve here as an organization, and I think understanding your strategy around timelines might be helpful.
The second question is how can we, as senators, help to ensure that this is a successful short, mid- and long-term plan? I didn’t hear you talk about us in this plan, and I’m hoping you might shed some light on that.
Senator Jaffer: Senator Moodie, I would start off by saying if CIBA approves this, Senate Human Resources will work closely with procurement immediately to secure a qualified provider through a competitive procurement process, with a view to start this course in the spring of 2021. There has been a lot of work done to get this course under way, but we now need approval.
Senator Moodie: My question was around the long-term plan.
Senator Jaffer: Sorry, my apologies.
Ms. Bastos: I’m happy to answer that, senator. With respect to the long-term plan, this is something we’re presenting and will be debriefing further with the Subcommittee on Diversity. We have a plan that is also crafted to be sustainable. We have limited resources, and we want to ensure we’re committing to things that we can fulfill within the time frames that are established. The reason for establishing a three-year plan is it allows us to be more targeted in terms of the commitments we make and it gives us sufficient time to ensure that programs and initiatives that will support our plan are well rolled out and can encompass the participation of various individuals.
The three-year plan does have different milestones. In the first year there are a certain number of things we wish to accomplish. We will build further on that in the second year. Once that plan is approved by the subcommittee, we will be in a position to share the details more publicly with the rest of the Senate.
To the second part of your question, with respect to senators and the role we see you playing, there is an intent as part of this plan to have activities — they can be forums, discussions, other types of engagement activities — that will require participation from leaders and senators. Those would be important opportunities to demonstrate the visible commitment of the senator community to diversity and inclusion, raising or sharing some of the networks and resources that you may have access to, to help strengthen dialogue around issues that are of pertinence and relevance to our community as an organization. Those would also be effective ways that senators could support diversity and inclusion, and the work that will be done by the administration jointly with the subcommittee.
Senator Frum: I want to reiterate that I’m very pleased to know this programming is not mandatory; it is voluntary, and that is a policy choice that has been made and I think it’s the right one. The reason I wanted to say something is because I think it’s very important that if that is the policy, that it be truly reflected in the communications that go out to senators and staff. What I’ve heard that makes me a little concerned is that while, on the one hand, we’ve heard that if the course is not compulsory and, in fact, it’s more effective if people come to this on a voluntary basis and the program itself is more effective — that was said — but what was also said is that people will be strongly encouraged, there will be multiple communications. There has to be consistency here in the message. It either is or isn’t voluntary. If people receive multiple invitations to attend, follow-ups, encouragement, then that stops being so voluntary. I would ask the committee to be mindful of that. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, senators. There were five recommendations noted in the briefing note, but I’ll repeat them. I think Senator Jaffer would like to move the following motion:
That the Human Resources Directorate be instructed to plan and deliver a self-paced online training course on understanding unconscious bias in the workplace;
That the Subcommittee on Diversity undertake to consult with representatives from all parties, groups and non-affiliated senators in order to seek the endorsement for this training course;
That CIBA authorizes the Human Resources Directorate to undertake a procurement process to enter into a contract with a qualified training service provider;
That senators, senators’ staff and employees of the Senate Administration be encouraged to complete this training; and
That the Subcommittee on Diversity work with the Human Resources Directorate on developing a communication strategy to ensure the successful completion of this training by April 2021.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? As always, if any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand.
Senator Frum: Again, I find the language is not consistent and clear. If it is voluntary and then it is endorsed and encouraged, that’s not voluntary.
The Chair: I think it can be voluntary and still be encouraged. It doesn’t mean you are forcing them.
Senator Frum: I agree. That’s why I would like in the motion some wording to that effect, that it is encouraged but it is understood that members of the Senate and their staff may choose not to do it. That language is not in there; it sounds compulsory.
The Chair: Why don’t I repeat one of the recommendations:
That senators, senators’ staff and employees of the Senate be encouraged to complete this training while recognizing it is voluntary.
Senator Frum: Perfect.
The Chair: Is that satisfactory?
Senator Tannas: I was only going to suggest what you suggested, chair.
Senator Plett: First of all, I wanted to echo what Senator Frum said. There is another phrase that I found a little troubling, not that the committee deal with the different caucuses or groups, but that they are seeking an endorsement.
Again, if any caucus or group is endorsing it, they will surely be asked very quickly whether or not they have encouraged or asked their members to take part. I’m not planning on voting against this motion, but I certainly struggle with that wording as well. In part of this we are saying it is voluntary, and we keep on repeating this is voluntary.
Senator Jaffer, in her comments earlier, already suggested that CIBA committee members take the lead and do this. This all doesn’t sound voluntary to me. Even though, in the end, nobody will be forced to do it, all of these phrases in there make it very difficult. I think we should try to keep this as voluntary as we can.
Again, chair, I struggle very much with that language.
The Chair: I shall rely on Senator Jaffer and the communications team to take all these comments into account when they do the communication strategy to the various senators and the groups.
Senator Jaffer: Chair, we’ve heard what has been said. We will take that into account.
The Chair: Colleagues, are we prepared to agree with the motion? I see no objections. So the motion is carried.
Honourable senators, next is Item 3.
It is my pleasure to table the Third Report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure concerning the quarterly financial report of the Senate for the quarter that ended September 3, 2020.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, will now join the meeting by videoconference as a witness. Welcome, Pierre.
Colleagues, the steering committee undertook a review of the QFR2, as the report is called in short, as the Audit Subcommittee was not created in this session and the new Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight is not yet fully organized. Once the Audit and Oversight Committee is fully organized, it will study all future QFRs of the Senate.
I will summarize a few points. The Senate is forecast to spend $97.8 million in fiscal 2020-21, which represents 85% of the $115.6 million budget. The overall surplus of $17.8 million is mainly attributable to the following: a $9.1 million surplus from lower spending with respect to the senators’ office budgets; $5.4 million surplus from senators’ travel and remuneration; and a $3.1 million surplus primarily due to reduced committee and international and interparliamentary affairs activity level caused by the pandemic. This report is placed before you for your information, but Pierre will be glad to answer any questions.
Are there questions, colleagues? I see no hands.
Thank you, Pierre. I understand you will be back with the Q3 report shortly. We look forward to your next presentation.
Colleagues, Item 4 is the second report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure concerning decisions taken by steering on behalf of CIBA since we last met in December. This report is placed before you for your information. Are there any questions or comments?
Senator Marshall: I wanted to speak to Item 4, because I’m mentioned there with regard to a sole-source contract and the contract being over the limit.
The contract is over the limit because both Senator Tannas and I are using the same firm for research. The total amount that I will be spending this year will be $40,000, with this $10,000 amount for myself. The firm that I use, Government Analytics, does research, general research and research upon request, and they provide reports, webinars and information on different kinds of policies. They also have an IT person that I access.
I want to provide that information to my colleagues before they approve this report. I am available for questions if anybody has any.
The Chair: Colleagues, do you have any questions for Pierre or Senator Marshall? I see no comments, so we will move on to Item 5.
Pursuant to section 1.6.2 of the Senators’ Office Management Policy, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure is required to report biannually on the exception requests it has received and the corresponding decisions.
It is my pleasure to table the first report of the subcommittee which outlines these exception requests and the corresponding decisions since August 27, 2020. The report is placed before you for your information. We would be glad to answer any questions or comments.
I see no hands up, so we will move on to Item 6.
Honourable senators, the next item is a $6,000 budget request from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for the purchase of books, newspapers and manuscripts. This is a routine request from this committee.
Senator Jaffer, as chair of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, do you have anything to add? It is straightforward.
Senator Jaffer: Yes, it is straightforward. It is to enable committee members to prepare better. This year, because many are working from a long distance, instead of books, we can also make electronic versions available. It reflects the experience of the committee; it costs roughly $6,000.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any questions? It is moved by Honourable Senator Jaffer:
That the $6,000 budget request from the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs be approved and that CIBA present this budget to the Senate for final approval.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. I see no raised hands, so I declare the motion carried.
Colleagues, the next item is a continuation of a discussion from December regarding former Senator Beyak’s request for an exemption to the Senators’ Office Management Policy regarding the procurement of legal services.
We have recirculated the documents from the last meeting. You will also find in your package a updated briefing note outlining in its annex a letter from Senator Beyak’s lawyer responding to our request for further clarifying of the services requested.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, and Charles Feldman, Parliamentary Counsel will now join the meeting as witnesses.
Colleagues, do you have any questions for Pierre or Charles?
Senator Plett, at the last meeting, you were going to give a call to this lawyer. Did you manage to make that call? Do you have anything to add?
Senator Plett: I indeed did make that call and had a lengthy conversation with the lawyer. I don’t know that I necessarily have a lot to add, chair, other than to say that when I did talk to the lawyer, he reaffirmed for me what I believed, and that was that Senator Beyak actually did not understand properly the fact that his doing the writing for her in fact was providing legal services. He led me to believe that Senator Beyak had told him, as she told the committee, that there was a difference between writing an argument for her or personally representing her. He, however, was not necessarily in disagreement with the assumptions that were made at this committee.
I only want to state for the record that I don’t believe Senator Beyak tried to mislead this committee. She was naive in her recollection or her opinion of what legal services were, so I’m certainly not making any recommendation on this. I think it is best put to rest. But I wanted it on the record that I think Senator Beyak was naive in what she said and was not intentionally misleading the committee. So that’s all I have to report.
The Chair: Colleagues, are there any comments or questions?
Senator Moncion: I want to know if anything has changed, with the information from Senator Plett, anything new about what we’ve heard that we should take into consideration when we are looking at this. Because I have not read or seen anything new, I might be missing something here.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate, Senate of Canada: We have basically added confirmation to the two follow-up items in the briefing note, and I agree with your conclusion. There are basically no differences in the information provided.
The Chair: Colleagues, I see no other hands up. Just to reaffirm that the steering committee had made a decision to deny Senator Beyak’s request, so can I have a mover for the following motion:
That the decision of the steering committee to deny Senator Beyak’s request be upheld and that Senator Beyak’s appeal be denied.
Senator Dean moves the motion. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? Again, if any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand.
Senator Plett, do you want to oppose or abstain?
Senator Plett: No, I definitely do not want to oppose, but I would like to abstain on this issue.
The Chair: Okay. Are there any other abstentions, senators? Seeing no objections, I declare the motion carried.
Moving to Item 8, colleagues, steering has received requests on how we can better support our staff who are working remotely from home. Accordingly, steering asked the Senate administration to present options for consideration by CIBA. Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, and Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, will now join the meeting. As usual, the presentation will be followed by time for questions. Caroline, you may begin.
Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, Senate of Canada: Good morning, chair and honourable senators. Today I am seeking your direction regarding the work-at-home arrangement we provide for staff. You have the briefing note on this matter in your background material.
The Senate currently has over 600 employees who are working primarily remotely. Feedback from the senators’ staff and administration indicates that the employees could benefit from better-equipped work set-ups at home. Although employees are already permitted to take some of their equipment home, such as monitors and chairs, there is an opportunity to provide additional equipment, such as desks and laptop holders. We are aware that some federal departments and organizations are currently using one of two approaches to ensure employees have the tools they need to work from home, either allowing employees to use government-owned equipment while working remotely, whether existing or new equipment, or providing an allowance for employees to purchase their own equipment outright. With this in mind, we considered the same two options.
Under the first option, we would procure new Senate desks and laptop holders for use by employees working remotely. As I mentioned, we’ve already allowed employees to take some of their existing equipment home, but we’ve generally kept this to easily removable items such as computer equipment and chairs. We are already using adjustable desks at the Senate in our modernized space, and we will continue to do so going forward. Therefore, the purchase of adjustable desks to support remote work can eventually facilitate the replacement of outdated desks in Senate offices as employees return to the workplace. The replacement, of course, would be based on a condition-assessment approach.
We currently only have a small standing offer in place for adjustable desks, and we would be able to leverage this procurement method to purchase the additional desks. The option would entail planning, coordination and logistical effort to order, inventory and ship desks to employees’ homes. This would take some time, but it is all manageable.
The second option would be to provide an allowance for employees to purchase equipment, which they would own outright. An allowance to reimburse up to $500 would not result in a taxable benefit for employees. Anything above that amount becomes a taxable benefit for employees. So this budget is considered sufficient to purchase a standard desk, maybe not an adjustable desk, and a laptop holder. This option is more flexible as it allows the employee to purchase what best suits their needs. Although not the Treasury Board Secretariat’s recommended approach, this option is straightforward and could be implemented with available funds from 2020-21.
Mr. Chair, the CFO and I would be happy to answer any questions the committee members may have. Thank you.
Senator Moncion: First of all, our employees have been working from home for almost a year now. Today we are considering a recommendation that I find comes very late. Other government organizations have adjusted much more quickly. In my view, having government employees take over the management to provide equipment for employees working from home only adds an extra administrative burden that is not necessary. I think the $500 allowance is very adequate for the employees to manage and I think the second option is the one that should be chosen. This would provide employees with an environment that suits their needs. It may be time to consider adding more telework to the options for the future after the pandemic. We are in a position to plan now to provide such flexibility to Senate employees, so that they have the opportunity to work at the office and from home. This is a long-term investment. The $500 stipend is really enough for them to be able to settle in properly. So I’m going to vote for the second option.
Senator Plett: I certainly agree in part with what Senator Moncion said, and then, unfortunately, take the opposite approach on the other part she talked about. First of all, I have one question that I will pose at the beginning, and you can answer at the end of my comments, Caroline.
Many of us are sitting at home and doing a lot of our work from our living rooms and our dining rooms. I have been using a dining room table and a hard-backed dining room chair for an awful lot of work in the Senate. I have also been using a small television tray and a living room chair to do other things.
First of all, is there an allowance for senators who are also being inconvenienced and having to buy office chairs and move them into their houses or condominiums?
Senator Moncion is certainly correct in saying this is a little bit late in the game. We are all hoping that we are nearing the conclusion. We may or may not be, but motions in the House and in the Senate are intended for us to do a lot of changes come June 23, so it’s a little bit late in the game to do anything.
I suppose if I were to vote in favour of either of the motions, I would vote in favour of the first one, but with the proviso that when we are out of the pandemic, these chairs and desks get returned to the Senate.
I am certainly not in favour of giving people $500 because of their inconvenience, because if we just simply give them $500, whether it is taxable or not, they can also decide that $500 is also worth me having a sore back and this, that and the other, and they put the $500 toward their bank account or whatever they do and are not required to spend it, in fact, on a desk or a chair.
So I’m certainly opposed to that part of it and moderately opposed to the first part of it. Chair, if you say it is not relevant to the topic, I will accept that, but my question to Caroline or maybe to steering is: Am I allowed to go and buy myself an office chair and a desk for my condo?
The Chair: It certainly is relevant, Senator Plett.
Pierre, could you address those questions on senators?
Mr. Lanctôt: Thank you, senator. For senators, there are existing provisions in SOMP for home office furniture. After the meeting, I will be glad to send the specific items in SOMP dealing with home offices for senators.
With respect to the second question, I want to mention that we will not be giving a lump sum of $500 to each employee. Receipts are required in order to make the amount not taxable. So there will be a receipt requirement for the money that will be distributed to employees.
Senator Plett: If something goes ahead, then I guess I would change my mind and be a little more in favour, as Senator Moncion, of the second one, although I don’t know that I am in favour of either, but more so of the second one if receipts are required. Thank you.
Senator Tannas: Oh, goodness. I didn’t realize that receipts were required, and I am on steering. My apologies. I must have been asleep when that was made clear. I thought it was simply a cash allowance.
We did talk about the lateness of this. I think we all understand that relief from the pandemic always seems just around the corner, and when this was thought about in the summer, numbers were going down and everything looked good. We’ve come back into trouble as of November, December, and so this became live again. It just is what it is.
I want to note that there are tax credits available to all employees who have to stay home. Hopefully our Human Resources Directorate, payroll department, is working to process those tax credits for employees.
I have to say that I favour option 1 simply because it is quick and tangible assistance. We’re going to reuse the inventory post-pandemic. It will come back into inventory and form part of our normal capital replacement program. So you could argue that at the end of the day it is kind of a net-zero cost. To me, that is certainly defensible and good planning.
So I favour option 1, but I am less opposed to option 2 now if it is not a simple cash allowance with no receipts. If it is with receipts, okay. Thank you.
Senator Marshall: I can’t and won’t support option 2. I would be able to support option 1, but I notice in the briefing note that it is just recommending that CIBA consider both options. I could support option 1, but I would want to make it conditional, that the decision to provide something to an employee would receive the prior approval of the employee’s manager or senator, and also on the condition that we maintain proper inventory records.
I’m sure, Pierre, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that. So basically that’s where it’s at.
I do have a couple of questions, though. The laptop holder that you sent a photo of, does that mean that the employee will also need a new keyboard in addition to the laptop holder?
Ms. Morency: Thank you for the question. At this time, employees are in a position to bring their existing equipment home, including the keyboard.
Senator Marshall: So they have a keyboard. I know we are not governed by Treasury Board guidelines or government guidelines, but there have been some media reports about what is happening in some of the government departments. Is there a Treasury Board policy with regard to providing not cash, but paying employees the money to buy their own equipment? Is there some sort of guideline in Treasury Board?
Ms. Morency: Thank you, senator, for the question. Yes, there are some guidelines that Treasury Board has issued. There is a series of recommendations made, including with respect to allowance over $500. Again, that would become a taxable benefit. So there are some guidelines, and a great majority of departments are following those guidelines. We made a quick check of what departments are doing, generally, and everyone that I’ve seen is basically in accordance with those guidelines.
Senator Marshall: So they do reimburse up to $500 with receipts. Is that what you are saying?
Ms. Morency: That’s correct. That’s one of the approaches. Another approach is similar to the first option that we are proposing.
Senator Marshall: Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I share many of the views that have been expressed about the timing of this. I agree that things were done a little late, but that’s because we expected that we would get back to a situation that would resemble the “new normal” more quickly. It is reasonable to expect that there will be a need, as Senator Moncion pointed out, to facilitate or recognize that telework will be part of it, so I think that, in one way or another, it is a good investment.
I have only one comment to make regarding the first option, and I would like you to take it into account when evaluating the two options. It is the fact that the first option is based on the presumption that there is a need for a desk or something to put the laptop on.
The reality, however, is that it may be necessary to have headphones, a mouse or some other type of equipment that would facilitate teleworking, so I prefer the flexibility that the second option would allow us.
I understand that the amount of $500 was determined based on the threshold to avoid tax consequences. However, I wonder how the situation would be handled if, for example, a printer, shredder or other item was ordered and the amount exceeded $500.
Ms. Morency: Thank you, senator, for your question. At this time, we would only reimburse the equivalent of the items we have proposed, either a desk or a portable computer stand. Other items, such as a mouse, headphones, keyboard, chair and anything else that can be easily moved, can be brought from the office. We do not plan to allow for the purchase of other equipment under option 2.
With regard to option 1, you were talking about which choice may not be the most appropriate for each situation or need; these assets would remain the property of the Senate and would be reused. It is important to us that furniture and adjustable tables can be reused. We recognize that people have these needs and requests right now, but we are looking at the longer term, with respect to telework, thinking about what could be smaller workstations in the workplace. This arrangement allows us to have premises and equipment that are better adapted to the potential new reality.
Have I answered your question?
Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes, but as I listen to you, another question comes to mind. It concerns the expenses that would be approved in accordance with this for senators. I understand that a mouse, extra keyboards and that sort of thing can be carried by employees who are in Ottawa. However, for senators who cannot easily transport a chair, for example, from Ottawa to their residence, what is the solution?
Ms. Morency: I will let my colleague Pierre answer your question.
Mr. Lanctôt: As I mentioned, after the meeting, I will be sending out the items in the senators’ office management manual that deal with home furniture for senators. The manual contains specific provisions that I would not dare attempt to summarize at this time. Provisions already exist for senators and we will be sending you these details after the meeting.
I would also add the following point. The $500 I mentioned earlier could be offered to employees as a lump sum. However, if there are no receipts, it would be a taxable benefit. For this reason, receipts would be required to ensure that the amount up to $500 is not taxable.
Senator Frum: I would like some clarification. In the first scenario, where people could purchase equipment that would be the property of the Senate, there was a reference made to an office manual. Would this be Senate-approved items of furniture?
Ms. Morency: Thank you for the question, senator. Actually, option 1 is limited to those two items that are attached to the briefing note, which is the adjustable table and the laptop holder. So the employees would not be purchasing that themselves, we will be. Through Finance, we will procure the equipment and then tag them, inventory them and ship them to the employee’s home.
Senator Frum: And then would they also be responsible for bringing them back eventually, back to the Senate?
Ms. Morency: We will have to look at ways of bringing those back. That is correct, senator.
Senator Frum: That makes sense. I think the option of the $500 that can be used in a more flexible way is a scandal in the making. I think it is a communications nightmare for the Senate and really strongly advise against it.
The Chair: Thank you, senator. Before we go to second round, I’d like to make a comment on this. That was discussed exactly on the same lines as steering. Steering was leaning heavily toward option 1, for several reasons. One, it maintains better control of what is being bought. Second, all items remain property of the Senate, as opposed to the option 2, where you never know who owns the item. Three, you could bring those items back. Because they are standardized items, you could bring them back and they could be used as replacements. In essence, as Senator Tannas pointed out, there really is no cost because all you’ve done is accelerate items that you would have bought at some point later. It was our view that option 1 was the better option. I agree with Senator Frum that option 2 is very difficult to manage and control.
With that, I’ll go to second round.
Senator Moncion: I have a couple of caveats to raise. First, when you send furniture to people’s homes, some people will take better care of it than others. The condition in which the furniture returns will determine whether or not it can be reused by the Senate.
Secondly, before the pandemic, some employees came to work when they were sick. Now, if employees have the furniture and equipment to work from home, they will be able to continue to telework and stay home if they have symptoms. I have no problem with approving option 1, but I would like to see it expanded to ensure that after the pandemic, employees can keep the equipment at home for as long as they are employees of the Senate. This option should be expanded to make the equipment available to employees for a longer period of time. We may also need to find a way to avoid the back and forth movement of chairs and other items between offices.
Getting back to what I was saying, telework could be organized even better after the pandemic, and this option could become a bit more permissive.
Therefore, I support option 1, provided that parameters are added as to what kind of work employees can do and when.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I would like to know whether employee preference has been determined. Were they consulted? Was any method used, discreet or otherwise, to find out their views on any of the options?
Ms. Morency: Thank you for your question. We did not conduct a survey within the administration or the Senate. However, as I indicated earlier, as managers, we were made aware that this type of furniture would be preferable and appreciated. We also noted that in the workplace, employees are very much in favour of slightly more ergonomic furniture that adapts to different situations.
That’s all I can say for now. However, no, we have not consulted all Senate employees on this subject.
Senator Plett: The nice thing about hearing debate is one sometimes changes his or her opinion. I’m certainly swayed by what Senator Frum said, which is that option 2 is a scandal in the making. At the same time, though, I’m also very much opposed to allowing Senate staff to keep this when the pandemic is over, unless we would have some kind of buyback program, but I think that gets very complicated. I’m swayed by option 1, but is there any estimate as to what the entire program would cost?
Mr. Lanctôt: Thank you, senator. At this point, we’re not sure about the take-up for the program. It sounds good in theory that maybe 100% of the employees will want some kind of furniture for home but the reality is, based on experience of other organizations that I’ve heard of, a lot of employees don’t actually have the space to consider having such furniture added to their home.
It is very hard to come up with a specific amount. We’ll start with this first wave, which has a price tag of about $150,000. As we better understand the needs and the take-up, then we will provide an estimate for the future phases.
Senator Marshall: I don’t support the polling of staff. We should make the decision now between the two options.
On Senator Moncion’s recommendation to include some reference to what’s going to happen in the future, I’d be willing to consider that at a later date, but I think it’s premature. We might all be back to work in a few months’ time or next month. So I think that is something we should consider at a later date.
Senator Saint-Germain: I regret to have to intervene, especially in the public part of our meeting, to mark my total opposition to this proposal which I consider, in the first place, as premature. This proposal will create a permanent state of affairs, while we find ourselves in a temporary situation, which we wish, of course, to be as temporary and short as possible. The proposal is not at all consistent with some of the decisions that this committee has made to ensure that, during the pandemic, employees can work from their homes safely. To this end, we have purchased additional laptops and allowed employees to transfer laptops, office chairs or other ergonomic equipment to their homes.
I think this decision would be all the more premature since we have not yet thought about what policy the Senate will adopt with respect to telework, if it is relevant, for which category of employees and under what circumstances, after this pandemic period.
That is why, personally, I will vote against this proposal.
The Chair: Colleagues, we certainly have three options on the table now. We have option 1, we have option 2, or we don’t do anything at all. The sense I get, from listening to everybody, people are inclined to go with option 1 with some caveats around it. I would suggest that perhaps we have a mover for option 1 with a cap of $150,000, and that once that cap of $150,000 is reached, administration comes back to the Senate for further guidance on next steps.
Can I have a mover for that motion?
Senator Munson: I move option 1.
The Chair: All those in favour of option 1, would you care to raise your hands? I’ll try and get a sense and see whether we need a vote. So far I see six senators on option 1. Senator Marshall, you’re not voting?
Maybe we should do a vote. It’s simpler. Pascale, can you do a quick vote?
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 members’ name, beginning with the chair and then going in alphabetical order. Senators should indicate if they vote for, against or abstain.
The Honourable Senator Marwah?
Senator Marwah: For, option 1.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dawson?
Senator Dawson: Yes.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dean?
Senator Dean: Yes.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest?
Senator Forest: Yes, option 1.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?
Senator Forest-Niesing: Yes, for option 2.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing votes no for option 1. I just want to confirm that we’re voting for option 1 right now.
The Chair: That’s correct, option 1.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Forest-Niesing?
Senator Forest-Niesing: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Frum?
Senator Frum: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Gagné?
Senator Gagné: Yes.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Jaffer?
Senator Jaffer: Yes.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?
Senator Marshall: No.
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: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?
Senator Saint-Germain: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Seidman?
Senator Seidman: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?
Senator Tannas: Yes.
Ms. Legault: Mr. Chair, we have nine “yes” and six “no” votes.
The Chair: Colleagues, I declare the motion carried.
May I also request Senate Administration to make sure the rules are followed and that every approval must get approval from the senator, as well as request administration to come back to steering or CIBA when the $150,000 threshold is hit and to keep us advised as to the take-up of the equipment by staff? Thank you, colleagues.
We’ll move on to Item 9. The next item concerns the Senate shuttle bus service. As you’re aware, since the beginning of the pandemic, steering has been working with the Senate Administration to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective use of Senate shuttle bus service. Caroline will also assist on this item. As usual, the presentation will be followed by time for questions. Caroline, you may begin.
Ms. Morency: Thank you, chair. I’m now seeking your endorsement for shuttle bus services that were approved by steering committee on February 2. Under normal circumstances, we operate shuttle buses that circulate continuously along three routes throughout the Parliamentary Precinct, providing services to senators, other parliamentarians and employees on a set schedule. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, shuttle buses were used to provide on-demand services only.
This past November, in accordance with the decision by CIBA, on-demand service was expanded to have shuttle buses service our regular routes 30 minutes prior to a sitting, until 30 minutes after adjournment.
Our analysis indicates that there has been very little use of on-demand service for shuttle bus service since the beginning of the pandemic, and, as expected, during the November/December time frame there was slightly more use of the shuttle bus along the regular routes just prior to and after Senate sittings, but these numbers were also very low.
On February 2, we presented this information to the steering committee for direction going forward. At that time, steering approved that Senate shuttle buses will only circulate one hour prior to the sitting and then one hour after the adjournment. Shuttle buses will remain available on demand at any other times when the Senate is sitting and will be dispatched upon request.
When the Senate is not sitting, shuttle bus services will be available on demand by contacting the Client Services Centre 24 hours in advance of the requirement to arrange time-specific site-to-site transportation. We believe this approach strikes a good balance between meeting service demands and providing a cost-effective approach.
I am pleased to answer any questions the committee may have, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
The Chair: Colleagues, do you have any questions of Caroline? I see no hands up. Can I have a mover for the following motion:
That CIBA endorse the shuttle bus service model approved by steering.
Senator Marshall moves the motion.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? If any senator wishes to oppose or abstain, please raise your hand. I see no hands. I declare the motion carried.
Colleagues, before we go in camera, I wanted to inform you about one other matter. You may remember last fall I advised you that the Senate had reached out to the House of Commons concerning a joint audit of shared information technology cybersecurity controls. Following consultation with the Speaker of the House of Commons and the chair of the Senate Audit and Oversight Committee, it was agreed that the audit be commenced under CIBA’s authority for now, and the new Audit and Oversight Committee take over responsibility for this file once it is up and running.
Steering has directed the Director of Information Services to begin discussion with his counterparts in the House of Commons on defining the scope of the audit. I am just letting you know the status of that review.
Is there any other public business?
Senator Marshall: I want to go back to Item 8.
I would like the motion to include reference to the fact that prior approval for equipment purchases must be provided by the employees’ manager or senator; and I want assurance that there is going to be proper maintenance of inventory records, in light of the fact that we’re going to be purchasing, I would expect, a lot of equipment. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Marshall. I had mentioned the former, but we shall add the latter comment of yours to the motion as well.
Colleagues, are there any other questions? If not, we’ll go in camera.