Madam Joint Chair, Mr. Joint Chair, vice-chairs, honourable senators and members of Parliament, thank you for this invitation.
I am accompanied today by Mr. Jason Jacques, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Director, Costing and Budgetary Analysis, and by Ms. Sloane Mask, Deputy Chief Financial Officer and Acting Director, Parliamentary Relations, Outreach and Planning.
As you know, amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act last year resulted in the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer being recognized as an independent officer of Parliament. The order in council of September 21, 2017, established its status as such and confirmed that its legislative mandate would be expanded to include the costing of political parties' election platforms. September 21 was also the date that marked the separation of the PBO and the Library of Parliament, which meant that the PBO had to quickly establish its own administrative processes and internal controls.
Every separation involves a certain level of risk and uncertainty that can affect ongoing operations. New legislative requirements were also introduced as part of PBO's services to parliamentary committees, senators, and MPs. These new requirements included additional administrative responsibilities resulting from the new legislation, for example, annual reports to be tabled on activities, work plans, submitting reports to both Speakers, and so on. As such, it was strategically imperative to act quickly to maintain services to parliamentarians, without interruption, throughout the transition.
Given the situation, a decision was made to negotiate with the administration of the Library of Parliament to have it provide administrative services in the short and medium term. This decision was based on the following criteria: services at competitive costs compared with other organizations; the political neutrality of the Library of Parliament; the experience it has acquired since 2005 in providing similar administrative services to another independent officer of Parliament, namely the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; the added benefit of having a team of library managers already familiar with the needs of the Office of the PBO, ensuring that PBO analysts and managers could continue their analysis activities during the transition; the flexibility to revisit the administrative agreements after the 2019 election; and, most importantly, the option to remain as part of the House of Commons IT environment for data protection, not only while Parliament is in session but also during election periods, during which political parties may decide to submit their campaign promises, on a confidential basis, to have the financial costs evaluated by the Office of the PBO.
I am also glad to report that our 2018-19 estimates have been considered by the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons, who conducted their thorough due diligence. After which, the PBO's chief financial officer and deputy chief financial officer exercised oversight attesting our budget requirements. Our budget was then referred to a parliamentary standing committee for final approval.
For 2018-19, the PBO budget totals $7.6 million, including a total voted budgetary requirement of $7 million, as well as a statutory budget component of $600,000 to fund the employee benefits program. You will find further details in the notes we provided beforehand.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that for this year and the subsequent year, our planning is based on a voted budget of $7 million, which is due to the additional support needed for the transition, as well as to an increased number of requests from parliamentarians.
Next year's budget will also total $7 million. This is due to additional costs generated by the general elections, since it will be an election year, during which, as I mentioned, the Office of the PBO will have to cost the political parties' election platforms. Afterwards, our annual budget will stabilize at $6.5 million annually for a period of three years, until the next general elections.
Thank you, Madam Joint Chair and Mr. Joint Chair.
For instance, if we calculate the cost of an electoral platform, or of a measure—it could be just a measure, although we prefer to cost the entire platform—I can provide the information to a political party, and that party must advise us, in writing, if it intends to use our data. Afterwards we will release our report. The legislation allows us to do that.
After the election, we will publish a report. In fact, we must submit an annual report to both speakers in the beginning of the year, i.e. 30 days before the end of the fiscal year. We also plan to prepare a report on the election, that is a report on how things were done. The point is to provide food for thought to the parliamentary debate on the quality of this legislation, which is relatively strict for us. That is one of the important changes.
As for the second change which I alluded to, it explains the increase in our budget. Currently, we can process three types of requests. We can generate our own reports during a given year—not necessarily an election year, but any year generally. The reports on the government's taxation and fiscal soundness are an example. Parliamentary committees may also submit requests for cost analyses.
Four other committees may also submit requests to us. They are mentioned in the act, and they are the Standing Senate Committee on Finance, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. These four committees may submit specific requests regarding economic trends or any other macroeconomic analysis. All of the other committees may request analyses on the cost of measures being examined by Parliament.
And finally, all of the senators and members of Parliament may also request analyses on the cost of certain measures, for instance a motion, a private member's bill or a government bill. What has changed since 2017 is that the act now states that we “shall” carry out an analysis when a request is submitted to us. Previously, we had a choice; we could say to a member or a senator that we could or could not do what they asked. Now, the word “shall” is used throughout the act. This imposes an obligation, which is extremely difficult, hence the importance of having a few more people to carry out these cost analyses.
In conclusion, both the International Monetary Fund, in its analysis of independent financial institutions, as well as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, have stated that cost analyses, for the entire network of PBO offices in the world, represent the most time-consuming task for a team of analysts. So clearly, we need more people to carry out the cost analyses and allow us to comply with the legislative requirement.
Thank you, Mr. Joint Chair.
Honourable senators, members of Parliament, joint chairs, it is my pleasure to address the committee today regarding the impact on the Library of Parliament of the upcoming closure of Centre Block planned as part of the Long Term Vision and Plan.
I am accompanied today by Catherine MacLeod, Assistant Parliamentary Librarian, who has been overseeing this initiative for the library.
Centre Block is closing for at least a decade, which will have a significant impact on the library. The impact is both a challenge and an opportunity. It's a challenge in terms of the detailed analysis and decision-making that have been a significant focus for us for the past several years. It's also an opportunity as the physical change to our space has provided the impetus to rethink our support to Parliament and to modernize how we deliver products and services.
To adapt to our future new reality, the library is implementing major projects in four areas.
First, we will relocate the main library's collections among several locations.
Second, we are modernizing reference services and refreshing library space by renovating and opening new branches.
Third, we are redesigning how we welcome visitors to Parliament Hill so that they continue to have a high-quality experience at the new visitor welcome centre, West Block, and the Government Conference Centre.
Finally, we are developing a virtual experience of Parliament that will showcase Centre Block during the years of its closure.
I would like to start with the most visible change, the closure of the Main Library in Centre Block.
The Main Library will close for the duration of the Centre Block rehabilitation, and the collection will be moved.
We have done this before when the Main Library was renovated in the early 2000s and we can therefore build on that experience.
The collections will be distributed among several branches according to branch specializations and user needs.
The bulk of the main library's collection, including the rare books, will be transferred to 45 Sacré-Coeur in Gatineau. This space was used when we renovated the library in the early 2000s and is currently being upgraded to house the collections when Centre Block closes.
Current levels of service for physical delivery of collection items to users will be maintained. The library is revising its delivery model to respond to an anticipated increase in requests for digital material. For example, we are increasing our electronic collection and digitizing more parliamentary publications to modernize our service to Parliament.
The temporary closure of the main library has been a catalyst for the modernization of our reference services, something libraries worldwide are doing as they rethink what it means to be a library in the Internet age.
We will increase the number of points of service, focusing on offering more inviting and comfortable seating, multipurpose work and meeting spaces, technological innovations, and additional electronic resources to enhance user experience.
The library is currently working with colleagues in PSPC, the Senate, and the House of Commons to plan the library's new branches in the Government Conference Centre and in the West Block. Overall, the library will be located to assist parliamentarians where they work.
Our points of service will include existing branches at 125 Sparks Street and in the Confederation Building, the new branch that has opened in the Wellington Building, and the future branches in the West Block and in the Government Conference Centre.
The new design for our branches was piloted with the Wellington branch. It is a stunning place. Natural light reflects from the skylight off the copper walls to create a warm, elegant environment.
Parliamentarians and staff are using the collaborative work areas, individual study areas and meeting room. It is an inviting space from which to browse our collection of magazines and newspapers, relax in comfortable seating or work between committee meetings. In the first year since its opening, over 3,000 people used the reading room and close to 700 came to the reference desk to ask questions.
The 125 Sparks Street branch, which is a former bank between O'Connor and Metcalfe, will be our main branch during the Centre Block closure. The 125 Sparks Street branch will be a place for parliamentarians to meet and collaborate with colleagues, constituents, and other stakeholders or work privately in the reading room area with its comfortable chairs and sofas.
Parliamentarians and their staff will be able to stay connected to current events through a wide selection of newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts from the new state-of-the-art media wall that will be installed in the branch. The branch will also offer parliamentarians an opportunity to browse our collection using mobile devices. It's truly a library of the future, and currently, it is undergoing renovations and is scheduled to reopen in August.
In addition, the library is realigning visitor services for Parliament.
After the closure of Centre Block, guided tours will be offered at the Government Conference Centre for the Senate and the West Block for the House of Commons.
The public will also be able to see Parliament at work by attending debates in the public galleries and by observing committee meetings.
Guided tours of both the Government Conference Centre and West Block will include the interim chambers of the Senate and the House of Commons, with stops in the public galleries and on the chamber floors. The tours will also visit a committee room and learn about the transformation of the heritage buildings that will house each chamber.
An electronic ticketing system will also be launched to support the operation of the guided tours from both locations. Parliament will have a permanent visitor welcome centre. Its opening will coincide with the opening of the West Block. The new underground facility will become the front door for visitors at the West Block.
The Visitor Welcome Centre will be a modern, four-level underground complex which will include spaces to support visitor services, such as an information desk, a tour departure room and the Parliamentary Boutique.
As I mentioned in my last appearance at this committee, tours of historical rooms at East Block will also be maintained.
In parallel, to mitigate the closure of Centre Block, the library is creating a virtual experience to give Canadians the opportunity to access and explore Centre Block during its closure. We are working in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada to develop and produce this exciting project. Carleton University's immersive media studio and Public Services and Procurement Canada are also involved.
The virtual experience project has three components. First, the public will be able to access a web-based multimedia experience that will include a 2-D website and a 3-D virtual reality production featuring the public spaces of Centre Block. It will highlight the art, architecture, and functions of Parliament that are so familiar to us.
Second, for teachers and youth, a travelling classroom program will include teacher resources and virtual reality equipment that will be shipped to schools across Canada so that children can visit a virtual Parliament in their classrooms.
Third, an on-site visitor destination, using cutting-edge technology, will immerse visitors in a projected virtual experience of Parliament at a location in the national capital region near Parliament Hill.
All of the library LTVP projects are currently on track. This is an exciting time for us as the closure of Centre Block has revealed itself to be a true opportunity to think towards the future and evolve how we serve you.
Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. We will be pleased to answer your questions.