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Parliament’s budget nearing $700-million, up almost 18 per cent in Trudeau era

By Marco Vigliotti      

If approved, funding for the Senate alone will rise by $29-million from 2015-16 in what staff largely credit to the appointment of new members and caucus realignment.

Under the 2017-18 main estimates, spending on a host of parliamentary work will surge to nearly $700-million, with $476-million going to the House, and the Senate, pictured, taking in $103-million. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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The Trudeau government is planning to increase funding for Parliament again this year, bringing it close to $100-million higher than when the Liberals first took office, as costs for salaries, offices, and benefits grow along with membership in the expanded House and revamped Senate.

Money set aside for the Hill, including costs for security and research, hit $696-million under the main estimates for 2017-18, representing a roughly $5-million increase from what was allocated for the previous fiscal year, including the top-ups in the 2016-2017 supplementary estimates.

It’s also roughly $100-million more than what was spent in 2015-16, the first fiscal year operating with an expanded House of Commons and under Liberal rule.

The House expanded from 308 to 338 members after the October 2015 election, which also brought in nearly 200 new MPs.

The Upper Chamber, however, is set to see the biggest increase in relation to its budget size.

Funding for the Senate will rise by more than $13-million from last year to $103-million under the planned allocations in the main estimates.

The largest contributor is an additional $10.8-million earmarked for research and office expenses for Senators, Senate caucuses, house officers (leaders, whips, and similar postings), and the speaker’s office, according to figures provided by Senate staff.

The remaining $3-million was made up of a $1-million hike in travel expenses for Senators, a $941,000 hike in basic and additional allowances and pensions, an adjustment to the employee benefits plan that cost $479,000, $364,000 for international and interparliamentary affairs, and $80,000 for Senate administration salaries and operating budgets.

If the forecast proves prescient, funding for the Senate will rise by $29-million or nearly 40 per cent over the course of just two fiscal years.

Senate spokesperson Jacqui Delaney largely credited the growing contingent of Senators for spurring the funding increases, with vacancies in the 105-member Upper Chamber dropping from 22 after the 2015 election to just five currently.

“For the first time in many years the Senate has almost a full complement of Senators,” she told The Hill Times. 

“This is a more than 20 per cent increase and automatically increases pretty much every envelope.”

“It’s sheer numbers.”

The Trudeau government has filled 27 vacancies in the Senate since assuming office in November 2015, while the former Conservative government made 59 appointments over the course of its near decade in power.

Ms. Delaney also pointed to changes in caucus affiliations as cause for the increasing expenditures.

The past year has seen a new caucus made up of non-affiliated Senators emerge as the second largest bloc in the Upper Chamber, outpacing the dwindling ranks of Liberal members and nipping on the heels of the leading Conservatives.

The caucus is mostly made up of members appointed under the new process instituted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) designed to break with the tradition of awarding party insiders with plum posts in the Upper Chamber.

As a result, Ms. Delaney said the Senate is now funding four different caucuses: the government, official opposition (Conservatives), Independent Senate Group (non-affiliated Senators), and Senate Liberals, which has no formal connection to the Grit caucus in the House.

The government caucus is made up of the three members tapped by Mr. Trudeau to represent his government in the Upper Chamber.

The caucus’ $1.7-million budget, however, is based on its role representing the government, not its size, according to Ms. Delaney.

Senator Peter Harder (Ontario) holds the new post of government representative in the Senate (replacing the former government leader role), with Senator Diane Bellemare (Alma, Que.) serving as his legislative deputy, and Senator Grant Mitchell (Alberta) taking on the duties of government liaison or whip.

Ms. Delaney also referenced an increase in Senators’ office budgets to allow members to “fulfill their responsibilities” under the Upper Chamber’s new commitment to “enhance outreach and engagement with Canadians.”

It was also designed, she said, to address the gap in funding between affiliated Senators and non-affiliated Senators.

However, Ms. Delaney cautioned that the numbers for 2017-18 are only estimates, noting that the Senate “consistently” comes in under budget.

“When we prepare the estimates for our upcoming budget there are still many unknowns that have to be taken into consideration,” she said.

“Therefore, we analyze trends to make a budget recommendation based on the best assumptions and an assessment of what is reasonable.”

The main estimates present the government’s spending plans for each government organization for the upcoming year, though often fail to include new initiatives announced in the budget because they are prepared in advance.

The estimates have to be tabled in the House by March 1 under the standing orders, whereas Budget 2017 was publicly revealed on March 22.

As such, new initiatives contained in the annual spending plan are mostly included in the supplementary estimates or in next year’s main estimates.

The expenditures that are detailed in the main estimates are approved by Parliament through either ongoing statutory expenditures or annually voted appropriations, which become part of an appropriation bill.

Despite the forecasted windfall for the Upper Chamber, the House is still set to reap the lion’s share of parliamentary funding in the estimates, with the Commons allocated $476-million.

The Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), which coordinates policing in the Hill precinct, is slated to take in $68.2-million, while the Library of Parliament will receive $47.7-million, a $4.7 million increase from last year’s main estimates.

The speaker of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Commons are responsible for the PPS, which is under the control and management of its director, who is a member of the RCMP.

The Library of Parliament owes its increased budget to a larger workload, with research, analysis, and reference requests from Parliamentarians “significantly higher” since the start of the 42nd Parliament in November 2015, mostly because of the higher number of MPs and Senators, according to spokesperson Nancy Durning.

“The new resources will allow the library to increase its research, analysis and reference capacity to serve Parliament and Parliamentarians, both individually and as members of parliamentary committees and associations,” she said in an emailed statement.

*to date refers to the total funding allocated in the main estimates and all three supplementary estimates for the fiscal year. Source: 2017-18 Main Estimates

In the House, funding is slated to grow by more than $13-million from what was initially estimated for last year, and by more than $52-million compared to confirmed spending totals for 2015-16.

The budget for House administration staff will jump about four per cent to $171-million, from $164-million in 2015-16, while $304-million will be allocated to the offices of MPs and House officers, the estimates show, a $45-million, 17 per cent hike from 2015-16 expenditures.

Heather Bradley, director of communications for the speaker of the House, attributed the funding increases to security enhancements, the cost of maintaining buildings and digital infrastructure; increases to member office budgets and supplements, and house office budgets; and hosting duties for several parliamentary conferences scheduled in the coming year.

Office supplements refer to additional funds made available to MPs on top of their basic $349,100 office budget to account for more heavily populated or geographically sprawling ridings, as well as several mostly large and rural ridings explicitly mentioned in schedule three of the Canada Elections Act.

The secretive all-party body that handles internal House business, the Board of Internal Economy, approved the forecasted expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year during a late November meeting.

According to the minutes of the meeting, the largest source of new spending in this year’s estimates will be the $3.6-million set aside for security resources and enhancements, followed by the $2.4-million allocated for life cycle costs of building components and connectivity, and the $2.3-million earmarked to cover a 1.8 per cent inflation-tied hike in member office budgets.

The rate of the increase was determined by the consumer price index as measured in September 2016. It’s scheduled to take effect on April 1.

Minutes for BOIE meetings, which are closed to the public, are often released months later.

Ms. Bradley said the funding for security resources and enhancements are for the Corporate Security Office (CSO) to address gaps in service delivery, initiate security improvement projects, to work more efficiently within the integrated security model of the Parliamentary Precinct, and to continue to address specific recommendations made by the Office of the Auditor General.

A large number of employees and their associated budgets were transferred from the CSO to the Parliamentary Protective Service upon its creation in 2015, she said. 

Following the transfer, Ms. Bradley said additional funding was requested in order to meet the CSO’s mandate, maintain service levels, and “continue to meet increasing security demands” for security-related activities not provided by the PPS.

There was also $1.5-million set aside to fund a 20 per cent increase to member’s office budget supplements and $407,511 to cover the cost of another inflation-tied increase in House officers’ budgets.

Another $60,256 is set aside to cover pay raises for parliamentary pages.

The BOIE voted in December 2015 to increase member budgets by 20 per cent and then in May 2016 voted to increase the office supplements by the same amount.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

The main estimates 2017-18

Voted expenditures: $102-billion (2016-17 to date total: $103.18-billion)

Statutory expenditures: $155.78-billion (2016-17 to date total: $153.98-billion)

Biggest spenders by department, agency, office, and corporation

Department of Finance: $90.1-billion

Department of Employment and Social Development: $57.4-billion

Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development: $10-billion

Office of Infrastructure of Canada: $7-billion

Treasury Board Secretariat: $6.5-billion

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