IN THE NEWS ~ House spending up 7.2 per cent, $443-million in 2015-2016

 

With 30 extra MPs set to be elected and a new expense disclosure system, it will cost almost $30-million more to run the House of Commons in the upcoming fiscal year, at an estimated $443-million-a 7.2 per cent increase from last year.

"If it wasn't for the new seats, that would be an eyebrow raiser," said Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "But considering they're adding new MP offices, it makes sense that it would go up that much."

This year's main estimates were tabled in the House on Feb. 24 and lay out the federal government's $241.6-billion in estimated spending to run the country for the upcoming fiscal year. But spending could also increase.

Of the projected spending, $88.2-billion is voted expenditures, up $1.94-billion from last year as a result of major projects like the Canada Job Fund ($499-million), the Canada First Defence Strategy ($447.9-million), the Building Canada Fund ($211.7-million), funding to address operating and capital requirements for Via Rail Canada ($179-million), incremental funding for Indian residential school settlement agreements ($266.6-million), and the disaster financial assistance arrangement ($250-million), among other things, according to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

"Total projected spending for 2015-16 may change slightly as the three supplementary estimates are tabled throughout the year," said Lisa Murphy, media relations for the Treasury Board Secretariat, in an email to The Hill Times.

The government is projecting it will cost a total of $443,449,092 to run the House of Commons in 2015-16, an increase of $29,723,955 from last year, or 7.2 per cent.

Of that, Parliament is seeking an additional $17.6-million "to continue to support the institution and the work of MPs" following the addition of 30 new MPs after the next election.

About $5.7-million of the extra House of Commons spending is related to the Long Term Vision and Plan to rehabilitate the Parliamentary precinct, specifically for "sustaining information technology assets" on a five-year basis starting last year. As well, about $3.3-million extra is being sought this year to carry out the enhanced Members' Expenditure Report put in place by the Commons Board of Internal Economy last year.

"The House of Commons budget increase from 2014-15 to 2015-16 is mostly attributable to the electoral boundaries redistribution, funding related to the Long Term Vision and Plan and the disclosure of Members' expenditures," said Heather Bradley, communications director to House Speaker Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu'Appelle, Sask.) in an email to The Hill Times.

This funding takes into account increases to MPs' and House officers' budgets, including pay and pensions for MPs, travel, telecommunications services and Parliamentary and constituency office furnishings and the cost of moving offices, as well as extra funds for the House administration to support MPs and "to ensure the same level of service to all Members," said Ms. Bradley.

Liberal MP Scott Simms (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld.), his party's democratic reform critic, said the Liberal party is "proud" to have set an example in disclosing expenses, which all MPs are now required to do.

"We recognize that there is a cost to implement this and other changes, including the costs associated with redistribution and funding related to the Long Term Vision and Plan," said Mr. Simms in an email to The Hill Times.

"We encourage House of Commons MPs and administration to pursue ways to become more financially efficient and cut unnecessary spending," he said.

In the 2014-15 main estimates, the House of Commons was projected to spend a total of $413-million, but by Supplementary Estimates 'C', House spending for 2014-15 was estimated at about $447-million-a difference of about $34-million.

In 2013-14, the main estimates reflected an estimated $428-million in House spending, but by the final supplementary estimates, that figure had reached $444-million-a difference of about $16-million.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) said spending decisions this year are just another example of poor governance.

"What we're seeing is Conservatives increasing their spending overall in the areas where they want to increase spending, but cutting back on a whole range of things, including disease prevention and food safety," said Mr. Julian.

"I think it's just another example of this government not wanting to govern the country in a responsible way but wanting to spend a lot of money when it becomes something the prime minister is interested in," he said.

This year's main estimates arrived well ahead of the federal budget, which is used to contextualize spending estimates and which won't be tabled before April.

Senate spending is down almost three per cent this year, at an estimated total of $88,747,958 for 2015-16. Last year, the main estimates projected a total of $91,485,177 in spending, a difference of roughly $2.7-million.

"While the Senate was not obligated to conduct a cost-cutting exercise under the federal government's Strategic and Operating Review and the Economic Action Plan 2014, the Senate undertook budget cost-containment measures and will continue in 2015-16. This exercise has resulted in reductions of the Senate total budget for 2015-16," said Senate communications in an email to The Hill Times.

Senators' travel is down by $3-million for 2015-16, as indicated by Nancy Durning, lead media relations for Senate communications, in the email. As well, for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the Senators' research and office expenses budget and the Senate committee budget face temporary decreases of $765,000 and $1.2-million, respectively.

There are currently a total of 18 empty seats in the Senate and the Auditor General has spent the last year conducting an audit of Senators' expenses.

The Senate Ethics Officer's estimated budget has increased slightly for 2015-16, at $1,168,700, an increase of less than $2,000. The officer got a much bigger bump last fiscal year, jumping from $788,294 in the 2013-14 main estimates to $1,166,750 in the 2014-15 main estimates.

The main estimates, tabled by Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) last month, are up for examination at some of committees this week. A number of these committees, like the House Government Operations Committee, the House Transport Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, are planning to look at both the Supplementary Estimates 'C' for 2014-15 and the 2015-16 main estimates in the same meeting.

But one thing that's not in the main estimates is any further indication of government plans when it comes to overseas operations, specifically Canada's mission to combat ISIS in Iraq.

The main estimates are divided by strategic outcome and program. While the program descriptions differ from the supplementary estimates tabled earlier in February, spending for the "Defence Combat and Support Operations" listed under the "Defence Operations and Services Improve Stability and Security, and Promote Canadian Interests and Values" program is down from last year at $1.29-billion, a decrease of about $69-million.

As this program description best fits combat mission spending, and as it's decreased this year, it doesn't give any indication of possible plans to extend Canada's mission to combat ISIS in Iraq, a much-discussed possibility. Should Canada's mission be extended this year, funding would be sought through the supplementary estimates.

"As you can see with the main estimates, the forming up of programs has changed so that it's impossible to compare with previous years in terms of what program the money is dedicated for and how much that's changed, increased or reduced," said Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.).

"The constant shell-game of program structuring makes it very difficult to follow the money," she said.

After months of opposition calls for cost estimates related to Canada's mission in Iraq, Defence Minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.) said on Feb. 16 that the mission had cost roughly $122-million to date. The next day, the Parliamentary budget officer put out a report estimating Canada's six-month mission, dubbed Operation Impact, would total incremental costs of between $128.8-million to a high of $166.4-million.

The report also notes that the full costs for Canada's most recent overseas mission in Libya "were almost six times the reported incremental costs for the mission."

Not long after, the government tabled supplementary estimates 'C' that reflected a total of $138.1-million in funding "related to military support for operations overseas." This figure includes roughly $122-million for Operation Impact, and roughly $17-million related to Canada's participation in NATO efforts to support Ukraine.

"Compared with the other countries that had been providing those estimates from the get-go, Canada's very un-transparent and very secretive about the information regarding this war," said Ms. Murray.

[email protected]

The Hill Times

Sspending estimates 2015-2016

Comparing House of Commons and Senate Main Estimates Since 2011

2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16

House of Commons $441,648,000 $445,935,033 $428,770,693 $413,725,137 $443,449,092

Senate $93,956,000 $92,215,846 $92,517,029 $91,485,177 $88,747,958

-Compiled by Laura Ryckewaert

Online: http://www.hilltimes.com/news/news/2015/03/09/house-spending-up-72-per-cent-%24443-million-in-2015-2016/41267

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