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Comments on the Senate Defence Committee's Budget

Honourable senators, I rise to comment on this budget. This subject has been discussed many times in this place, but we have not really discussed it from a public policy point of view.

When I first joined the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, I was struck with the size of its budget compared to all the committees I have been involved with in the last 15 years. It was well over $1 million. As a matter of fact, I think the last budget that was passed was $1.4 million. I was told, of course, that this committee does extraordinary work and therefore this budget is justified. I have been involved with the Banking Committee and the Transport and Communications Committee. I have been Chairman of the Finance Committee. I have been on the Aboriginal Committee and the Agriculture Committee. All these committees perform outstanding work from time to time. However, their budgets are much lower.

What is extraordinary about this budget? One thing that caused me many problems when we had the budget meeting was that, as deputy chair, I was not consulted about the budget. I learned of the budget at the same time as everyone else. That was different from what I had been used to, frankly. It was a strange way to do business. Of course, it seemed like it was all my fault that I was opposed to the budget in some way and did not want the budget passed at the first meeting. I first received the budget documents in an email that was distributed to everyone on the weekend, and the meeting was held on Monday.

I cannot remember the exact total of the budget, but it was over $600,000. My arguments started with the personnel. The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has an assistant to the chair, for which there is a payment of $30,000 a year. My understanding is that that is the only payment that person receives. Although I am concerned about it, I figure that if one chair has an assistant in the office to answer correspondence and take phone calls on committee business, then all chairs should have that, or no chairs should have it. That should be a matter of policy. It should not be a matter of one chair getting an assistant to work in his or her office while they are chair because of the extraordinary load that a chairman would have. Perhaps we might want to consider public policy on a deputy chair. Perhaps a deputy chair should have someone to answer the phones for them on committee business. If the chair gets it, the deputy chair should get it too, maybe at half as much. The chair gets paid $10,000, the deputy chair gets paid $5,000, so maybe $30,000 for the chair for an administrative assistant and $15,000 for half an administrative assistance for the deputy chair.

When I came in the room, there were three clerks there — not one clerk — there were three clerks, or two clerks and two assistants. I do not know why they have an assistant. Maybe they need an assistant because the chair needs an assistant. Nonetheless, there are two clerks and two assistants.

I looked around the room and saw three people from the Library of Parliament. I have to hand it to the chair. I do not want anyone to misinterpret what I am trying to say here, because we all allowed this to happen. We all allowed it to happen, so I do not want this to be taken as criticism of the chair. There are three people from the Library — not one, not two, but three people from the Library, and almost full-time, I must say. They are on call 24 hours a day. We also pay for two military consultants.

We have quite an astounding salary budget. Everyone should check the Journals of the Senate from last Thursday because the information is there.

We have two consultants, and then we have a writer. We pay $48,000 for someone to write our reports. Remember, we have three people from the Library, but we have a writer who does the writing of the reports, and we pay $48,000 for that writer. That writer participates with some of the communication, but we also have the communications staff from the Senate who handles our communication needs because the Senate now supplies every committee with a communications person.

Senator Goldstein: Does the committee get a lawyer?

Senator Tkachuk: That is a good point that Senator Goldstein raises. The committee does not have a lawyer, but knowing how this committee operates, if it could, it would have hired one already.

There are four staff members. We have a communications person from the Senate, so that is five. We have three clerks, so that is eight. We have three people from the Library of Parliament, so we now have eleven full-time staff.

All of this is a matter of policy, because these are staff people and consultants hired directly by the committee, which no other committees would have the effrontery to do or to act upon or even place in the budget, although I hear that Senator Day may have taken my advice and put in a budget item for an assistant.

I have to be extremely careful, so I do not get infected by the same virus in that committee as others seem to have been. However, I think these issues have to be discussed in this place because this budget takes away resources from all committees.

We can ask the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration to develop a policy in order that we allocate no more than one or two people as extra staff. Remember that we are staffed by the Library of Parliament, we are supplied with clerks, and we are now supplied with a communications person to each committee from the Senate, so why are we paying double and triple time? I do not understand why this is going on.

Without being critical, I am trying to get the Senate to agree, with as much humour and without any partisanship involved. This is an issue that belongs not only to our side but belongs to other side. It belongs to the Senate. It is something that we should discuss openly because we are all chairs and deputy chairs and members of committees that struggle for resources. We all go to the same place, the same budget committee, the same Internal Economy Committee, to try to get money for the work we are trying to do.

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Of course we proliferate. We have 18 committees now. We all draw from the same budget while we have little baby committees and subcommittees come out all the time. The money is either becoming less per committee or else we need to increase the total budget. Nonetheless, committees must be funded.

I thank the Budget Subcommittee and the Internal Economy Committee that saw fit to pass only $167,000 of this budget because I think they became aware of some of the same problems and, therefore, they wanted to have more time to deliberate. However, we do have committee staff; we must give them notice. I think the committee was very clear that this money was to be allocated for certain items and for nothing else. That was important because there is another budget item called "promotion of reports." It was over $60,000. Last session, the "promotion of reports" item was used to move money around. When the committee ran out of money in one place, they could move money from one place to another. When we needed to go somewhere, we took it out of "promotion of reports."

I alert all senators that this is not the way to do business. I know that the committee chairmen had to go to the Internal Economy Committee for permission to move their money around, but in my view, if the money is for something under a different item, then the committee should go back to the Internal Economy Committee for permission to have that particular item in the budget at the start.

We now have a budget item of $60,000. Then we have the conferences. We do not know what the conferences are, necessarily, but we do have four or five. I would say to the Honourable Senator Day that I think there were five conferences with two people attending each one, is that not correct? They are decided on throughout the year as they come up. Again, this is not something I have seen in other budgets.

If we want to allocate money for senators to do in-house training regarding their particular committee, then perhaps we should have an allocation of budget items allowing people to attend conferences to learn about the subject matter relating to the committee of which they are now a member. Perhaps Senator Fairbairn could go to four or five agricultural conferences, perhaps in Berlin, Australia or South Africa, to see how they are doing, and we should all have the possibility of that opportunity. Senator Oliver on the Transport and Communications Committee could visit Australia, the United States, Brazil, or Europe. I think we could all do that. Of course, from time to time, we take an independent senator as well so that we can spread the lucre around.

In all seriousness, honourable senators, this matter has to be dealt with at the one time. I was upset when I was defeated six to one on that budget. Nonetheless, it is to be hoped that the Internal Economy Committee will do its work, and perhaps my speaking out here in this chamber will alert all honourable senators to what is happening in that committee. There is a good argument to be made that if we are to allow these kinds of expenditures, they should be made from a public policy perspective of allocating conferences per committee, or perhaps a conference budget allocated for the entire Senate, or something like that.

The way in which this budget sits now, there is a decided advantage in cash, but also in resources, being taken from the Library and the Clerk's office, which are substantially more than any other committee and, as far as I am concerned, not necessary.

With those comments, I am willing to take questions, but other than that, I thank honourable senators for putting up with me and listening to me on this matter.