December 05, 2012    HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY MANAGEMENT COMMISSION    No. 37 (Cont'd)

The Management Commission met at 5:15 p.m. in the House of Assembly Chamber.

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Good afternoon.

This is a continuation of the House of Assembly Management Commission meeting that started yesterday, Tuesday, December 4. Because of the hour and the House sitting last night, you recall we had to wrap up at 7:00 p.m. There was one outstanding item from that agenda. This is a continuation of the December 4 meeting of the House of Assembly Management Commission.

Again, because we are in a new different broadcast day, formally we will go through the process of introducing the members of the Commission and people in attendance today.

I will start with my left.

Mr. Verge.

MR. VERGE: Wade Verge, observer on the committee.

MS MICHAEL: Lorraine Michael, Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi.

MR. BALL: Dwight Ball, Humber Valley.

MR. GRANTER: Vaughn Granter, Humber West.

MR. KING: Darin King, Government House Leader.

MS SHEA: Joan Shea, St. George's – Stephenville East.

MS JONES: Yvonne Jones, Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

CLERK: Sandra Barnes, Clerk.

MS KEEFE: Marie Keefe, Clerk's Office.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you very much.

Just to recap where we left off yesterday: in yesterday's agenda under Tab 3 there was a financial report for the period of April 1, 2012 to September 30, 2012. Contained within those reports is a financial summation of the caucus funds for that reporting period here, which is up to the end of September 2012. There was an issue that within that report identified the current status of the financial performance of each of the caucuses up that particular point.

There is an item in here dealing with the Third Party caucus budget and their current operational costs. The issue at hand grew out of a meeting of the Commission that was held on September 18 when at that time the Commission talked about a request from the Third Party to deal with a Budget shortfall of about $12,000 in their salaries. At the time there was a motion that the request as proposed was rejected by the Commission.

Yesterday when we were talking, there were a couple of points that were raised. Number one was that the minutes of the meeting in the middle of September, September 18, did not reflect any definitive decision of the Commission that would give authority to officials and the Third Party to proceed in any fashion to deal with the deficit. That was one of the points that were raised yesterday. There was a recognition that the issue needed to be disposed of pretty quickly because we are now approaching the final quarter of the fiscal year. This was an expense category where there can be no deficits and everybody has to operate in the balanced budget.

With that kind of very brief summation of currently where we are, maybe what we could do is use as a point of reference to build our discussion the briefing note that was used in the meeting of September 18, where at that time there were three options that were presented that the Commission could have considered at the time. I will read them into the record.

The first option was that the Third Party caucus take the necessary staffing actions to live within their existing budget; the second option was the transfer of funds from other Third Party caucus funds into the salary allocation; or the third option at the time was the transfer of funds from elsewhere in the Legislature, subject to availability.

The third option was put in the form of a motion by Ms Michael and discussed by the Commission and rejected. That is what the minute reflects. The meeting of September 18 did not go on and then deal with the other two options in a formal way by having them dealt with through a motion.

Earlier today, I had distributed to each of you two things; one, was a copy of Hansard from that meeting on September 18 which recorded the discussion that took place at that meeting; and the second thing I had distributed to you would be a document that talks about a budget transfer.

To help facilitate a discussion on option 2 of that earlier Briefing Note, this budget transfer note reflects the dollar amounts that could be transferred from one account to the other, which identifies four budgetary categories where the Third Party caucus have said we would like the Corporate Services to make the transfers in the documented amounts here. Transfer those dollar amounts from those budget accounts over to the Third Party caucus salaries.

I do not know if Ms Michael would want to make a motion to help generate a discussion with respect to the option 2 that I just identified a moment ago from the Briefing Note of September 18.

Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I would like to move and to say first of all doing so within the context of our transfer of funds policy for the Management Commission, which under section 4.2.2 Salaries, that says the "House of Assembly Management Commission approval is required to transfer funds from any Main Object (other than Salaries) into the Salaries Main Object." That is the direction with regard to transfer of funds policy.

In that context, we do have the authority to approve transfers. I then move a transfer of funds from other Third Party caucus funds into the salary allocation.

MR. SPEAKER: Is there a seconder for that motion?

MR. BALL: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will second the motion for the discussion purposes.

MR. SPEAKER: It has been seconded by Mr. Ball.

The floor is now open for a discussion. Is there any member who would wish to make a comment about the motion that is on the floor for a discussion by the Commission?

Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Just to say a couple of things, Mr. Speaker. First of all, it is within our power to do this approval. The amount of money, number one, is shown in the budget adjustment that had already been worked out by our office administrator. We can cover the $12,100. We have found the money. Needless to say, it leaves us with very little, but we have found it. It is there in our budget, and we have put forward this budget adjustment to the Corporate Services.

Not to make excuses or anything, but just to remind us all, this did occur because of an error in reporting from Corporate Services. It was unfortunate. The minute we found out about it, we ended the contract with the person whom we had contracted, believing that we had the money. It is not costing anybody – the $12,000 is there in our budget. We have put forward the budget allotment, and we are permitted to do this. It has been something we have done at different times, as a Commission, with other budget transfers that have been made; some of them actually that we even approved in e-mail, which had to do with monies going from other line items into salaries.

So, I really do believe that it is within the spirit of – well, it is not only within the spirit, it is allowed under our policy, and we have done it in other cases.

As I said, we can do it; the money is there. It means we have a really tight belt until March 31, but we will live with that tight belt. I do hope that we have support for this motion.

MR. SPEAKER: Any further comments by any members of the Commission?

I want to make just one comment, if I could, with respect to some clarity, the comment that was just made by Ms Michael. There have been transfers made from other budgetary items in the salaries in offices other than caucuses and the distinction is that the caucus allocations are done as a result of a Metrics report that has been endorsed by the Commission. These other offices where these transfers have occurred are not covered by that report and that particular provision. So there is a distinction between the three caucus funds and other offices that fall under the House of Assembly, like Statutory Offices and those others. There is that uniqueness about the caucus funds. That is just a point of clarification.

I will ask one more time before I call the question, any further discussions with respect to the motion?

Mr. Ball.

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to ask a question on that so I can be clear, too, because, as you know, we have a bit of a history with this. We have had some problems in the past with salaries and I have had to make a decision to let some people go.

I guess what I am looking for here is if we indeed approve this transfer, what are the ramifications of approving a transfer like this outside of the Metrics report?

MR. SPEAKER: As I respond to your question that you are raising, I will make the comment as an opinion versus an authority, if you are asking me in my role as the Chair.

As a member of this Commission, as Chair of the Commission then I bring people back to a discussion that we had during the last budgetary process around the Metrics report. If my memory serves me, there is a motion made by the Commission that we would be guided by the Metrics report in all of the budget allocations for each of the caucuses, so we endorse as a Commission. We have said whatever the Metrics report says the caucuses get, that is what you get. It is a formula driven process written in that report. So we have endorsed the report.

Doing something here that was acknowledging there was an error made and that the Third Party Caucus finds itself in a spot where their salary budget is now in a deficit, in an attempt to remedy the error that was made, the implication would be that we would make a decision contrary to the Metrics report and contrary to the motion by the Commission that we would, in fact, be guided by the Metrics report.

I do not know if that answers your question or not.

MR. BALL: Thank you.

It does, because we have always operated under the impression – and this could change, I have no problem here. I can understand the situation but I guess what would happen – it would raise the question: What are we guided by now? Would it be the Metrics report or is it something like this here, in this particular case here?

That is what I am looking for clarification on because in the future we could actually see situations where, I guess any caucus, if they had extra money wherever a main object area would be, that they could actually move money into salaries. I do not know if that is something we were trying to prevent or we would allow in the future. That is kind of where I am with it, just to try and get some clarification where this would end up.

MR. SPEAKER: I guess the motion that we have before us now would be – what it in essence does, it asks the Commission to make an exception to a decision that it has already made to be guided by the Metrics report. The motion, in effect – I am not putting words in the mover's mouth either, but the motion, in effect, is saying: Because of the circumstance, can we make an exception to the earlier decision of the Commission to be guided by the Metrics report? That is what the motion, in effect, is doing here today. Is that correct?

Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That is what I am asking of the Commission. An error was made. The minute that we found out the error was made we took the action that we took. We, in no way, mean this to be a policy for changing the allotment for salaries to the caucus office.

If the seconder agreed, I would add something in the motion that might help, that this would be a one-time transfer of funds from other Third Party caucus funds into the salary allocation. Then it may make it easier for people, but if we want to make that clear, that it is a one-time transfer of funds from other Third Party caucus funds into the salary allocation to deal with an extraordinary circumstance, without naming the extraordinary circumstance.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would acknowledge that if the seconder is prepared to –

MR. BALL: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Okay. So the minutes will reflect the motion as just articulated by Ms Michael for clarity purposes.

There being no further discussion, I will call for the question. All attendants have heard the motion with the qualifier as we have just heard articulated and I will ask now for a vote.

All those in favour of the motion as we heard it?


MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.


MR. SPEAKER: The motion is defeated.

In terms of disposing of the issue at hand, so we are clear this time and the minutes reflect that clarity, the options as laid out in the briefing note I referenced earlier that was used in the meeting of September 3 gave three options. We have had two of them dealt with, and the motion has been rejected; the Commission has rejected these two options.

The third one, which is the one outstanding, is that the Third Party caucus take necessary staffing actions to live within the existing budget. I am not certain if that is necessary to make a motion to that effect so the Commission directs it, because it is implicit in your budget allocation: you have been given a budget, here is what it is, and there is no provision for overrun.

My suggestion is that we do not need a motion to give direction to the Third caucus to that effect, because it is implicit in the budget allocation; it would be clear, though, that the Third Party caucus now would need to identify for Corporate Services in the very near term the staffing actions to be taken to bring the budget in line with the forecasted allocations by the end of March, because it is $12,000, and three months is not a long time to do that. So, I would ask that the Third Party caucus work with Corporate Services in the coming days to identify the necessary staffing actions that will result in a balanced budget by March 31.

This was the only item on the agenda for today, and this now concludes – before we adjourn the meeting, I want to remind members of the discussion we had yesterday about the next meeting of the Commission in early January to deal with the report. Everybody has a copy of the report. I want to remind everybody to have a review of it, and we will provide documentation for that meeting some time early in the new year as well.

Before we conclude, though, I do want to publicly thank Judge Brazil for the work she has done on behalf of all of us and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, the extensive research that has gone into her report, and for the insight she has given us, as we reflect on the recommendations and bring forward either our commentary and recommendations for our colleagues in the House of Assembly. I want to do that publicly before we adjourn today.

So, with that said, this meeting now stands adjourned until the call of the Chair in early September to deal with the –

AN HON. MEMBER: January.

MR. SPEAKER: January, I am sorry. I have September on the brain now - we just dealt with a meeting in September – in early January of 2013.

Thank you very much.

The meeting adjourned until the call of the Chair.