Real property activities: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—March 24, 2021
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Federal building management during COVID-19
A large proportion of the public service has transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government offices remain open to ensure the delivery of essential government functions and many clients’ preparations for eventual return to the workplace are underway, guided by regional public health agencies. However, with Canada in the second wave of the COVID-19 virus, there may be a heightened concern about how confirmed cases are being managed and communicated to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) building occupants.
With the ongoing telework provisions across the federal public service, PSPC’s usage of interior lighting and energy consumption has been called into question by the media.
Questions on employees returning to the workplace should be responded to by the President of the Treasury Board, as the employer.
- PSPC is committed to providing healthy and productive work environments—our facilities remain open, and preparations for re-occupancy continue so that when occupants come back to the office, they return to a healthy working environment
- Incident reporting and specialized disinfection protocols are in place for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19
- National cleaning specifications have been augmented to cleaning and disinfection of high-touch points to twice daily, based upon guidance from Health Canada
- Regular flushing of building water systems is being completed for continued water potability
- Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) measures to increase outdoor air intake and maximize filtration have been implemented
- PSPC is supporting client requirements for hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and other protective equipment as required
- We are ensuring that PSPC’s actions align with global best practices in property management
If pressed on confirmed cases in PSPC buildings:
- clients are asked to report all suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 to PSPC’s National Service Call Centre
- PSPC or its service provider will react quickly in mobilizing cleaning contractors for required disinfecting processes
- an appropriate disinfection plan is developed and may include disinfection of employee workspaces, elevator control panels and buttons, washrooms, and kitchen and lunch areas, as well as adding signage and floor markings to promote physical distancing in common areas
- the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat tracks confirmed cases within the federal public service. As of March 11 , 2021, it reported 3,027 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the federal public service
If pressed on notifying employees of confirmed cases of COVID-19:
- PSPC is committed to providing healthy and productive work environments and takes seriously the responsibility to notify employer organizations of confirmed cases of COVID-19
- reporting protocols are being followed with the National Service Call Centre being notified by the client organization so cleaning and disinfection can begin immediately
- as per standard practice, employer representatives within the building are informed who, in turn, initiate notification to their employees as per their responsibilities under the Canada Labour Code
- PSPC and its service providers work with the employer and other involved stakeholders to assist with the above protocols
If pressed on energy usage in buildings with reduced occupancies:
- PSPC’s assets remain operational to enable continuation of essential government services and considerable efforts are also being made to keep our buildings from deteriorating during periods of low occupancies
- as part of its commitment to energy savings, PSPC turns off non-essential lighting where possible during non-working hours. Since the pandemic, general guidelines are to keep lights off during working hours with the exception of lighting required:
- in occupied areas
- to support cleaning, maintenance, project, or security purposes
- to support building emergency health and safety regulation requirements and the Canada Labour Code
- over the last decade, PSPC has contributed to meeting targets under the greening government goal and supported the Government of Canada by implementing a wide range of measures to reduce energy consumption, improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings
- PSPC is leading change in the real property community—to date, the department has already realized a 58% reduction in GHG emissions, surpassing the 2020 Greening Government Strategy target of 40 % by 2025
- PSPC continues to integrate sustainable development considerations into the decision-making, risk management, planning and delivery of its programs and initiatives
If pressed on the use of the $500 furniture reimbursement for office chairs at home for teleworking federal employees:
- the department is committed to provide employees with the equipment needed to be productive and healthy regardless of where they work. While many employees already had the necessary tools to work from a distance, some required additional equipment to work from home safely
- since the start of the pandemic, PSPC has ensured the ongoing continuity of its operations while respecting the Labor Code, as such employees were offered support including a $500 reimbursement for the purchase of office furniture such as chairs and work surfaces to ensure they could operate effectively from their homes
Base building cleaning costs have remained relatively stable throughout the pandemic, seeing an increase of about 9%, despite augmented cleaning protocols. However, as the gradual return to the workplace progresses, base building cleaning costs are expected to rise. While there are different factors to take into consideration, it is estimated that an increase in cleaning costs will be realized when occupancy levels reach approximately 30% of total occupancy. We continue to engage service providers and landlords on these costs for planning purposes.
While reduced occupancies may suggest lower utility costs, the reality is that utility costs have remained stable when compared to pre-pandemic values. This is attributed to numerous variables including:
- buildings remaining operational and maintenance continuing on normal schedules
- water flushing being performed to reduce risk of stagnation and bacteria growth
- increased HVAC protocols to promote occupant wellness including increasing outdoor air intake, thus impacting energy consumption savings opportunities
- reduced occupancy translates into reduced electrical consumption for personal computers, but that also means that the building loses internal heat gains from occupants and equipment during the heating season, resulting in building systems needing to provide additional heating
The department continues its engagement with central agencies, clients and bargaining agents to collaborate on guidance. PSPC will also continue to advance procedures to ensure healthy and productive work environments for the easing of restrictions and planning a safe return to the workplace as guidance evolves.
PSPC will continue to reinforce reporting protocols for suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases with service providers and clients to ensure a consistent national approach and understanding.
PSPC will continue to track building readiness measures nationwide and take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate building readiness protocols for instilling greater confidence and reducing uncertainties within our client community.
In addition, as part of the Minister’s supplementary mandate letter, she has been asked to, in consultation with public sector unions, work with the president of the Treasury Board and the minister of Digital Government to explore enhanced flexibility in working arrangements for federal public servants.
PSPC will continue to reinforce guidelines for non-essential lighting internally and with real property service providers.
$500 furniture reimbursement
The process to equip employees was launched early summer and by late fall, according to the departmental system of records, the department has spent $1.082K on office equipment.
PSPC expects that employees will continue to leverage flexible work arrangements post-COVID-19 and will therefore make ongoing use of this equipment. As such, PSPC continues to review and adapt its internal procedures to ensure our processes promote the sound stewardship in the management of equipment purchased with public funds. These processes follow the established procedures in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat Policy on the Management of Materiel, for the tracking, retention, maintenance and recovery or divestitures of equipment and it is also in line with the most recent guidance received from the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Office of the Comptroller General.
Real Property Services efforts in support of vulnerable populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
People experiencing homelessness or part of a vulnerable population have an increased risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 due to overcrowded living conditions, inability to self-isolate, the lack of access to facilities to practice good hygiene and a higher incidence of transience.
Role of Public Services and Procurement Canada
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is supporting the needs of vulnerable populations by leveraging its real property expertise and holdings to ensure access to facilities and accommodation for a range of eventualities. In April 2020, PSPC and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) created the Interdepartmental Committee on Lodging for Vulnerable Populations to implement a whole-of-government approach with the involvement of representatives from 14 departments.
PSPC is not funded to provide lodging for vulnerable populations; therefore, our support involves sharing of expertise, working with interjurisdictional partners and national associations, coordination with funding departments, including Treasury Board (TB) for real property exemptions, and providing ongoing support as urgencies arise to navigate the appropriate lodging and specialized services support channels.
As border restrictions change throughout the pandemic, PSPC is supporting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to secure hotel facilities across Canada. PSPC also provides advice and best practices to Health Canada, ESDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Privy Council Office (PCO), and our interjurisdictional partners related to housing needs for temporary foreign workers or non-symptomatic isolation sites to ensure that the responses build on lessons learned throughout the pandemic and barriers within the industry.
PSPC has received 10 formal requests and at least 10 informal requests through a newly developed intake process to triage lodging requests and determine which federal partners are best positioned to support the community needs through space, funding and best practices support. PSPC addressed several of the lodging requests while remaining requests have been managed by ESDC through community support programs or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) rapid-housing initiative.
PSPC currently has leases in Yellowknife and Montréal in place until March 2021 at nominal value. The City of Montréal has a lease in place to use the former YMCA facility located in the Guy-Favreau Complex, the non-profit organization Bon Courage has a lease for the former National Film Board of Canada building in Montréal and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is using the Aspen Apartment complex located in Yellowknife (a 36-unit building). PSPC has also received pre-approvals to lease a vacant Crown-owned site in Yellowknife, if needed, as a warming shelter.
PSPC is not funded to provide lodging at the community level; therefore, role clarity, triage and coordination of requests is critical and ongoing to ensure expectation management and to avoid duplication of response efforts.
PSPC will continue to support ad hoc and formal requests throughout the second wave and the vaccination period to help respond to evolving situations and emergencies. Ways to extend TB authorities for existing leases are being sought to extend them beyond the vaccination period and required decommissioning phase.
Rent relief measures for commercial tenants in the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio
Public Services Procurement Canada (PSPC) has put in place measures to alleviate financial pressure on its commercial tenants during a period of low-building occupancy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- PSPC is committed to providing its building occupants and employees with healthy and productive work environments
- On October 9, 2020, the government announced the new Canada-Revenue-Agency-administered Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) Program, which replaces the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) Program
- CERS will provide simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021 for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this program, the rent subsidy will be provided directly to affected tenants while providing support to property owners
- The department remains committed to working with commercial tenants within its facilities during the transition to the new program
- PSPC has reached out to all its tenants and will be communicating with them again in the near future to indicate what additional relief measures may be available to their business to ensure their continued wellbeing and economic vitality
- With regard to the Tunney’s Daycare, it was in operation for more than 30 years until it ceased its operations in October 2020 due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and related costs
- Since its closure, departmental officials have been actively pursuing solutions with the Tunney’s Daycare to maintain this vital community service. PSPC is pleased to confirm that the daycare reopened on March 1, 2021, and will be subsidized by Health Canada
Given the health and safety measures put in place to contain COVID-19, buildings under PSPC’s management are largely empty. As a result, commercial tenants may have experienced reductions in their business volumes.
In line with guidance from the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) on rent relief to external tenants, PSPC took steps to allow tenants to defer their rent payments for a 6-month period effective April 1, 2020. This applied to businesses whose income had been affected by the COVID-19 containment measures. To date, rent deferrals were sought by 162 tenants (64% of tenants) for a total of $4.8 million for the 6-month period.
In addition, 106 tenants (58% of potentially eligible tenants) benefited from the CECRA 75% rent reduction for a total of $1.8 million. The CECRA program terminated on September 30, 2020.
On October 9, 2020, the government announced the new Canada-Revenue-Agency-administered CERS Program, which replaces the CECRA Program and will provide simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021 (as reconfirmed by the Prime Minister on March 3, 2021) for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rent subsidy will be provided directly to affected tenants while providing support to property owners.
The new rent subsidy will support businesses, charities and non-profit organizations that have suffered a revenue drop by subsidizing a percentage of their expenses, on a sliding scale, up to a maximum of 65% of eligible expenses and top-up of up to 25% for organizations temporarily shut down by a mandatory public health order issued by a qualifying public health authority, in addition to the 65% subsidy.
In addition to leveraging the CECRA and CERS programs, PSPC will also be amending lease agreements on a temporary basis, as appropriate, to ensure that future rents reflect the economic realities of its tenants.
Lease amendments contemplated include calculating rent as a percentage of tenants’ gross revenues (such as, rent becomes relative to their ability to generate revenues and their ability to pay) and mutual termination without penalty to relieve tenants of any future financial obligations should they believe their business model is no longer sustainable.
Specific to Tunney’s Daycare:
- under the Treasury Board’s (TB) Policy on Workplace Day Care Centres, a daycare must be associated with a lead department and must be entirely financially self-supporting, except for the federally subsidized fit-up and rent
- in addition, the parents of 70% of children enrolled must be public servants for the daycare centre to be considered for full rent subsidy or else the rent subsidy is reduced in proportion to the percentage of space used by children of public service employees.
- beginning in 1988, the Tunney’s Daycare’s rent was fully subsidized (mainly by Statistics Canada) pursuant to TB policy. Over the last several years, subsidy contributions by different departments became inconsistent and challenging
- during the last lease renewal effective April 1, 2019, there was no desire from departments whose employees were making use of the service to take on the role of lead department and subsidize the daycare
- PSPC was eventually able to reach an agreement with Statistics Canada and Global Affairs Canada, whereby these departments, along with PSPC, provided a 1-year subsidy applicable to the first year of the current lease term (April 2019 to March 2020) to allow the daycare to ramp up to market rent value for the remaining 8 years of the lease
- in mid-October, PSPC received a notification that the Tunney’s Daycare would cease its operations due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and related costs
- on October 28, 2020, the Prime Minister stated in a response to a question in the house: “We’ve informed the daycare that November rent will be deferred and we’ll continue to work with them on a path forward.”
- the daycare, with the support of the community (the outgoing board, parents, Childcare Now, the Andrew Fleck Children’s Services) proposed reopening the daycare under new management, requesting full subsidy
- further to discussions with TBS and the Privy Council Office (PCO), Health Canada assumed the role of lead department, agreeing to fully subsidize the daycare’s rent
- PSPC negotiated the terms of a new agreement with the daycare, with Health Canada fully subsidizing the daycare’s rent, on the condition that the daycare operate in full compliance with TB policy
- the new daycare, under a new board of directors, executed the licence in February 2021 and re-opened on March 1, 2021 and will be subsidized by Health Canada
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