It's finally the day when we start our draft report, so I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 15 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, April 11, the committee is meeting to discuss parliamentary duties in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before we start, I want to inform the members that pursuant to this order of reference the committee is meeting for two reasons: one, for the purpose of undertaking a study and receiving evidence concerning matters related to the context of parliamentary duties in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic; and two, to prepare and present a report to the House of Commons by May 15 on the said study. The order of reference also stipulates that only motions needed to determine witnesses or motions related to the adoption of the report are in order.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee. In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
First, interpretation in the video conference will work very much like it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of.... Well, I guess since we've had some issues with this, you really only have the choice of either English or French, so alternate your choice depending on the language you wish to speak. If you alternate the language you wish to speak in the middle of your statement, please also change the channel at the bottom for the best interpretation results.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
I have a reminder that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair. Should the members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for questions—this doesn't really apply this time, since we don't have any witnesses—just for this meeting, please, we should raise our hands. I'll try to follow the side panel for raised hands whenever there is an issue as we go through the report.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. Also, if there's a point of order to be made, once again, just unmute your mike and state that you have a point of order. If anyone wants to respond to that point of order, please use the “raised hand” function under the participant toolbar. When you're not speaking, make sure that your mike is on mute. This will be especially important today as well, since we're all probably going to want to make comments on the report.
Should any technical challenges arise—for example, in relation to interpretation or a problem with your audio—please advise me immediately. The technical team will help to resolve the problem. We may need to suspend during that time. It would be a short suspension, but please let me know so that everyone can participate fully.
Before we get started, I'd like everyone to click on the screen at the top right-hand corner to ensure you are on gallery view so that you're able to see each other.
I have a few reminders. All comments should be addressed through the chair. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you're not speaking, please keep your mike on mute. Also, the use of headsets is strongly encouraged.
Welcome, Mr. Richards. I'm glad you were able to solve your technical difficulty and join us. We are just getting started.
We will turn our attention now to the consideration of our draft report. Usually we do this work in camera; however, the authority granted to PROC by the House on April 11 requires that all committees meeting virtually be webcast to the public on ParlVU.
To remind members, we have two meetings, today and May 12, to consider this report and to adopt it if we are to meet the deadline of May 15, which the House gave us. The draft report covers all meetings up until our April 30 meeting.
I'm in your hands. How you want to consider the report and how you want to go about it is really up to the committee. I was wondering if first we could get agreement on this, since you've probably seen and had a chance to read through the report. We have three hours in today's meeting as well, so we can go as slowly as you want in order to go through the report together. We can go line by line, paragraph by paragraph or section by section.
I'm wondering if anybody has any suggestions as to how we go through it.
Maybe you've addressed this; I don't know. Obviously with the challenges I was having, I missed the beginning.
It's my understanding that the meeting is public. I understand that, despite some of what we were told during the hearings, there are challenges with being able to have in camera proceedings. However, usually when we consider a draft report we are in camera. There's a good reason for that, yet it's not possible.
Where are we with that? I have some concerns about it. That's usually how we do things and we're not able to. I guess that points out one of the challenges there is with this, and it's probably something we need to address in our report. Having said that, we're also going to be talking about the report in public as well.
I don't know if you've addressed this already, Madam Chair, but it's a concern I have. I don't know if others feel the same way.
Madam Chair, herein lies the problem. We've received what is a confidential draft report at this point. Now we're being asked to discuss it publicly. If the committee decides that we want to go line by line on this, then it will be out in the public realm. Typically, when we have these types of committee meetings, there is a significant amount of back and forth that goes on, discussion and rationale, and people putting their positions forward, and all of that will be in the public realm. There may be some things with a certain individual, for example, who's named in the report that I don't agree with, and that individual will understand my rationale for not agreeing with them.
Really, I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm trying to have some sense of normalcy here in how we deal with these reports. If it's the will of the committee to move forward with this, I think this is where we need to clarify this, notwithstanding what the initial motion that was approved on April 11 says. Can we, as a committee, decide to take this off of ParlVU, take if off the public realm, given that the report is not even public, and discuss this within this framework of Zoom that we're dealing with?
I'm really curious as to what the answer is on that from the clerk, because there may be, as I said, information, proprietary stuff, dealing with Zoom. For example, any one of us might have a problem with what we heard from Zoom and now we're out there publicly discussing that. Not that I have a problem with Zoom, but there may be something in the report that I don't agree with them on, or something proprietary that I have concerns with. Now we're exposing that company publicly to the concerns that any one of us may have with them, whether with respect to security, privacy and all of that stuff. I think we need to pause on this for a second, given those issues.
The clerk has just established once again some of the points that I have already mentioned. We're not the first to be doing this in public.
This part is not what the clerk has said but what I am about to suggest. It increases transparency, yes, and there are no rules against our doing this in public. That's why it has been done in public before. It is an adopted norm, I guess, but in this case we really have no choice because we have been ordered by the order of reference adopted by the House. It requires all committees meeting virtually to be webcast to the public on ParlVU, so it's quite clear that we must be in public.
As for the report, yes, I agree that it's a confidential draft report, so it's not to be circulated so that someone can print it and then further circulate it. Discussing the report will of course reveal certain aspects of the report, but it's still not the same as publishing the report before it's edited and is in its final version.
That's all I can say for now. We'll carry on with the list that we have. If you'd like to get on that list, then please just raise your hand in the “participants” toolbar, and I can hear from you.
I won't belabour this, but there are two things that remain a concern or that I certainly have doubt about in my mind.
I understand what you indicated and the advice you've received, Madam Chair. However, I note that we have a copy of a report—I assume we all have it in front of us—and it clearly says “confidential” on it.
As a member of Parliament, it has always been drilled into me—and has been something I've taken very seriously—that when I have a report that is confidential, I am not to share it with anyone or reveal any of the contents of it. I can say with all certainty that I have never revealed a thing from a confidential report to anyone. Even in cases like this where we've had draft reports marked confidential, we've had discussions as a committee on whether we could talk to our caucuses about them, because they've had potentially significant impacts on caucus meetings. We've had to make those kinds of decisions. I guess that then takes some of the confidentiality away, but we make that decision. Maybe that's something we can do as a committee. I don't know.
I feel we haven't squared that circle yet. The report says “confidential”. I get that we've been asked by the House to do something, but there are contradictions here. I think we need to completely address those so we can all feel comfortable that by participating in these conversations we're not doing something inappropriate. That's the first point.
To be fair, you mentioned that we'll be disclosing certain aspects of it. I would argue there is the potential that we will basically disclose the entire report, depending upon how we go about it and how much discussion there is on certain parts. It isn't insignificant. We have to figure out how we reconcile these things.
The second thing was raised briefly by Mr. Brassard. He didn't raise it as a breach of privilege, but I would say it goes that far. He asked what would happen if he were to mention something proprietary about Zoom. I think that was his example. There are other potential examples.
We're all covered by parliamentary privilege in committee meetings—that's my understanding—but it was not made clear to us during the hearings when questions were asked of certain individuals.... I don't know that we had a clear answer so as to be completely confident that we are in fact covered in this video conference platform. I think that would leave some concerns in people's minds, especially when we are talking about potentially revealing the contents of a confidential report publicly.
If someone were to have concerns about Zoom, for example, or maybe indicate there was dishonest testimony by a witness, whatever the case might be—I'm not saying that any of those things have happened or will happen—what if they they felt they were covered by privilege and they were not?
I'm still a little concerned about the situation. I'd like to see how we could square those circles. I'm not wanting to prevent this from occurring, but I also don't want to put anyone in a bad spot or get anyone into hot water here, including me, obviously.
I'm not confident that we're in that position. I look forward to hearing some of the thoughts of others, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable here.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
The House of Commons tasked us with the responsibility of doing something and the motion was unanimously supported, including by the Conservative Party, to have meetings, set out in a certain manner—in this case to be public—and to address the report in a public fashion and report back.
This notion of parliamentary privilege being breached is a gigantic red herring. To suggest that your parliamentary privilege is breached because you choose not to be part of the meeting, because you're concerned over it, is not.... That's the same thing as saying that Internet access throughout Canada is a parliamentary privilege issue. It is not.
Parliamentary privilege is when somebody intentionally tries to impugn your ability to do your job. If you choose not to do your job, the job that the House of Commons has appointed us as a committee to do, then that's a choice that you make and it's certainly not impugning anybody's parliamentary privilege. We've been tasked with the responsibility of doing something in a certain manner, which we've set out to do, and it has been done exactly as indicated to this point.
My suggestion would be that we get on with this and that we deal with the actual report, because that's what we've been asked to do. Every party that's represented in this meeting has been asked to do that by the MPs in their party who unanimously voted in favour of this. I would encourage us to get on with the actual work that we have to do.
Do you have anything that might help improve the quality of your sound?
Anyway, we're going to have the clerk address some of these things, but before he does, I did want to put in my two cents about the privilege issue. It's not really my two cents, but what we've heard before this committee from our legal experts and law clerk is that privilege extends to committees no matter where they are. If a committee is travelling, privilege would extend to that travelling committee as well, so it's not because of the member's location. Thus, I believe this is a formal proceeding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and therefore, privilege would apply to these proceedings regardless of the location or how it's being broadcast.
That has been my understanding from what we've heard from all of the witnesses.
We'll hear from our wonderful committee clerk, Justin.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
To add to what the chair has indicated, the meeting today is proceeding in public because of the House motion from April 11, which indicated that all virtual committee meetings are to be webcast on ParlVU to the public. That effectively constrains not only our committee but all committees, requiring them to hold their meetings in public and preventing the committee from considering matters in camera. That's the reason that today's meeting is public.
With respect to the issue of the markings on the draft report indicating “confidential”, that is a practice when draft reports are sent out. We mark them as confidential as a way to prevent a wider distribution of the draft report to people who aren't part of the committee or staff members working for them.
However, I should reiterate that the draft report is entirely your document. It is entirely up to the committee to decide how the document should be viewed, whether it should be viewed as something that is confidential or whether you want to share it more broadly. It is your working document and, at least initially, it's sent out to you, shared with you, under the usual practice, which is to indicate that it's a working document that is confidential.
What you choose to do with that, how you choose what kind of status you would want to give it, whether it be confidential or not, is entirely up to the committee to decide. Therefore, ultimately, it would be a decision for the committee to make with respect to this report.
I mentioned this in the introductory remarks and at every meeting as well.
Generally when we're physically in a committee room, a point of order is raised sometimes even between other points of order. To establish that somebody is raising a new point of order I would request that you unmute your mike and raise the point of order. After that, whoever wants to speak to that point of order clicks the “raise hand” icon in the participants tab or toolbar, and then I'll know they wish to speak to that point of order. That's the way to keep it as orderly as possible as we do this virtually.
If you click on the participants icon on the bottom toolbar, then a list should pop up on the right side of your screen, and the order that the names occur on that list is the order of when they raised their hands. The order will switch continuously. You will see that the names will all of a sudden get switched when somebody else raises their hand, or takes their hand down. It's even more accurate than visually being in the room. Sometimes if I'm looking in one direction I'm unable to see in the other direction, and if people raises their hands at the same time, this gives me the real-time entry when they raised their hands. It's in the system.
Mr. Richards, is your issue addressed at this point? You seem to be next on the list now.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Quite frankly, I'd like to be spared the sanctimony, because I think we're dealing with a very serious issue here, and that is the unintended consequences of that April 11 motion. Perhaps at the time that it was negotiated it wasn't thought of, the fact that we were going to be dealing with reports like this that are marked confidential and are meant to be dealt with practically and consistently, as is House practice, in a confidential manner.
The privilege issue notwithstanding, although I think there is a valid concern for that, the concern I have is that we have had individuals and organizations who have come before us and provided testimony. If any of us, including me, Mr. Gerretsen and Mr. Alghabra, call into question, for whatever reason, the testimony of any one of those individuals—say, like Mr. Robert, the , Mr. Dufresne or Mr. Patrice—if somehow the discussion comes back to the fact that maybe we don't agree with their testimony, my fear, in not dealing with this in camera and being able to freely as a member of Parliament share my views and my thoughts, as other members can share their views and their thoughts, is that it could potentially affect the working relationship that any one of us will have with the House officers.
When we go over to organizations like Zoom and Microsoft, even the Westminster Parliament and some of the testimony that we received from the Scottish Parliament, what we're effectively doing and what we're saying to ourselves by not being able to discuss this confidentially is that we're going to have to be mindful of what we say so as to not impact the potential of those working relationships that we have with people, not just in our Parliament but perhaps those companies that provide services to the government or those individuals who provided testimony from either the Scottish Parliament or the Westminster Parliament.
I think this speaks to a much broader issue of that unintended consequence of what that April 11 motion dictates and the direction that it set out to the committee to deal with all meetings publicly. I don't think it was intended to deal with what is a confidentially marked report that hasn't been put out there in public. There are individuals and organizations we are going to be speaking about, and we can't be critical of anything they said for fear of the impact and effect that would potentially have on the relationships, or of creating a level of disrespect for the companies or whatever the case is.
That really is my broader concern on this. I think we should be able, Madam Chair, to have a free and open discussion, because we are dealing with a very significant issue here, as directed by the House, about virtual sittings. Maybe one of us has something that we know about, a business platform that we don't agree with. How am I going to share that here without the risk of, first and foremost, affecting that relationship, and second, of saying something that may potentially put me or others in a position of liability?
The unintended consequence of that April 11 motion, Madam Chair, is that I don't think it took into account the situation that we find ourselves in right now.
Listen, I want to get on with this report because I think it's an important report, but I think we also have to be mindful of the impact of anything we speak about here. Otherwise, let's just say, “Okay, we'll accept it as is and not discuss it”. Not being able to discuss it openly is not the job of this committee, and I don't think that we, as individual members, should be putting ourselves in a position where we can't openly and freely discuss the contents of this report without fear of affecting those personal relationships that we've developed with people we work with or those organizations that we respect, including other parliaments as well.
That's all I have to say. I think we need an answer to this, Madam Chair, frankly.
I have just a few comments here. I have absolutely no reservations about moving forward in public here with the discussions over this report. I understand it's important work, and I think it needs to move ahead.
I know Mr. Richards said he didn't have a chance to go through it in depth, but many of us got up at seven in the morning to read through this report extensively and get prepared for this meeting. I really feel like we're being held back significantly by this.
I know that I'm a new MP, but I've read up on committee proceedings. On the Our Commons website, the third edition on committee proceedings stipulates that committees do occasionally move forward on deliberating over draft reports. Although they usually proceed in camera, they are able to proceed in public.
Even from a rules perspective, there are other examples of committees proceeding in this manner. I wonder why this is such an issue now, when it's clear that we've been given the direction to do this. It really seems to me that this is an attempt to hold us up, and I think we need to get down to business, to echo my colleague Mr. Gerretsen's point.
The other thing I wanted to say publicly is that I believe Ms. May has made a request to join this meeting. I have absolutely no issue with that either. I think she is a really provocative thinker. She thinks in depth about this. She's been to several of our other committee meetings, and I want to express my support for her participation in the deliberations over this report.
There are obviously two issues here, and we've been mostly addressing one. I raised the first issue, and Mr. Brassard raised the other a couple of times, so I want to touch on them both.
I think I see a solution to one of them, for sure. On the idea of the confidential report being discussed in a public format, it seems to me that the solution is to move a motion. Once this point of order has been addressed, I would be happy to move a motion, if there's support for it. We could simply move a motion that the report is not considered confidential and that the committee is free to discuss it in public. If we were to pass a motion as a committee, I would certainly feel comfortable, as I hope others would, too, that confidentiality is not being breached.
I'm happy to move that motion, if it helps. That would address the first issue.
I don't really feel like we've addressed the second issue. That's the issue that Mr. Brassard was speaking to a few moments ago. He said we could be discussing things that have been said by witnesses and the issues that surround that. I haven't heard anyone on the government side address that.
I've heard a lot of comments from the government members that we should move on with things. I want to make it really clear that I think so, too. I think this is an important report that we need to deal with, and there are a lot of issues we need to address in doing that. However, we also have to make sure that we're doing it in an appropriate fashion. I don't think saying we should get on with things, without addressing something that actually is an issue, is a wise way to proceed.
I think we have a solution for one issue, if there's agreement that what I'm proposing makes sense. I don't think we have a solution for the second. I'm not hearing anything that addresses it. I guess I don't necessarily have a solution myself. That concern still remains in my mind.
I appreciate what has been shared this morning. I, too, would like to add my voice.
First of all, I've read through the report, and I'd like to thank all the witnesses who appeared and, of course, all those who prepared the report. I read it through carefully this morning. I hope we can go through it.
I think it's really important to point out that we have been given a mandate from the House. I would like to quote from the motion:
...during the period the House stands adjourned pursuant to this order, the Standing Committee on Health, the Standing Committee on Finance, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, and the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology may hold meetings for the sole purpose of receiving evidence....
...members shall attend and witnesses shall participate via either videoconference or teleconference....
The motion goes on:
...the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to study ways in which members can fulfill their parliamentary duties while the House stands adjourned on account of public health concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the temporary modification of certain procedures, sittings in alternate locations and technological solutions including a virtual Parliament....
I won't keep reading. The point is that we have been given a mandate. Witnesses have appeared. We've been given a report that I think we must review and discuss today.
Also, to add my voice to others, I think it would be important to hear from Ms. May this morning.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion.
I have to say, I think a lot of points have caused me to think more deeply about this issue. They were all very good points. Mr. Brassard, you were definitely able to elaborate a bit more and give me a better understanding of your apprehension about carrying on with this in public.
The only thing I can say as to your discomfort about the different platforms we're going to discuss using and the different parliaments we've spoken with is that I'm not sure what your recommendations are and how far you want to go into the nitty-gritty of things when it comes to this report, but as it's laid out right now by our analysts, and upon reading the report, it is higher-level principles, and it very much focuses on our Parliament and our country being unique.
It's not that this is an ideal situation. I am by no means saying that this is ideal, but I'm wondering if there is a way we can go through this report and perhaps then take a look at whether our recommendations would even get anywhere near saying whether a certain parliament is doing something that's not right. I think we're really trying to pick something that is right for us, and we're not really even getting into picking platforms. Perhaps we will be putting that ball in the court of the administration and the technical teams, so they can make those decisions. We're focusing more on guiding principles.
That's the way I see the analysts having laid out the report. A lot of these decisions are just guidelines for us to give back to the House in how they can move forward.
Having said that, and having heard from everybody about—
I see some raised hands on this issue. Maybe it's in response to something I've said. Maybe I've said too much.
Mr. Richards, you're up first, then Mr. Turnbull, and then Mr. Brassard.
Madam Chair, my apologies. I did forget to raise the mike, and I will try to remember to do so. I'm happy to be prompted if I forget. It is obviously a little unnatural to hold something up like this, so it's not something you necessarily remember to do. I will try to remember.
I will repeat what I said. If people didn't hear it, I want to make sure they have that opportunity.
What I indicated was that it wasn't in response to anything you had said, Madam Chair, that I raised my hand. It was more in response to something I wasn't hearing. I raised the issue that I thought we had a way around one of the concerns: I, or whoever else would like to do so, could move a motion to take the confidential label off the report so that we are not discussing something confidential in a public setting. That would address my concern at least.
I don't know if others feel the same way about that. I heard from Ms. Blaney that she felt comfortable with that. I didn't hear any indication from our Bloc representative or from any of the government representatives as to whether they were comfortable with that. I think it would be important to know that before we move out of the point of order so that we know if we're in a position to have that addressed.
I will also point out, though, that it still doesn't address the second set of concerns, which are also very valid concerns, so we do need to figure out a way to address those as well.
Thank you, Mr. Richards.
I believe there are two more hands raised for the same point of order. After that, if it's okay with the committee, perhaps we can entertain the motion.
Mr. Richards, I'll remind you that there are limited circumstances in which this committee can take motions. The order of reference stipulates that only motions needed to determine witnesses and motions related to the adoption of the report are in order. There is a grey area here, but I think we can say this motion relates to the adoption of the report, and I could hold it in order if you wish to present it. Before you do, though, I'd like to hear all the members on the original point of order.
We have Mr. Turnbull, and then Mr. Brassard.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Quickly, as for what we need to do, perhaps each committee member should go back to the leadership teams and talk to them about the unintended consequences that are going on with respect to not only the drafting of the report, but also our discussion. If we are going to proceed with this, then....
In committee, I am used to having very frank discussions. Sometimes we don't agree and sometimes we do, but it's going to be difficult. I understand that this is a high-level report, but there may be some things that any one of us can call into question.
I think we need to go back to our leadership teams and express the view that there are some unintended consequences to the motion, particularly as they relate to the situation we find ourselves in. If we are going to be in this situation for some period of time, an amendment could be made to the original motion. I don't know the mechanism to make that happen, but I think we need to be aware of that.
I think we need to deal with these types of things confidentially so that we can express our opinions, views, concerns and perhaps counter-arguments about what individual witnesses say without the potential of either affecting our relationship with those individuals or impugning the companies that came before us.
I think we all need to consider this, as members of this committee. If this is the first time we've seen this situation evolve, I think it's incumbent upon us and we have a responsibility to let our leadership teams know about it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
This isn't the first time we've seen this, Madam Chair. A number of people have cited that this has happened, and the precedent has definitely been established at this point.
As a point of order, I want to point out that what we have been engaging in for the last hour is a debate on an issue, not a point of order.
You, as the chair, should receive the original point of order, listen to any other input on it and then make a decision. That's how a point of order works. This issue has turned into a free-for-all debate over an assumption that we need to come to some kind of joint resolution, when we don't. With a point of order, the decision is made by the chair, and then if a majority of members are not happy with that decision, there are other options we can take.
In terms of going back to our leadership to advise them of some potential unintended consequences, this is out of the hands of our leadership at this point. This motion was adopted by the House of Commons. Once it's been adopted, it is the will of the House. If we want to go back and suddenly tell the House that it made an error, that can be done through the individual channels that allow us to do that. It certainly should not affect the way this committee continues to operate.
This committee must operate under the direction that it has been given, and that's the job we've been tasked to do. We need to get on with this because we've been having a debate on this issue, which was raised by one or two members, for the last hour, and it's certainly gone well beyond what would be considered a point of order.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
I still haven't heard any indication of how certain members, particularly the government members, feel about taking the “confidential” label off the report.
I'm certainly not comfortable proceeding to discuss in a public format something that is marked “confidential”. There are ways, besides leaving the meeting, that I can ensure this doesn't happen.
Despite the fact that people think this is not important, it is important. I think this is important enough that we can address it in other ways, if we can't come to an easy resolution. I can't imagine why anyone would have an issue with this.
I still think we're left with the problems around the second issue. Obviously, we need to address that in our report, for one thing. But, second, it does put members in a very awkward position. I guess some people on the conference call don't believe this is important. I think it is. Maybe you'll address that in what you're about to say.
Yes, all votes will be recorded.
The vote is on the motion by Mr. Richards.
(Motion agreed to: yeas 11; nays 0)
The Chair: Thank you.
Because I felt this was important toward the adoption of the report, I did in this instance interpret it broadly. I want to make that clear: We don't have a lot of leeway on that.
Even to the second point made in the original point of order, which is the concern about having this meeting in public, unfortunately we don't have a lot of latitude there either. Although your points are taken and I consider a lot of your concerns to be legitimate, we have to do what we have been mandated to do as a committee. Therefore, in a public meeting, we will have to go through adopting this draft report. Hopefully, we can move on from this issue right now.
You can definitely feel free to discuss it with your party leadership. I'm sure that this was discussed. It may not have been an unintended consequence, because it was clear in the motion that we would be presenting a report to the House of Commons on May 15. It was particularly stated in that motion that all meetings will be made public and that the committee will present a report by May 15 to the House of Commons.
If we can begin where we left off before the points of order, which was.... No, we have one more issue, I believe, about Ms. May. Some people made comments about wanting her presence, and other comments were made around the rules of her participation in the meeting.
I was looking for a general consensus on that issue. I obviously don't want to belabour that point either. By a nodding of heads, I can see if there's a general consensus. If there's not, then we won't have Ms. May participate.
Yes, Mr. Richards.
I completely respect that decision, and we're going to move on from this.
Ms. May, if she is watching, or I will inform her, is free to talk to other committee members and share her ideas. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Any member of Parliament can do that individually with different committee members, but we will not have her participate in this meeting or the next meeting.
Now we will move on to the report. I know there are a couple of members who don't have the line numbers on the side of the report. It was sent in that format. Unfortunately, another member has indicated to me that they, too, don't have line numbers. For me, it depends on what device I open the report on. My printed version does not, but the version on my Surface Pro does. That's the one I'm using in this Zoom meeting, so I'm going to have to go back and forth a little. I might not be able to see some of you.
Do you want to go line by line or paragraph by paragraph?
Thank you. I appreciate that. That was the point I was trying to make, Madam Chair. I think members need to let me finish so they can see that it is, in fact, what I indicate it is. It's simply a matter of having these issues dealt with so we can consider the report in an appropriate fashion. I'll go through them.
The first point I was making, obviously, as I already indicated, was in regard to the outstanding request there was for documents to be produced by various witnesses. I'll just go through them so the clerk will have the list of what they were and we can maybe then see whether there are responses to that.
The first one was during the April 21 meeting. Of the Clerk of the House Charles Robert, Ms. Blaney had asked for an assessment of which MPs could have problems or concerns with Internet accessibility and whether that was something the clerk or House administration had a handle on.
On April 29, there were several. Of Mr. Moseley from Zoom, Mr. Gerretsen had asked for the minimum megabytes per second for Zoom to be able to work properly via the Internet. From the Translation Bureau, Ms. Blaney had asked Ms. ?Laliberté for the numbers of increased injury or fatigue incident reports. Of Mr. Moseley, Ms. Blaney had asked for the number of employees they have in Canada. Of Mr Moseley again, Mr. Duncan had asked for the status of the master services agreement with the House of Commons, and a copy of it. Again, of Mr. Moseley, Ms. Duncan had asked about their ability to authenticate votes. Of Mr. Weigelt from Microsoft, Ms. Duncan, again, had asked for cryptographic measures that would be recommended to protect the integrity of votes.
Then on April 30, there were a few requests of Mr. McCowan from the PCO. I had asked for the government's perspective or policy on the use of Zoom. Of Mr. McGill from the Scottish Parliament, Ms. Duncan had asked for the options being considered there for remote voting. Of Mr. Hamlyn of the U.K. House of Commons, Ms. Duncan had asked for remote voting testing arrangements and a follow-up on their testing results. Of Mr. McCowan of the PCO, Ms. Blaney had asked whether cabinet interpretation is provided by Translation Bureau employees or freelance contractors, and if by contractors whether they are certified.
Lastly, on the May 4 meeting, there were five requests. I requested from Ms. Gagnon from the International Association of Conference Interpreters whether there was a research paper or a study referred to in their brief and in their comments as “conclusive proof that the quality of sound...[teleconferences] provide never come close to the quality of sound needed for” remote simultaneous interpretation. On whether there was a study or a research paper that was referred to in that quote, she indicated there was and that she would provide it. Of Mr. Phillips of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, both Mr. Turnbull and Ms. Blaney had asked for numbers concerning the interpreters' injuries.
Again of Mr. Phillips, Mr. Blaney had asked about ISO details associated with international standards for interpreters and video conferences and for a follow-up brief on when consecutive interpretation would be more appropriate than simultaneous interpretation. Lastly, of Mr. Patrice, the deputy clerk of administration, Mr. Brassard had asked for the number of employees required for virtual proceedings.
That was the first thing.
Secondly, I had asked if we could have our analyst provide research on provincial governments and their reopening plans, or the status currently of their legislatures as far as their sittings are concerned. He indicated he would provide it, so I know we'll receive it. I'm just wondering what the status of it is.
Thirdly, there were a number of witnesses who were proposed but not heard from, and I just wanted to get an indication as to what happened with those witnesses. I think some of them are quite significant. Particularly, there are four different groups of witnesses. The first one would be security witnesses. We didn't really get a lot of chance to discuss and sufficiently address this even though there seemed to be some concerns raised by me and a number of other members.
I think that in order to produce a proper report, we need to have some of those concerns addressed.
One of the security witnesses that was quite significant was the Communications Security Establishment and officials from there. We didn't hear from any of them. Other witnesses with regard to security that were requested, but not heard from, included Dick Fadden, the former national security adviser to Prime Minister Harper and the former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Chris Vickery, a director for cyber risk research for UpGuard. Then there was the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity at the University of New Brunswick and representatives from there.
Other groupings of witnesses who could be considered quite important that we didn't hear from include some of the former officials from the House of Commons. Audrey O'Brien was the former clerk, and many of us will remember her. She often provides very good advice. We did not hear from her, nor did we hear from the previous law clerk, Rob Walsh, or from another former clerk, Mr. Marleau, who has written a number of important books that we utilize in our day-to-day lives as parliamentarians. The advice there would have been good.
Then again, with regard to other jurisdictions, there were a number of other witnesses who were suggested. We did hear from a couple, but we didn't hear from any officials from the Australian Senate or the House of Representatives. We didn't hear from the New Zealand House of Representatives or from either the Senate or the House of Representatives in the United States. Obviously, those are often considered three of the close comparisons we make to our system. We also did not hear from Inter-Parliamentary Union officials.
There were also a few other witnesses that I would call “others”. One is Dale Smith, author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action. Another is Dr. Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government. Then there's Dr. Kathy Brock, a professor at Queen's University.
Those are all people we didn't hear from who might have provided some very significant testimony. I wonder if we could get updates on all three of these items.
That's right; it's Harry Moseley from Zoom. That information may have been distributed this morning, since we received the translation.
As for some other witnesses from earlier on, like, for example, Madame Laliberté from the Translation Bureau, we are still waiting for information. We don't have any from her, so that is an outstanding item that we have not received. The same goes for information from Mr. Weigelt. I noted that yesterday evening, or it may have been early this morning, follow-up information from the Privy Council Office was sent around. It was received yesterday and then sent out yesterday evening or this morning.
Some of the more recent.... In fact, as this meeting has been going on, I noticed an email come in from Mr. Hamlyn. I am assuming it is some follow-up information that Mr. Hamlyn, from the U.K. Parliament, is providing to us. Before that gets distributed to the committee, it will of course need to be translated.
As for commitments from our most recent meeting on May 4, I have not received any follow-up information yet from Madame Gagnon or Mr. Phillips. My understanding, from what they indicated in the meeting, was that in some instances they would need to consult with the Translation Bureau to put adequate follow-up information together.
The long and short of it, in terms of the information we're expecting back, is we've gotten some of the material back. We don't have all of it back, but as I am receiving it and able to get it translated, I'm distributing it to members of the committee. Mr. Richards is right, though, that there is still some outstanding material left to be provided to me by the witnesses we've seen.
On Mr. Richards' second point, the briefing note, I can confirm that a briefing note is being worked on and should be distributed shortly. It is a comparison of the provincial and territorial measures that have been taken in relation to how the provinces and territories are proceeding with sittings given the coronavirus.
As for witnesses, Mr. Richards indicated that some of them didn't appear. This is mostly due to the limited number of meetings the committee was able to have with witnesses and the need to balance out panels from among the various suggestions that came from members.
There are also other reasons some of the witnesses weren't called. For example, the panels we had on Internet security filled up with witnesses before we got around to calling or inviting other witnesses, and when that occurred, we didn't invite them because we had already filled the panels. Some of the witnesses mentioned—I noted Audrey O'Brien, Robert Marleau and Mr. Walsh—declined the invitation. The U.S. House and Senate were also approached but they declined.
With respect to the issue of the New Zealand Parliament and the Australian House of Representatives, we did not approach them, mostly because of the time zone difference. For them to appear, they would have had to do so early in the morning, at one or two in the morning, their time. For that reason we didn't approach them.
I hope that responds to some of the concerns.
I'm sorry about that. This is just for some further clarification on a couple of those items, briefly.
I appreciate the clarification that you've given, and I appreciate the difficult nature of the short timelines. I want to point out that our clerk, our analysts and all the folks who support us here are doing a great job trying to keep up with everything that's happening. I want to make sure that I make it clear that nothing here calls that into question in any way. Obviously there are things we do and, in some cases, need for a proper report.
Let me address the first point I made about the undertakings that we are awaiting. It sounds like most of them are addressed other than, obviously, the last meeting, and we're still awaiting some of those.
There were a couple I noted, and maybe I missed it, but I don't think our clerk addressed them. The first one was Mr. Robert, the Clerk of the House of Commons, from the April 21 meeting, and then the one from Mr. McGill of the Scottish Parliament. I didn't hear anything, and I guess we haven't received anything from either of them.
Then on the stuff from May 4, could you just give me an indication if we've done any follow-up with the individuals who haven't sent anything, and maybe when we might expect to receive those and the ones from the May 4 meeting? Obviously, it'll be important information for us in writing the report.
On the witnesses, I appreciate that clarification as well. What about the Communications Security Establishment, CSE? What happened with them specifically? I think there were a number of issues that arose around security that would have made them a really good further witness, so I just want to get some indication on that one in particular.
Madam Chair, with regard to some of the witnesses and the follow-up information they committed to provide to us, generally, if we've received a response, it's sent out, and with the amount of time that it takes to have it translated, sometimes that might be a day or two. I can follow up and check if we've received something from the Clerk of the House. I do know that there was one bit of follow-up information that did come from Michel Patrice, the deputy clerk of administration from the House. It's entirely possible that the House viewed that as essentially the follow-up information it was committed to providing back, but I can follow up and determine if, in fact, that was the case.
On the follow-up information that Mr. McGill from the Scottish parliament committed to providing, I have not seen anything like that as of yet, but I can definitely follow up with them as well to see if that will be forthcoming.
Lastly, you mentioned some of the follow-up information from the May 4 meeting. I have had some discussion with those various witnesses and, as I indicated and they indicated in the meeting three days ago, some of the material that they needed to provide back to the committee would be information they would need from the Translation Bureau, and so they were committed to approaching them to secure the information they needed in order for them to pass on the follow-up information back to the committee. I can also check with them to see where they are with that and just how quickly the committee can expect to get information back.
I have indicated to many of them that the committee is currently looking at the draft report at this meeting and anticipating looking at it in the next meeting too, meaning next Tuesday, and that for this follow-up information to be of any benefit to the members, ideally they would send that information to us during the time the committee is considering the draft report, which would mean today and Tuesday.
With respect to your specific question on CSE, unfortunately, that would fall into the same category I indicated earlier. The limited nature of meetings that we were able to have on Internet safety filled up with various witnesses. Once those panels were filled up, we didn't necessarily go any further down the list in providing invitations, precisely because we had managed to secure enough witnesses from a variety on the party lists that had been provided to give us some full and balanced panels for those meetings.
I don't have a problem with going through things point by point or paragraph by paragraph, but I will point out that I separated this from the conversation I was having with the clerk, because I don't believe it's something that we could fault our clerk for by any means.
However, I do think that CSE, given some of the things that were raised about security—I know I did and I know others did.... There was advice that seems to have been provided by CSE—at least from what's reported in the media—that doesn't really seem to have been followed by the government. I think it really would have been important to have heard from CSE, and I don't know how we now address that.
One of the things that I will point out is that we are rushing through this. I get that we've been directed to do this by the House, but we may need to consider the idea that any report we're providing now would simply be an interim report just to deal with the immediate situation and that anything that's being done to address recommendations toward a future crisis like this.... My assumption of what we're doing here, and maybe others have a different understanding, is that not only are we looking at the period of time that we're dealing with now, but also that we seem to be straying into an area that may be a bit outside of the ambit of the motion we were given as to what happens in future situations like this one.
If that is a decision the committee makes—and I'm not suggesting that we should necessarily do that—we probably need to have a bit more of a full study here that includes things like that. If the committee makes that decision, we would maybe want to consider this as being an interim report to deal with the immediate situation, and then anything that would be going forward from there would certainly require more study.
That may not be within the motion, and maybe the committee doesn't want to go there and that's a decision we'll all have to make, but I just point out that some of these things are lacking. I get the constraints that we've been given by the House, but if we're doing anything beyond looking at the immediate situation, we'd be doing a disservice if we didn't consider some of those things.
Thank you for your points, Mr. Richards.
At this point I would suggest that we start going through our draft report and, of course, if the committee finds that the members want to title the report a certain way, it's up to the committee. If the members decide they want to study this issue beyond this report's deadline, the committee may decide to do that as well. If the committee members decide to even put that into one of the recommendations or highlight in certain sections that certain information was lacking or missing, the committee can also do that.
If there isn't consensus on some of those things, of course we do have our supplementary and dissenting opinions where we can also stipulate that. In addition, since this meeting is public, some of those issues were also noted and will be recognized in the blues and, of course, on ParlVu where everyone can see that.
We were on a rushed time frame. We did the best we could in being able to invite a variety of people. I have to attest to the fact of what Justin said when we were going through the witnesses and certain panels for certain days. I could see that they had done a really good job at putting together witnesses who came from a variety of different parties, perhaps not on every panel, but in any given meeting, we made sure we had witnesses whom the Conservatives had suggested and witnesses in that topical area whom the Liberals, the Bloc or the New Democrats had suggested, so we had somebody that each party had suggested on each topic. That is the best we could do in this time frame, but, of course, we're free to include in the report those comments and suggestions to study further.
In terms of going through the report, we will start with page 1 and the introduction.
Are there any issues that anyone would like to raise with the introduction?
We can take some time on each paragraph. I'll slowly ask if there are any issues or any suggestions on any of the paragraphs as we go through it.
I'll give you some time to quickly skim it at least.
Okay? Maybe that was enough time to get through the introduction.
As we go through the other paragraphs, we do have a function at the bottom of the screen, called “Reactions”. Maybe everyone can just put a thumbs-up when they've gotten through the paragraph and are okay with it. If they're not okay with it, they can raise their hand in the participants section to provide feedback.
This is for the introduction. Is everyone okay with the introduction, just the introduction?
Perhaps everyone could also put their cameras on at this time. If your camera is on, I'll be able to see your thumbs-up reaction.
Is that okay with everyone?
Andre, will you be able to add that in? Okay.
We'll move on to section A.ii., “Challenges posed by COVID-19 to in-person parliamentary sittings”.
I'm very sorry, Madam Normandin; I know that in translation it might not be completely accurate.
This section is a little bit longer, so I'll give members more time.
Is everyone okay with this section? Can you indicate once you get through it?
Thank you, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Tochor....
I have a couple of quick comments on that.
I'm just wondering about two parts that I think are important, which are other the measures that were done. Add that on to that list just to make sure that, as the situation evolves.... I know the chairs have been removed from the opposition lobbies, and that naturally helps physical and social distancing, so I think it would be good to acknowledge that.
I was there yesterday so I was able to see this first-hand, but there are open doors so we wouldn't be touching door handles all the time. One thing I thought worked really well was the one way in and another way out for the crossing part. Just point out those items for Andre. Then just specifically show how it's continuing, how everybody is coming up with these ideas of ways to do it.
The other quick comment could be that House administration is looking at further ways of protecting our interpreters in the booth. That's one aspect that's still outstanding for them, but I think it'll be important to address that it's in progress to make sure we're acknowledging the struggles they have and how we can help them.
I have Mr. Alghabra, Mr. Tocher and Ms. Blaney. Thank you.
Dr. Duncan, you already signalled. I'm sorry, but I miss it sometimes.
I'm trying to skim again and refresh my memory so that I know exactly what you're talking about.
We've moved on from that section. Are there any comments on the second section, section B.ii, on parliamentary privilege and the courts?
Okay, I've seen thumbs-up from some people. I'm sorry, but I might have missed a few. I saw thumbs-up from the Liberals, from the Bloc, Ms. Blaney, Mr. Brassard and Corey Tochor. That's perfect.
Go ahead, Mr. Brassard.
Okay. It looks like everyone is okay with this section. I saw a lot of thumbs up.
Okay, Mr. Tochor, thank you.
Mr. Richards, did you already...?
All right. It looks like everyone is good.
The next section is “Canada's Seat of Parliament”, section B.v.
Thank you for the point.
Is everyone good with this section? I see some nodding, some thumbs up. Perfect.
Thank you, Mr. Richards, Mr. Alghabra and Mr. Brassard.
We'll move to section D, which is on technological and practical considerations—sorry, I'm jumping ahead of myself. We're still on procedural considerations. I gave a lot of time for that little section before. In my head I was going through the next section already. I'm guessing many of you have already had time to review this section again.
Is everyone okay with this section? Everyone seems to be good.
We'll go to section D. Now we're on the technological and practical considerations.
Madam Chair, I don't know that I have anything specific I want to talk about in terms of what's there. For me, it's more about what maybe isn't there.
I know that when I asked our clerk earlier about some of the other witnesses, some had declined or couldn't be invited for various reasons, so we didn't have a chance to hear from some of the others like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which are often among those we use for comparison when we look at our systems.
Even though we weren't able to hear from them during the testimony, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to gather advice or information about what they're doing, to inform what we're doing. I think it would be good if we were to ask our analyst to add some sort of summary of what's happening in those three jurisdictions. It would be good information for our report.
Then also, I know he is already working on the provincial stuff, but I think we should maybe reserve a spot here for it and for some summary of it once we've had a chance to see it. Maybe at this point we could even instruct that some language be drafted for the report itself, based on the stuff that Andre's pulling together for us on the provincial aspect.
Again, this is just to point out some things we should probably be adding somewhere in this area .
All right, so we're good with sections E.i.(c) and E.i.(d), “Future plans” and “Pandemic response plan”.
Mr. Brassard, do you have a point? No. Okay, it looks like we're good.
We can move on to the United Kingdom, then.
Everyone seems to be good with the overview. Next is section E.ii.(b), “ Hybrid House of Commons”.
Okay. We're good with the overview.
On “Changes to Standing Orders” for Wales, I'm getting some thumbs up for that section.
Can you include “Challenges” in there as well, since it's so short? It's “Changes to Standing Orders” and then the “Challenges” section, which is just a sentence or two sentences. Is everyone good with that? Okay.
Seeing as it's 1:59, is everyone okay with the “Challenges” section, so that the whole Wales section is good to go? Okay.
I think this might be a good stopping point, then. I was thinking of carrying on. The eager part of me wanted to carry on, but I think it actually makes sense to create the breaking point here. We'll carry on from here in our next meeting.
I don't anticipate this portion of it to take much longer, but I do want to remind everybody that we would like to have the recommendations in for tomorrow. Now that you can see the whole report, it may be even easier, as you were thinking about recommendations this week. If you can have those ready for tomorrow and submit those to us, we can see where they fit into a section, and then we can have a discussion on that at the next meeting. We can have all of that well prepared for you at the next meeting.
Go ahead, Christine.
As it stands right now, on Wednesday by the end of the business day at 5:00 p.m., we would need the dissenting and supplementary opinions, and Justin will ask about the recommendations.
Don't forget to have recommendations in tomorrow, and please be ready for our next meeting on May 12. That's when we will go through the rest of the report and adopt the main section of the report, and then of course we can add dissenting and supplementary opinions of no more than 10 pages.
Thank you for all your input and feedback. I think we're going to have a great report by the end of this process.
Goodbye. The meeting is adjourned.