Welcome to meeting number 7 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
I am going to skip all of the preamble today.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on October 27, the committee is commencing its study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial health of veterans organizations.
Welcome to all of the witnesses who have taken the time to join us today.
We have with us from the Royal Canadian Legion, Steven Clark, national executive director, and Lynda Mifflin of the Legion in Gold River; and from VETS Canada, we are joined today by Debbie Lowther, chair and co-founder.
For the witnesses' sake, let me say that you will each have five minutes for opening remarks. When you get down to one minute, I will hold my finger up. Don't panic: a minute is a long time to wrap up your thoughts.
As well, when we get into questions from Members of Parliament, I will also give the one-minute warning—keeping in mind that I try to be as liberal as possible with the time and give people an opportunity.
I see that Rachel Blaney thought that was funny. Nobody else did. Thanks, Rachel.
We'll try to give everyone the opportunity to get their messages out and their questions answered.
First up, for the first five minutes, is Mr. Steven Clark, national executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion.
The next five minutes is all yours, sir.
Thank you very much for the invitation to the Royal Canadian Legion to appear before you today.
The Legion is a large national organization united around a common vision. For the first time in our almost 100 years of existence in serving veterans in Canada, we faced a challenge of our individual and collective financial health brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Legion branches, being that we are a dues-based organization, fund their own operating expenses through membership, which is supplemented by revenue from such things as their clubhouse and restaurant sales and hall rentals.
Since March of this year, those revenue streams have pretty much dried up. Until recently, the Legion had never sought nor received government financial assistance for our operations. That reach-out, therefore, on April 28 and again on June 3, was unprecedented. It was a very difficult decision, but it was necessary for the survival of the Royal Canadian Legion.
The government had introduced a variety of funding programs to assist not-for-profits, among them the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency business account loan, but few branches were eligible for these existing programs.
When it was announced, the emergency community support fund seemed to be exactly what was needed, but that program funded projects designed to help those in vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Again, an organization's operational expenses could not be funded.
Similarly, regional relief and recovery funding through six regional development agencies was suggested as a funding option by both federal and provincial governments, but these programs specifically state that not-for-profits are ineligible.
Further, the announcement of $83 million for the resilient communities fund managed by the Ontario Trillium Foundation was only for new program costs to recover and rebuild from COVID-19 and not, again, for operational costs.
How much financial trouble, then, were branches in? There are 1,381 Legion branches, 1,347 of them in Canada. Their viability and sustainability was triaged in June, July and September to determine their financial health, to assess what branches were facing, how they were managing and, unfortunately, which ones would close.
The results remained fairly consistent across the three assessment periods, and they were not encouraging. One hundred and fifty-nine branches indicated that they would be unable to open or would close within three months of opening, and 21 have now closed. Three hundred and twenty-nine indicated they would open but would struggle financially. Two hundred and fifty-four branches applied for existing relief programs. One hundred and eighty-six received that assistance, and 30 were declined.
The resurgence of COVID-19 cases has brought further temporary branch closures and will bring added financial stress as branches try to persevere and overcome the losses from the first few months of the outbreak to prevent their going over the financial cliff.
In May, the Legion's Dominion Executive Council released $3 million from national reserves to provide grants to branches in need. It helped stave off imminent closures, but struggles continued. It was hard to stay calm and carry on.
With a lack of response to approaches to government for assistance, innovation grew from within to ensure that the lifeline network for veterans and communities nation-wide continued unabated.
That lifeline included our commitment to eradicating and preventing veterans' homelessness, providing benevolent comforting care to veterans, offering benevolent and disability application assistance, providing emergency funding, offering resources and referrals to support transition and mental health, providing financial support to hospitals and care facilities, and youth group sponsorships.
The innovation included setting up GoFundMe pages, bottle drives, preparing and serving hot meals, offering drive-through meals and having online live music parties.
Operationally we held virtual “buddy check” coffee meetings and implemented or enhanced modernizations for the annual poppy campaign, re-offered digital poppies and revised commemorations to respect restrictions.
The Legion is appreciative of the veterans organization emergency support fund announced on 10 November and the $14 million allocated to Legion branches in Canada. The application process is already under way, with initial disbursements to take place on 21 December and with future disbursements scheduled for 2021. This funding will definitely help branches.
The road ahead is not without financial and operational uncertainty. Regardless of what our branches have faced or have yet to face, what is certain is that our commitment and obligation to serving Canada's veterans, their families and our communities will continue. The cost of not doing so is unimaginable.
Mr. Chair, the Legion thanks you for this opportunity to make this presentation as part of this important study.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today. I'm happy to provide you with some insight into the impact that COVID-19 has had on the financial well-being of VETS Canada. For those of you who are not aware of who VETS Canada is, I will provide a brief introduction to our organization first.
VETS Canada is a federally registered charity whose mission is to provide assistance to veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or otherwise in crisis.
We were founded in 2010 and have hundreds of dedicated volunteers across the country who provide immediate support to veterans. We also operate three drop-in and support centres across the country, one in Ottawa, one that is co-located with our headquarters here in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and one in Edmonton that is operated by VETS Canada on behalf of the Government of Alberta.
To date, we have responded to almost 12,000 requests for assistance from veterans and their families from coast to coast, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays. Requests for assistance come to us in a variety of ways, through our 1-888 phone line, our website or our social media platforms. Some are self-referrals from veterans themselves, and some come from other organizations or agencies. Over the past year, an average of 77% of all of our referrals came from Veterans Affairs Canada case managers.
I was once told that support is a big word with many meanings, so I will elaborate on what I mean when I say that we provide support to the veterans.
In the event that we encounter a veteran who is homeless, we immediately move the veteran from the streets by providing temporary accommodations, usually in a motel or a hotel. We provide food and clothing, and we assist that veteran in finding permanent housing, at which time we will cover the first month's rent and a deposit, and we will provide furniture to help the veteran become established in their new home.
We prevent homelessness for those veterans who are at risk of losing their housing by helping with arrears rent to avoid evictions. We pay hydro and other utilities bills to prevent disconnection.
These are just a few examples of the support we provide, but being a small organization without strict regulations, we often have the luxury to provide many other outside-of-the-box supports as well. I would say that food insecurity is the most prevalent need we have seen. However, as a result of the pandemic, housing issues have certainly risen.
Since 2014, we have received funding from the Government of Canada. From 2014 to 2018, we were under contract with Veterans Affairs Canada, and from 2018 until the end of March of this year, we were funded through its family well-being fund. Until two weeks ago, we hadn't received any federal funding since the end of March. As you know, at that time, COVID-19 had begun to seriously affect the lives of all Canadians, including veterans.
By the end of March, we closed our three drop-in support centres and our headquarters to the public, and our staff worked from home, responding to requests for assistance from veterans. Fortunately, there were many things we were able to do remotely to support veterans with no physical contact, and in the event that in-person support was required, many of our dedicated volunteers were willing to meet with veterans while taking all necessary precautions.
In spite of the drop-in centres and headquarters being closed, we still had to pay rent and utilities, and veterans still required assistance.
Over the past eight months, we have seen an increase in the number of veterans who have required assistance, but, sadly and yet understandably, we have seen a decrease in donations from kind, caring Canadians. Specifically, the requests for assistance increased by 36% compared to the same time period last year, and our donations decreased by 41%.
Keeping up with the overhead and the requests for assistance with an all but non-existent revenue stream was extremely difficult, and there were times over the past few months that we thought we would have to shut down. As the only veteran-serving organization aside from Veterans Affairs that was fully operational and open to provide support during this difficult time, we couldn't allow that to happen.
We are an organization with a very small staff of only six paid employees across the country, five who provide direct support to veterans and one administrative staff person. We are fortunate that I fill the role of executive director without taking a paycheque. In spite of that, we did have to make the difficult decision to lay off our administrator in October, and I took on that role as well. Had we not recently received funds from the veterans organizations emergency support fund we would have had to lay off more people.
VETS Canada began 10 years ago because we identified a gap. We discovered that many veterans had not successfully transitioned to civilian life and were slipping through the cracks. Our aim was to fill that gap and to provide a safety net for veterans. We know that we have saved lives and have helped hundreds of families to stay together. Therefore, we know that, had we been forced to close due to our financial insecurity directly related to COVID-19, it would have had a deep impact on the lives of our most vulnerable veterans. This, in turn, would have had an impact on the case load at Veterans Affairs.
As Canada moves into the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many veterans barely surviving the first wave, we know that we will continue to receive more and more requests for assistance, but we will continue to do everything we can with what we have to respond to those requests.
In closing, with regard to the impact that COVID-19 has had on the financial health of VETS Canada, in the past 10 years, we never felt the threat of closure until we had to deal with the effect the pandemic has had on the lives of veterans in need.
Mr. Chair, thank you. I'm happy to answer questions from the committee.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the House of Commons committee on Veterans Affairs. It is both an honour and a privilege to participate in this study of the Royal Canadian Legion and other veteran organizations and their financial health during and after COVID-19.
My name is Lynda Mifflin, and I am representing branch 270 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Gold River, B.C., located on the west coast of beautiful Vancouver Island on the traditional lands of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation. Our nearest urban centre is more than 100 kilometres to the east. We are a picturesque community of approximately 1,300 people situated at the gateway to historic Nootka Sound. Our branch has a membership of about 185 members, of which 35 are veterans.
Prior to COVID-19, we were an active branch, open seven days a week and featuring a full calendar of activities including meat draws, darts, food service, bingo, pool and live entertainment. We were able to provide the following: an environment of camaraderie for veterans, their families and our members; assistance and support to veterans, their families and all our members during illness or injury; assistance and support for veterans, their families and our members in accessing benefits available through the Royal Canadian Legion and Remembrance Day services.
Community events included community Easter egg hunts, a Canada Day barbeque, Gold River days, annual Legion golf tournaments, community Christmas parties with free food and entertainment, pancake breakfasts, and participation in parades. We also hosted dances for Valentine's, New Year's Eve and other similar events, as we have the only dance floor in our community. We hosted birthday parties, celebrations of life and wedding receptions, and rented for little or, in many cases, no charge.
We provide funding for veterans and their families to assist in expenses associated with end of life. Annually, between the branch and our ladies auxiliary, through fundraising and events, we provide thousands of dollars to our veterans, their families and the community at large, through means such as supporting minor hockey, ice skating, the local food bank and bursaries for deserving students, along with the continued support of other Legion venues such as Broadmead Care.
We provide financial assistance to veterans, their families and members of the community who require assistance to travel to seek medical attention outside of our area, and to individuals travelling for sports and other activities. Fundraising allowed us to provide many community events, including food and entertainment; to work with our first nations groups to support educational opportunities; and to inject money into the local economy by supporting local businesses wherever possible.
We provide a portion of our building to veterans' and seniors' activities at a significantly reduced rate, and they in turn provide social activities, and have recently started to provide food hampers in coordination with other community groups.
When COVID-19 arrived, our doors were closed from mid-March until mid-June, during which time we developed our safety plan, modified our space to meet requirements for social distancing, and put in place many measures to protect the health and safety of our veterans, members, staff, volunteers and guests.
Our current situation is that our hours of operation have been reduced to three days a week, from seven. Our member attendance is down dramatically. Our gross revenue has fallen by 80%—a loss of revenue from B.C. Lotteries and Gaming due to decreased hours and reduced attendance.
Currently, due to COVID-19, volunteers are unwilling or unable to come out and provide services to our veterans, their families and our community, due to risks of exposure. We depend on volunteers and staff to keep our branch operating. We have paid staff only for bar service and custodial work. Volunteers make up the majority of our services to the community.
During our reduced hours, veterans and members are unable to socialize. Current public health orders prohibit us from hosting meat draws, 50/50 draws, darts, pool, cards, food service or any other events.
Currently, COVID-19 is restricting our ability to provide or assist veterans, their families, our members and others in our community in the following ways:
We are not able to provide transportation to medical appointments, whether in town or further down the island; to shop for groceries; or to meet other needs, due to a decrease in volunteers. It is inhibiting our ability to check-in and interact with our veterans and members who are suffering as a result of the isolation. It is hampering our ability to provide low-cost meals to our veterans and members. Without any events or fundraising activities, we are unable to be open enough hours to keep our regular staff gainfully employed, including the relatives of veterans who are employed here.
COVID-19 has affected many other services we are known for, namely Remembrance Day services, Canada Day celebrations and many other community events.
The suspension of normal Remembrance Day services has impacted us and our community, with past residents not travelling to participate. There was a loss of visitations with veterans who reside here and a loss of family time. There was a loss of revenue for us, our local hotels, restaurants, shops and stores. Our poppy campaign was compromised because we do not have the resources that larger urban areas have to accommodate poppy tagging.
In conclusion, Legions are an integral part of communities of our size and they provide a variety of important services and resources to veterans, their families and our communities as a whole. The lack of revenue as a result of COVID-19 jeopardizes those activities and our relationship with our community. Prior to COVID-19, we were an active branch providing resources to veterans, their families, our members and guests. Currently, we are struggling to meet the challenges of keeping our doors open during this pandemic. Indeed, our future is hanging in the wind. The lack of revenue and fundraising is putting the long-term viability of our branch and the work we do post COVID-19 very much in question.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to thank all of the guests and the witnesses who've come before us.
This is an important study because all MPs, regardless of what party we're affiliated with, are hearing the concern within veterans' organizations, service organizations and community organizations, just how grave the situation is with respect not just to raising funds, but also to covering the expenses associated with the closures.
My first question is for you, Mr. Clark. On September 4, Dominion President Irvine wrote an open letter to all parliamentarians, in which he said, “I am witnessing extreme stress...over the possibility of Legion branches disappearing”. The initial request months ago from Dominion Command was for $30 million in funding, which would be required to alleviate a lot of the stress these branches are facing.
How difficult is the problem going to be with only $14 million in funding?
Thank you very much, Chair.
It's always a pleasure to see some of you. Also welcome to Madam Mifflin too—as a witness anyway. That's a first introduction. Welcome.
I want to say thank you for all the work that's been done. You've reflected clearly on something that I think no one expected last March, and the impact on many individuals, including our veterans and particularly the homeless.
Mr. Clark, if I may say, I know locally the announcement for the $14 million was well received, and certainly branch 632 has done great work in trying to expand on other avenues of revenue.
I know it's not the case for all the Legions, and I'm certainly very appreciative of the testimony by Ms. Mifflin...but maybe Mr. Clark, tell me, as the money will be flowing, what is the current plan for this funding across our great Legions?
Thanks very much, Madam.
The $14 million is going to be disbursed, as I've said, in a couple of disbursements this year and in 2021. There are 11 specific categories that the funding can be used for. We are not replacing lost revenue, unfortunately. We are looking to pay expenses that the branches have incurred.
The 11 categories, such as property tax, insurance, rent or mortgage, utilities, are the main things that the branches have been saying they need help with. That's what the funds will be used for across the country for branches in need. Not every branch will receive the funding.
Again, we are doing triage. If you're in need you will get it. If you can get by without it, please do so to help other branches that are in a greater need situation.
Ms. Mifflin, I know that you've spoken about your great Legion and some of the challenges with being smaller. I'm not sure exactly where, physically, you're located, other than in Victoria.
No? My colleague Ms. Blaney is saying no, so maybe you can tell me more about that. I see it as more rural, a little bit outside of a large urban centre....
I see in your résumé here that you work in the food and beverage industry. In terms of your ability to recuperate some of the revenues on a yearly basis—the revenues from before COVID—could you tell us some of the biggest challenges that have resulted from the fact you couldn't rent your hall? I think you said that you're the only dance hall in your neighbourhood, so it cost you a lot of money not being able to recuperate those dollars.
Is there a plan, other than government support, to find ways to do that as we are heading into the second wave?
Just so everybody understands, Victoria is at the southern part of the island, and most of my riding is in the very northern part, where, of course, the amazing community of Gold River is. I'm so grateful to all the witnesses for being here.
As a member of Parliament who represents 11 Legions in my riding, I just want to say that small Legions across Canada are the heartbeat of communities. I want to thank you so much, Ms. Mifflin, for outlining so clearly that they are the places where people go to gather. These are the places that get rented so that community activities can happen. The impact they have on the local economy can never be underestimated. When they have those events, people come to visit and they come to stay, and that impacts the whole region. I want to say thank you for that very clear message.
I also want to acknowledge what Mr. Clark said repeatedly here today, which is that Legions are very independent. They work very hard to be independent and they are not comfortable asking for help, but because they need to, they must, because of the important role they play in the country and communities across our country. I want to thank you for all the work.
Just to support what you were saying, I know that for my Legions, some are struggling and some have found ways to survive. Every Legion is unique to its area.
I want to start with you first, Ms. Mifflin. First of all, thank you for again making me the proudest member of Parliament in Ottawa. I just can't say enough good things about my riding, but you've just proved what a great region I represent.
I first wanted to ask, did any of the programs that are available currently work in the Gold River Legion? Again, seeing that the gross revenue has gone down by 80%, could you tell us how you guys are managing at this time?
The biggest thing I want to refer to is the Legion's primary goal of assisting veterans and their families. We have approximately 1,400 branches across the country, 1,400 service offices so that if a veteran is in need, they know exactly where to go. They can go to the Legion. They can get immediate emergency financial help. They can get sustained assistance. If a branch isn't there, a link in that chain is gone, so that veteran has to go somewhere else outside of their community, perhaps, especially if it's in a more rural area. We want to make things easy for veterans. They have some difficulties, especially with transition, mental health and other factors. Legion service officers are there to give them the assistance they need, and if branches are not there, that assistance is still available, but it's less convenient for the individual veteran.
There's also the support provided to their families, to local charities, and to local hospitals, and if branches are not there to provide that, where will that funding come from to assist those programs in the community? We do things not because we are looking for any kind of recognition but because we want to be good community partners, and that's why we're there.
Across the country we have had branches close. Could they reopen? They could, but I have not seen it happen. Unfortunately, pretty much when a branch closes in a community, its footprint in that community is gone.
Thank you, all three of you, for your presentations. It's an extremely important study to better understand what is happening on the ground and how we can continue to help, which is crucial. Legions do such excellent work in communities, and it's so nice to see how effective they are at supporting veterans and their families. I want to thank all of you for that.
I also want to talk about VETS Canada. It's just amazing how you stretch out right across the country and have so many volunteers supporting you. I, as an MP, struggle to understand how effective you people are. For example, you are basically 24-7; you mentioned that in your presentation, Debbie. It's just amazing. When you think that MPs can—and we do, in our office—call VETS Canada for help.... That's how effective you are.
Also, when you think about how over 75% of your work throughout COVID-19—and maybe ongoing, too—is case work from Veterans Affairs.... You are an extremely important organization on the ground, helping right across this country, and I can't thank you enough.
You spoke about how challenging it was financially, about laying off some people who were more administrative than on the ground. I can't thank you enough, as well, for the work that you've been doing on that front.
The $850,000, as you said, might be the most you have gotten, but there are a couple of factors that come into play here: how deep the financial challenge your organization was in, over the last six months, and that you had to use those funds; and then being able to support an increased number of veterans and their families because of COVID-19. Can you talk to us a bit about how you got through it and how this funding will allow you to continue that work?
I too come from an area that is very rural, and our Legions play a very important role. I keep telling them that they're going to have to vote me in for many years hence before I can get to all of our Remembrance Day services that I would love to participate in.
I want to focus right now on you, Deb, and your drop-in support centres. I had the opportunity to go to the one on Besserer Street in Ottawa a couple of months after it opened. At that point, it was indicated to me that 65 veterans had already been referred from VAC to that particular facility for emergency help. The ability for you to assist them in so many ways very quickly was not lost on case managers, and now you indicate that 77% of your cases are coming from VAC. I'm wondering how exactly this works with their emergency fund that is there to assist veterans.
I know that it takes them much longer to get that money out the door, as you mentioned, but you also mentioned that they helped you to keep your staff. Is that the fund that this money came from—that actual emergency support fund—to keep your staff on, or did I misunderstand what you said there?
Thanks very much, Chair.
Thanks, witnesses, not only for your remarkable work on behalf of Canada's veterans community but also for being here today. We're all very grateful for that.
I have to say that it's always nice to see a familiar face from home.
Deb, welcome and thanks for joining us. I'm going to direct my questions to you. As you know, I have become quite familiar with the work of VETS Canada, having visited you and Jim over at the headquarters here at home on a number of occasions and having participated in your boots on the ground initiative to help locate and assist homeless veterans.
With that familiarity, I would like to start with a profound and heartfelt thanks to you and Jim and the whole VETS Canada family, if I can call it that, across the country. The work you do and what you achieve really is remarkable. I'd like to, if I could, dig into the VETS Canada experience since March of this year. You said that donations are down by 41%. That's a heartbreaking statistic. At the same time, demand is up by 36%. That's some very difficult math to reconcile. I'll make three points and then I'll stop talking and you can take the rest of the time just to fill it in.
I wonder if you could share with the committee how it is that you've been able to continue to serve veterans through the pandemic. Second, can you include specifically any federal assistance that's been helpful? You mentioned already the veterans emergency fund, but have any of the COVID funds like the wage subsidy or anything like that been helpful? Third, what else do you need? That's what I'd like to hear. Really, I'm asking this question because I want to underscore to the committee and to people who are listening how important it is that organizations like yours get the support they need to continue doing the work that they do.
The floor is yours. Take as much time within my five minutes as you want. .
Thanks, Deb. It's really nice to see you.
It's nice to see you too, and thank you for your kind words.
With regard to some of the available federal funding, yes, we have been able to benefit from the emergency wage subsidy. We did receive some funding from the emergency community support fund that was administered through the United Way, specifically here in Nova Scotia.
Unfortunately, the way the fund worked is that you had to apply to the United Way, and there's not just one United Way; there's one in every city across the country. That meant many applications for us, and as I keep saying, we're a very small staff. We don't have people to be doing all these applications, so we decided to do applications in just the locations where we had drop-ins. Unfortunately, the application process in Edmonton had already closed, and so we ended up applying only here in Nova Scotia, but we did receive just over $25,000 from that fund. Those two have definitely benefited us throughout the pandemic.
With regard to what we need, it always comes down to money. I know I keep talking about the staff. As I mentioned in my statement, I don't take a paycheque. My husband and I founded this organization, and neither of us takes a paycheque. I work about 60 hours a week without a paycheque. I'm not saying that because I want a paycheque, because I don't, but if something were to happen to me, and the organization needed to hire an executive director, where would that money come from? People don't like to think of their money going towards administrative things, but we have to have them.
I will allow the witnesses to leave now. I want to thank them all for attending and helping us with this study. As has been said many times over the last two hours, it is vitally important that we make sure these cornerstone organizations across the country continue not just to survive but thrive.
Thank you for helping us in that regard. Thank you very much, folks.
For members of the committee, I'll get you to hold on for a few minutes here and we'll give you a quick update on the timing of these meetings.
We are still public, so just keep that in mind.
We had a conversation at the end of the last meeting about our ability to go longer and getting as much time as possible for these witnesses. I had the opportunity to chat with a number of parties to find out the story about whether or not we can extend these meetings if we're interrupted by votes, as we were today.
All committee dates are not created equal is what I've discovered.
Basically, the bottom line is that on Mondays, we have a hard stop at 5:30. The reason is that we have a meeting after us at 6:30, and the folks need to get in to clean the room an hour before the meeting comes in. For example, today we have a justice committee meeting at 6:30, in the same room that you're in, Mr. Brassard, so the technicians and all of the clerk staff need to get in. They will be new people who will be switching out, so they have to clean the space in order to do that.
On Wednesdays, we have a little more wiggle room. For example, if we don't get the meeting started until 4:30, we can go to 6:30. It's not ideal, but it is doable. We can capture the whole two hours for our committee, but it is a fairly hard stop at 6:30. We run into some technical issues with regard to timing for interpretation and things such as that.
So on Wednesdays we have a little bit more latitude, and on Mondays we do not. This is par for the course, unfortunately, for this time slot, whether we're involved in a hybrid version of Parliament or not. Those who have been around for a while know that Mondays and Wednesdays are often interrupted by votes.
That is the situation. I wonder if anybody has any questions.
MP Brassard, I believe you had a question.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I do appreciate your reaching out to me earlier today to discuss this.
I think what we need to do as a committee is perhaps leave it at the discretion of the chair and the clerk in terms of the number of witnesses we're getting in.
If we know, for example, that there are going to be continuous votes on Monday after QP, then we limit, like we did today. We had three today. In some cases, we may have two. Monday would be the option for those days. Secondly, if we are to get into a greater number of witnesses, Wednesday would work better for that if we are able to extend for half an hour in the event that one or more questions from members are desired beyond the 5:30 point, to be fair to the witnesses and to be fair to the members as well.
We have some pretty important work ahead of us, as we discussed last week. Wednesday may be a little more appropriate day to do that. That's my suggestion, Mr. Chair. Unless anybody has any further discussion on it, that will be our position on this.