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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I call the meeting to order. If I could have your attention, we'll start.
We will move on to the agenda of meeting number 14 of the 44th Parliament.
This is meeting number 14 of the Board of Internal Economy.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the previous meeting.
Does anyone have any questions?
No questions, okay.
We'll continue with item number 2, business arising from previous minutes.
Are there any questions?
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would first like to thank you for writing an official letter to the Translation Bureau so we could get this invaluable information. I was expecting that there would be a response in my agenda book to the questions we had asked during testimony by the Translation Bureau.
Second, I would like to say that I am very pleased that the third item, concerning interpretation services, has been included in the agenda. Given recent events, it is a subject that it is very important to discuss.
Thank you for adjusting the agenda and prioritizing interpretation services in our discussions today.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
You're quite welcome. We are here to serve you.
Are there any other comments on the business arising from previous meetings? No.
Now we'll go to item number 3.
Ordinarily, we should go on to the third item on the agenda, but I would like us to move quickly on to the fourth item, because the member who is testifying is here right now and she has other important things to do.
If everyone agrees, I would like us to move on to the fourth item on the agenda before going to the third item.
We'll do that one quickly, if possible. We'll bring forward Ms. Dzerowicz and Mr. LeBlanc, who will give us a short presentation. Hopefully, if there are any questions we can have them answered.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
Good morning, everyone.
It is a true pleasure for me to be here before such an esteemed and august committee. I am here with Jeremy LeBlanc, who is the clerk assistant in charge of international and interparliamentary affairs. I come before you to ask for your approval for Canada to host the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's annual session in November 2024 in Montreal.
Earlier this summer the executive committee of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association asked the international and interparliamentary affairs directorate to prepare a draft budget for such a session, which it did. The Canadian NATO parliamentary executive committee adopted the draft budget and asked that I submit it for your consideration.
The budget, which all of you should have a copy of, is in line with typical costs and follows the guidelines for annual sessions held in Canada, and meets all the requirements of the international secretariat of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It has been prepared to take into account the number of participants, which, according to the international secretariat, will be 650.
I'll mention a few other things. Canada was specifically asked if it could step up and host this session in November 2024. The reason is that because of the illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine, the NATO European countries have lots of extra things they have to deal with. They have asked if Canada can step up and host this meeting. It's an important conversation, particularly in the times we are in right now. It also provides an opportunity for Canada to step up and show leadership in hosting this discussion.
I also want to mention that I have been before JIC, the joint interparliamentary council, and I've also been before CIBA. Both of them have approved both our hosting of the session and the budget.
I would now like to open the floor for any questions.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Does anyone have a question or comment?
We have a recommendation in front of us.
Is everyone in favour of the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Anthony Rota: Thank you, Ms. Dzerowicz and Mr. LeBlanc.
Now we'll move on to item number 3. We'll allow the witnesses to come up.
This is something that has been very important to all of us—and to people's health, if nothing else—so that we all have interpretation in both official languages.
Everyone wants this to be resolved.
We will start with Mr. Aubé, Mr. McDonald and Mr. Lemoine.
Mr. Aubé, you have the floor.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-11-03 11:12
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
As you remember, at the last meeting there were discussions on the analysis and the reporting that was done on the quality of the in-room systems, both by the NRC and by our team and our experts who are supporting our team. We finally have some results that are coming back based on the final analysis that was done a little bit more than two weeks ago. We met with the NRC and the translation bureau on Monday.
In those discussions with the two teams who support us in analyzing our systems, the National Research Council of Canada and the consultants, we were able to confirm that the audio systems we use in person comply with the ISO standard. We agreed on that point.
We also agreed that there is no loss of intelligibility in the hybrid mode in which meetings are currently being held when people participate in the meeting remotely. That is the second thing we wanted to verify with the NRC and our teams.
Last, there was the issue of the sound quality in terms of frequencies and notches. The data that was analyzed independently by the two groups over a period of about two weeks showed that the frequencies used at in-person meetings complied with the standards and there were no notches in the sound that would have the effect of reducing the sound quality for the interpreters.
At that meeting, we also agreed that there is a lot of work still to be done in terms of the sound tests that have to be done before the meeting with the people participating in the meeting. We also have to check that the sound quality is good.
We will have to continue establishing formal processes that will enable us to decide whether or not those people may participate in the meetings. That is the last point on which the two organizations want to work together in order to make progress. The two organizations are going to have to work together to establish a procedure to assure us that the sound quality is good. There is always a risk that sound quality will be bad, but we want to prevent that happening. We have to be able to give the interpreters a guarantee that the sound is good quality, before the witness appears.
Those are essentially the results I wanted to provide to the committee.
I had been asked for reports.
The report that we have right now is a one-pager. Basically, that's what we have, and we've asked our board of consultants to provide the detailed reports. We're going to get them translated and submitted to the board in the next few weeks, as soon as we receive the final documents from both the NRC and the consultants. We felt it was important today to bring that back so that we can provide the status of where we are.
I hope that answers the questions that were raised at the last meeting.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are there questions or comments?
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
I'm wondering whether we should hear all the witnesses before asking our questions or we should ask our questions as each one speaks.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I don't think there are any other presentations.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The appropriate person answered the questions, but there was a presentation from...
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
I was thinking that Mr. McDonald was also giving a presentation.
If I may, Mr. Chair, I would like to ask a few questions.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Go ahead, Mrs. DeBellefeuille.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
I am pleased to see that the scientists at the National Research Council of Canada, the NRC, and the experts hired by the House administration have agreed to work together to achieve the results referred to earlier. The last study done by the experts is still confidential. When it was sent to the members of our committee and of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, it was still identified as not accessible to the public. I don't know whether the plan is to make it public shortly, but we are being asked for it. Since we are being diligent, however, we are respecting confidentiality.
I am eager to read the final report and the scientists' conclusions, because that may enable us to explain why there are still serious accidents relating to acoustic shock. Despite all the efforts made, accidents are still happening.
I understand from the reading I have done that there is an ISO standard that applies to the audio system in the House, but there is no quality standard for the hybrid system. There needs to be more documentation about this. As has been said, it is obviously very important to do everything in our power to reduce the number of accidents and improve the interpreters' workplace safety.
As we know, the House has decided that meetings could continue to be held in hybrid mode until June 23.
I wondered how we, the people around this table, had the power to make simple changes that might give the interpreters more support.
I have read the documents that were also distributed to members of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee carefully. If I understand correctly, members are increasingly attending House debates and committee meetings in person. Based on observation, an average of 70% of members attend debates or meetings in person and 30% of members attend virtually.
However, the figures are reversed for witnesses: 70% of people testify virtually and 30% of people testify in person.
If we want to give the interpreters more support, it seems to me that we should make efforts to switch the numbers by June 23 and get back to what the numbers were before the pandemic, that is, 30% virtually and 70% in person.
That will certainly change how the work done by the team of clerks is organized, now that they have got into the habit of working with people who testify virtually for the most part. To make that change, there will have to be political will. The clerks also have to be asked not to give witnesses the option of participating in the meeting virtually, as was previously the case. In my opinion, we have the power to make a decision and we can influence the clerks, so that they invite witnesses to testify in person. I think we can make changes in this regard by June 23.
I also suggest that we discuss the mandatory of headsets, that is, the one that has been approved by the IT team to reduce injuries as much as possible.
I must say that I find it a bit unusual that I need to say that this is a way to reduce injuries, since, in my opinion, it is a rule that people should already be following. Unfortunately, there are still members, witnesses and chairs who do not follow the rule about wearing headsets.
Parliamentarians and House officers should use every means at their disposal to make headset wearing mandatory.
One analysis found that some people will not want to testify if we require that they wear a headset.
We have been working in hybrid mode for two years. We may have got off to a bad start and are finding it hard to understand how we could bring witnesses back to meetings in person and make headset wearing mandatory, but I think that is a very tangible way of showing the interpreters that we take their health problems seriously.
I am an eternal optimist, as we know, and I am always positive and constructive.
I know that the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food and the chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities have taken responsibility for this and said they would refuse to let anyone speak, whether witness or member, who was not wearing their headset.
However, other chairs allow witnesses to appear without headsets. That is the case for the chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, for example.
So there is some inequality at present. Each committee decides for itself how it will function, but things can't go on this way. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to provide the interpreters with the best possible working conditions. At the end of the day, if too many interpreters are injured, the labour shortage and the inadequate number of employees will have direct consequences on the ability to access interpretation in both official languages.
My third suggestion will have to be taken under consideration by my colleague, the government whip: committee chairs should not chair meetings virtually; they should do it in person. I believe they should set an example.
I rarely speak without getting information beforehand. We have prepared an outline of the situation, based on three weeks of meetings, and we have determined that nine chairs are in the habit of chairing meetings virtually as often as possible.
I think it is within our reach to explain to them that chairing a meeting virtually is not an optimum solution when all the other committee members are present. If our committee asks the chairs to chair meetings in person by June, the point when we will be making a decision, it will reduce the risks for the interpreters, which is our goal.
I can certainly provide the names of those nine chairs to my colleague, the government whip. They would need to be made to understand that by June 23 they will have to be chairing meetings in person.
I don't imagine that the Speaker of the House of Commons would be presiding over debates remotely. It is hard enough to do it in person, but it would be even harder to do it remotely. The same thing applies to committee chairs.
Some people have told me that a chairperson could chair a committee remotely if they were sick, for example if they contracted COVID‑19. In my opinion, when you are sick, you take leave. After all, there are two vice-chairs available to replace them.
Those are the three methods I am proposing. I think they are constructive and easy to implement and they would be in addition to the efforts made to improve the pre-testing process.
I agree with Mr. Aubé that the pre-testing is not being done equally diligently in all committees. Some tests are not done on the day itself, and members of the second panel of witnesses often don't have to pass the tests. There are several gaps in the testing process. I think the pre-testing process should be uniform in all committees. If you want examples, I can give several.
I want to raise two more points.
I feel it is my duty to speak up since the Senate does not seem to be as concerned as we are about the interpreters' working conditions. Mr. Aubé, is it true that it is the pages in the Senate who do the sound tests with the witnesses and senators?
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-11-03 11:25
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for her question.
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, in the Senate, at present, it isn't the technicians who do the tests, but I can't tell you whether it is just the pages who do them. However, I know there is a team present to do the tests, but its approach differs from ours. As you know, in the House of Commons, pre-testing is done when the witnesses are invited to appear and another test is done before the meeting, to make sure the sound is adequate. The Senate's strategy is a little different. They have been left to do things in their own way.
I have no other comments to make on that point, Mrs. DeBellefeuille.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
Mr. Chair, is it true that the House and the Senate share the same pool of interpreters?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That is a question that would have to be put to Mr. Patrice or Mr. Aubé.
Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2022-11-03 11:26
From what I know, it's the same pool.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
We work with the same resources, but we have different ways of doing the sound tests.
Mr. Rota, could you write to the Senate officially, on behalf of the internal economy committee, to inform it of our concerns? That is only a suggestion, but it would mean we could align the way we work and guarantee our interpreters better working conditions. Essentially, we share the same resources. It would be different if the Senate had its own interpreters and we had ours.
It seems to me that the Senate should be made aware of our concerns, since we share the same pool of interpreters.
Is that an acceptable solution for you and my colleagues?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Personally, I don't think it's a problem. If everyone agrees, we could write a letter to the Speaker of the Senate to inform him of how we do things. He would then be able to understand how we operate. We can't control the senators; they do what they consider appropriate. If we show them our approach, they will perhaps adopt it.
Is everyone in agreement?
Is everyone okay with our writing a letter to the Senate and saying, “These are our best practices”, and encouraging them to do the same?
View Peter Julian Profile
Mr. Chair, may I have the floor?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, your name is on the list, Mr. Julian.
I have Ms. Findlay and then Mr. Julian, but please go ahead. If there's something to add to this suggestion, please do.
View Peter Julian Profile
I think our approach to the Senate should be firmer, even though we can't require them to do anything.
I think it's important to tell the senators that we want to make sure they will not be tolerant of people who do not have the necessary equipment, the purpose of which is to protect the interpreters. There has to be a zero tolerance policy on this.
Our approach has to be firmer. The Senate needs to comply with this obligation. We can't just tell it that we have adopted better practices.
It's unfortunate that the interpreters are still suffering injuries, and everyone wants to avoid that happening anymore.
The House of Commons and the Senate share a responsibility to the interpreters. If they have questions or they want to discuss it further with us, we are prepared to do that. However, there has to be a zero tolerance policy on this, to avoid workplace injuries.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Our door is always open.
We will do what is best for members and senators. The Senate and the House are different entities, that is, they each have their own managers.
We will write a letter. After that, I can consult you to see whether you are satisfied or I can send it myself.
I don't want to start with the big guns firing right off the bat. I'd rather open up diplomatically with just a concern, with suggestions. Hopefully they will take them seriously. I'm sure their interests will fall into play.
We share the same pool of interpreters. If we start injuring our interpreters, then both sides lose. Interpreters lose because they lose people, and they're injured. Obviously, that's a personnel problem. The Senate loses because it loses resources, as does the House of Commons. Let's put something together, then.
I can appreciate what you're saying, Mr. Julian. Maybe it will be a little bit more of a firm request. I don't want to come across as Arnold Schwarzenegger, for lack of a better word, as the Terminator. It's more about seeing how we can progress in a way that we all benefit from, but thank you.
Are there any other questions?
Mrs. DeBellefeuille, you have the floor.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
I have a question concerning procedure.
I would also like to say something else, if time permits. Of course, I also want to allow my colleagues to speak.
I identified three methods: invite witnesses to testify in person, require that headsets be worn, and ask the chairs to chair meetings in person.
In terms of procedure, what should be put in place to require or order that these three methods be implemented?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I think Ian McDonald will answer your question better than I can.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2022-11-03 11:31
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I think the best way to deal with all these issues might be for a decision of the House to say clearly what rules and procedures the committees must follow. The committees have a relatively high degree of latitude, so a committee can also make certain decisions.
The limit is imposed by the Standing Orders and the procedure and practice of the House.
In terms of mandatory headset wearing, that is already part of the information that we send witnesses. However, we know that a certain number of witnesses don't wear them.
If we really want to reinforce the idea that these headsets or a headset approved by the technical services of the House has to be worn, it is important that there be a clear decision about that; the decision can be made by the committee or by the House.
On the subject of committee chairs being present, I think the motion passed by the House on June 23 gives all members the option of participating in the meeting in person or remotely, so I think it is important that this be a decision of the House
Regarding testimony in person, a motion was passed unanimously by the House on April 6.
The motion reads as follows:
That, notwithstanding any order adopted by the House, as of Monday, April 25, 2022, at their discretion, witnesses appearing before any standing, standing joint, special, special joint or legislative committee may either do so in person or by videoconference.
The House passed a motion to give witnesses that option. A clarification may be needed, but it is important to point out that we have also heard witnesses by videoconference for over 20 years.
We simply have to find the best way of presenting it. The important thing is that we want to encourage it. However, in some circumstances, witnesses have to be given the choice. I am thinking, for examples, of witnesses who are outside Canada or who cannot travel. If the committee in fact wants these witnesses to appear, it has to give them the opportunity to do so remotely.
That can be a decision made by the House or the committees.
We are prepared to work with any party to introduce a motion in the House or in committee.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I will let you think about that.
I don't think we can make that decision here at the Board of Internal Economy.
If I understand Mr. McDonald's remarks correctly, it can be done by motion in the House or by agreements in the committees.
Next we have Ms. Findlay, followed by Mr. Julian.
Go ahead, Ms. Findlay.
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