Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on the subject of the debate before us with respect to how to structure meetings of Parliament going forward in the midst of this pandemic.
I am sure I do not need to remind the members of the House of the extraordinary times in which we are living. As we deliberate on how we will continue to meet, we must be mindful of the example we are setting for Canadians and the message we are communicating.
Before I begin the substance of my remarks today, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation for the excellent work undertaken by the Clerk of the House and the entire administration to give us options on how we can continue to meet and conduct business during COVID-19.
I do not need to remind the House that these are extraordinary times. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would first like to sincerely thank the security personnel, employees of the House Administration and all House staff. They are joining the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who continue to work in our essential industries. Whether they work in our long-term care facilities, our corner stores, our pharmacies or our hospital, the dedication of these workers is allowing our society to continue to function.
Turning now to the debate on the next steps for our sittings going forward, I find myself a bit puzzled by the arguments coming from my colleagues across the aisle. Allow me to once again clarify for Canadians that members of Parliament are meeting, that ministers are being held to account and are answering questions. In fact, over 300 questions were asked by members and answered by the government in a period of just three days. By comparison, in normal times, when the House sits for five days, members are able to ask, on average, approximately 190 questions.
Over the course of the debate yesterday on the motion before us, I have come to understand that the accountability that has existed, and that would certainly continue to exist under the proposal before the House, is not the problem for the Conservative. Rather, they are arguing that members of Parliament need to be sitting in their seats, under all the normal rules, in order to feel they are working.
I am a relatively new member of Parliament, elected just over a year ago, so perhaps I see things rather differently than my colleagues. For me, there is nothing more important than the work I do in my riding, serving my constituents.
I, and I am sure many others in the chamber, have been working 24/7, literally seven days a week, from the very early morning until the very early morning the following day. Whether I am speaking to seniors in long-term care homes who are concerned about their health and safety, or people who would like to understand how to access the emergency benefit of $2,000 a month, which over eight million Canadians have applied for and received, or mothers who call me for help in order to bring their children home from overseas while on an exchange or students who are reaching out to their members of Parliament for the very first time in order to discuss the measures we have put in place to support them and the jobs that might be available to them this summer, this is important work.
How important is it that charitable and not-for-profit organizations serving our vulnerable communities, literally putting food on the tables of families that need it, receive government funding? It is critical, and we are there to support them.
Our local organizations are working hard. I am thinking of the MultiCaf community cafeteria in Côte-des-Neiges, Le Chaînon, a shelter that helps vulnerable women, the Mile End Community Mission, which provides food for residents of the eastern part of my riding, Sun Youth, which does an enormous amount of work in delivering food throughout Montreal, as well as many others. I am working hard to support the charitable organizations in Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End.
Extraordinary things are happening. There are even new organizations that are being created in response to the current crisis. An MP's job is to support them. The Fondation Aide Outremont COVID-19 is doing an extraordinary job of helping our older and more vulnerable residents. This wonderful team of community volunteers has already delivered groceries and prescriptions to many hundreds of people.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, over the course of the last 10 weeks, I have spoken to thousands of entrepreneurs in my riding and across the country. They needed to speak to someone in government. They needed to have their questions answered and I needed to hear them out.
The work that we have been doing with the private sector and business owners is what has fuelled the adjustments and modifications to our support programs. The feedback that I have been getting so far from all of these calls, from all of these virtual meetings is, “Wow, thank you. Thank you for focusing on us. Thank you for being there. Thank you for working for us.” This is what government is for.
The work we do in service of Canadians in our communities is absolutely necessary. It is insulting to me and it is insulting to Canadians to suggest that we are not working if our bums are not in these seats. It was important for me to clarify that and put it on the record.
I will now get into the details of what we are proposing. What we are proposing would allow us to continue this important work in our ridings. What we are proposing would allow us to meet in this chamber, while respecting physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines, while allowing every member from every part of the country to take part in these proceedings virtually and, importantly, allowing us to continue to be accountable to opposition members and continuing to answer their questions.
I will get a bit more into the details of the proposed hybrid model approach. For members who are physically present in the House, there will be no changes, and the experience will be identical to a normal sitting. The members will be able to hear colleagues who are participating virtually by using the earpiece and will be able to see them on two screens installed on either side of the Speaker's chair.
Members participating virtually will be able to access the House debates through a very user-friendly online video conferencing platform that is integrated into the existing House of Commons infrastructure and systems. When members participate by video conference, they will be able to watch the proceedings of the House when other members are speaking. They will also have access to a video of their other colleagues who are participating virtually. All members will have access to simultaneous interpretation at all times, and all members, including those participating by video conference, will be free to address the House during debate or raise a point of order.
Once the hybrid model of House sittings was established, the House administration carried out a simulation of a debate, and the results were excellent. Consequently, the Speaker of the House wrote to the House leaders to inform them that the hybrid model could be used.
In developing a hybrid model of sittings, the House administration was able to review different approaches that other legislatures in Canada and around the world had adopted to take into account the challenges posed by this pandemic, while ensuring urgent parliamentary business was attended to. More specifically, the administration consulted 30 parliaments and collaborated closely with several legislatures that had similar requirements. This included testing solutions and sharing operational strategies, experiences and results daily.
In addition to working with other legislatures, the administration also conducted extensive independent market research and worked with industry leaders and international national security partners. In working with these partners, the administration set a goal of ensuring that the broadcast production of a sitting would be seamless and that the public coverage would continue to be of excellent quality. This is the proposal we are putting forward.