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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I just want to follow up briefly on the minutes, the appendix of which deals with the statistics for pre-testing of parliamentary committee meetings and all the efforts that are being made by the House of Commons Administration to make our meetings more acceptable in terms of interpretation in both languages, whether it is from English into French or from French into English.
On the one hand, I would like to thank the Administration for keeping this dashboard, which is very revealing for me. I am really happy to see that the pre-testing is leading to improvements. Over the months, thanks to the dashboard, we have been able to see that the Administration has achieved a very interesting degree of efficiency in facilitating the interpretation and the participation of witnesses, so that they are heard in both languages. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Administration for providing us with this data, which allows us to see the improvements.
On the other hand, since these improvements are so interesting, I would like us to be able to communicate them to the Liaison Committee so that the chairs are also aware of all the efforts that are being made, particularly with regard to the percentages of incidents or events that result in meetings being extended. All committee chairs must be made particularly aware of this fact. If the Board of Internal Economy agrees, I would propose that we make these documents accessible to the chairs of all parliamentary committees.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, I agree with Mr. Rodriguez on this issue. I agree with his motives and I will tell you another reason why I, for one, feel uncomfortable.
In every riding, essential workers, including nurses and orderlies, leave their homes, husbands and children to work in a hospital, a long-term care centre or a health and social service centre, and return home at the end of the day. These people are at risk because they are helping potentially sick people. They can be contaminated.
I'm not comfortable with the idea that a member of Parliament has the privilege of sparing his family by quarantining himself in a hotel room for which he'll be reimbursed when thousands of essential workers do not have that privilege. That sort of adds to my refusal to support this request and to Mr. Rodriguez's arguments. I think it's a difficult situation for everyone, both for essential workers and for members of Parliament. It is not easy to do our jobs right now. It is difficult for all our families.
So I would be quite uncomfortable to respond favourably to this request and to be granted special status.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I agree with Mr. Julian's intervention on this subject.
Today is Earth Day. What a great day to discuss a project like this! I understand the arguments and I have read the documentation. I think it is worthwhile. Between 2015 and today, the climate change situation has evolved a lot, and I think we should allow ourselves to analyze it a little more thoroughly.
For example, the members who wrote the letter mention the decision of the Assemblée nationale du Québec to certify, through a call for tenders, two or three credible organizations, within well-defined limits, to allow for the reimbursement of carbon offset credits for all travel in ridings and on Parliament Hill.
You know that the current government has promised to plant trees as a way of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one of many ways. Many organizations can currently offset their greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees.
I know that for today, we did not have any expectations, and I do not think that members expected us to settle the debate, but rather to start a discussion to come to a good decision in future Board of Internal Economy meetings, to see how everyone can do, as a member of Parliament, to also participate individually. One way is to offset our greenhouse gas emissions. The Assemblée nationale du Québec has made a decision. We could study it carefully. There may also be other models among Five Eyes members.
I am therefore in favour of continuing our reflection on this issue.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
First, I would like to thank those who worked on the dashboard requested at the last meeting. I read it carefully. I would like to thank Mr. Janse's team, who probably worked with the IT team to compile the data. The dashboard shows that 90% of the witnesses now participate in technical tests, and this has certainly had a positive impact on the work of the committees. There are far fewer technical difficulties and interpretation issues. So it's satisfying and reassuring to see that, when we make an effort to put a solution in place, it pays off. So I think it was a good decision to ask for technical tests, and we see that it is a success.
I'd like to ask a quick question, for personal interest, regarding the headset purchases. A lot of headsets were purchased initially and given to members and staff. However, how many witnesses were there, and how many of them received headsets?
The dashboard says that headsets cannot always be delivered on time because witnesses are often called at the last minute. Perhaps I missed it when I looked at the tables, but I would like to know how many headsets were purchased and how many reached the witnesses on time.
Is that figure available?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Can you tell me the percentage?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
So, 40% of the witnesses received headsets.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
So, 40% of the witnesses received their headsets on time. However, the technical tests have helped us understand that the key is not only the headset, but especially the quality of the microphone. This means that some witnesses who did not receive headsets are encouraged to use their personal microphones to have better sound for the interpreters.
Is that correct?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay.
Thank you very much.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I understand the proposal, but I cannot give my support to my colleague Mr. Richards at this time. I don't have the information for a comprehensive analysis. For the time being, I am in favour of adopting the submission before us and reflecting on this proposal at the next meeting.
I have other questions, but perhaps they are not appropriate for this meeting. I would like to understand the full implications of this proposal before we add it. I'm not opposed to it, but I would like to have more analyses and recommendations from the House Administration before deciding on this issue.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I misheard: are we at item 2 or item 1?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
We are at item 2, so we are now talking about the business arising from the previous meeting.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I have a few comments and a few requests to make to the members of the Board of Internal Economy, or the board for short.
So far, we have done a good job, and there may be a few things left to address in relation to all the means used to allow for better interpretation and participation of members of Parliament in both official languages. I had the privilege of attending the last meeting of the Liaison Committee, where we discussed the report on parliamentary committee expenses that was tabled in the House of Commons today.
I asked a few questions that I am submitting to you to see if the board would agree to formally make this request to the clerks and the Liaison Committee. I was curious to know how many headsets had been purchased, which was not mentioned in the report. However, it is an indicator that would tell us how many headsets we manage to send to witnesses so that they are able to testify and have their comments interpreted into both languages. I would like to pay tribute to all the work the clerks do. They have made a dashboard to ensure that witnesses are called and that the connection and the equipment is tested before they appear.
It would be interesting to draw up a follow-up dashboard. Indeed, since new practices are being introduced to improve witness participation in both official languages, we should ensure that their testimony is properly interpreted and that they have a good connection and functioning equipment. However, in order to be able to evaluate these measures, records must be kept on each committee and each witness so that the board can then determine whether the continuous improvement process has been successful or whether more resources or other means are required to further improve it.
I would like to propose today that the members of the board compile the number of headsets that have been purchased in the latest report that was tabled in the House today. In addition, can the clerks create a dashboard to track new measures to assess their effectiveness as they are introduced and to continuously improve them? They would report to the board in the next quarter so that together we can be proud of the efforts we have all made to ensure that all members and witnesses are able to work in either official language and are assured that their interventions are properly interpreted.
I submit this request to you under item 2, Mr. Speaker, but I do not know if my colleagues agree with me.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
The interpreter tells me that Mr. Gagnon's microphone is not near his mouth and that this makes interpretation difficult.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
This is not the case for me.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I do not agree with what my Conservative colleague just said. In fact, I rather agree with the proposal before us that it be extended until March 31, 2022, that is, the end of the fiscal year.
It is important for members to be in a position, as of April 1, to set their budget, to include the amounts in their budget planning. I think it makes sense to allow the extension until March 31, 2022. I would find it strange if we told members to be careful with their budget because the measures are in effect until September 30. Some of the measures relate to advertising costs and may be part of community support planning. As we know, the pandemic does not affect all provinces the same way.
I think the proposal to extend is logical in light of what we have experienced this year. According to the statistics and the results, the cost won't be higher for the House Administration if we save on certain budget items to be able to finance these measures.
Personally, this makes sense to me and is respectful of the members who want to plan their budget for next year. I think it makes sense that decisions of a parliamentary nature should be in effect at the end of September.
I second Mr. Julian, who also agrees with the proposal. In addition, I encourage the members of the Board of Internal Economy to join us.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We all know that, traditionally, we try to get along with each other. So, if the position of our Conservative colleagues does not change, given my little training as a mediator, I propose a compromise. The document before us contains seven recommendations. What I understand from what my colleagues said is that recommendations 1, 2 and 3 seem to be of particular concern to them, being directly related to contamination, decontamination and equipment purchase. In contrast, recommendations 4, 5, 6 and 7 are more related to the efforts of members in their ridings to support organizations that provide essential services, advertize their work, and promote their services. One recommendation even allows members to solicit donations for food banks or United Way agencies.
Here is my counter-proposal. If we could agree at least on recommendations 4, 5, 6 and 7, which I think are appropriate for the whole of next year, we could maintain them. If you are concerned about recommendations 1, 2 and 3, perhaps we could look at them together and see if we can remove them from the proposal. That way, together we could come to a compromise and accept some of the recommendations we have before us.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, allow me to summarize my proposal.
I propose that items 1, 2 and 3 be extended to September 30 and that items 4, 5, 6 and 7 be extended to March 31, 2022. The Board of Internal Economy could reconvene around August to determine whether items 1, 2 and 3 should be extended beyond September 30.
It is not because I am proposing this compromise that I feel that it is not necessary, but given the way we operate, I think it is an acceptable compromise, as long as we give ourselves the means to re-evaluate recommendations 1, 2 and 3 around the month of August or before the start of the fall session in September.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Great.
Is the raise hand button working? Can you see it?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay.
I can hear an echo of my voice. I can hear myself speaking. I don't know whether it is supposed to be like that.
I hear myself with a delay, like an echo. I am probably hearing the sound in the meeting room.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
No, it's not working.
So I will try to concentrate.
Mr. Chair, I would like to ask you a few questions to follow up on business arising from the previous meeting.
At the last Board of Internal Economy meeting in December, we closed the meeting with a recommendation that [Technical difficulty].
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Would you like me to try removing the headset, Mr. Chair?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay.
Should I go on?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay.
I wanted to ask you something about Mr. Janse's appearance. The Board of Internal Economy authorized the letter to be sent to the Liaison Committee, that is, to Ms. Sgro, who was then to forward the letter to all chairs of [Technical difficulty].
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I will try without the headset, Mr. Chair.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Is that better, Mr. Chair?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I can still hear the echo of myself, but I hope the sound is clear on your end.
Mr. Chair, I was referring to the letter that the clerk assistant, Mr. Janse, was authorized to send in your name on behalf of the Board of Internal Economy to the chair of the Liaison Committee, Ms. Sgro. The purpose of the letter was to communicate certain recommendations and observations with respect to interpretation.
The observations were that interpretation into French is hard to do at the moment because of issues with the technology. From the time committees began to meet until the end of September, 86% of witnesses testified in English. That put pressure on the technology to make high-quality interpretation available to francophone members.
Ms. Sgro forwarded the letter to all committee chairs on December 8. How many committee chairs sent the letter to the other members of their committee?
Was the letter well received, Mr. Janse?
Did the chair of the Liaison Committee feel committed to a mission of awareness and promotion with the other committee chairs? Did she impress upon them just how significant the proposals were to ensuring quality interpretation for francophone members?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Good morning, Ms. Kletke.
First, I would like to acknowledge the fact that, within your department, you directed two of your managers to consult the whips of all caucuses on what could be improved and therefore to gather information from all recognized parties in the House.
I want to thank you for that because it shows me that you are committed to improving your department and better serving members in the House of Commons. I also want to thank you for the fact that I felt I was heard. I know that the two managers I met with last week accepted and even appreciated some of the recommendations, the improvements, that I wanted to see. I am therefore very grateful to you for that good practice that other departments will hopefully choose to adopt.
I fully agree with your recommendation. I don't know if it is the fact that we are close to Ottawa, but we noticed that the 12-day service standard was often exceeded. The average was about nine days. We are quite satisfied with the timeframes. Of course, we would like to bring them down from 12 to nine or even between five and nine, as you suggest. In the age of social media, we often want to communicate quickly with our constituents about situations or activities, or even about information related to the pandemic. Everything moves so quickly these days. I feel that, while maintaining its quality, its thoroughness and its professionalism, our printing service must do the best it can to reduce its turnaround time throughout the process, from submission to mockups, production and mailing to the public.
I want to thank you because I'm sure we will be pleased with your proposals and those that you will make in the spring, since you have understood how important it is for members to send out quality information [Technical difficulty] and that meets the need for more urgent communications.
I also noticed that you paid special attention to publications of 5,000 copies or less, which are perhaps not being used optimally. Members may benefit from becoming more familiar with this type of publication since it is a much shorter process. If you opened it up to local businesses, we might be able to use this parliamentary tool more often for more urgent publications. It's a tool that may be underused, at least by my caucus.
So I thank you once again, and I agree with the recommendation you have submitted to us today.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
If I may, Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank Mr. Janse for having provided some details about the questions I had asked him.
I had asked how many witnesses gave evidence in French in parliamentary committees. What I'm trying to do is document the technical problems that sometimes come from failing to wear a headset. These problems mainly occur when unilingual francophone MPs are speaking.
At the last meeting, I said that I thought 90% of francophone witnesses gave their evidence in English. I was wrong by 4%. It would seem that 86% of francophone witnesses who appear before parliamentary committees do so in English. We've been saying from the outset that interpretation and technical problems have been having more of an impact on interventions by francophone MPs. And now we have facts and documentation to support our claim.
Mr. Chair, there have been many recommendations and suggestions. For example, it was suggested that the chair of the Liaison Committee should require an internal economy motion for the parliamentary committees asking each committee to adopt an internal economy motion to have witnesses do some technical tests before giving evidence in order to ensure that sound connectivity and quality are satisfactory.
Would House Administration and the clerk move this suggestion forward or should we take a position on it? I'd like some specifics on this point.
Is it up to us to do the follow-up or will it be delegated to the Liaison Committee? Are the clerks going to follow through on these suggestions made in the letter sent by the deputy clerk to the Committees and Legislative Services Branch?
Once again, I'd like to thank the team of clerks for having documented the problem and passed the information on to us. It'll be very useful to us in our future work.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
What I understood was that technical tests would be a good idea, wherever possible, right before witnesses appear. One example of an annoying technical problem was during an appearance by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. The problem was fixed afterwards.
Right before someone is to give evidence, it would be useful to do some tests and remind the witness to wear a headset. If the witness doesn't have a headset, possible options could be suggested, or another witness could go first. The goal is to emphasize the importance of how to set things up to make interpretation possible.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, first I would like to congratulate printing service employees because they meet their standards. Every member's office is well informed of the entire process. From the start of that process to the mailing of their householders, standards are met, including those respecting the number of days or weeks.
I have exhausted my householder budget despite the pandemic, yet the printing service hasn't failed to meet its standards even once. It's important to know that. Part of the responsibility for meeting turnaround times falls to the teams that create householder content, both in the ridings and on the hill. These people have a deadline to meet, a period of three weeks from start of process to mailing. That may not be fast enough for some, but the fact remains that established standards are met. I want to emphasize that.
The advantage of using a local printer is, first, that it would support a local business. That's a positive. We would also have control of the process and the number of days involved. That varies locally, but it's true that it also varies across Quebec and, I imagine, across Canada. Back home, in less than five days, I can get 46,000 copies of a householder of the same quality as that of the House printing service, and turnaround times are shorter.
I'm eager to see the analysis. We're always somewhat reluctant when we discuss privatizing printing services. What will happen to employees if the work is farmed out to businesses in our constituencies? Using our printing service guarantees uniform quality. Formats must be used and graphic standards met, and there's the whole issue of householder standards. Because those standards are applied, all members are put on an equal footing. I care about the fact that 338 members can come and go through the same door, and all of them are treated equally.
The supply of services in the private sector is excellent in some regions and less so in others. In this case, are we going to create a two-tiered system? Some members from urban areas may have access to better services in the private than the public sector, and others may have less leeway and have to navigate the House printing service bottleneck.
I'm eager to read your analysis. These are matters that concern me. They require a fair and equitable decision, but they must especially take into consideration taxpayers' ability to pay. Ultimately, I'd like to know whether it will cost taxpayers more money to print our publications in the private sector or whether the price the House printing service charges is reasonable for all taxpayers.
I just wanted to set the tone for the debate we'll soon be having.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I'd like to thank Mr. Janse for having answered our questions. Some members of the Board of Internal Economy, or the BOIE, had questions about some of the reports that were tabled.
I asked a question about the headsets worn by witnesses appearing before the committee, but the answer, while not unsatisfactory, could have been more detailed.
It says here that 400 headsets were sent to witnesses. In fact, approximately 20% of the witnesses received a headset. I'm sure you understand, Mr. Chair, why I'm drawing attention to this.
The hybrid format being used for House sittings and committee meetings is creating problems for francophone MPs from all the parties. The headset problems are one thing, but trying to get witnesses to understand how to change the interpretation channel is another. I'd like Mr. Janse to have an answer for us at the next meeting of the BOIE. I would like to know how many witnesses spoke French, and I'll tell you why.
Here's what I think. Approximately 90% of witnesses speak English, which means that it's essential to have interpretation into French. When a witness gives evidence in French and no English interpretation is available,there's sure to be a point of order within 30 seconds to correct the situation. I'd like to see these technical and interpretation problems dealt with. I don't feel that the situation is improving quickly enough.
Yesterday, I was a bit exasperated, or I should say discouraged—that's the better word for it. In a meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship appeared to discuss the main estimates, but did not have the right headset and interpretation was impossible. It's rather discouraging to see that the minister's officials didn't go to the trouble of making sure that he had the right equipment and knew how to work the interpretation channels to make interpretation into both official languages possible.
If Ms. Normandin, our spokesperson, had been a unilingual francophone MP and had not understood anything in English, what would have happened? It's easier for the technicians to tell the witnesses to speak English, because then they don't have to do anything with the interpretation channel, which we all agree has been a problem and a hindrance.
In the report that was tabled, I'd like the number of witnesses who gave evidence in French to be recorded, so that we could see whether the technological problems have been having more of an impact on members who speak French.
Yesterday, a witness at the fisheries and oceans committee did not have a headset and the interpretation was not working in either direction. When he spoke French, the anglophone MPs said that the interpretation was not working and when he spoke English, it too was not working. The Bloc Québecois member had to ask questions in English because she could not ask them in French owing to these problems.
I don't know who to tell about the problem. The clerks and the committee chairs certainly need to be made aware that it's unacceptable for francophone MPs to be told they can't ask their questions in French because the witness does not understand or because the interpretation or the equipment is not working. There are francophone MPs in every party. The MPs can't understand the witnesses because things are not working in either direction.
We had an exploratory discussion yesterday about the French situation.
It's rather sad to see that we still have some hiccups in terms of access to French.
We received a solid report about the committees from Mr. Janse and we are going to use it to look into this matter at the Bureau of Internal Economy more thoroughly because it' s too important and we have to find answers to the problems that francophone MPs are currently experiencing when they sit on the various committees.
I am aware of all the efforts being made by House staff members and by the IT teams. I'll be the first in line to thank them. I know that everyone is working hard on it, but we' re running out of time. We know that we'll still be operating as a hybrid Parliament for some time to come and that we can't carry on for long until this situation about access to interpretation in both official languages has improved.
I know that some witnesses are called only on the day before they are to give evidence. Headsets can't be teleported, and have to be sent to them, which is impossible at the moment through House services, particularly when a meeting is called only the day before. However, I do find it unacceptable when ministers and others don't have the right equipment when they appear.
If the witnesses don't have the required equipment, then we need to find another solution. We can't tell the francophone MPs that there are problems and limitations and that that's just the way it works. I'm going to do battle on this important issue. If we don't, who will? It's up to all of us to find a solution.
I have no complaints about House Administration; quite the contrary. However, we need to work harder to make the committee chairs more aware of the situation. They need to demonstrate flexibility in allocating time. If a francophone MP from any of the parties is asking questions in French and needs to repeat them because the witness did not understand as a result of an interpretation problem, then the speaking time needs to be adjusted.
We've already discussed this. I clearly remember that the government House leader said that speaking time would be adjusted. He mentioned that the chairs should be flexible about the idea of allowing a little more time to avoid penalizing an MP who is losing speaking time because of having to repeat things three times for witnesses who did not understand the question in French because of interpretation or technological problems.
At the next Board of Internal Economy meeting, I would like an update on how much of the evidence was presented only in French, because that would show us the scale of the problem.
Here is an example of what can happen when evidence is only in French. Last week, the member for Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP) was interrupted in the middle of asking a question in French to an anglophone member who rose on a point of order because he didn't understand the question. You allowed the member to repeat the question. In question period, when a member is interrupted in the middle of a question, it has an impact on spontaneity. Some people don't hesitate to interrupt a member when they don't understand.
We're trying to be understanding and willing to compromise. There are some exceptional circumstances in which we will compromise by listening to evidence in English. For example, there was moving evidence at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We understand that there can be exceptions, but they should be just that – exceptions. At the moment, it's happening all too often.
At the next meeting of the Bureau of Internal Economy, I'd like us to get together to try to find ways of improving the situation on the basis of Mr. Janse's report.
Thank you for taking the time to hear me out.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I have something to say about point 4 of your request, that is, the full-time equivalent position for the Members' Orientation Program. I can tell you that this program is very important, as I myself first went through the orientation almost a year ago. However, I feel it would be appropriate to change the name of the program, because the individual who is going to join the team will be doing more than just orientation.
The work actually involves ongoing training and support for the development of skills and knowledge for members and their staff, so that they are better supported in their work.
Do you intend to do justice to your work by changing the name of the program, which is more than just an orientation program?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Since a large number of people are watching us on television, could you describe some of the major ongoing training programs that you provide to members and their staff?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I would like to speak to Mr. Janse. However, before I do, I would like to clarify something.
Mr. Richards said that the committees are virtual. Actually, they are hybrid. This was a very significant request and I feel that it is good to tell the public about it. Members of Parliament can be physically present in rooms arranged for that purpose. However, they can also participate remotely through videoconference platforms. I don't want people to understand that the committees are being held entirely by videoconference. More and more, members of Parliament prefer to be physically present, while still observing health rules. I wanted to clarify that.
What caught my attention in your testimony is that you mentioned that one of the expenditures was to send headsets to all the witnesses. I don't want to cast doubt on that statement, but I can tell you that, we in the Bloc Québécois are experiencing a lot of difficulties. Some witnesses have no headsets and that limits the interpretation. I have no statistics and I will not ask you to provide us with any, but I believe that it is fair to say that 90% of the witnesses give their testimony in English. That means that the witnesses need interpretation. In a lot of cases, and we in the Bloc Québécois have documented it fairly well, we have problems because the witnesses do not have the necessary equipment.
I understand that it is difficult for the witnesses to receive them, because often, they are invited at the last minute. The fact remains that witnesses having no access to the equipment that they need and that would provide them with good interpretation, is still a major problem. In that sense, Mr. Janse, I can tell you that francophone members feel some discrimination. The fact that witnesses do not understand the interpretation in their own language means that important seconds are lost, during which members could be asking questions.
I am talking about members of the Bloc, but there are also other French-speaking members in other parties. All this is to tell you that I thought that the expenditure on headsets was the responsibility of the IT team, headed by Mr. Aubé, not of the committees. That's something I learned today. I therefore want you to make you aware that there is a real problem. I hope that, in the short term, all witnesses will have the equipment they need for adequate interpretation, which will allow francophone members who need the interpretation to participate more fully.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I want to start by congratulating and thanking today's interpreters for the quality of their work and for their considerable expertise. We hear many interpreters, but I can say that today we have an all-star team. They do their work at practically the speed of light. I want to thank them for this.
Mr. Paquette, thank you for the quality and thoroughness of your presentation. I'm a good student and I do my reading. During my preparations, I ask questions. Today, I want to congratulate you for being very transparent, especially because you clear up matters that are sometimes complex. Thank you for this.
My questions will focus on what happens next. By this weekend, the entire province of Quebec may enter the red zone, probably for several weeks or even months. I'm thinking about all our decisions regarding certain expenses that weren't necessarily routine. I'm thinking of the disinfection equipment, the layout of the offices, the extension of the permission to advertise beyond the percentage allowed by the by-law, and all the changes made along the way to authorize members or their offices to incur expenses related to certain budget items.
At the next board meeting, do you plan to propose an extension of certain measures or other measures that could help members better handle their work?
I'm quite concerned because not all employees in our constituency offices have the furniture, ergonomic chairs and other work tools needed to carry out their work in compliance with health and safety standards. To date, for example, the finance services is still refusing to allow the purchase of a chair for one of our employees who must use the chair at home, since the chair is normally the property of the House of Commons. As employers, we recommend that all our employees work from home, so I wonder about our limitations. How can we better manage and support our employees from a health and safety perspective?
Also, as you may recall, the budget for Internet access increased because, in some rural areas, teleworking incurs exponential costs in this area. Members were allowed to claim these costs back from their main budget.
If the situation continues over the next six months, wouldn't this significantly affect the budgets of some members?
Wouldn't some members be adversely affected by the fact that they must pay more for Internet access than a member who lives in an urban area, for example, where this additional expense isn't included in their MP budget?
At the next board meeting, or at subsequent meetings, will we be looking at ways to help members carry out their duties in their constituencies in compliance with the health rules and the guidance provided by their governments? In our case, we're talking about the Quebec government.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
If my colleagues don't object, we could ask for an analysis, but not immediately, since the analysis is comprehensive. However, the Board of Internal Economy could provide an overview.
I believe that most permissions expire on March 31, 2021. So before Christmas, we could be presented with an overview.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I want to start by thanking the interpreters who have been translating the comments made by my English-speaking colleagues for the past hour and 10 minutes. I must say that they're excellent, and I applaud them. I hope that they have air conditioning in their booths, because it's hot.
Mr. Speaker, I find the report presented to us today very transparent. I can see that a number of expenditure increases have been funded through the authorized budgets.
I have just one question.
One reason for the increase in staff expenditures, which total $17.3 million in 2019-20, is the hiring of additional employees to work on the major Centre Block renovation project.
How much of this increase is related to staff expenditures in comparison with the other items identified in the document, such as information technology, advisory services and support for members? Are more human resources directed toward providing advisory services to members than toward the major Centre Block renovation project?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Did you give me the floor, Mr. Chair.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Sorry. I didn't hear you.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Daigle, how do you pronounce your last name?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
My name shouldn't be pronounced the English way. Whether we're speaking in English or in French, my name is pronounced the French way. I'll pronounce your last name the French way. Does that work for you, Ms. Daigle?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I studied your report carefully. I want to congratulate you, because I find the report very clear. I have some questions regarding your level of satisfaction.
Have the new practices and resources put in place, such as the support provided by the human resources advisers that you added to your team, affected the number of complaints regarding psychological or sexual harassment or abuse of authority? Has this made a positive impact, or is the impact still difficult to measure?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
The added staff has made a difference. Specifically, I'm referring to the HR advisers assigned to each caucus to support members in their roles as employers. The advisers work proactively, before workplace conflicts turn into the formal complaints classified in your report. That's my understanding.
I'd like to take this opportunity because public servants are often criticized. They aren't always depicted in a positive light, so I'd like to point out how outstanding the HR advisers assigned to the Bloc Québécois caucus are. They are competent and do an excellent job. They have shown the utmost professionalism. They are very committed to supporting members in their roles as employers.
As someone who spent much of her career as a manager in Quebec's public sector, I can say that those two people from your team have all the necessary skills and professionalism to support members in their roles as employers. Not only do I want to thank them publicly, but I also want to commend you. They say good leaders or managers surround themselves with good people. That's a compliment for you as well, Ms. Daigle.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I have one last question for you. I don't think I heard the total number of members who took the three-hour training course on sexual harassment prevention.
Did you tell us already? Did I miss it?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I see.
As whips, we play a vital role in mobilizing our party members. Finding time in their schedules can be challenging. As far as the Bloc Québécois is concerned, I can say I'm quite proud of our results.
Can you tell those following the proceedings how many Bloc Québécois members have completed the training?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Once again, kudos to you on the great job you're doing.
Mr. Chair, investing in HR advisers is smart spending. It makes for even better members who are more respectful employers.
Thank you, Ms. Daigle.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I listened to what my fellow members had to say. They seem to be focusing on the patio set, not on the item or its purpose. I more or less agree with them. I know this won't change the outcome, but it's still worth explaining.
Yes, he's an experienced member, but it didn't occur to him that the expense would be denied, because he was focused on the opportunity to meet with constituents in a safe outdoor setting with sturdy furniture made in Quebec of recycled materials. The furniture can also be used indoors. You saw the photos in the file. It's not a conventional patio set any member of the public can buy. It's special.
The Board of Internal Economy also needs to consider the fact that members in the regions can practise politics differently than those in heavily populated areas. More and more, members have office spaces with access to areas where they can meet with constituents outdoors. For example, my office is in a heritage building with a beautiful large gallery. I might've decided to buy chairs so I could meet with constituents outside, while still on the property where my constituency office is located. I think the member was under the impression that, if he furnished the space, it would give him a place where he could meet with more constituents or where people could eat, while adhering to physical distancing, especially during the pandemic.
Given the cost and the unusual nature of the expense, I see why he should have sought permission first, which he didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think we should be closed to the idea. I'll come back to what Pablo Rodriguez said about setting precedents and members buying barbecues. Let's not forget how much many members spend to put on barbecues for their constituents. It might save taxpayers money if we organized our own barbecues.
All that to say, it's not an idea we should reject out of hand. I don't think the Board of Internal Economy should take an overly conservative view of the matter. It should focus on the fact that practising politics differently also means providing access to spaces that may not have been available a few years ago.
Be that as it may, I realize I'm probably the only one who thinks we should broaden our view of a member's role and the ways they communicate with their constituents.
I know this request is going to be denied, but I want to make clear that I agreed with my fellow member's rationale. We will accept the Board of Internal Economy's decision.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Actually, I want to make sure I understand what this is all about. You're proposing to extend until the end of the fiscal year, March 2021, the suspension of regulations and policy that were supposed to end on June 30.
You also suggest that members of Parliament could communicate information related to COVID-19 through advertisements for food banks, or solicit donations that are related to COVID-19. Having said that, will we also be able to communicate content that is not related to COVID-19 in future parliamentary mailings?
Before the House was suspended, several members had already sent business cards or stationery to the printing department. Will the work of the printing department resume where it left off or will requests related to other aspects be set aside altogether?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
In short, if members have put work on hold, work which was delayed because of the suspension, that work will resume. Do I understand you correctly?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, I think the transparency that this law promotes does encourage greater disclosure than before. I agree with Ms. Bergen on all the templates and on how to make it user-friendly and fairly easy for citizens to consult. I think it is quite a remarkable piece of work.
If members of our caucuses are to be more transparent and enter their data properly, the source platform and financial portal must be better adapted to reduce the time spent in front of screens filling out travel statements, among other things.
Both as a senior officer and as a member of Parliament, I'm experimenting with the portal. I do it on-screen as a member of Parliament, then I do it by hand as a senior officer. I was wondering if, when the act comes into force, the source platform and the financial portal will be adjusted and changed with respect to travel reports.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Also, you talk about training for MPs in your work plan. How do you plan to organize the members' training? Will you be delivering it to caucuses? How do you plan to deliver this important training to the different caucuses?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
All right, thank you.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I'm listening to my colleagues and I'm not sure I understand their concerns.
I believe that members of Parliament should lead by example. If I am a young mother—or a young father—and a member of Parliament, I must make an effort to reconcile my parliamentary duties with my family life. If the House makes available to us a number of points that are well known and known to all, I believe that we must be able, as politicians, to explain the situation to the public and set an example.
I don't necessarily share Mr. Strahl's or Ms. Bergen's fears. There will always be people who find that MPs are expensive and overspend. When we talk about family travel—i.e., husbands, wives and children—it illustrates very well that we are in a different era, where female and male MPs have family lives. They are parents or even grandparents, and they need to live that balance that everyone wants. I think that we need to own that fact and defend it, not try to evade the law and put a defence under the rug for fear of being misunderstood.
I'm all for discussing it, but the law comes into force on June 21. If all members of the House make reasonable travel arrangements to balance work and family and rigorously perform their parliamentary duties, I find it fairly easy to defend the fact that one can perform one's duties while being a spouse or a parent.
I do not understand the debate we are having to ask the Speaker to exempt us from releasing this information. In my opinion, we must take the lead and set an example and say that, yes, it is possible to do a public, political job, to have children and a spouse and to reconcile everything. The act provides for travel points in that sense to allow us to be balanced political leaders.
That is my opinion on this issue.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mr. Paquette.
Are many of the members who inadvertently made this mistake paying for the expense without having requested an exception from the Board of Internal Economy?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I see the meeting's winding down, Mr. Chair. It's 4:20 p.m., and we had planned to go until 5:00 o'clock.
After your conclusion, would you allow me to ask Mr. Patrice a short question regarding the interpretation of parliamentary subcommittees?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
In fact, according to the last motion adopted last week, parliamentary committees have recovered their usual powers, that is, they can discuss matters other than COVID-19 and other motions, and the subcommittees are back. During the adjustment and transition period, parliamentary committees were instead setting up informal committees, which were the equivalent of subcommittees. Simultaneous translation was also discussed. Even the Bloc Québécois members agreed not to have access to any interpretation.
In light of last week's motion, you will understand that, if committees regain their usual powers, all members must also be able to regain all their privileges in subcommittees, that is, to be able to communicate and be heard in their own language and to hear the language of other members.
Is the House prepared to extend that welcome to all members of Parliament?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I think we've scheduled a meeting of whips this week to come to an agreement on these various organizational matters, because for us it is preferable, and even required, to hold subcommittees with access to interpretation.
There may be some provisions that need to be discussed with the whips so that the committees can be held with access to interpretation this week. So there may be some changes. That's what I understand.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Excuse me, Mr. Rodriguez, you meant to say “interpretation,” didn't you?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
If I may be allowed to draw a brief conclusion, Mr. Chair, I trust the Liberal whip, Mr. Mark Holland, and Mr. Mark Strahl to inform the committee chairs that committee proceedings must now be interpreted.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I have looked over the document that was provided to us. I find that it reflects all the discussions we have had. Above all, it clearly defines the parameters that Ms. Bergen, Mr. Strahl or the rest of the committee wanted, in order to give the team led by Mr. Patrice some direction and guidelines.
I understand the confusion we see in the French version—I don't know the situation in English—from the use of the words: “le BRI créera un sous-comité”. So let's take that out and put “le BRI créera un groupe de travail” instead. With that change, I feel that Mr. Strahl will be more comfortable.
After that, in my opinion, the mandate and the description of the objectives in the French version answer all of our concerns and cover all the guidelines that we would like the House of Commons administration to abide by. So I find the document to be quite complete. If we have forgotten anything, Mr. Holland can add it. Personally, I am very comfortable with it.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, Mr. Patrice, I want to thank you for the quality of the documents that we received in advance. As a result, we can better appreciate today's presentation.
I gather that you're inviting us to take a step forward rather than to simply participate in a committee. This process would continue over time. The process, which has started, would not end with our Parliament, but rather in several Parliaments.
I also understand that all recognized parties in the House of Commons are committed to working in a committee. Regardless of whether the whips or leaders change, the work must continue. In this way, the administration and the experts in the House will shape the new Parliament, with the support and advice of the members who spend a great deal of time there, sometimes even more time than in their own homes.
Perhaps we'll soon resolve one of your issues, and there will be 78 fewer seats in the House of Commons.
We think so, don't we, Mr. Rodriguez?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
That's it. That may be one of the solutions.
All kidding aside, I agree. I share Mr. Holland's view that we should have a joint committee. I think that it's easier for you and for us to be together and to share our common concerns.
We can't be against a guiding principle. However, as a whip, I would like to have known one thing. Members are very busy in parliamentary committees right now. How do you view meetings every two weeks?
Will each two-hour period require decisions every week? We should have time to consult at least with the members of our parties. I don't see how one member can make a decision. It isn't a personal decision, but a decision shared by a few members of caucus, at least.
What do you think of this schedule whereby we meet every two weeks once the committee has started its work? How much work will be required between the two meetings to come up with recommendations or advice from our caucus members?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
That's fine.
I imagine that you have an idea of the sequence of events, from the first decision to the last, and ideally the costs involved. You must have a sense of how long it could take to make all the major decisions that guide the start of the work.
Is this specified in the document, or did I miss it?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
This will be my last comment, but I want to talk about something that concerns me. The issue is the space reserved for members who are young parents. The Bloc Québécois currently has about a dozen young members with young children. If we want to draw more young people or women towards politics, I think that we must also provide a space that makes it possible to balance the roles of parent and member.
The renovation of the West Block incorporated a family room, which I don't think is being used to its full potential. The idea is good, but perhaps that room doesn't necessarily meet all the needs identified by the members of my party. I'm thinking of the room's location, size and design.
I don't know whether this issue is part of your plans, but I want each party to have a space that I'll call a “family room,” where parliamentarians could meet with their spouses while waiting to make a speech, and cradle a child and work at the same time. I think that we must keep up with the times. We made the effort to create a family room here. However, if we want to look to the future, I think that we must be mindful of this issue. The needs will be even greater in this area.
It may not be too late for you to bear this in mind, Ms. Kulba.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
While Mr. Patrice is leaving us, I want to take the opportunity to say that I greatly appreciate the fact that he speaks very slowly. That way, when he speaks in English, the interpreters can provide a good interpretation. I'm pointing this out because we notice this type of thing when public servants appear before the committee.
Ms. Kulba and Ms. Garrett, I imagine that English is your mother tongue. You speak very quickly, which makes the interpreter's job more difficult. The interpreter is excellent, by the way. I want to congratulate her. Thanks to her, I didn't lose track of the conversation.
In short, Mr. Patrice, you speak remarkably well. This makes me feel that I'm part of the group, and it helps me understand all the nuances.
I want to thank the interpreters.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Ms. Labrecque-Riel, I'd like to congratulate you for your high-quality brief. When I looked it over to prepare for the meeting, I found that your needs were well documented. I saw that you took care to stay within your financial and performance parameters, and that you were also sensitive to the conditions of those working on your teams.
Could you explain to us what impact a new managerial position will have on reducing employee overtime?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you. You will have our support. I very much agree with your request.
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