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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to address two items of business arising from the previous meeting.
I would like to talk about the dashboards first. I read them carefully and they are very useful in my work as a whip. If I may, I would like to ask a few questions about the dashboard.
On page 3 of the report, it says that the preliminary tests are 96% done. Does this mean that 96% of witnesses have undergone a preliminary test? Is that what that means, Mr. Janse?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
All right.
Does what is written on page 4 mean that half of the witnesses did not have headsets that complied with our standards?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Good.
The last question I have on this part is about page 6.
When witnesses come to committee and they don't have headsets or they don't have the equipment, what happens?
Are witnesses automatically invited to reappear? Has there been testimony without headsets, and therefore without interpretation?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Fine.
Yesterday, at the Standing Liaison Committee, someone said that most committees have adopted housekeeping motions that ask the committee chair to tell members at the beginning of the meeting whether the tests have been done and whether the witnesses have the necessary equipment. This makes things easier.
It was noted that few chairs made this statement at the beginning of the meeting. Knowing in advance that witnesses do not have helmets or that they have technical difficulties can be helpful. It allows the committee to make a decision at the outset rather than finding that the witness does not have everything they need during their testimony. Members may be too uncomfortable to interrupt.
So committee chairs have been asked to indicate this at the beginning of the sitting. I encourage the whips to remind all committee members that it is important to know this at the beginning of the meeting so that good decisions can be made. This prevents witnesses from appearing without the right equipment, which has implications for our interpreters.
The other point I wanted to make is to you, Mr. Chair.
It concerns your ruling in the House on Monday, June 7, regarding the misconduct of the member for Pontiac and your willingness to ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to look into this matter. I had discussions with my colleagues prior to the Board of Internal Economy meeting. I had invited you to review the decision to put the April 14 incident on the agenda, and I note that this item is absent. So I wanted to thank you for listening to all the members of the committee.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I would like to thank you for your presentation, Ms. Kletke.
The Bloc Québécois caucus really has no problem at all with Printing and Mailing Services. Although not everything is in place, we are rather impressed by the fact that, already, production times often better the standards. We are therefore very satisfied with the Printing and Mailing Services. We are very happy with the change in format that you are proposing for constituency mail. We think it is a much more user-friendly model.
Our only minor concerns relate to Canada Post services in the Upper North Shore area. The interface between the printing service, the post office and the delivery of mail to fellow citizens can mean five to seven weeks for mail delivery. We were wondering who we could talk to about this problem. Mail delivery is about the only problem we have, for example, in one area of the Manicouagan riding, where the post offices are further away.
As for the rest, sincerely, I think you are proactive. I like your professional service. Your whole team really cares about producing high quality publications. Unlike my colleague, we like to receive digital proofs that we have to approve. For us, it speeds up the processing and printing, and satisfies us.
I wanted to congratulate you on finding ways to get our publications out as quickly as possible, as always.
I do have one small suggestion for you, though. You said you would make short videos to educate MPs or their staff about the new operation. I would add a video that could demonstrate the difference between a constituency letter and a group letter. MPs have a hard time grasping the difference, the rules around these two publications and their different time frames, among other things.
We know that between a group mailing and a constituency mailing there can be less than 30 days, but this notion has not yet been absorbed. So you could take the opportunity to add that to your videos. For our part, as whips, we would direct our MPs and their staff to this short learning video so that they are familiar with the distinction between these two important parliamentary tools that are framed by different rules.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I have a question. We've noticed that over the past two weeks there have been significant technological problems with interpretation, whether in the House of Commons or in committees. Last week, we were having difficulty going from French to English or English to French. This week, we're noticing that it's difficult to go from French to English.
Can someone explain the nature of the problem? Is it a technological or specific problem?
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you.
If I may, Mr. Speaker, I'll ask another question.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
It's a question for Mr. Janse.
Mr. Janse, you sent all the whips' offices your desire, in response to the clerks' request, to hold virtual rather than hybrid meetings in committees. Some clerks would be at home or elsewhere, but not on site.
The Bloc Québécois made an effort to ask members who liked attending committee meetings in person not to do so, because you had asked us to. We found that it was not necessarily a directive or an instruction that was followed by the other parties. We've asked our members to do that, because we want to listen to the clerks, as you've asked. However, we see that members from other parties are physically sitting in the meeting rooms. It seems difficult for them to comply.
We in the Bloc Québécois have strictly respected what you asked for, but when we return from the break, some members will probably come and attend committees in person. I wanted to warn you of that. We've made our effort. I think that when we return from the break, some members will want to use their parliamentary privilege to be physically present in committee. It's not out of disrespect for the clerks, but in order to work better.
For them, it's a more efficient way of working. I wanted to formally notify you of this at the BIE. I'm proud to say that we made our effort when you asked us to.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
All right.
The Bloc Québécois will support you on this. No problem.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes, I have a point of order.
I don't understand. It's a very important matter, I agree, and I hope we have time to grant it the importance it deserves, but it's already an item on the agenda for the portion of the meeting in camera. So, I have a lot of trouble understanding why Mr. Holland is starting the discussion on this during the public portion of the meeting, because he is well aware of it.
So I'm asking you to rule on this, Mr. Speaker, because we're not following the agenda right now.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I'd like us to exercise caution.
The April 14 incident is unprecedented, and it is an important matter that we need to address, I agree. However, we should not set any more precedents on the Board of Internal Economy, the BOIE.
Since I have been on the Board of Internal Economy, all the more personal discussions that involved members who had broken the rules have been held in camera. I don't want to minimize this event, but I have a lot of questions about Mr. Lemire's potential appearance before the BOIE. Mr. Holland says we need to define what his intent was, and a member's intent is a legal concept.
I do not consider the Board of Internal Economy to be a court of law and it has no authority to define an individual's intent. I myself would like to ask a lot of legal questions. This isn't a refusal or a desire to hide anything on my part. To suggest otherwise would be to imply very bad intentions on my part, and I sensed some suggestion of that earlier. I simply want to ensure that the BOIE does not become a body used for political and partisan purposes. I want to ensure that we maintain our usual working methods when dealing with important and confidential matters involving members and their personal lives.
Of course, this event has had an impact on Mr. Amos's personal life, and I can assure you that it has also had an impact on Mr. Lemire's life. So I would prefer that we avoid setting a bad precedent and get to the bottom of this event in camera. Like Mr. Richards and other colleagues around the table, I also have legal concerns about the implications of this appearance and the nature of the questions that might be asked. So I feel this appearance should be in camera. I am cautioning us against turning this committee into a tribunal. That would set a precedent, and when future events occur, it will be difficult for us to sort out what should be dealt with in camera and what should be dealt with in public.
I understand Mr. Rodriguez's comments, which are based on the Board of Internal Economy's Rules of Practice and Procedure. However, as we have been saying all along, we're managing a new and exceptional situation and we need to be open to the possibility of managing this incident in a new way. I strongly suggest that we meet together at the end of the meeting, as planned, to have a substantive discussion in camera. That way, we can ask all our questions to the law clerk, to the IT staff, to all the people around us who are providing support and advice. That's what I encourage us to do.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As you know, for as long as I have been part of the BOIE, I have always sought compromise and tried to mediate when there were opposing suggestions or positions. So I am deeply saddened by Mr. Holland's request to force a vote. I know he has an important job. I understand that. He knows that I am empathetic and understanding of the fact that he has that job and that the incident that happened on April 14 deserves to be discussed by the BOIE. I don't deny that.
I am deeply troubled by the fact that he is trying to use the BOIE for political purposes to make these discussions public, when all opposition parties have already made it very clear to the BOIE that they want to thoroughly discuss this issue in camera. How will the Chair decide that this discussion is legal in nature, but another is not?
We need to take the time to discuss this incident in a portion of the meeting in camera that is on the agenda. There is no question of hiding anything. The incident is well known. An apology has been made to the House. The Speaker has made his ruling. Now we want to study the incident further. It is scheduled on the agenda; that shows that the BOIE wants to discuss it.
It is not appropriate to call for a vote and break with the important customs of the only body in Parliament that is supposed to be non-partisan, to remain calm and to handle difficult situations. I repeat, the incident is very important, I am not denying that.
I call for calm. I, for one, wish to discuss this thoroughly during the in camera portion. I don't want Mr. Holland to think that I'm trying to hide anything. However, even faced with the incident of April 14, we can't afford to set precedents that would be detrimental to the proper functioning of the BOIE and its performance. Even though we have strong opposition in the House of Commons, strong government, and good debate, the BOIE is our non-partisan bulwark for dealing with the toughest things.
I call for calm. Please, let's stop this discussion, let's not go to a vote, and based on the agenda, let's go in camera to discuss this item, as it was scheduled. No one is refusing to discuss it. No one is refusing to make decisions. What is being refused, and it seems pretty clear, is that we handle this matter in this way, because it involves all kinds of issues, some of them legal.
I would very much like to see Mr. Holland reverse his decision and not call a vote. It would be really distressing if the BOIE were used for political reasons. I'm sure that is not his original intent, so I would ask him to reconsider his request.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Laframboise, I would also like to add my voice to that of Mr. Holland to tell you that your entire team was able to offer support and, above all, adapt to the particular context of the pandemic.
I dare to name Ms. Mercier, from your team, who is the human resources advisor for the Bloc québécois. We asked her for specific training on mental health, because the employees needed tools and intervention strategies to detect or screen for signs of distress among our fellow citizens who call our offices, who call for help, and who may even resort to suicide.
Many citizens in our constituencies phoned our offices. Our staff were completely overwhelmed because they didn't necessarily have the professional foundation or skills, or haven't developed clinical skills to be able to take these kinds of calls.
Frankly, I did not experience this during my first terms of office. This is the first time that such a large number of citizens have called us and expressed distress and great despondency. This requires our teams to be informed about mental health resources in their respective constituencies. They also need to develop first-line intervention skills, to be able to assess the seriousness of the call and the level of distress. Our staff need to be able to make connections to protect the person and offer a little more support than is usually available in the constituency offices.
I wanted to thank you, because you offered the mental health training to all caucuses. About 60 people, members of Parliament and staff, participated, including 26 members of the Bloc teams, whether members of Parliament or staff. That training was great. It was so well designed that after only one hour, everyone came out 100% satisfied, with better tools to intervene.
I think it shows that your organization is very nimble, very flexible, able to adapt to changing needs, and able to deal with the issues that our teams face in Ottawa or in our constituencies. So, I know this is a long speech, but we don't take enough time to thank you for the really important work you do.
I now turn to another subject.
When I read your presentation, I realized that there are several services that I didn't know existed, even as a whip. You know, we don't always have time to go to the House's Source site and to look at everything you offer. I was surprised to learn a lot of things that I couldn't share with my caucus. I'm sure they're not even aware of this, nor are the staff of all our teams.
So, with your permission, I would be grateful if you would make the summary of your presentation available so that I can first promote what is being offered free of charge, what is being done by your teams, so that we can find a better way to disseminate this information in our caucuses. I don't have as much experience as some of the other people around the table, but I do have some experience, and I have learned things that I want to share with my caucus and my team members. If the members of the Board of Internal Economy agree, we could make a summary available, which you could share with us, and we could make a presentation to our own caucuses. This is my first request.
On another note, I understand Mr. Holland's request to support the professional development of our teams, our workers, our caucus members, and our employees on the Hill or in our ridings. I completely agree. Personally, I am currently on leave without pay, for civic duties, from the Quebec public service. All employees had about $1,000 or $1,200 a year to upgrade their skills and get additional training. I wonder about the $2,000 and $10,000 amounts, because I know that a lot of training is offered free of charge.
If a survey of members of all caucuses showed that many of them wanted mindfulness training, I am sure that your team would be able to develop it and to offer it at no cost. Training like that would clearly come under the central House budget.
I am not opposed to having our constituency budgets increased so that an additional $10,000 can be allocated to professional development for our staff, and I don't want Mr. Holland to see this as opposition to his suggestion. I feel that the need is justified. However, would it be $10,000? How would it be managed?
I have a lot of questions. Actually, the range of services and the expertise in your department are so great that I want to ask you instead whether you have courses that our teams could take and that your teams would develop, to meet the needs that Mr. Holland has identified.
I do not want to oppose an increase in the budget for staff training, development or even co-development. I would just like to find out whether your service has the flexibility required to increase the range of your offerings, which could perhaps meet the needs. I will be able to tell you what I decide after I hear your answers.
For the moment, I am still a little undecided about Mr. Holland's request. I still have to be convinced that $10,000, or $2,000 per staff member, is a good expense.
However, if your service cannot provide that kind of training, I would be quite inclined to agree to Mr. Holland's request.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I don't want us to leave with Mr. Holland's proposal unresolved. In my view, it is really worthwhile. I am not opposed to additional funds coming from places other than our budgets. I have to tell you sincerely that I do not really agree with the money coming out of our budgets and being set aside for this, as Mr. Richards suggests. This is because our budgeting for the year is already done.
Mr. Holland's proposal is a good compromise. In fact, if we agree and if Mr. Paquette can show us that it's financially possible to add a fund specifically for the professional development of our employees, starting this year, the suggestion could be really helpful. We would need to document the process, showing whether the budget was used, what training was taken, and so forth. We would also need to evaluate it in order to come to a better decision, given how the budgets are to be allocated and used by April 1, 2022.
In that way, we would be looking out for our employees who, as was previously mentioned, are going through really difficult and unprecedented situations. We could set this up this year, the one that started on April 1, and use the amounts set aside for it, as well as our operating budget, to help our employees meet the new professional challenges. We could use it as somewhat of a pilot project, evaluate it at the end of next year, determine whether it met the employees' needs and whether it is a workable solution. We could then decide whether we were going to continue it.
I am quite in favour of that compromise proposal, which meets the needs of our employees. So I am in favour of Mr. Holland's initial proposal.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
I would like to make one final comment on this, Mr. Speaker.
If you are letting the human resources people do the analysis that Mr. Richards is asking for, I believe that last year must not be used as a reference, because it's not representative. Because of the pandemic, we spent less in certain areas, so we have to use a wider reference than just last year. In that way, I feel that the analysis would be more accurate.
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?
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