Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am happy to speak to this, particularly on the issue of interpreters and the dashboard that was in the Liaison Committee report.
I would like to thank all the clerks for preparing this dashboard for us. It allows us to follow the progress of the efforts made by the House administration to reduce as much as possible the technological problems, the sound problems and the problems that our interpreters have.
One of the problems with virtual work are the issues arising from connectivity and technical errors. This has an impact on the quality of the interpretation.
I'd like to thank the staff for keeping this dashboard; I know it's a lot of work, and it's in addition to their daily tasks. They did a good job.
I have looked at the dashboard, and I have found that there are still problems; the performance rate has not yet reached 100%. Improvements have been made, but there are still a lot of problems.
The fact that the committee meets through the Zoom application has implications for francophone MPs, primarily, but also for anglophone MPs. The latter need to hear the interpretation well when an MP speaks in French.
I am therefore asking that the dashboard be maintained. As I said, it allows us to follow the progress of the administration's efforts to correct the problems, in order to improve the quality of the sound, and therefore, the quality of the interpretation.
For two weeks, my team monitored the progress of all the committees. On the whole, I must say that we were surprised to see the many problems that there have been since the work resumed in January. I don't want to generalize, but this has happened in several committees.
One of the problems is that many members are still not using the equipment provided by the House.
For example, this morning at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, one member attended the meeting using her iPhone headphones. I will not name the MP or her party — it was not mine.
So the interpreters are complaining about the sound quality.
In committee, there are also problems because the chair does not always respect routine motions.
According to a routine motion which has been adopted by all committees, the chair must say, before the meeting begins, that the tests have been carried out for all the witnesses. Few do so. The fact that the tests have not been carried out, or have been carried out too shortly before the start of the meeting, is a problem.
I know it is not your responsibility, but the chief clerk is with us today. Perhaps he could be asked to make the chair of the Liaison Committee, Ms. Sgro, aware of the importance of routine motions. It is the duty of a committee chair to respect routine motions.
As this is a new motion, the clerks should endeavour to remind the chair that they must ensure that the tests have been done.
At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs two weeks ago, I learned, by chance, that members are no longer being tested. It is taken for granted that members are aware, after two years, that they should not come to the meeting without the right equipment.
As my colleagues know, repeating yourself is part of a whip's job.
In some committees, members were not using the equipment provided by the House, which made the job of the interpreters more difficult, as the sound quality is not the same.
Sometimes it also sounds like the sound is reverberating. I will report on some of those incidents.
As I am generous, I will give my notes on this to Mr. McDonald or Mr. Aubé. Sometimes the interpreters have difficulty working, because there the sound reverberates. Also, at the February 1 meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, there was a lot of interference, which caused problems for the interpreters.
Also, on two occasions, the chair allowed witnesses to testify even though their cameras were not working. In my view, it is part of the rules of the game to see the faces of witnesses, unless they have made an agreement or the committee is meeting in camera for reasons of confidentiality or even security. However, in the instances I mention, this was not the case.
There is even one committee chair who let the meeting continue, even though there had been points of order because the interpretation was not working. At a meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence, there was an anglophone witness whose interpretation channel was not working. So when the Bloc member asked him a question in French, she could not hear or understand his answers. As a result, this prevented active participation by the Bloc member, because the chair allowed the session to continue.
You will understand, then, that the struggle I am waging today in the Board of Internal Economy is important. It is about maximizing the participation of members, whether they speak French or English, and making sure that they have access to good services, but also reminding the clerks to be very supportive of chairs that do not respect the housekeeping motions and do not seem to be very sensitive to the participation of French-speaking members.
I consider that the clerk can do some of the work with the clerks and the Liaison Committee, but, as I am fortunate enough to be in the presence of my colleagues the whips of all the parties, I would say that there is some work for them as well. They could remind us of some of the rules that we have set together to maximize participation. It is a question of having adequate equipment, but also of having the concern that the sessions take place entirely in both official languages.
I have to tell you that I'm somewhat impressed. There have been changes, because we don't wait for the Board of Internal Economy to try to find solutions, obviously. Recently, the clerks decided to start doing technical trials with members again, because there was a lack of discipline, and this was among members from all parties.
In fact, at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, several witnesses did not have headsets with microphones. When witnesses do not have proper equipment, it causes health problems for our interpreters. In light of the complaint filed by the interpreters' union, I am surprised that we still allow witnesses or members of Parliament to participate in meetings without the necessary equipment, when we know that a large proportion of work-related accidents affecting interpreters are linked to the quality of the equipment, among other things. I think we have a responsibility in this regard, and we should have zero tolerance.
We have been working virtually for two years. Normally, we should be a little bit better than this. I think everybody is making an effort, but it's not acceptable that witnesses don't have the necessary equipment and that we tolerate it. It's not acceptable that when the interpretation doesn't work and an English-speaking witness speaks, we don't care. I don't understand why I'm still reporting such cases.
I will be happy to provide this document to your team.
Mr. Speaker, I ask three things of you: that you ask the clerk to convene the Liaison Committee, to really raise awareness and provide guidance, and to have each party whip make important reminders to their caucus about the use of equipment, and maybe be a little bit stricter: if you don't have the proper equipment, you don't have the floor. That's the rule we had given ourselves.
On the other hand, if there is no interpretation, there is no testimony. If there is no interpretation, we cannot speak. If we continue to give the impression that it is not so serious, we trivialize the effects on the health and safety of our interpreters. I don't know if my colleagues agree with me.
So I will summarize my proposal: that the dashboard be maintained; that the Liaison Committee be seized of the difficulties we have talked about today; and that we be able to have answers, following the analysis that I will table of all the events with the dates and the names of the committees, in order to see if, indeed, we in the Bloc Québécois have the same analysis as your team regarding technology.
This must be an important point for the Board of Internal Economy because we care about both the health and safety of our interpreters, and the ability to participate in debates in both official languages, which is essential.