Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I recognize that we are gathered here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I would like to acknowledge Cécilia, Lylian and Alison, who are interpreting this meeting, and also thank Matthew Ball, vice-president of Services to Parliament and Interpretation, for representing the Translation Bureau with me today.
Mr. Chair, I would begin by congratulating you on being appointed Speaker of the House of Commons. As you know, the Translation Bureau of Public Services and Procurement Canada is a key component of the services provided for parliamentarians. Rest assured, you can count on our support in your new duties.
Today's topic, interpretation services, gives concrete expression to this support. The Translation Bureau has gone above and beyond to meet the House of Commons' interpretation needs, and we thank the Board of Internal Economy's honourable members for giving us this opportunity to provide an update on the situation.
As I have already said in the past, there are two closely linked aspects to the current state of interpretation services: the health and safety of interpreters, and interpretation capacity. In both cases, I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress since June.
Let me first talk about the health and safety of interpreters, our prime concern.
As you may know, Mr. Chair, Employment and Social Development Canada's labour program issued two directions to the translation bureau in February. On August 25, the labour program investigator closed the direction, stating she was satisfied that the bureau complied with the requirements of the Canada Labour Code and the Canada occupational health and safety regulations.
This outcome was made possible thanks to the translation bureau's unflagging efforts, along with the invaluable co-operation of the House administration and a group of sound and hearing experts. Together, the bureau and the House administration put in place a comprehensive series of protocols regarding the microphones used by virtual participants in order to provide a sound environment that would be conducive to interpretation. They also obtained sound analyses from experts at the National Research Council of Canada, Western University and the University of Ottawa.
This positive development does not mean that the health and safety issues are behind us. We must all remain vigilant. Sound incidents, such as the Larsen effect or audio feedback, continue to be reported from time to time at in-person meetings. Simple actions, like keeping earpieces away from the microphone are helpful in avoiding these types of issues.
It is also to be noted that we continue to provide the labour program investigator with monthly progress of updates on the efforts made by the bureau to better protect its interpreters.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, honourable members of the Board of Internal Economy, for your ongoing support. As whips, leaders and influential members of your parties, you help ensure that your colleagues are aware of this issue and, most importantly, that they apply interpreter protection measures and demonstrate understanding and support when interpreters need to interrupt their services to avoid injury.
We have everything to gain by protecting interpreters, first and foremost on a human level but also on an operational level to maintain our interpretation capacity.
We recently saw a perfect example of this relationship between improving interpreters' working conditions and interpretation capacity, when a number of freelance interpreters decided to work longer hours instead of limiting themselves to the reduced working hours in effect since the pandemic. A labour-management advisory group is currently looking into that matter for our staff interpreters.
This is one development that may lead to an increase in our capacity. For the time being, our capacity remains stable at pre-pandemic volumes, which in itself is an accomplishment in the current context where we have injured interpreters and a labour shortage. That said, we are making significant progress with our efforts to meet the desire by honourable MPs to prolong meetings and increase their number.
Among other things, we were able to slightly expand our inventory of freelance interpreters this summer thanks to two initiatives: for the first time, we held a second accreditation exam in the same year, and we issued a call for tenders to renew our freelance interpretation contracts. Since freelancers do not work exclusively for us and their availabilities vary, bringing in this new blood has not yet translated into a noticeable increase in our capacity. However, we hope that other steps we take, like the accreditation exam in November—to be held tomorrow, incidentally—will help us achieve our goal.
Of course, we need to keep in mind that the pool of active conference interpreters in Canada is very limited. The handful of new graduates who join the pool each year is not enough to offset those who retire. We are thus unable to achieve a net gain in capacity each time we issue a new call for tenders or hold a new accreditation exam.
In hopes of increasing the number of graduates, we are still in talks with universities to expand the teaching of conference interpretation beyond the two universities that currently offer program in Canada. We have been having promising discussions with two Quebec universities in this regard.
We are also working with the language industry to encourage people of all ages to consider a career in interpretation, and we are dealing with a recruitment firm to find new interpreters.
Lastly, I know that you are very interested in the pilot project intended to enable interpreters located outside the national capital region to interpret for Parliament. Let me assure you that we are continuing to work hard on this with the House administration.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the Board of Internal Economy, I hope this update shows how the bureau is leaving no stone unturned to maintain and eventually boost its capacity, while protecting its interpreters, in an effort to better meet your needs.
Matthew and I are now at your disposal to take your questions.