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Results: 1 - 100 of 104
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I had the honour to work and collaborate with Ms. Séguin and Mr. Ball in a previous life, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
Having followed the evolution of this file and the status of the translation bureau, I am convinced of the great dedication of everyone, from Ms. Séguin to the deputy minister, by way of each and every employee of the translation bureau. The bureau, as an institution, has existed for 87 years now. In fact, it is one of the oldest government institutions in Canada. It is truly a centre of excellence, which employs some 1,600 people, if memory serves.
I am not here to sing the praises of its employees, but I know that they are very proud of the work they do. In my opinion, it's important to highlight that it is a great institution that serves all Canadians and shines around the world.
We have been politely reminded of the burden imposed on the translation bureau when it receives requests for documents that are not necessarily directed to the right place. However, that is not the subject of today's meeting.
I invite my colleagues to exercise greater care when developing and drafting requests for documents. Out of a desire to not miss anything, a large number of documents unrelated to the request are often included, which puts incredible pressure on the already limited resources of the translation bureau.
We knew it already, but Ms. Séguin just reminded us that needs are greatest and the demand is highest for interpreters, especially in this era of virtual work. I know that great efforts are being made to attract people to this profession. We have a duty to thank the interpreters, as we often do. In my opinion, it's obvious that more work needs to be done to attract people to this profession and to the translation bureau.
Ms. Séguin, you spoke about university partnerships. As we know, when there is a labour shortage, everything must be done to address it.
Could you tell us a bit more about what needs to be done to attract more people to the professions of interpretation and translation?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-02-17 12:33
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
As Mr. MacKinnon mentioned, the translation bureau is the largest employer of translators and interpreters in Canada. Furthermore, we take this responsibility very seriously. We work with all Canadian educational institutions that offer interpretation, translation and terminology programs.
In addition to our specific partnerships with York University, Glendon College and the University of Ottawa, which offer master's degrees in interpretation, we also have a partnership with the Canadian Association of Schools of Translation, which comprises 10 Canadian universities.
We therefore have collaborative training programs, both for interpretation and translation, where we offer young interpreters and young aspiring translators the opportunity to gain concrete experience. This experience counts as credits toward their bachelor's degree or diploma.
On the interpretation side of things, there are three to five graduates annually. With York University and the University of Ottawa, we have frequent discussions about ways of attracting young people to the profession of interpretation.
We hire basically all of the students who graduate, as long as they meet the translation bureau's very rigorous quality criteria. We offer them employment, and we are always seeking to collaborate with other educational institutions, in Canada and elsewhere, to increase staffing.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I will come back to the interpreters.
You mentioned that there were only three to five graduates a year, which isn't a lot. Are you able to keep up, despite resignations and retirements?
Are there enough graduates to replace the people who are leaving the field? Do you foresee an increase in this number?
Lucie Séguin
View Lucie Séguin Profile
Lucie Séguin
2022-02-17 12:36
The number of new graduates is less than the number of retirements. In the last three years, we have hired nine new interpreters, while 12 interpreters have retired. However, we are fortunate in that a number of them become freelancers. Often, interpreters who have spent their careers at the Translation Bureau become freelancers for the Bureau.
However, we have also observed a drop in the number of freelance interpreters who are available or prepared to provide their services to Parliament. This is a constant challenge for us. For 30 years, we have been involved in training the next generation, and we will continue to do that. As I said, it is a challenge for us, as it is for a number of other professions.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I would like a few points clarified.
You talked about 3 to 5 graduates annually. Is that in the Ottawa region or nationally?
Where do those graduates come from?
Matthew Ball
View Matthew Ball Profile
Matthew Ball
2022-02-17 12:41
We are talking about 3 to 5 graduates nationally.
Canada has two Masters programs in conference interpreting, and the people we hire come from there. I myself was an interpreter trainee, having graduated from one of those two programs in 1999. We actually hire all the graduates as interpreter trainees, because, when they graduate, they don't really have the level of accreditation they need to be able to work with committees. We provide them with good training over two years, after which, they are ready to support you.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:01
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
At the last meeting of the Board of Internal Economy, we were asked to provide more information on the five additional positions we would like to create in order to continue providing full support to all committees.
At the request of the Board of Internal Economy, we revised the briefing note you have in front of you. Our key message this morning is that this request has nothing at all to do with the pandemic. The pandemic actually delayed the request. We would have still asked for these resources, but probably sooner.
The reasons why the House Administration needs these additional resources can be summed up in three points.
First, we have seen over the past decade a significant increase in committee activity. Committees have been sitting longer and hearing from more witnesses. In addition, the number of witnesses appearing by video conference is on the rise, and that started even before the pandemic.
Beyond the statistics and trends, it is important to mention that the work these resources do is not just the work that is seen in committee. As just one example, more witnesses means more time contacting and planning for these witnesses to appear. In addition, our teams often contact more witnesses than actually appear, as not everyone is available based on the committee schedule. Often multiple interactions are required to coordinate an appearance. This all amounts to more work for the team acting on behalf of the committee to make those meetings happen. This is but one example of all the work that is being done behind the scenes by the teams supporting committees.
Also, as video conferencing technology has improved and become more accessible across the precinct, members have used these tools to reduce travel costs for witnesses, to allow witnesses who might not otherwise have time or be able to travel to Ottawa to appear, and to allow easier access to international witnesses. However, as the number of witnesses who appear via video conference grows, this also takes more resources and time to coordinate, to test the connectivity of each witness and to make sure it is as positive an experience as possible for all concerned. This is in addition to the time during which those resources are available during the meeting when they are ready to support and resolve issues.
Second, we have seen the modernization of many tools and services used to support committees over the last 10 years. These are tools such as online and more accessible electronic libraries of all committee documents for members and their staff, a social media presence for committees, and more documents publicly available via the committees' websites, such as the large number of briefs received by committees as part of their various studies. That is along with the fact that there's increased access to and improvements of the video conferencing system, which is now available in all committee rooms. This is contrary to the situation that existed in the past, when there was only a limited number of rooms in which it was possible to video conference.
Members asked for these services in support of their committee work. In response to members' wish, tools were put in place as time went on to improve services and make it easier for members to do their committee work. Those new services, however, have resulted in a heavier workload for the teams who support those activities.
As a third and final point, the House team has always worked hard to support additional committee activities within the existing resources that the board has provided. As could be seen over the course of the last decade, committee activities have grown but no requests for additional resources have been made to support these activities.
When new committees, such as a special committee, are added, we have to reassign staff and sometimes have clerks double up on committees. This situation has become difficult to sustain, and the teams find it increasingly difficult to meet the client service expectations of members. This is why we are requesting these additional resources at this time.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. We'd be pleased to answer any questions the board may have.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:05
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and through you to Mr. McDonald, thank you so much to you and all those who have been working to support committees in what has been an exceptionally difficult time through a pandemic.
My first question is in relation to the addition of special committees, new committees. Do you have a sense of what the cost would be for the formation of each of those new committees?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:06
As I just mentioned, we don't really do it as a specific cost per, so I don't have that information. In essence, the way we do it is that we use the existing resources and we reassign them to be able to support the committees as best we can within our existing envelope. We're finding now that because of the level of activity and because of the extra work we're asking our staff to do, we're getting to the point where it's increasingly difficult to be able to ask them to take on another committee. That's why we're asking for the additional resources today.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:06
Just on that, if I could, Mr. Speaker, I don't know exactly the number, but at this point we have in the order of magnitude of 26 or 27 committees. We have in contemplation, I've heard, potentially four additional special committees.
If we were to get to 30, 31, 32 or 33 committees, can you speak to what effect that would have on your ability to deliver service to committees?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:07
As always, we would evaluate that. If new committees were added, whether standing committees or special committees, we would evaluate that. If need be, we would come back to the board and ask for additional resources.
We're looking at what the current demands are. Based on those current demands, we feel that the additional resources we've requested are the ones that we need in order to be able to support that. Should the number of committees increase, then we'd have to look at that again and we might have to come back to the board again.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:07
I'd just make the comment, Mr. Speaker, that we are a big and broad nation. Of course, many issues face us, but I do think at some point....
We have standing committees for a reason. I am concerned with the proliferation of special committee after special committee after special committee. We have standing committees. I think we should attempt to use those standing committees. I think we should be judicious in adding new committees. I know that there are a lot of important issues, but most of these issues can be dealt with within the existing framework of committees.
When we're having these conversations around the strain that this is placing on resources, and we're having conversations about the difficulty of staff to be able to populate all of these, that is significantly compounded every time we move from 26 to 27 to 28 to 29 to 30, 40, 50. I don't know when it ends. At some point we have to recognize that there are restrictions on the ability for us to serve them, let alone how many members are present to populate them.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My comments are along the same lines. In an effort to accommodate existing committee operations, resources are being stretched thin, as you pointed out, Mr. McDonald. Having to provide support to committees that can be added periodically does indeed increase your workload.
At the same time, with respect to regional caucus meetings focused on specific topics and held on an as-needed or regular basis, members are being told that they can't necessarily count on the services they are accustomed to receiving, because those resources could be assigned to the new committee or special committees.
Eventually, we are going to have to think about adding resources to support the organization of those very important meetings, which take place within every party. We were accustomed to that service. I think we need to do that before we think about adding services to support new committees that are created by Parliament from time to time.
I wanted to bring this up, and I will keep pressing the issue until a level of service comparable to what was provided in the last Parliament is restored.
Thank you.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McDonald, it's always nice to have you here, on familiar ground, in the House of Commons. Like you, all Canadians, are welcome in their House of Commons, for that matter.
When it comes to parliamentary democracy, there is no room for the straining of resources—the proverbial tightening of the elastic. A parliamentary democracy must address the needs that are most pressing as they arise. No one gets up in the morning wondering what committees could be created simply for the fun of it. In recent years, we have witnessed the creation of committees that were entirely relevant. Take, for example, the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Five or 10 years ago, no one anticipated that there would be so much conflict in Canada's relationship with China. The issue really had to be addressed.
I want to remind everyone that the creation of committees is not based on the will of one parliamentary group, creating committees simply for the fun of it. We saw that yesterday, in fact, when our motion was duly voted on in the House. At the end of the day, parliamentarians are the ones who can—and must—decide whether it is warranted, in accordance with their conscience. Obviously, it is something that has to be examined.
This is what politics is all about. When we have some ideas to address some specific issues, there is room for that and there is a tool for that. That's what we call a “special committee” on a special issue. That's fine, but I think, Mr. Chair, that we have to keep in mind that democracy is not an elastic and we cannot, just for the fun of it, create something just for the pleasure of it. If there are some serious issues to address, we need to have a serious special committee on that. I don't want to put aside the responsibility of all of the committees.
Committees exist in earnest. They have real work to do. Certain issues have to be addressed by certain committees. One does not preclude the other, however. As Conservatives, we are, of course, always mindful of the use of public funds and so forth, but we are, first and foremost, parliamentarians with issues to deal with. As long as we deem it necessary to have a special committees handle a certain issue, we will keep doing what we did yesterday, in other words, recommending the creation of a special committee in the House, and the House will decide.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
I appreciate your coming back with a bit more detail and with some revised proposals. That's appreciated. What I think I'm hearing here is that currently some of the essentially temporary needs we're facing are being managed with some amount of overtime and some casual staff. That's fair. If I'm understanding that right, how are those resources being covered now? What budgets are those coming from?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:14
Through you, Mr. Chair, I know that during the pandemic we've been re-tasking people—as was mentioned by Stéphan last week—from all sorts of different service areas, people who have the knowledge and the experience and expertise to be able to come. In some cases we've helped train them up to be able to support committees in particular, but also other activities during the pandemic. That's really not what this is about. The pandemic has been a specific situation. A lot of those resources will go back to what they're.... For example, we've been asking the Parliamentary Associations secretaries to come in and work as committee clerks because there's been no parliamentary international travel, as we know. They can come in and lend a hand. We've been able to support those types of activities by re-tasking people that way.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:15
Thank you, Mr. Richards.
As Ian pointed out, the pandemic situation we see as a temporary situation, so we're managing it in a temporary fashion. That's why we're not asking for resources in terms of the pandemic situation. We're reallocating resources and changing the level of service in certain respects to make sure to support it, because as we see it, hopefully, it's temporary. It has been almost two years, but that's the way we've been managing.
As Ian pointed out in his opening remarks, this request for resources would have happened earlier had it not been for the pandemic. It's a question of incrementally adding responsibilities and tasks. Technology has definitely been a pressure in terms of the resources, but it offers great opportunities for committees and the House—for example, to meet more witnesses, to have more meetings and to be cost-efficient in terms of travel by witnesses. That request would have come earlier, as I said, had it not been for the pandemic.
If a special committee or other tasks are added, we're also able—there's always kind of an ability—to manage it through overtime and so on, but at some point, there's a trigger point where we cannot manage and ask our staff to be on overtime all the time. That's why we're making that request.
As you saw, now we've transformed our demand in terms of temporary relief for this year. It's our commitment to you that during the current year we'll reassess in terms of whether we have a permanent need for those resources. I believe that we do, but that being said, we're going to take a second look in terms of the current year. Hopefully, we'll be out of the pandemic by then. Then we'll be able to assess and come back to the board in terms of the cycle of the next main estimates.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I guess the challenge I see here is that we are dealing with a temporary situation, a pandemic situation. I know you're indicating that you feel there are ongoing needs. I just find it hard to picture how we're able to really fully and properly assess those at this point, because we are in fact managing in a temporary situation.
There have been, and probably will continue to be, for the next little while, resources that are being reallocated, as we're hearing and as we're discussing right now. As an example, committees aren't travelling, so there are resources available because that is not happening, and parliamentary associations aren't as active or active at all. There are ways to reallocate.
I'm not looking to try to make things difficult, but I'm really struggling to see how we can make proper decisions about how we move forward when we're in the middle of an emergency situation and dealing with a different-from-normal scenario.
I was obviously happy to approve the very clear ongoing needs that we approved last week. I still struggle, though, to make a decision about how we move forward when we don't actually know what moving forward is fully going to look like. I do appreciate that you've indicated that if new committees are set up and if situations and needs change as a result of that, you could come back to the board. I would certainly encourage that to happen if and when that needs to happen for those specific circumstances, but I struggle with making a decision when we're....
As it stands now, we're sort of looking at June as the end date for some of these hybrid situations and things. There's a travel ban on until the end of March, so we're still in a situation of having three to six months of trying to manage through something. I would much prefer to see us evaluate this and determine the needs going forward at the end of those six months, when things, we all hope, go back to normal. Maybe then we can understand fully what “normal” is going to look like going forward.
That would be my suggestion. I think this is something we should defer until the temporary measures are lifted.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:20
I appreciate that, and you're right in terms of committees not travelling and those types of activities. That actually has allowed us to support more resources in the current hybrid context. However, these resources that are freed from travelling do not necessarily have the same competency and skill set that are needed to support the ongoing operation in terms of the technology and the witnesses and video conferences. It's a different skill set.
The other fact I would like to put on the table is that, while the pandemic is ongoing, we are in the process, as you have probably noticed, of resuming more normal operations. We have data on physical presence in the precinct in the last couple of weeks that shows us that people are coming back to the precinct, with an average of over 2,000 individuals accessing the precinct, which was not at all the situation, for example, prior to the election.
We are resuming our operations in a more normal fashion, recognizing that the House still has an order for hybrid sittings in committees. The actual fact is that the administration is resuming its operations in more of a pre-pandemic context, which again gives us a bit less leeway in terms of reallocating resources, because we're returning, in a way, to normal activities.
That's why we're making this request, and that's why we feel that we need those resources to properly support the House, its members and its committees.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I guess I can appreciate that. I think we all hope that's where we're headed, and very soon. I just think it's difficult to judge based on the last few weeks, because obviously we've now put in place new hybrid provisions for all the functions that we perform as parliamentarians. We don't fully know exactly what the usage of those is going to be. We don't know what percentage of committees on average will be in person and what percentage will be virtual. We don't know the same for the House or for voting and things like that. I know those things aren't necessarily what we're talking about, but I think all these things do tie together to some degree.
Again, I struggle with the idea of making a decision about something without knowing all the information, and I don't think we do right now. My suggestion would be that when we do have that information, we come back and have another look at this. I know that this is asking for three or maybe six months of managing through, but we have obviously approved some additional resources, which I think will help. We can get those in place and utilize those.
I'm of the belief that I would rather have all the information when we come back and look at this in three months or six months, when we're in a position to know exactly what things look like.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't really agree with what my fellow member just suggested. I think the explanations provided in the documents we received leading up to today's meeting are quite clear, and even quite specific. Top of mind for me are all the staffing considerations. Any organization attempting to modernize itself has to deal with the issue. We have had the benefit of witnesses and evidence demonstrating that the House Administration has done everything in its power to optimize the use of human resources in order to deliver pre-pandemic-level support in accommodating members' needs.
What I take from the documents is that, even before the pandemic, the House Administration was operating at full capacity to keep up the pace, level and quality of support members need in fulfilling their duties. That requires not just analysts, researchers and clerks, but also IT staff. All of those resources are needed to support this level of activity.
At the last meeting of the Board of Internal Economy, my fellow member asked, and rightfully so, for additional information. In my view, that information has been provided to us and is sufficiently clear.
It's not normal for the House Administration to have to rely on its employees doing an unreasonable amount of overtime just so that it can provide the level of support that parliamentarians as a whole require. It's fine for a little while. The pandemic exacerbated the reliance on overtime. That is my understanding after reading the information provided. To keep up its performance, an organization cannot rely on making its staff work overtime or pulling people from one section in order to prop up a busier section.
I gather that the additional resources being requested would allow the House Administration to continue providing high-quality service, while allowing employees to work a reasonable schedule without always having to be ready to do overtime. What's more, the House Administration had already conducted an assessment and was going to submit this request regardless. As we have been told, even without the pandemic, we would have probably received more or less the same request for new resources.
As far as the modernization of IT services is concerned, some good practices may be here to stay. I'm glad to see that parliamentarians are returning to Parliament in person, because, as we all know, hybrid sittings not only require more resources, but are also more demanding for interpreters and other categories of personnel. The fact remains, the level of activity and the desire of parliamentarians to create committees and to study pressing issues demand agility, proficiency and a high level of performance from the House Administration. That means the level of service must be steady and balanced.
I want my fellow members here today to know that, when you have a stable organization, you can also look after your employees and manage operations on a more personal level. In light of everything that has happened, we need to give the House Administration the ability to look after its staff while delivering high-quality service to parliamentarians.
For those reasons, I don't quite agree with my fellow member, Blake Richards. We often have the same concerns, but I think not giving the House Administration what it needs to better support us in our work is akin to clipping its wings.
I am in favour, then, of this recommendation.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-09 11:38
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Just on the point of the voting application first, I thought it was quite appropriate that the last vote this Parliament probably will ever have by Zoom was on time allocation, but in any event, there are a couple of things I wanted to say.
One is that if we take a look at the figures that are provided in the report—not including the pandemic period, which was even higher—the average number of witnesses appearing before committees was up 74%; the average number of hours of meetings was up 49%; the average number of reports published was up 28%; the average number of meetings by video conference was up 54%. It's worth repeating, because I think it makes the point so clearly.
This doesn't even factor in the number of special committees that are taking place, which I was talking about in my earlier comments. Mr. Deltell is absolutely right: There are very important and pressing issues that are happening in the world, but this is not the first time there have been very important and pressing issues happening in the world. Previously, for example, if a matter was happening at the height of the Cold War and its tensions, we had a foreign affairs committee, and that's what we used for such matters. Now we're creating a special committee every time there's a new issue happening anywhere on the planet.
If that's going to be the trajectory of things, it's a bit of a strange position on the one hand to say, “Let's vastly increase the number of committees and vastly increase the number of witnesses and vastly increase the workload”, but then turn around and say, “Well, I don't see a reason to increase the amount of money we're giving you to support us in doing this work.” I think that's a disingenuous position, and I think we're already seeing the implications of that with regional caucuses, which are without support. As the chief government whip has indicated—and as I'm sure every caucus feels—when members are getting together to discuss how they're going to plan and organize themselves and how they're going to meet the issues of the day, they are not able to be serviced right now.
The recommendation is very simple, which is how to deal with the existing context to make sure that “the needs and expectations of Members of Parliament in Committees” are met. I'm not comfortable at all leaving this place with basically saying to the House administration, “Good luck. Find overtime. Beg, borrow and steal from every other part.” It just shows no respect for the people who are serving us, frankly. I think that if I were them and I were watching us explode the amount of work in committees.... You're choking the oxygen out of the scuba tank while at the same time saying “Go deeper.” That's just not fair, and I don't think that's how we should run a professional place.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
First, I'll maybe just address those last comments. At the end of the day, if the decisions made by the House of Commons lead to there being additional committee needs in this place, then obviously, as I indicated earlier, we need to look at the resources that are there. What we're talking about is our current situation, not what the situation could be in the future. Should that happen, well, then, we have an opportunity to address that. I do want to address the current situation.
As I was saying earlier, I feel like, if we want to look at what our future needs are, we need to do it in a place where we know all the information about what our future needs are. Right now, when we're dealing with temporary provisions, I feel like it's difficult to properly assess that. For me to make a decision about a permanent change, I want to know what that's going to look like. I think three to six months from now, we're all hoping we're going to be in a place where we're better able to do that.
Having said that, with the current situation being what it is with hybrid committees, we saw in the last session of Parliament the limitations of the schedule that goes with virtual, at that time, and at this point hybrid committee meetings. To use one example of many, the procedure and House affairs committee had a meeting that went on in two-hour or sometimes slightly longer chunks for weeks because one party was looking to avoid a specific outcome. That lack of resources was used strategically by the government to try to avoid a certain outcome.
I guess if I'm going to look at a supplementary proposal rather than look at what our needs will be in three to six months, I need to look at it and evaluate it based on what kinds of outcomes it produces now. What I want to hear is this: Should these resources be approved, would that minimize or reduce or preferably even eliminate the ability for the resource excuse to be used strategically by any political party to try to avoid any specific outcome? In other words, can the resources provide for extended hours of sitting of meetings and things like that so that we can actually address things and not see resources be used strategically by political parties?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:44
It would certainly mitigate that risk. The last thing we want is the resources issue to be used as a strategic purpose.
So yes, it would mitigate those risks and it would limit those risks. That is for certain.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I appreciate that statement. That's an important assurance. However, I'll ask for a bit more detail on that, if I can.
Obviously, you've analyzed this and you've looked at the needs. I'm certain that you would be able to tell us what you expect the outcomes to be of the new resources. On that specific point, can you give us an indication of what exactly that would look like? In other words, would that allow meetings to carry on?
Maybe give us a bit of an idea of what the limitations would be on that and what they wouldn't be. Knowing that it will be improved is great, but what does improvement look like? Can you give us some sense of that?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:46
In terms of the meetings carrying on, following incidents in the last Parliament we developed a protocol to ensure that meetings carry on. We have to realize that it may have an impact on a subsequent meeting that is scheduled. That is just a matter of meeting room location and all of that. This would allow us to stabilize our resources, as I said, and mitigate the risk that we have a resource issue that would have a negative impact on the operation of the House and its committees. Obviously, I cannot offer guarantees—for example, if we had an explosion of COVID cases within the ranks of the administration and all of that. These things are always possible, potentially, but it would definitely allow us to stabilize our resources.
We will continue to use our staff, who are devoted to the operation of the House and the continuity of the House, recognizing that it's one of the foundations of democracy, and to offer and provide additional hours in terms of overtime and do what needs to be done. But there's definitely a mathematical issue and a human resource issue: People cannot give beyond what they can give.
Charles Robert
View Charles Robert Profile
Charles Robert
2021-12-09 11:47
I think there is a need to recognize that committees actually have an administrative infrastructure, and when you create a committee, you need to have that infrastructure in place in order to support its operations.
To your point, Mr. Richards, the issue that needs to be remembered is that even if there is an increase in the number of committees and we are able to provide the necessary support to allow for their operation, we are still going to come up against the problem of the number of interpreters who are available to service the committees, so even if we multiply our committees, the way they can be scheduled and the way they can be operated will always be constrained by the availability of the interpreters.
As we know quite well, we can't operate in only one official language. We have to function in both languages to respect bilingualism. If we can't hire people who satisfy your language needs, we have a problem.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I'll just follow up on that, probably more so to Mr. Patrice, but Mr. Robert, you're welcome to add if there is anything to add, as are you, Mr. McDonald.
I do understand that the challenges aren't all about human resources. Some of the challengers are about room availability, and I understand that. At least I believe that's the case, that some of it is around room availability and things. I understand that we are limited, for example, by how many qualified interpreters are available, and I hear the point you're making that the more committees there are, the harder that is.
I get that, but let's operate on the current situation and where we're at. Can you give me a bit of a sense, concretely, as to what in the new resources that are being requested today will enable that? I understand the challenges around room allocations and things like that, as well as interpretation and qualified interpreters being available. I know that's important, but I need to get a sense of what exactly in this strategic use of the situation will mitigate meetings being prevented or eliminated or reduced. Can you give me a couple of concrete examples of how these new positions or other things that we are being asked for could help mitigate that?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:50
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you, Mr. Richards, for the questions.
The first thing I would say is that in very concrete terms, with the addition by the House yesterday of a special committee, two of the resources we're looking for are a committee clerk and a committee assistant to be able to support—
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I don't want to interrupt, but I'm going to, because I thought that in last week's meeting the three positions we approved were specifically for that. Was that not the case?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:50
There were three resources approved, two for the new Standing Committee on Science and Research, and one technical resource to support additional committee time, meetings, witnesses, etc. So no, these resources....
In really concrete terms, what we see is that we have an ongoing.... It's not just the special committee that was created yesterday in the House. If you look at the trend in one of the tables we provided in appendix B, you'll see that we've had an ongoing number of special committees going back to the last decade. There's almost always one that exists. We've always readjusted internally to be able to support those, but we're finding that, as the activity levels go up and as the service standards go up with the modernization of tools and stuff, it puts a great deal of extra pressure on us and we're having a more challenging time finding the resources to be able to support another committee that's been added. In concrete terms, if these two resources are granted on a temporary basis, as is being recommended—and we'll come back with an evaluation of that in a year's time—those resources would essentially be focused on supporting a special committee.
The other element is that there are three resources that are more focused on video conference. We used to only be able to offer a certain number of video conferences. In the typical committee schedule, there are six meetings in a block, as you know. We used to be able to support only a limited number of committees that had video conference. That was okay because we used to have fewer video conferences. We used to have fewer rooms that were capable of video conferencing, but, as we've tried to demonstrate, that has kept growing over the years, and committees now expect to be able to have witnesses by video conference, not just during the pandemic but before the pandemic. During the pandemic, certainly, it's even more complicated and absolutely more true, but even before the pandemic that's what was happening.
These three other resources are more focused on being able to set up video conferences. We did a Lean process review to look at how long it takes to set up a video conference. It's very extensive. We've tried to streamline that as much as possible, but it still involves a lot of calls. You mentioned PROC earlier. When PROC wants to hear witnesses from Westminster, there are all the emails and calls to set that up, and the testing that's required in advance. More and more committees are taking advantage of that. That was, again, pre-pandemic, and it's certainly more so during the pandemic.
That's why having some additional resources and being able to handle all the meetings that are going on throughout the day, and a little bit of wiggle room, is what we are looking for.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I have one last question, I hope, with regard to the blocks we're dealing with now. That's what we're talking about in the current environment, at least until the end of June. We have the six committee blocks. That's our maxed-out situation. I suppose it might be less of an issue when it's the last committee of the day—you might be able to carry on a bit more easily—but for the earlier committees, it's a bit more of a challenge.
Would these new resources, for example, add capabilities? Say one of those six committees had to carry on and there were other meetings coming after. Would this potentially enable one of those committees to carry on beyond its time if it needed to get to an outcome on whatever specific issue it was dealing with? If I could see that there's the ability for that, for example, or maybe two of them could carry on.... Could we get some sense of what that would mean in concrete terms?
I know that it may be hard to predict exactly, but I need some kind of a sense. I can see a very important outcome there, if that's the case.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I believe Monsieur Patrice has a comment on that.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:55
I think we have the same answer.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:55
Perhaps I can start, then. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and through you to Mr. Richards.
The short answer is yes. What we're always aiming to do is to be able to support as many activities as possible, whether that's within the blocks or even beyond those. Whether it's meetings going on or extra meetings being added, we want to be able to support those as much as possible.
But there are many variables. As the Clerk referred to before, we sometimes have a bottleneck around the interpretation resources that are available. As was mentioned, a protocol was put in place in the last Parliament. Every time we get a request, we reach out to all of our partners to see if everybody is okay to do that—from the PVOs, who are there working the microphones and recording who spoke at what time, all the way to the interpreters, the clerks, the technicians and everyone. We make sure we can support, because we need everyone in the chain to be available so we can support.
So, yes, these resources will help supplement that, but they're not the only resources involved in that chain. We need to continue working with them, but we are looking constantly to see how we can bring improvements. We're working with our partners in the translation bureau interpretation service to see where we can bring improvements around the tools they're using and everything else as well.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Caveats aside—and I understand there are caveats—what you're telling me is that you believe there should be the ability to see meetings being extended, where possible, in order to avoid strategic use of resources as a reason not to arrive at an outcome in a meeting. You're of the belief that this should enable us to see some improvement in avoiding that as a strategic tool being used. Is that fair?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-09 11:57
That is fair, caveats aside.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-09 11:57
I would just add, from a House of Commons perspective, in terms of the team from the House that supports committees, absolutely.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, thank you, and through you to our colleagues.
I want to align myself with the comments of our House leader and others, including Madame DeBellefeuille. We have a thoughtful recommendation from the House administration. We can ascribe partisan meanings to all kinds of extensions of different meetings or additions of special committees. It's not particularly constructive at a Board of Internal Economy meeting.
If the idea is to better serve members of Parliament in their work on committees that the House sets up through whatever process is in place, I would hope that we're all in favour of ensuring that those committees and the members who serve on those committees can do their work as efficiently and as effectively as Canadians expect. We have professional managers from the House of Commons administration who have thoughtfully prepared a responsible submission on what will increase our ability to better serve those committees.
Mr. Speaker, I would be very happy to approve the suggestion as made by the House administration and move on to other agenda items.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I don't see any more comments.
Do we have consent to proceed with the recommendation?
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
To be clear, what we're doing is approving the resources on a temporary basis, with a review in one year.
An hon. member: Yes.
Mr. Blake Richards: Okay.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are we good?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Anthony Rota: Okay. We'll move on.
That brings us to the fourth item on the agenda: confirmation of the mandate and membership of the Long-Term Vision and Plan, or LTVP, Working Group.
Go ahead, Mr. Patrice.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
This is in relation to I think the July meeting we had. With regard to the first item on the agenda—which might have been the only item on the agenda—in fact, I made the request for an external review of the situation with Administration. I had asked that it be recorded in the minutes that I had requested an external review. I don't see that reflected in the minutes.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:05
We'll ask the law clerk, who was present at that meeting, and we'll make the correction accordingly.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
At the last meeting in June, I asked about the staff we have available to interpret the meetings we hold. Having read the note that was prepared for us, we know that a hybrid Parliament requires more resources for interpretation, because the interpreters have to work for shorter periods of time, given that, in this situation, their job is more physically demanding.
As I read the documentation, I gather that, currently, at the beginning of the Parliament, we have a staff of 64 permanent interpreters and 60 freelance interpreters. We are therefore starting this Parliament with 124 interpreters. I have a number of questions about that.
So 124 interpreters have to meet the combined needs of the standing committees, the special committees, the House of Commons, and the government apparatus. Do we feel that a staff of that size puts us at risk, or is it sufficient to allow a hybrid Parliament to operate until June 23, 2022?
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:07
Thank you for the question, Mrs. DeBellefeuille, but I think that it should actually go directly to the Translation Bureau. It is difficult for me to comment on that staff.
However, I can tell you that, according to the Translation Bureau, that is the staff needed to hold 54 meetings per week, which is the number of time slots we have available. So, yes, this is the number of interpreters that the Translation Bureau has told us we need.
If you want more specific answers about that staff, I think that you will need to put your questions directly to the Translation Bureau.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Let me turn the question back to you, Mr. Speaker; could we ask the Translation Bureau?
I would like to ask a related question. The Standing Committee on Official Languages has studied the interpreters' situation. We were made aware of a report by the International Association of Conference Interpreters; it states that, for optimal interpretation of a speaker of French into English, for example, it is important for the interpreter to have French as the native language.
So I would like to add a dimension to my question. Of the 124 interpreters that the documentation says are available, is the number of interpreters whose native language is French enough to support members who speak in French, in the House of Commons or at standing or special committees? Is that number sufficient for us to have optimal interpretation, meaning that our words will be translated by an interpreter who has the same native language as we do?
I would like to make the one last comment. We have debated the hybrid Parliament a great deal and we have seen that it has certain limits. This is clear in the documentation submitted to the Board of Internal Economy today stating that we have a maximum of 54 time slots available for all the meetings required. Of course, we need to think about disinfecting the rooms, about breaks for the employees and about other changes. There are all kinds of obstacles that do not exist in Parliament in normal times.
As you know, I have been concerned about the interpreters right from the start. We will be in a better position to monitor the interpreters' situation, with the answers that we will be given at the next meeting of the BOIE.
I have one last request. When the standing committees start their work, will it be possible to make another dashboard so that we can closely monitor the number of testimonies that are given in English only? Then we can see whether the interpreters, and the francophones, are experiencing the same situation as they did at standing committees last year. We did that exercise last year and we saw that the great majority of the testimonies, 86% of them, were given in English. It's good to make that comparison each year to see if the trend is continuing. It will help us to understand any shortcomings in terms of interpretation, or in terms of the availability of interpreters working from their native language. This concerns me greatly. So I would like us to monitor the situation for our coming year.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Agreed. No problem. We will come back with a report on the interpreters, with a focus on those issues.
Mr. Julian, you have the floor.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to welcome the new members to the Board of Internal Economy.
I echo Mrs. DeBellefeuille's comments. I am also wondering whether 124 interpreters are enough. The number does not seem sufficient to meet the needs of all the committees that are going to meet, given the requirements. I fully support the hybrid Parliament, but things have to be planned. Given the requirements in the House and at committees, the number does not seem sufficient to me. I would like to see it justified.
Mrs. DeBellefeuille asked another good question: we need to know whether those interpreters are working from English to French or from French to English, because the requirements are different. If we do not have enough interpreters working from English to French, for example, we need to know, because it would be a problem that we would have to correct.
I understand that the hybrid Parliament provides a number of advantages in terms of the health and safety of the workers on Parliament Hill. However, I also see a weakness, given the requirements for interpreters. I would like us to have a comprehensive report on the matter. But I would also like the House Administration to invest more to ensure that the interpreters have a good working environment in terms of health and safety and to solve the difficulties they encountered in the first version of the hybrid Parliament. They would then be able to continue the excellent work they do without having to face those difficulties.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thanks, Mr. Speaker.
I have a couple of questions.
In the report, it indicates that meetings have to “be scheduled for a maximum two-hour duration.” That's based on the challenges with resources; but then it also says that “Current capacity would be able to accommodate”, potentially, “additional evening committee meetings.” It almost seems, on the surface at least, that maybe there's an incongruity between those two comments. If we can only do a maximum of two hours, but we maybe do have additional time available in the evenings, it almost seems like we're maybe saying that we have to cut it off after two hours when we might have available time.
Can I get some comments on that?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:14
Sure. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, to Mr. Richards, I think that's a good point. I think the idea was really around where meetings would be running up against each other. If there are staff available, and of course if we can plan in advance, it helps everybody to be able to make sure we can accommodate as best as possible any requests that come forward.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. I guess what I'm sort of hearing there, to some degree, is that when we're talking about maybe the morning meetings, they end up bumping into the afternoon ones, but in the afternoon there may be a possibility of extending meetings where needed. Is that what I'm hearing?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:14
That's especially if we can plan it in advance.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. Obviously, that can't always be the case, but you do your best to accommodate that, I assume.
Mr. Ian McDonald: Yes.
Mr. Blake Richards: Okay.
I have a couple of other quick questions.
Obviously, now that it's a hybrid situation with committees, MPs have the ability to choose to be there in person or to attend virtually. I would assume—actually, I think you noted it in the report—that resources are less strained when people are there in person. But now we're in a situation where some will be and some won't be, potentially.
Is that on a sliding scale? If half of the MPs attend, as compared with only one MP who attends in person, or if 11 of the 12 attend in person, are there different strains on resources? Or is it a situation where, if one person is there virtually, there would be the same strain on resources?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:16
I can answer this one. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Through you to Mr. Richards, one of the challenges we have is that it's also the people who are speaking. There may be members or even witnesses who are attending committee meetings who are not actively participating or who may only participate for a short period of time. These are the challenges we have when we're talking with the translation bureau about the interpretation services. It's just a matter of having an idea of how much time the people who are participating remotely will take. We don't always know that in advance, so it's a real challenge.
Generally speaking, the information we receive from the interpretation service is that their preference is that there be.... Where there are members in the room, that generally increases their ability to support those meetings.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. So if I were to try to just put it really short and sweet in a broad statement, the more in-person participation there is, the less strain there is on the interpreters and on the resources. Is that fair?
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
In that scenario, if more MPs—and witnesses, I suppose, if that were possible—chose to attend in person, it might allow less strain on resources, and possibly, then, we could actually have ability not to keep meetings shorter. Would that be fair to say?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:17
As a general statement, I think that's fair. I think the challenge is that there are always a lot of variables that we have to evaluate for every meeting. We have to analyze those on a case-by-case basis, but as a general statement....
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. I appreciate that. It sounds like the more who can attend in person, the better, then.
I have a last question in that same vein. With regard to witnesses, as it stands now, we haven't had witnesses attending in person. I think it's January 31 or somewhere near the end of January that the rule about not allowing visitors is up for renewal again.
I'm wondering about the idea, in the submission for renewal, of including permission for committee witnesses to be able to access the precinct so that we can, where possible, bring up those numbers in person and have less strain on resources. Is that something that's being contemplated?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:18
Through you, Mr. Speaker, as it stands right now, there is the board decision, but there's also the motion that was adopted by the House in relation to hybrid proceedings, which stated that all witnesses needed to appear via video conference until the end of June. Of course, that's up to the House to decide.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2021-12-02 11:19
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I could ask a series of rhetorical questions about virtual meetings and whether or not we save money by people not having to fly here in planes or drive here in cars, or about all of the resources of the House, but, of course, I wouldn't ask rhetorical questions like that.
I would just say, however, because we're kind of slipping into the fourth item, that on a generalized basis that there's been a major increase in committee activity—and that's outside of the pandemic. Let me say that I think for the most part that's a very good thing, but I do think we need to have a conversation both here and perhaps on the fourth item, and certainly outside of this meeting, about making sure that we are allowing room for the system, not just from a financial perspective but also from an operational perspective, to breathe. The reality is that downtime is incredibly important so that folks not only have the opportunity as members to work on their constituencies but also that our systems have an opportunity to breathe and recalibrate.
I will end my comments here. I often think about the Gettysburg address being only 272 words long. It took two minutes. Anybody can give a 20-minute speech. Anybody can talk for a long time. It takes great effort and preplanning to speak briefly, so as the committees are ballooning out and out and out and out, I think we do need to think about what we are actually expanding in terms of impact versus the resources we are consuming and, operationally, the stress we are putting on the system by not allowing a lot of downtime.
Everything we are going to see in the fourth item, Mr. Speaker, doesn't contemplate the volumes we saw during the pandemic, which were much higher than anything we've ever seen at any other period of time, and even outside of that, the volumes at committees were already much higher, so as members, as people using interpreters, as people using staff, as people using House resources, as people using dollars, we should be mindful of these things.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:22
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
As board members will know, at the end of the last Parliament, the House agreed to modify its Standing Orders, and a new Standing Committee on Science and Research was created.
Following the addition of this committee, the House administration conducted an analysis to see if this could be properly supported within existing resources. However, based on the activity levels of the past few years, it was ultimately determined that this would not be possible.
To illustrate the high level of activities for committees in recent years, we have provided some information in the note that you have before you, as well as some statistics in appendix A that show the increase in the number of witnesses and reports in recent years, just as a couple of benchmarks.
Moreover, for some years, we have seen the House create special committees on a regular basis. We have always supported those committees with existing resources, but that has become more difficult in recent years because of the high levels of activity that we have just mentioned.
That is why we are here today. We are asking for your approval for two additional resources for the rest of the current financial year and for four new resources starting in the next financial year, in order to support committee activities.
This part of the request would essentially mean a clerk and a committee assistant to support the new committee and at the same time to support special committees and to support the ongoing high activity levels.
In addition, there is another component to this request that is based on the same activity levels. That's why they are together, but it's more from a technical point of view.
Stéphan is ready to address that now.
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:23
Thank you, Ian.
Mr. Speaker, Ian has clearly articulated the increased capacity we've seen in committees by the number of witnesses over the last six or seven years that we've seen. In the note, we have demonstrated that there is an over 44% increase in the number of witnesses through the committees, which is requiring resourcing for us to actually make sure that these resources, which are participating mostly through e-conferences lately, are tested and validated, and also that we're there to ensure that the proper quality of audio is provided to the folks who are participating in the meetings. This is causing a strain on our resources from a technical perspective.
There is another element in addition to that, in the fact that now all committees are being webcast or televised by leveraging the video conferencing systems, and also by leveraging the broadcasting equipment that we have in committee rooms, sir. That is causing a strain on our resources, so in addition to the requirements Ian mentioned, we are seeking, as of the next fiscal year, an additional four resources from a technology perspective. These would be technicians who would be there to support the committees and the clerk and the interpreters to ensure that the meetings are held in the proper way.
That is our request, sir.
Thank you.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
My thanks to my colleagues for this submission. Clearly, I see no problem in supporting this increase in resources. I would even add a comment. In our caucus, for example, a good number of regional caucuses meet simultaneously. Some have told us that the House does not have sufficient resources to support their meetings being held in a hybrid format. I also observe, as we have just heard, some additional workload and pressure, specifically on the technology services and the clerks.
Can we not look at some accommodation so that those meetings, which have been held forever, can be held in a hybrid fashion for the period covered by the motion to approve the hybrid format for parliamentary work?
That question occurs to me, but, clearly, I support the submission that was made.
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:26
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Your question is a very good one, Mr. MacKinnon.As you know, we currently have to prioritize certain meetings, not deliberately, but because of the limited resources we have. Our priority is always the House of Commons itself. Then come the committees, then the national caucuses. When meeting rooms, interpreters and resources are available, we will surely support regional caucuses. However, in the current situation, we have to prioritize the events that I have just mentioned. Then, if we are able, we will support other events for which resources are requested.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
So what would that take? Are we asking for sufficient resources to use support the activities? I emphasize that these meetings have been going on for ages, but they now have to happen in a hybrid format. Is the House looking to obtain sufficient resources to support those meetings?
If not, can we consider making such a request?
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:28
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Our current request does not include those services. It actually focuses on catching up, in terms of the need for resources by the people taking part in the priority meetings.
However, we are open to having discussions with the members participating in this meeting to make sure that we fully understand the additional requests for regional caucuses that they would like to make. We could then come back to you and submit a proposal, if necessary.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thanks, Mr. Speaker.
With the report we received for our previous item, the limit we were given was 54 blocks. I'm wondering if this budget increase will help to improve that number at all.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:29
Sure.
I would say that certainly from a committee's perspective, this would not have any impact on that. This is really to support the procedural, administrative and logistical functions on the committee side.
Stéphan may have some other points to add.
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:29
We are requesting resources, sir, to support one more committee. There would be availability for a couple of blocks with the discussion we're having. If that position goes forward, we would have one or two blocks to support the new committee, but it wouldn't increase our capacity to support any other events as you're requesting, sir.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I understand that three of the eight positions that are being asked for would be to support that new committee. That's completely understood and it makes sense. If the other five do not increase the delivery of what's received, what would the implications then be if we were not to approve that? In my mind, if additional resources were provided, that should mean more service should be available.
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:31
Thank you, Mr. Richards, for the question.
From the committee's perspective, I know we'll be able to support the ongoing requirements to support special committees. As we show in the note, that number has been fairly constant over the last number of years. The challenge we've had is that in the past we've always been able to support those with internal resources, but unfortunately we're at the point where we're finding it increasingly difficult to do that. That would represent two of those five.
Perhaps Stéphan wants to talk about the other three.
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:31
I can speak to that, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Richards, over the past years, and more specifically over the last two years, we've been reallocating resources from other services. We've actually been stopping other services in order to make things happen, recognizing that there are more members coming back on site and recognizing that there's a need to re-establish some of the services that were previously offered. We're seeking these resources in order to move forward and offer more of the services that we had on-site while continuing to support the hybrid model, sir.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Could I ask for a bit more specificity on that?
What are some of the services that haven't been provided that would be provided with the three new positions?
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:32
Through you, Mr. Speaker, I can add from a technical perspective, that we've been reallocating services to support committee rooms such as this one. In terms of resources, for example, we used to have the concept of ambassadors within different buildings so members' offices could be supported.
There's more of a need now to re-establish that service so that people can be well supported within their buildings since we recognize that they're back in their buildings. We're still putting a stop to some of these services in order to support the committee rooms. That's a perfect example, sir, of the services we'd like restored in order to have the resources we need in the committees to support committees, sir.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
Sir, I'm still not sure I'm clear on this.
What are the specific services? I'm not trying to be difficult, but we're asked to provide resources, and I'm not clear in understanding what they're for.
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:33
More specifically, sir, we're talking about the IT technical support within the committee rooms and also within the offices of the members. We have people who are now dedicated to supporting committee rooms, who previously were supporting members and their offices. While they're mobile, we've restored these resources to serve committee rooms and we'd like to restore some of these services while continuing to deliver services for the committee rooms.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
On that, maybe I could just ask, if these people were repurposed, what the impacts were. What is the measure? Can you give us some metrics or indication of what impacts the reallocation would have had? I guess I personally didn't experience that. When I had issues, they were always addressed quite quickly. Perhaps there were impacts that I didn't see, but what were they?
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:34
During the pandemic, sir, we didn't notice these impacts, because most of the members weren't in the buildings. We had service desks within each of the buildings or each of the facilities that are there to support the members or members' staff or any member's request, so now that members are coming back and they are on site, we are trying to restore some of these services.
I'm giving you just one example. To do that, we need to have dedicated people on these sites, and if I need to remove them from the committee rooms, I will now affect committee rooms versus the members' offices, and we don't want to do that, sir. That's a specific example that we're trying to demonstrate here.
The resources we're seeking are specific technical resources to be in the committee rooms to support you, Mr. Richards.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thanks. I appreciate the clarity on that.
I have one last question. One of the things I note in the report that was supporting data for the request was the number of committee reports that have been written. There was an increase in those.
It's always been my understanding that it's primarily the Library of Parliament that supports that. What is the House staff role in writing and bringing support—
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:35
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Through you to Mr. Richards, the House staff do play a role. It is the analysts who prepare the drafts for the committees, but the clerks also play an important role, and the committee assistants also play an important role in the administrative processes that support those activities and also in making sure that the documents are prepared, printed, etc., so they can be tabled in the House.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
I have no doubt that establishing a new committee requires additional human resources. However, in these figures, I do not see an answer to the question about interpreters that we have been discussing.
Am I correct that this budget proposal does not include money for interpreters?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:37
Yes, you are correct. Since hiring interpreters is not in our jurisdiction, the interpreters are not included in our resources.
I want to clarify one matter in reply to Mr. Richards' question about the ability to hold 54 meetings per week. This request for additional resources would give us some room for manoeuvre in terms of the number of events. However, the problem is the Translation Bureau's interpretation capacity. That is where the issue lies.
The request for additional resources would allow the work of the new committee and the special committees to be supported on an ongoing and regular basis. The latter, by their very nature, are ad hoc, but the statistics show that there are always special committees, session after session. The topics change, but they keep coming. Our analysis has made it clear that we need additional resources. Actually, we are somewhat stretching the current resources in order to be able to support the work of the special committees.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you for the answer.
The budget that we are looking at right now is a partial budget, in the sense that we are adding one committee and we know the services that will be provided to that committee. But we have not yet really had the opportunity to see all the consequences that result from a hybrid Parliament at the same time, including this new committee and other new committees that could be added if Parliament so decides.
It seems to me that approving this budget proposal is potentially just a first step. It is really important for us to have a discussion about the consequences that all the decisions we make as a Parliament will have on the work of the interpreters. It seems to me that it would be important to have those figures at hand so that we can discuss the issue. In that way, we would be able to see whether the 124 interpreters are sufficient to meet all the requests from an in-person Parliament, a virtual Parliament, all the committees we establish, the new committees and potentially other special committees that may be created in the coming months. We have to examine what the consequences will be on the work of the interpreters as we establish each of those new committees.
We can make decisions, but we have to know what their consequences will be. It concerns me a little that I do not know whether we really have established a suitable environment for the interpreters. We are a bilingual Parliament, which is very rare around the world. Furthermore, we have a Parliament with additional requirements. Given that situation, the interpreters are doing an extraordinary job.
It seems to me that, as decision-makers, we should have all that information in front of us before we decide whether these budget requests really do meet the needs of Parliament, especially the requirements for interpretation. It has already been established that those requirements present a difficulty, a challenge, that we have to face.
Personally, I would be ready to approve this first request, but with the condition that we would come back to this discussion on the interpreters. Then we can properly identify all the consequences that establishing this new committee would have on the extraordinary interpretation services provided to the House of Commons, and all the other factors at play.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:41
Mr. Julian, you certainly raise a very important aspect of the dynamics involved in supporting the House and its committees.
We are in an ongoing dialogue with the Translation Bureau's interpretation services. The matter goes beyond the questions that have been asked and that we will put directly to the Bureau about its resources. We know that they are putting a lot of effort into recruitment, in order to increase the number of interpreters across the country.
In fact, we have to consider this situation as one whole, in its entirety. Our involvement comes where we have the authority. In other words, we operate according to the House Administration's capacity to support as many activities as we can and as best we can. This means the House, the parliamentary committees, the caucuses, the regional caucuses, or any other event.
Your comments are duly noted. We will continue our discussions and we will report to the Board of Internal Economy as soon as we have appropriate information.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
One thing concerns me.
We adopted a motion that allows Parliament to sit on a hybrid basis until June 23, 2022. Fingers crossed that, by then, the pandemic will really be behind us, Parliament can go back to normal, committees can meet in person and the hybrid Parliament will have been but a temporary episode.
The House of Commons Administration did an excellent job of getting a hybrid Parliament up and running quickly so that we could safely carry out our parliamentary duties. That said, the hybrid model is slated to end on June 23.
Is the request for additional resources due to the fact that it takes more resources to hold hybrid meetings? Will the extra resources still be needed after June 23, once things go back to normal?
Ian McDonald
View Ian McDonald Profile
Ian McDonald
2021-12-02 11:43
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Several of the issues related to this proposal have to do with two things. The submission that you were given clearly states that the request is not related to the virtual or hybrid parliamentary proceedings, but really has to do with the level of activity, the number of committees and the fact that we nearly always have special committees now. Today's proposal is not at all related to the hybrid parliamentary model, at least as far as procedural, administrative and logistical support is concerned.
Did you have something to add, Mr. Aubé?
Stéphane Aubé
View Stéphane Aubé Profile
Stéphane Aubé
2021-12-02 11:44
On the information technology side, our position is the same as Mr. McDonald's.
As you can see in the appendix, Mrs. DeBellefeuille, these are pre‑hybrid Parliament figures. Those needs are here to stay.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you for clarifying all that, especially since the people following the proceedings at home don't have our notes.
Mr. Chair, I support the request. Adding a committee means more meetings. In light of that, to do our job, we have to have adequate administrative and management support, whether it's analysts or clerks. That is especially important when it comes to information technology. There are tools that, as a member, I cannot do without in order to carry out my parliamentary duties. When one of them isn't working properly, it's extremely important to be able to access IT support quickly and to not have to wait two or three days to get the issue resolved.
As I understand it, every organization builds its organizational capacity so that it can provide the same calibre and level of support to employees in the course of their work. Here, we've added a committee, and the computer technicians should have the freedom to pull back from the hybrid Parliament a bit in order to serve offices on the Hill, even provide more support to constituency office staff. I think that's a normal progression, so I support the request.
I would still like to follow up on what Mr. Julian was saying. Increasing our workload is a good thing because it shows those who pay attention to Parliament that we are working hard and want to do our jobs as parliamentarians. However, we all have to be able to do so in a fair manner and in both official languages. It goes hand in hand with the limits on the interpretation services available to us. The Board of Internal Economy should pay close attention to the whole issue of interpretation, to ensure that members, no matter which language is their mother tongue, can do their jobs properly with the support they need from interpreters.
That is why I support this request, and I hope all of my fellow members will be able to rely on Mr. McDonald's team for the support they need. We need more resources to do our jobs properly, in terms of both IT support and clerks.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I guess I had some similar thoughts and concerns regarding the proposal. I certainly understand the resourcing need that has been suggested for the new standing committee that has been set up; there's a suggestion that we would need three new positions to support that. I'm certainly comfortable supporting those at this point. I'm not convinced, personally, that I've heard enough of a case for the other five permanent positions that are being suggested here.
I would suggest that there are probably a couple of opportunities to deal with what sound like they would be temporary needs, hopefully, during the course of a pandemic. One suggestion I could make would be that travel budgets are not being used. Could those be reallocated to meet some of these resource needs, or could we ask that the administration bring back to us a proposal that would show the costs on a temporary basis until June 23, when we expect the hybrid provisions to expire? Could we have one or both of those options brought back to us? I certainly would be more comfortable looking at approving that, but I'm just not convinced of the need on a permanent basis beyond the three for the new science committee.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:48
Certainly, we'll look at coming back to the board to review, on a temporary basis, the position for which we did not make a convincing case. We'll look at it and make proposals in that respect. Maybe—
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I'm sorry. I'll just interrupt you for a second. I don't want to indicate that I don't appreciate the work that's been put into the proposal. I don't want to indicate that I don't.... It's certainly not to cast any doubt on any of that, but I did hear a lot of conversation about the fact that we were reallocating resources because members weren't here and things like that. It certainly sounded pandemic-related. I don't mean to cast any doubt on anything that was said or suggested, but, at the same time, we do have to look at value for the resources. If we can find a way to fill some of the needs that we all hope will be temporary, that would be best.
I wanted to clarify that. I don't want to leave the impression that I'm casting any doubt on anything that was presented to us.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:50
Thank you. We'll come back with a revision in terms of those positions.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, I have a comment first. Maybe it will be followed by a question.
From the explanation that was given for the need for the extra resources, I don't see from the explanation.... I know, verbally, some mention of the temporary situation was given, but, for the most part, it looks like a situation that arose even prior to the pandemic, where there was an increase in committee work and there were more witnesses. A 74% increase in witnesses between the 41st and 42nd Parliaments is no small thing. That takes a lot of work on the administrative side.
Having seen that fairly up close in many committees, I feel that we really should be approving this request, because that's not temporary. The 42nd Parliament was prior to the pandemic. There is something going on if committees are feeling the need to invite all of these witnesses and have special committees. I know that, at times, committees have had more members and have also travelled, and those requests have come from both sides of the aisle.
I don't think it's right for us to not give this required increase at this point. Like some of the other members have said, if anything, we should be coming back again and taking a look at how we can increase resources for interpretation, as well, because that resource is very much needed.
Those are my comments. I just wanted to put them on the record.
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:52
Thank you very much for your intervention.
We're going to look at this. What I heard is that there is an openness in terms of temporary resources, but the other element in terms of resources....
Any discussion at this time gets a bit confusing, I must admit. We're talking about both the normal operations and the progression and the level of activities of the House of Commons and its components, and the pandemic always comes into the discussion. Sometimes it's not the intent, but it does come into it, because we're living it day after day.
The other aspect, with regard to the request for resources, was about the webcasting of committees. While in recent years, we were broadcasting only two committees out of six, now we've added capacity and technology that allows for all committees to be broadcast, whether by traditional broadcasting or webcasting. That's an element in the submission in terms of the request for additional resources.
That being said, we'll prepare. We'll look at our submission, review it and come back to the board with a revised proposal or case.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
If there are no more questions, then I take it we have consensus.
Do we have consensus for the recommendation?
Would you like me to read it?
Are we not going to pass this recommendation and wait for additional information? That's the way I understand—
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
What I was suggesting was that we see a revised proposal.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Having said that, I will offer, as I did earlier, if it is something you can do and if it's easy for you on the spot to tell us if there's a way we can split it out, that I would be comfortable with that. Maybe you need to go back and approve the three for the additional committee. If that can be done on the spot, I'd be comfortable with that, but otherwise we'd come back with the whole thing.
What's easier for you?
Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2021-12-02 11:54
What I heard from your intervention is that you were comfortable with three positions for the new committee and that we come back with the analysis and a proposal for the five left. I understand that the board would be ready to approve three, and then we can come back with a revision in terms of the other five positions.
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