Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Good morning, honourable members of the Board of Internal Economy. I would like to recognize our parliamentary partners who are here today. I would also like to recognize and thank Cécilia Shea, Bernadette Blain and Linda Ballantyne, who are providing the interpretation services for today's meeting.
I am pleased to appear before you for the first time since taking on the role of chief executive officer of the Translation Bureau in January. Of course, you know the fellow who is with me today, Matthew Ball, vice-president of the services to Parliament and interpretation sector.
It is with great humility that I appear before you to discuss the complex issue of interpretation service capacity.
Over the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to examine the issues affecting interpretation services in an effort to grasp all the implications. Matthew Ball and his team gave me a detailed history of the situation, describing the significant measures that have been implemented.
Let me assure you of something: my priority is to step up efforts to ensure the health and safety of interpreters, while, as you mentioned, improving interpretation capacity.
Since my arrival, I have met with the House administration partners who are in charge of the technical setting for interpretation services. They have clearly explained the logistics that need to be taken into account from Parliament's point of view, as well as the difficulties that service interruptions and the lack of capacity cause for parliamentarians.
As far as capacity is concerned, as you may have heard, our accreditation exam in November added 10 new freelancers to our pool. Their arrival does not in itself represent an increase in our capacity, given the number of injured interpreters and departures, but they are still welcome reinforcements.
We are also continuing to work with the House administration to implement the provision of interpretation from outside the parliamentary facilities using freelance interpreters. We now have contracts in place so that we can provide two additional two-hour meetings per day from Monday to Thursday, as we promised in December, using interpreters outside of Ottawa.
We are working on another long-term project to increase our capacity, such as a tour of universities to foster the next generation.
That said, even if we increase the number of interpreters, we won't make any headway if we cannot guarantee their health and safety.
I've had the opportunity to meet with our staff interpreters twice in the past two weeks. I was extremely impressed by their professionalism and their determination to serve the needs of their parliamentary clients. I was also very moved to hear how distressed they were by the current circumstances. It's terrible to learn that interpreters can no longer go to concerts and have trouble hearing their children at play because of hearing injuries they suffered while doing their jobs.
Those discussions actually helped dispel a misconception I had. I was under the impression that if the audio quality was fine for me, as a virtual or in-person participant, it was also fine for the interpreters. That is completely untrue, however. Interpretation is so cognitively demanding that in order for interpreters to listen and speak at the same time, the audio has to be broadcast quality.
That is why improving the sound quality is so crucial. The use of proper microphones by participants is part of the solution. Another part is encouraging participants who are in the area to attend meetings in person. What's more, the Internet connection, the computer equipment, the audio system and education all play a role, and it doesn't end there.
After seven weeks on the job, I am well aware that there is no magic formula to fix everything. It's a long-term undertaking. I understand the challenge we are facing.
When I say “we”, I don't mean only the Translation Bureau. One thing is clear to me: the bureau can't fix this on its own. All the stakeholders have to work together. The bureau is grateful for the House administration's support.
Honourable members of Parliament, you are certainly aware of the direction that Employment and Social Development Canada's labour program issued to the translation bureau on February 1, 2023. In accordance with these directions, our interpreters are instructed, as of February 6, not to interpret participants who do not use an appropriate microphone. We will soon be commissioning random sound tests in real work situations in the House and Senate committee rooms.
These instructions are in line with the work we were already doing with the administration to improve sound quality. They are not the solution to everything, but they clearly illustrate how important it is that we remain truly committed to our efforts.
Every new measure and every small gain in our long-term work to promote sound quality benefit not only the interpreters, who can do their work safely, but also the translation bureau, which will have improved capacity thanks to a healthy workforce, and the users of interpretation services, who will enjoy more stable services.
Honourable members of the Board of Internal Economy, thank you for your co-operation with the translation bureau and thank you for inviting me to speak on this important topic.
Matthew and I will now be happy to answer your questions.