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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
This is meeting number 12 of the Board of Internal Economy in this session. It will be televised and available by video conference.
Is there anything arising from the minutes of the previous meeting? Are we okay with those?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Is there any business arising from previous meetings?
Mr. Richards.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I wanted to touch base on one item where a follow-up was required. We had sent a letter and there was a deadline of December 18 for a response. Would we be looking at scheduling a meeting sometime shortly after that, or early in the new year, to discuss that item, based on any response we receive?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The letter has been sent. I don't believe we have received a response yet.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I understand, but we gave a deadline of December 18. Are we planning to schedule a meeting shortly after that to discuss our response?
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll have to wait until a response comes back. The letter has gone out, and we'll see what happens from there, if that's fair.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
I was just trying to get a sense as to what we thought.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The letter did go out within a couple of days of when we met last. It's all taken care of.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
All I'm getting at is that it leaves a long time after the response would be received. I wouldn't want to leave that hanging over anyone for a long period of time. I know we ordinarily wouldn't meet for some time after that. I just wondered if we were giving some consideration to meeting sooner, so that it wouldn't be left hanging.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I think that's fair. If it's okay with everyone, we'll wait until the response comes back, and then we'll deal with it when we have the facts in front of us. Is that fair?
There's consensus around the room. Perfect.
Our first presentation this morning concerns the LTVP working group recommendations. The presenter is Mr. Bruce Stanton, co-chair of the Joint Interparliamentary Council and Deputy Speaker par excellence.
Before Mr. Stanton, Ms. DeBellefeuille, please go ahead.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
If I may, Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank Mr. Janse for having provided some details about the questions I had asked him.
I had asked how many witnesses gave evidence in French in parliamentary committees. What I'm trying to do is document the technical problems that sometimes come from failing to wear a headset. These problems mainly occur when unilingual francophone MPs are speaking.
At the last meeting, I said that I thought 90% of francophone witnesses gave their evidence in English. I was wrong by 4%. It would seem that 86% of francophone witnesses who appear before parliamentary committees do so in English. We've been saying from the outset that interpretation and technical problems have been having more of an impact on interventions by francophone MPs. And now we have facts and documentation to support our claim.
Mr. Chair, there have been many recommendations and suggestions. For example, it was suggested that the chair of the Liaison Committee should require an internal economy motion for the parliamentary committees asking each committee to adopt an internal economy motion to have witnesses do some technical tests before giving evidence in order to ensure that sound connectivity and quality are satisfactory.
Would House Administration and the clerk move this suggestion forward or should we take a position on it? I'd like some specifics on this point.
Is it up to us to do the follow-up or will it be delegated to the Liaison Committee? Are the clerks going to follow through on these suggestions made in the letter sent by the deputy clerk to the Committees and Legislative Services Branch?
Once again, I'd like to thank the team of clerks for having documented the problem and passed the information on to us. It'll be very useful to us in our future work.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I know that this is very important for us all. Could Mr. Janse answer the question. He could perhaps describe what's been done so far.
Mr. Janse, you have the floor.
Eric Janse
View Eric Janse Profile
Eric Janse
2020-12-03 10:42
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mrs. DeBellefeuille, for your question.
If the Bureau of Internal Economy were in agreement, I thought I might send the letter I gave you to Ms. Sgro, the chair of the Liaison Committee. She could then forward it to the chairs of the 24 committees, and each in turn could discuss the matter and decide whether they want to adopt an internal economy motion. Of course, the MPs on each committee could propose such a motion.
As I mentioned in the letter, witnesses are often called at the last minute, and it's sometimes not possible to send them a headset before they appear. We nevertheless make every effort to do so.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
What I understood was that technical tests would be a good idea, wherever possible, right before witnesses appear. One example of an annoying technical problem was during an appearance by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. The problem was fixed afterwards.
Right before someone is to give evidence, it would be useful to do some tests and remind the witness to wear a headset. If the witness doesn't have a headset, possible options could be suggested, or another witness could go first. The goal is to emphasize the importance of how to set things up to make interpretation possible.
Eric Janse
View Eric Janse Profile
Eric Janse
2020-12-03 10:43
That would definitely facilitate things in various ways.
Our current procedure is to contact witnesses by email to send them the information. We strongly suggest that they connect 15 to 30 minutes before their appearance so that we can conduct some tests.
My impression is that many people don't read all their emails and if the witnesses don't read ours and connect only a few minutes before their appearance, there could be problems.
In our discussions with the committees branch, it was suggested that we telephone some witnesses, particularly if this is their first appearance, to underscore the importance of connecting ahead of time so that we can do various tests.
We hope that this might improve the situation.
View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The next speakers are Mr. Julian and Mr. Deltell.
Over to you, Mr. Julian.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Janse.
This information is very useful and very important to us, given our current concerns about the decline of French in Canada. Over the past few weeks, we've initiated some parliamentary debates on this topic and have adopted several motions.
I was interested to learn that over one-third of witnesses can speak French. The problem is not so much the number of francophone and francophile witnesses, but rather the infrastructure shortcomings.
At meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance, I saw interpretation problems several times, as a result of which people who were speaking French felt obliged to switch to English.
I believe the figures would back me up on this. People don't feel comfortable speaking French if the equipment is unsatisfactory and the interpreters can't do their work. As a result, they tend to switch to English, which is something that really should be avoided. The recommendations being made here should be forwarded to all the committees. Furthermore, it's important to firmly support the idea that the technology needs to be perfect so that witnesses can speak French in the knowledge that they'll be able to count on the excellent House interpretation services.
These statistics are very important, and I'd like to thank you for passing this information on to us. I think everyone around this table would be in favour of immediately and forcefully implementing the recommendations that were made.
For me, it would be a dream come true.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
Mr. Deltell, you now have the floor.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I fully agree with what my two predecessors have said. I'd like to add something, though. Many of my caucus colleagues have mentioned this problem, and I'm sure that it applies to all the political parties. Every time a technical problem of this kind occurs, it results in lost time in terms of evidence and our parliamentary work. Every now and then, this might be considered acceptable, but unfortunately, a lot of time is being lost, with interruptions of up to 10 or 20 minutes, because of technical problems. I'll admit, however, that it's occurring less often than before.
I'm in favour of all the observations that have been made. I'm also in favour of the recommendations, and welcome the initiative suggesting that people be called before they give evidence. I think the House should adopt this approach systematically. Emails are all very well, but we get up to 50 of them per hour and it's easy to miss one. People may not be watching their inbox closely. A return to the good old days might be required, by which I mean calling people directly on the telephone and checking and double-checking the information.
I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chair, for having reminded people once more yesterday, and this week in the House on several occasions, that it was absolutely essential for us to wear the headset supplied by the House of Commons.
I have a final observation, which is that like all of us here in the House, many of our colleagues attend meetings from home, from their riding office or from their parliamentary office. We might consider providing parliamentarians with more than one headset.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We will go now to Mr. Richards.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
On this topic, it's one thing with external witnesses we're asking to appear. I think some of the suggestions that have been made are good ones. We've seen this occur with ministers who are being asked to come to committee to be held accountable before the committee. I really think that in these cases....
This is not something that is surprising or unexpected for ministers. They need to have headsets and they need to ensure that they have a proper connection. I know it isn't exactly directly related to the committees, but in committee of the whole we had a minister who hadn't prepared to have a proper Internet connection.
I really believe that in these kinds of cases, the expectation should be that the minister will make up the time with the committee. If they've wasted 20 minutes of committee time because they didn't have the proper headset or something of that nature, the expectation should be that they make up the time so that the committee has those opportunities. We're seeing that those opportunities are being lost, and ensuring that ministers are accountable is a very important part of our democracy.
I think it's different from the situation with a regular witness. Sometimes a witness has been asked, as you say, on short notice and maybe isn't aware of the requirements with respect to our committees, but ministers certainly are. I really think that, if we're going to put something out, we should include in it as well that ministers will be expected to make up time if they do not come prepared with the proper equipment and connection.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's very good. We'll take that under advisement.
Are there any more comments?
We're now going to study the recommendation made by the working group on the Long Term Vision and Plan, or the LTVP.
We have with us today Mr. Bruce Stanton, the chair of the working group on the LTVP and the Centre Block rehabilitation.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
Good morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to be here today.
I'm joined by Susan Kulba, who is the DG and chief executive architect on the House administration side, as well as Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister with PSPC for the science and parliamentary infrastructure branch.
I'm here today as the chair of the LTVP working group, to update the board on our work since our last meeting, and will be seeking your support for the design direction regarding four areas: the lobbies, the galleries, the west light court, the west foyer light well, and a potential increase in space in the centre light court.
I'll also update you on two subjects regarding the independent design review panel and the issue of outreach to parliamentarians. I'll comment briefly on those last two items first.
On October 28, we discussed a plan for the engagement with our working group and the independent design review panel, IDRP, regarding the entrance to the Parliament welcome centre.
The IDRP is an eminent group of Canadian architects with extensive experience on projects of this nature. The working group had an opportunity to meet with them by Zoom on November 6, and we found their expert advice to be informative, helpful and consistent with the working group's opinion on things like the entrance design and retention of the front lawn and the Vaux wall.
We conveyed the importance of the House of Commons as a complex functioning workplace for parliamentarians, which also greets hundreds of visitors and guests daily and serves as one of Canada's most iconic heritage buildings.
We think the panel benefited from their meeting with us, and it will contribute to the panel's discussions and advice to PSPC in the time ahead.
Secondly, at our last meeting of November 27, we reviewed several means by which parliamentarians could become more involved and informed on the pace of work in Centre Block and even some possible areas where the working group could invite direct input, before interior formats and designs are finalized.
We anticipate that parliamentarians could be informed using various communications tools— video conferences, in-person meetings when they become possible again, website presence and video, as well as through the Speaker's regular newsletters. We believe that a project of this importance, not only to this cohort of parliamentarians, but to future ones, would benefit from direct input from the people who are at the centre of this large, complex workplace and centrepiece of Canada's system of government.
Turning to the four design recommendations, I would like to now discuss the lobbies, galleries and ideas for the existing light courts.
As you all know, the government and opposition lobbies are an important space for parliamentarians. It's where we conduct our parliamentary work, meet with colleagues, and where members will usually spend at least one ten-hour sitting day per week, and occasionally much longer. It's also the gathering place for votes and question period every day, all the while being close to our whip's and House leader's team and available at a moment's notice for duty in the House.
We've seen that this space was often overcrowded, and that's before the expected growth in MP numbers over the coming five decades, when these important spaces will be under even greater pressure. So, in finding ways to address the space pressure on the lobbies, the working group was presented with, and agrees with, a plan to expand the lobbies across two floors and parts of an adjacent courtyard.
This page shows a proposed plan for both floors. The second floor exists now. More space will be added on the ground floor.
The plan will keep the lobbies at the chamber level, but expanded vertically, to the ground floor, by adding a space at least as large as the current 2nd floor lobbies, with independent stair and elevator access for the level below.
The plan also includes expanded accessible washroom space. The image shows, in the centre of the plan to the left on the ground floor, that the washrooms are between the two lobbies and are exclusively for the use of parliamentarians and ground floor lobby staff.
In relation to the lobbies, we recommend for the board's consideration a design for both the government and opposition lobbies that includes additional support space located on the ground floor and adjacent courtyard, with dedicated vertical circulation for both.
Going to the galleries, on our meeting of October 28, the House presented us with a proposed design approach for the Centre Block galleries for our review and questions. You'll see the designs. On the left are the existing galleries on the third floor, and on the right is the proposal.
We recognize that the Centre Block galleries needed to be modified to become more accessible. The current physical design is well short of national building code standards for accessibility. In fact, prior to the closure of the building there was minimal accessibility. Meeting code and accessibility standards will result in a reduction of seating capacity in the galleries from 553 seats to 296.
The working group had a really good discussion regarding the average public attendance in the galleries over the periods of time that we experienced them, the extra demand during school visits and special addresses, and comparisons with comparable parliaments and legislative assemblies.
We asked the administration to investigate the possibility of using some flexible space in those galleries so that the design of the seating would permit a scaling-up, if you will, under those special circumstances, while assuring that it meets national building code standards. In relation to the galleries, we agreed to recommend that the board endorse the proposal of a design that complies with national building code requirements for accessibility, recognizing that there will be a significant reduction of available seating and that the architects be instructed to consider flexible solutions to accommodate more visitors.
That's the second item. Now we'll move on to the west light court and the west foyer light-well.
At our November 27 meeting we agreed on a conceptual design approach and strategy for the west light court. That's what you see in front of you now. That is an image of the west light court looking south. You would see the outer wall of the House of Commons on your right, with the stained glass windows, and then the lower levels as that area or space is closed in.
The primary purpose of the light courts is to bring natural light and ventilation to interior spaces not located on an exterior facade. This is an important part of the architectural and heritage character of Centre Block. We were informed that closing in the light courts at the roof level will provide significant improvements on energy performance for the building. The proposed design would convert the larger west light court into an open, light-filled space that would provide public access to the galleries, and where visitors to the chamber could circulate between level B1—that's the main level of the Parliament welcome centre—and levels two and three in Centre Block.
It would greatly improve the circulation of the public within Centre Block, but importantly, it keeps the original architecture of Centre Block intact. It also allows the light court to continue to bring natural daylight to the chamber and other interior spaces.
There's an additional light court on the west side. It's proposed that a new glass enclosure cover what's called the west light-well. This is right above the House of Commons foyer, essentially to provide natural light in the foyer area. This would effectively restore natural light to that area, intended as part of the Beaux-Arts planning for the foyer in the original structure. You will recall that there's a beautiful heritage glass laylight in the foyer ceiling. Currently, that whole light-well is closed in, due to damage and leaking, and so on, many decades ago. The idea would be to put a covering over it that would allow natural light to be restored to that light-well.
Accordingly, the working group recommends that the board accept and adopt the proposed design approach for both the west light court, the larger one, and the west foyer light-well.
The fourth and final item is the centre light court. This is a much bigger space. In the sectional view of Centre Block, I'd draw your attention to the purple area in the middle. The centre light court spans a much wider space, and in particular, the area above the roof of the Hall of Honour. If you were going down one of the interior hallways in Centre Block on the fourth or fifth floor and looked out towards the centre light court, you would see the roof over the Hall of Honour at the third level. The idea would be to add additional floors on top of that roof that would extend right to the top on floors four, five and six, and then, of course, join the north and south hallways in Centre Block on each of those floors.
We think it's an excellent opportunity to infill the space in Centre Block to add much-needed space for parliamentarians. Up to 600 square metres of space would be added to the functioning interior space and it would be done in such a way as to not interfere or reduce in any way the natural light that comes into the building. Also, of course, as mentioned earlier, by capping over the light court and still allowing natural light, it will permit much better energy efficiency for the building.
It should be noted as well that none of this infill would do anything to interrupt the features or construction of the Hall of Honour. It would all occur above that level.
We therefore recommend to the board that the proposed infill approach be endorsed for the centre light court with the expectation that conservation principles will be respected, and of course, the working group will return to you at a later time to discuss some options for the use of that interior space.
Overall, I'd like to congratulate all the members of the working group and all the parties for their contribution to the work. I realize that it's important for MPs to be involved in the project.
Finally, I would like to point out that the working group plans to hold another meeting early next year. I'd be happy over the coming months to come back with further updates as our work progresses.
Thank you for your attention. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have or to provide more details on any of the points discussed.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you Mr. Stanton.
We'll now begin the question period.
Over to you, Mr. Julian.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Stanton.
I know there's a tremendous amount of work involved, in addition to all the other hats you wear, so our thanks to you and to the team of members of Parliament working with staff on this difficult issue.
I have a number of questions, so I'll just lay them all out. I think that is easiest.
First off, in terms of the centre light court infill, you haven't mentioned what the possible use would be for that shared space. It would be helpful to have a few more details on that proposal.
On the infill courts, the west light court and the light-well, those seem to me to be no-brainers. Having had an office a number of times on that west court, I know the amount of wasted energy that is required to heat the four walls of the courtyard rather than just covering it over and using that space far more effectively. On the light-well, it never made sense to me why that was blocked in the first place. Again, there's an energy loss there, so bravo for looking at that.
My concern about the galleries, quite frankly, is that we are cutting basically in half the participation of people who are able to come directly into the House of Commons and see parliamentarians at work. As someone who comes from the far west of Canada—5,000 kilometres away—I know that when any of my constituents make their way across Canada, they want to have the full experience of our democracy, and often, they want to be able to participate in the House of Commons. That hasn't been a problem generally, but if we're cutting the number of seats in half, I think that would be. I would raise concerns about that.
Yes, absolutely we need to have the ability for people with reduced mobility and people with disabilities to be able to participate fully. There are designated spaces that could achieve that, but I'm very concerned about the cuts in the number of people who can actively participate. Could you perhaps explain a little bit more? You mentioned a scaling-up on occasion. That may happen more often than not. Particularly when we open the new building, we'll have people coming from across the country to see it. We certainly saw that with the Library of Parliament, so if you could go a little bit more into that, I would appreciate it.
I gather that a dedicated internal vertical circulation is Ottawa-speak for stairs or an elevator, and I'm wondering in terms of the lobby what that actually means. It would seem to me that given the narrowness of the lobby space, what we are actually doing is having the lobbies one floor down, and how that access up and down is achieved is important.
My final question is the most important one. What are the cost differentials in doing this? I assume from the west light court and the light-well that the energy savings will probably be far beyond the renovation costs. For some of the other things, it would be helpful for us to know at least in a ballpark way what the differential is between what would be a scaled-down version and what could be proposed. As we're going through a pandemic, most Canadians want to make sure every dollar spent is spent effectively.
Nobody wants to see a deterioration of the Centre Block. Quite the contrary, they want to see a renovation, but they don't want to see frills. We have to be very conscious of that to make sure that every dollar spent is effective.
Those are my questions. Thank you.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Julian, as usual, you have covered all the bases here, and I'll do my best to take them one at a time.
On the centre light court additional infill of those three floors, we did look at very preliminary options as to what that would add. That is one of the things I think we would like to come back to the board with. Potentially, I don't mind saying, this would be one area where, in reference to, say, consultations with parliamentarians, it would be something that we could chat with them about as well.
We're far from a decision as to what that interior format would need to look like, but as an example, one could anticipate that on floors four and five you could add up to, say, three different office suites on each floor, an additional six offices in there. Members should know that across the entirety of Centre Block the number of offices available will be reduced for a number of reasons, so it gives an ability to sort of catch up on some of that.
The sixth floor we believe, because it will be at the top of the building, affords the possibility—and again, not finalized—of creating a space for parliamentarians to gather. Senators and members will know that there are opportunities for that. We will get back to you with that and, again, it could be the subject of some consultation.
With regard to the galleries, Mr. Julian, your concerns were shared among the working group, real concerns with the overall reduction in the number of seats in the gallery. When we looked at actual attendance in the gallery outside of question period and special events, we all know as parliamentarians that, for the most part, the 553 seats were well above what was needed.
You're right, at certain special times of the year and certainly for an address to a joint chamber, senators and parliamentarians, when you need a full gallery.... That is why the working group suggested this as an example. If you look at the east and west interior walls, you'll see in the galleries' design—opposition, government lobbies and the Speaker's gallery—that some of those spaces protrude inward into the chamber. Those would be the locations for accessible seating. There will be occasions during those special addresses, as an example, where not all of that accessible seating will be needed. Similarly, perhaps in the north gallery, the design of seating could be done in such a way that it could, as we suggest, be flexible or scale up to accommodate more persons and still meet national building code standards.
We've asked the House administration and PSPC to come back to us, in this case, the House. I think Susan's team would come back to us with some suggestions. Sure enough, we'll have fixed seating and meet all the code for 296, but maybe there's a way some of that seating could be designed so that we could scale up to some standing room or some other means to accommodate more people on those special occasions.
Finally, we'll say that the 296, relative to the number of members who are in the House, is relatively consistent with the other chambers and legislatures that we looked at as well, comparing the number of members to the number of seats in the gallery.
In terms of lobby access and the idea of having an expanded lobby area on the lower floor, you all know that essentially what's on the second floor now where the lobbies are situated will effectively stay the same, with the exception of the area that protrudes into the light court on the right-hand side. There's a little bit of expansion there that will permit elevator access, for example, and other stair access for the opposition lobby side. On the lower floor you'll effectively have a space equal in size to the second floor, and each of those sides, both the opposition and government side, will have their own independent stairway and elevator so that members attending the lobby during the day can move up and down freely, and it would be fully accessible.
We appreciate that it will create some potential issues around keeping members connected to their whips and leadership teams while they are there. However, considering the number of MPs that the House will need to accommodate in the usual proportions over the next 50 years, if the same formula is kept in place—we're already under space pressures now—it's only going to get worse down the road.
Finally, on the cost differentiations on the light court proposals, I'm going to ask Rob to comment on that.
Rob Wright
View Rob Wright Profile
Rob Wright
2020-12-03 11:14
Sure. Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Chair.
I will speak first about the lobbies. We looked at two options essentially for the chambers. The option that is proposed here—and these costs include the work on the galleries in the chamber and for the lobbies—is costed at approximately $75 million. The alternative option, which was the expanded chamber option that we looked at, was a little in excess of $300 million. Those were the two comparative options that we looked at. The proposed option here, which again includes the work on the galleries, the chamber and the lobbies, would be approximately $75 million.
On the light-wells, as you quite correctly point out, there are a number of puts and takes from a cost perspective, so it is a little more complex. We could come back with cost comparisons on that, because there are the energy consumption considerations. The covering in the light-wells is essential to the sustainability strategy for the Centre Block. We have a carbon-neutral strategy for the Centre Block. Before it closed, the Centre Block was the worst performing from the perspective of energy performance, energy usage and GHG emissions within our portfolio. That is essential to the strategy, going forward.
The other thing that would be important to note is that, especially with respect to the west and east courtyards, the use of these courtyards provides universal accessible access for Canadians to the galleries. Without using the courtyards in this way, we would have to find another and probably more costly way that would impact the heritage components of the Centre Block.
This sidesteps a number of those issues. It is critical to the sustainability strategy, it is critical to the universal accessibility strategy and, as the Deputy Speaker indicated regarding the growth in the number of parliamentarians, it provides some additional elbow room for the building, which is critical. It's part of returning the Centre Block to the original vision of John Pearson, of making sure that there's symmetry, a light-filled space and common-use space for Parliament. This is essential and has been a bit lost over the years as functionality has, with the need for space, overtaken some of this common space.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's fine. Okay.
We'll go to Mr. Richards, followed by Mr. Deltell.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Just to follow along, one of my three questions was addressed already but I have two additional. I'll just follow up on the light court proposal.
We have the proposals for the west foyer, the west light court. Is there a similar proposal being put before our colleagues in the Senate for the east side and a light court there? I'm just curious on that front.
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