I'd like to thank Mr. Janse for having answered our questions. Some members of the Board of Internal Economy, or the BOIE, had questions about some of the reports that were tabled.
I asked a question about the headsets worn by witnesses appearing before the committee, but the answer, while not unsatisfactory, could have been more detailed.
It says here that 400 headsets were sent to witnesses. In fact, approximately 20% of the witnesses received a headset. I'm sure you understand, Mr. Chair, why I'm drawing attention to this.
The hybrid format being used for House sittings and committee meetings is creating problems for francophone MPs from all the parties. The headset problems are one thing, but trying to get witnesses to understand how to change the interpretation channel is another. I'd like Mr. Janse to have an answer for us at the next meeting of the BOIE. I would like to know how many witnesses spoke French, and I'll tell you why.
Here's what I think. Approximately 90% of witnesses speak English, which means that it's essential to have interpretation into French. When a witness gives evidence in French and no English interpretation is available,there's sure to be a point of order within 30 seconds to correct the situation. I'd like to see these technical and interpretation problems dealt with. I don't feel that the situation is improving quickly enough.
Yesterday, I was a bit exasperated, or I should say discouraged—that's the better word for it. In a meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship appeared to discuss the main estimates, but did not have the right headset and interpretation was impossible. It's rather discouraging to see that the minister's officials didn't go to the trouble of making sure that he had the right equipment and knew how to work the interpretation channels to make interpretation into both official languages possible.
If Ms. Normandin, our spokesperson, had been a unilingual francophone MP and had not understood anything in English, what would have happened? It's easier for the technicians to tell the witnesses to speak English, because then they don't have to do anything with the interpretation channel, which we all agree has been a problem and a hindrance.
In the report that was tabled, I'd like the number of witnesses who gave evidence in French to be recorded, so that we could see whether the technological problems have been having more of an impact on members who speak French.
Yesterday, a witness at the fisheries and oceans committee did not have a headset and the interpretation was not working in either direction. When he spoke French, the anglophone MPs said that the interpretation was not working and when he spoke English, it too was not working. The Bloc Québecois member had to ask questions in English because she could not ask them in French owing to these problems.
I don't know who to tell about the problem. The clerks and the committee chairs certainly need to be made aware that it's unacceptable for francophone MPs to be told they can't ask their questions in French because the witness does not understand or because the interpretation or the equipment is not working. There are francophone MPs in every party. The MPs can't understand the witnesses because things are not working in either direction.
We had an exploratory discussion yesterday about the French situation.
It's rather sad to see that we still have some hiccups in terms of access to French.
We received a solid report about the committees from Mr. Janse and we are going to use it to look into this matter at the Bureau of Internal Economy more thoroughly because it' s too important and we have to find answers to the problems that francophone MPs are currently experiencing when they sit on the various committees.
I am aware of all the efforts being made by House staff members and by the IT teams. I'll be the first in line to thank them. I know that everyone is working hard on it, but we' re running out of time. We know that we'll still be operating as a hybrid Parliament for some time to come and that we can't carry on for long until this situation about access to interpretation in both official languages has improved.
I know that some witnesses are called only on the day before they are to give evidence. Headsets can't be teleported, and have to be sent to them, which is impossible at the moment through House services, particularly when a meeting is called only the day before. However, I do find it unacceptable when ministers and others don't have the right equipment when they appear.
If the witnesses don't have the required equipment, then we need to find another solution. We can't tell the francophone MPs that there are problems and limitations and that that's just the way it works. I'm going to do battle on this important issue. If we don't, who will? It's up to all of us to find a solution.
I have no complaints about House Administration; quite the contrary. However, we need to work harder to make the committee chairs more aware of the situation. They need to demonstrate flexibility in allocating time. If a francophone MP from any of the parties is asking questions in French and needs to repeat them because the witness did not understand as a result of an interpretation problem, then the speaking time needs to be adjusted.
We've already discussed this. I clearly remember that the government House leader said that speaking time would be adjusted. He mentioned that the chairs should be flexible about the idea of allowing a little more time to avoid penalizing an MP who is losing speaking time because of having to repeat things three times for witnesses who did not understand the question in French because of interpretation or technological problems.
At the next Board of Internal Economy meeting, I would like an update on how much of the evidence was presented only in French, because that would show us the scale of the problem.
Here is an example of what can happen when evidence is only in French. Last week, the member for Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP) was interrupted in the middle of asking a question in French to an anglophone member who rose on a point of order because he didn't understand the question. You allowed the member to repeat the question. In question period, when a member is interrupted in the middle of a question, it has an impact on spontaneity. Some people don't hesitate to interrupt a member when they don't understand.
We're trying to be understanding and willing to compromise. There are some exceptional circumstances in which we will compromise by listening to evidence in English. For example, there was moving evidence at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We understand that there can be exceptions, but they should be just that – exceptions. At the moment, it's happening all too often.
At the next meeting of the Bureau of Internal Economy, I'd like us to get together to try to find ways of improving the situation on the basis of Mr. Janse's report.
Thank you for taking the time to hear me out.