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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:49
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I can reassure you that definitely in the last two or three years we have been putting a lot of effort into making sure, if we come forward with any requests for funding, we do an assessment and make sure we restabilize some of the resources and realign where we can to make sure the requests are only for what we need.
There has been a progression of many legislative changes or other demands around services. The cost of living is obviously one of the big ones here, and there are some pieces above and beyond that. There are incremental services when we look at some of the pieces of legislation around disclosure and legislation around health and safety. Then we have the increased capacity around services for members, around HR, around the security that's more recent and around the onboarding. The most significant portion of the growth over the last three or four years has been the onboarding and taking control of the various new buildings in the parliamentary precinct. For those we made sure we challenged the work with the experts and just asked for what we needed to maintain these various systems and the tools given to us for that assignment.
Many of these things are outside of the control of the administration to react ahead of time to try to manage these. We try to make sure our request for funding is limited to what is needed to maintain and support the infrastructure.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:51
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I wanted to come back to this idea of finding ways to put in place controls for better fiscal prudence, but you sort of led me into my other question, which is about the fairly large increases in terms of the employment figures.
We saw an increase, I believe, from 1,827 to 2,214. That's about a 21% increase. It's a pretty big jump. A couple of the bigger jumps were in procedural services, which we saw go from 261 to 442, and then in the office of the deputy clerk of administration, which we saw more than double in size from 37 to 77. I'm wondering if that's an increase because there are more part-timers with the pandemic or if that's really a legitimate full-time equivalent increase. What's driving this huge 21% increase in the employment figures?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:52
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The report we provided to you, with the documentation at this time, represents the staff on force at the time we prepared the documentation. It gives you a full sense of how many people we have working at the precinct. Previously, the 1,700 or so people you saw were representing more or less the numbers that we're looking at: the actual full-time indeterminates, full-time long-term terms, or long-term terms part time. It didn't have some of our short-term seasonal workers and it didn't have many of the other people we have who are supporting and who are not necessarily there on a permanent basis at the precinct.
For you to have a full picture, we made sure we had the complete on-site at that particular point in time. My apologies; we should have had a note to that effect on the documentation that we were presenting a different number, not a growth in numbers.
That said, there has been some growth, given all of the items I identified earlier. Many of the services we offer require the capacity to support that, and that growth is there, but it's not the 21% difference that you see in the documentation.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:53
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What you're saying is that what we're seeing there is a snapshot in time, and the 21% wouldn't be an accurate portrayal of the growth. What would be more accurate in terms of a percentage of growth?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
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I don't have that number in front of me. We could reproduce the report you received last time for the main estimates on the same basis so you can have that, and we can provide that to the board members to have a better analysis.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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That would be appreciated.
Could you ballpark that for me? I wouldn't hold you to it, of course.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
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No, I can't at this point, because I look at so many different numbers and I don't typically have the FTE numbers or full-time staff with the financial ones.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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Perhaps you could give us a better picture of what the growth would be in terms of FTE.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:54
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Yes.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:54
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Just going back to what I was on before with regard to measures that can be put in place, I understand about responding to legislative changes and things like that, but obviously 29% is far over and above inflation, for sure, in terms of the expansion of growth.
I'll throw out something that comes to mind for me. What about looking at requiring some sort of offsetting decreases where there are new increases in spending? Is that something the administration would welcome? What kinds of suggestions could you give us that we can look at in terms of ways we can ensure that we're not seeing such continual growth?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:55
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Definitely, we can work with the board members and list out all the various services that we provide and provide an opportunity to balance off and maybe reduce some of the service levels or the types of services we offer to support members.
We can also offer to look at what I'll call the back office that supports all of these to make sure we keep those under control going forward. We have been doing some of this, but we can definitely work with the members of the board to do a bit more.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 11:56
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Thank you. I appreciate your answers.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I just want to reconfirm, based on the new questions, are we still in accordance with the recommendation?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Now we will move on to item five, quarterly financial report for the second quarter of 2020-2021.
I will let you continue your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 11:56
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Now I would like to present the second quarterly report for the 2020-2021 year. I just discussed next year, but now come back to the current year. Since it's very difficult to explain this year's financial trends without considering the actual impact of the pandemic, I'm going to present the second quarterly report at the same time as the report we prepared for the update on pandemic-related expenditures. Items five and six will thus be presented together.
I'll begin with the quarterly financial report, which compares cumulative financial information from the current year with that from the same quarter of the previous year. I would emphasize that it's somewhat unusual to compare the two years as they are two atypical years. The factor we've cited this year is the pandemic, which has substantially affected our expenditures. Last year, it was the general election, which also had its own trends. The comparison between the two years is influenced by atypical spending habits, as we will see in the results I'm about to explain to you.
In the September 30 report, approved authorizations for 2020-2021 amounted to $539 million, an $18 million, or 3.5%, increase over authorizations for 2019-2020.
The most significant changes were a $5.9 million rise in economic increases for certain House administration employees, $4.4 million for significant investments and an amount of $3.1 million due to cost-of-living increases for members and senior officers. In addition, a $1.7 million increase in authorizations is attributable to budget adjustments following the general election.
As of September 30, expenditures totalled $230.8 million, compared to spending of $240.1 million for 2019-2020, a decrease of $9.3 million, or 3.9%.
The expenditures are also presented by type of cost. The most significant decrease in expenditures relates to the reduction of $8.1 million in transportation and telecommunications, which is due to the significant decrease in travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expenditures for professional and special services have decreased by $4.8 million, mostly due to the reduction in temporary help for members and House officers, and training and hospitality across the whole organization as a result of COVID-19, as well as the difference in some of the timing of certain payments to external partners from one year over the next. The decreases were also partially offset by the cost of accommodating the virtual House proceedings and committees.
In addition, the expenditures for material and supplies decreased by $2.7 million due to the temporary closure of the food services and the printing facilities as a result of the pandemic. The decrease was partially offset by the purchase of consumable items such as the face masks and hand sanitizer used across the House of Commons.
The expenditures for computer, office equipment, furniture and fixtures has decreased by $1.1 million, primarily due to the differences in timing of certain payments from one year to another as well as a decrease in equipment purchased relating to the managed computing for constituencies initiative. The decrease was partially offset by the cost incurred for virtual House proceedings and committees and by the costs incurred for the equipment that was used to enable the House administration employees to work remotely during this pandemic.
I will also elaborate a bit more at the end of this presentation on some of the COVID implications of our various other costs.
I also note that salaries and benefits increased by $4.3 million, mainly due to the cost of living for members and their employees, as well as House administration. This increase was partially offset by the fact that we had a reduction in part-time staff and overtime as a result of the pandemic.
Finally, the report provides a comparison of the utilization of our authorities between the two years that shows a decrease of 3.3%, which was not unexpected given the current situation.
It's important to mention that the House promotes an efficient use of our resources, and we continuously strive to minimize the requests for incremental funding whenever possible. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closely monitoring and considering potential savings as well as any financial impact when making funding decisions in this truly exceptional year.
Given this, I'll take a couple of minutes to highlight the financial impacts the pandemic has had on the House spending. This is looking at the analysis that was provided in your tab 6 for background. You'll see that in addition to the reassignment of resources and the cancellation or slowing down of certain initiatives, we have had significant expenditures relating to specific measures taken for a total of approximately $4 million.
Those include about $1.5 million invested to accommodate the virtual House proceedings and committees; $1.2 million for external printing services; $340,000 spent for constituency office reconfiguration and COVID-19-related supplies; and $380,000 for the House administration for computer equipment and personal protective equipment such as non-medical masks and sanitizing products. We have also noted that we've had approximately $500,000 of administrative salaries and overtime specifically related to the activities for the current situation.
Overall, though, when looking at the various patterns that I mentioned previously, the reduction in certain costs like travel and material and supplies more than compensate for these increased costs related to the pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, this concludes my presentation. I can answer any questions members of the board may have.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do we have any questions?
Are there any questions or comments?
Go ahead, Mr. Deltell.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Paquette.
I'd like to make two observations. A figure of $341,000 is reported for the purchase of equipment and constituency offices reconfiguration. I'm referring to document 6 here. So the cost to fit up offices to accommodate people and to purchase disinfectants and masks amounted, on average, to $1,000 per constituency office. Is that correct?
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Are there any members who didn't have to reconfigure their offices?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:03
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Yes. Some decided not to open their offices. In some cases, as a result of the existing office configuration, there was no need to erect a physical barrier or install transparent plastic panels. Quite a large number of members have not yet had to incur those expenses.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
I see.
One line above, I see expenditures of $1.2 million for external printing services for householders.
Is that the amount saved by the normal printing service, that is to say the House of Commons service?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:04
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I believe the economic gains are slightly less than the amount of that expenditure because we continued paying the salaries of employees at our printing centres. We saved money on equipment and supplies, but the figure I have combines all the services that were interrupted, including food services. So I don't have the exact amount for printing services.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
What were the duties or the output of printing service staff during that time?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:05
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We were in isolation, and employees were using the “other paid leave” code. The offices hadn't yet been configured, and the necessary adjustments had been made so employees could work safely in the printing centres.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
So production was stopped at that time. Is that correct?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:05
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That's correct.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll continue with Mr. Richards.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:05
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Thanks.
Just to be clear first, Mr. Speaker, items six and seven are closely related. Are we doing them together or is item seven going to be presented separately?
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Five and six are close but I plan on doing them separately. I believe it was Mr. Paquette who brought it in. We will be dealing with it in the next step.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:06
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Okay.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:06
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Item seven will be presented separately.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:06
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Okay.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Let me clarify, then.
Monsieur Paquette, are we doing five and six together?
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:06
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Yes, since one is a variant of the other. It's just a little more elaborate. It will be easier to talk to them together.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. We've covered both.
Please go ahead. It's for information's sake. There's nothing to approve there.
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Daniel Paquette
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Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:06
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Yes.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:06
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We'll be talking about the temporary measures regarding COVID separately, then.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:06
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Yes.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:06
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Okay.
I guess the first question is that I don't know if there was maybe as much detail as I had hoped. Regarding the reassigned staff, I'm still a little unclear. I know that this was a question I asked previously. I think this is partly in response to that. I'm still a little unclear on those reassignments.
Can you give us a bit more of a breakdown on those? Are we talking about ongoing reassignments? Were these only temporary assignments? What sorts of reassignments did we see? I'm not asking for every bit of detail, but maybe you can give us some of the greatest in number in terms of the reassignments. What types of reassignments were they? What sorts of areas were people reassigned to and for what length of time?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:07
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Given that most of the reassignments that have been taking place relate to our DSRP team, I'll ask Mr. Stéphan Aubé if he wants to elaborate a bit more on what they basically are not doing or doing less of and doing now.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:07
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Okay.
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:07
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Thank you for the question, Mr. Richards.
There are about 120 people within the DSRP, which is our shop here, who had to be reassigned from a roles perspective. Some of their duties had to be reassigned towards the support of the virtual Parliament, and we basically took a lot of the technical people that we had in operational issues. We had to stop some of the services so that we could reassign them to the support of virtual committees and the virtual chamber, sir.
That number represents around 120 people within my organization, who we reassigned from their existing responsibilities to their new responsibilities, recognizing the need that was created by the virtual committees and the virtual chambers.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:08
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Okay.
That would be the biggest bulk.
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:08
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Yes.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:08
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How much of that would be dedicated to other things? Obviously we're still making plans for other things such as a voting app and other ways to adapt. What sort of a percentage of these reassignments would be related to the development of future responses we're still working on?
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:08
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I can give you a breakdown for them.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:08
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Sure.
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:08
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I've categorized in three buckets the resources that we've assigned to the virtual Parliament. There's the virtual chamber, and we have a group of around 30 people who have been reassigned and are dedicated to supporting the virtual chamber. There's a group of 77 that has been assigned to supporting the virtual committees. Also, then, there's currently a group of 13 that has been reassigned to the voting aspect.
For the voting aspect, there were different phases to it. At the beginning, from May to June, we had five people working on validating the concept. After that, it evolved, after the motion, from five to 13 in the fall, sir.
Specifically with the voting compared to the other one, I wouldn't say these are permanent resources assigned there. I'd say these are people who are working on that in addition to virtual chamber support and virtual committee support.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:09
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That's understood. Okay.
Where have these people typically been reassigned from? In other words, what sorts of things are being left to the side or not being done to maybe the capacity we would have liked as a result of reassignments?
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:09
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I'll give you an example that you probably know. The ambassador service that we offer to members in the committees and also for their offices is a group of fewer than 20 people. We took that group and had to reassign them to the onboarding for members for virtual committees and also for the virtual chamber. That's an example of the changes we've made.
We've also had to reassign some of our security force to work on specific items relating to ensuring the security for these virtual meetings. We did some changes there. We also looked at the support that we offered for some applications to people who were working in that area. We basically also reassigned them to specific operations roles related to the virtual chamber and virtual committees. That's the type of decision we had to make in order not to increase costs to the organization, because the incremental costs from our perspective for virtual Parliament, as of September, were really around $1.2 million. We were able to maintain that incremental cost load because of the reassignments we've done.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:11
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While we're on the topic of virtual Parliament, with regard to committees, we've obviously been told that with logistical issues and maintenance issues with the systems, the approach that we've been using, this hybrid approach for committee meetings, is going to have to stop for about a month during the upcoming winter adjournment. If I remember correctly—I might be off a little bit—but roughly from December 19, for about a month, we would see a shutdown. What we're told is that this would prevent committees and even Parliament, if it needed to be recalled, from being able to sit in any kind of a way, even if there is an emergency situation that develops.
We've seen that in the past this sometimes does happen while the House is in adjournment. Can we get a bit more of an explanation, especially for Canadians who might be following the proceedings today? What exactly is going on there? Why is it happening? What could be done to ensure that there is an ability for emergency situations to be dealt with? Could it be done in some kind of a staggered fashion so that even one committee could be accommodated where there might be an emergency? Obviously, there are reasons that needs to happen and we certainly wouldn't want to shut down our Parliament completely for a month if that was necessary.
Can we get some explanation on what's happening there and also an indication of what could be done to ensure that there is an ability to function in a limited capacity if an emergency situation arises?
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:12
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Mr. Richards, I will just make one comment to start. I can guarantee you that if there would be an emergency, the House would be able to return. That's the first point that I want to make. We pride ourselves on ensuring that the House sits, and we will guarantee that this happens if ever there is such an emergency.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:13
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Could I just add to that? In relation to committees, there are obviously times when an emergency committee meeting is required. Can we have the same assurance and guarantee that it would be possible, if needed?
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Stéphan Aubé
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Stéphan Aubé
2020-12-03 12:13
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If there would be an emergency and the Speaker would require us to make this happen, Mr. Richards, we'd certainly find a way to make this happen.
Having said that, what we're planning to do is maintenance that we usually do when the House is not sitting. This year has been an extraordinary year. We haven't had a chance to do the maintenance that is required to some of our core systems. When I'm speaking about maintenance, I'm not talking about general IT maintenance of a network and stuff like that. I'm talking about the broadcasting systems that support the chamber and the committees. We need to do the necessary maintenance in order to prevent failures to these systems this winter, sir.
The approach that we've taken in order to minimize risk is that we're going to focus on the core systems at the beginning, during the Christmas period. We're going to be working over the Christmas period from the 28th through to the fifth in order to update and maintain these systems and replace the systems that need to be replaced during that period. Then after that, our plan, sir, is to start focusing on committee rooms, one at a time, in order to start ramping up the systems as we can.
We are taking a staggered approach in order to minimize risk to the organization, but it does have an impact on our ability to offer services to all the committees, as I have just mentioned, due to the changes we need to make.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:14
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I understand. I want to just make sure to make it clear that we appreciate that there's been a lot of change and adaptation required. You guys have done a really good job of trying to ensure that we're keeping pace with what's required under very difficult circumstances. I do understand that this can sometimes involve stuff that's far beyond my comprehension in terms of technical capabilities.
I appreciate the work that you're doing. I really do appreciate the assurances you've just given us that there would be some way found to ensure that, in those urgent and emergency type situations.... That was my big concern. I'm really glad to hear that there will be ways to accommodate that, if needed.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll now continue to Mr. Holland.
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View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2020-12-03 12:15
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll just note that I'm noticing that these meetings are running a lot longer. The frequency of meetings is starting to increase significantly because we're taking a long time to get through the business.
I would encourage members to avail themselves of the opportunity before the meetings to try to go through as many of these questions as possible. We typically move through these agenda items a lot more rapidly. I'm just concerned that we're not getting through these items with how much time we have. I'm concerned about the frequency of meetings we're having with BOIE. We're going to start turning it into a weekly meeting here, Mr. Speaker.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for the comments.
We'll now go to Mr. Julian.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I agree with Mr. Holland on this. We have some extremely important decisions to get to. I've found the staff are very good at providing answers on the financial records.
There are also questions that really are a matter for House leaders and whips to discuss in another forum. We need to focus on the work that we need to do as a board of internal economy. For example, today I can't go past one o'clock and we're not going to get to the end of the agenda, which means we'll have to meet again next week. We're meeting now on a weekly basis.
Mr. Holland's comments are very valid. We have to be concise and focused. We have to do the work we have and ask the important questions, but there are many ways of asking those questions beforehand and also of making sure that the issues that are a part of another domain, like House leaders and the whips' meetings, are kept there.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you to both of you.
I just want to encourage all members, on a granular level, to maybe take a step up and look at what pertains to the Board of Internal Economy. That might be some good advice to look at. I'll leave it at that.
We'll move on to item number seven, which is support for members' employees' telework arrangements and temporary measures in effect due to COVID-19.
This seems to be the Monsieur Paquette show today. I'll let him continue.
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:17
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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I'll let José Fernandez present this topic for me. He's my deputy CFO. He manages the team that reviews all these policies and has worked on it.
At this point here, since we're working remotely, I'll mention to him quickly that there's a lot of material in this next section. We'll abbreviate the presentation so that we can get to your questions as quickly as possible, given the time that we have going forward.
You have the floor, Mr. Fernandez.
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José Fernandez
View José Fernandez Profile
José Fernandez
2020-12-03 12:18
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Thank you, Daniel.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
This presentation follows up on an analysis requested by the board at its meeting of October 8 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two parts to this presentation. The first part is the support of members' employees' telework arrangements. The second part is on the temporary measures in effect due to COVID-19.
For the first part, the House administration reviewed its application of current bylaws and policies related to equipment typically required by an employee to perform their duties and the flexibility provided to members in the use of House resources to be more responsive to this exceptional situation. Just to shorten it a bit for the time, I won't go into the specifics here, but it's talking about the mobile computing and the portable computing devices and those used for printing.
As well, from a mental health and well-being perspective, the House administration has reminded members and their employees of resources available on the source website through the different webinar series that were offered there.
Last May, the board also approved COVID-19 temporary measures in constituency offices to support the implementation of the necessary preventative measures in accordance with the guidelines issued by public health authorities. This provided support to reopen constituency offices and for their employees to return to the office.
This brings me to the second part of the presentation.
Now I will address the temporary measures in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, members continued to serve their fellow citizens from their constituency offices, which are particularly important in these times of crisis. The Board of Internal Economy had approved several measures, the first being the purchase of consumable items up to a limit of $1,500 per constituency office. That means non-medical masks, hand sanitizers and stickers to be applied to floors. These are items that we're now used to seeing when we enter establishments open to the public.
The second measure was the purchase and installation of plexiglass barriers to enforce physical distancing guidelines. Here the limit was $2,000 per constituency office. Where the situation required, the limit could be raised to a maximum of $3,500 with advance approval. These expenditures were charged to the House administration central budget. We note that the trend was the same for both measures: approximately 90% of members spent less than 75% of the maximum allocated amount.
Lastly, the third measure concerns the cost of professional emergency cleaning and disinfecting services that were to be used in the event a confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in a member's constituency office. Here again, we have received no requests for reimbursement for these services as of November 23 last.
With respect to advertising to enable members to communicate with their fellow citizens, the Board of Internal Economy had approved a limit increase to 20% of their budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Greater flexibility was also allowed with respect to advertising content. In particular, members were informed that they could distribute information about COVID-19 from certain organizations that might be of interest to their fellow citizens. As of November 23, nearly all members had used less than half that new limit, although there are slightly more than four months left in the fiscal year.
We have also assessed the impact of these measures on members' office budgets.
Finally, I will explain our assessment of the impacts of these temporary measures on members' office budgets for the current fiscal year.
We have compared the budget utilization with two previous fiscal years, given that the last fiscal year was an election year and its expenditure patterns are not typical. As of October 31, which is a little more than half a fiscal year, 99% of members used less than 60% of their office budget. We have seen here overall that the budget utilization is lower than in the last two fiscal years we compared it to. Restrictions on travel and gatherings imposed by governing bodies and public health authorities have contributed to a significant decrease in travel and hospitality expenditures.
In our review, we do not recommend any changes at this time to the temporary measures. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the House administration will continue to monitor members' overall expenses and the specific impacts of the temporary measures. We would like to come back to you in the winter with our recommendations for measures for the next fiscal year. At that point, we would have almost a full year's worth of data, so we'd be better positioned to provide our recommendations to the board for these or other measures.
That concludes my presentation. I will be available for questions or feedback from the board. Thank you.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's very good.
Are there any questions or comments?
Mr. Richards.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:23
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I have just one thing I want to touch on.
After the last presentation, my colleague Mr. Deltell was asking about printing and mailing. I've had certainly a number of complaints, for lack of a better way of putting it, from my caucus in terms of capacity constraints. There are longer periods of time required to get things completed, which is making it so that things aren't really being received by constituents in a timely enough fashion. It's almost, for lack of a better way of putting it, old news by the time they receive it.
I wonder if, in this context of the pandemic, you would be able to bring forward on a priority basis some type of proposal for our consideration to renew the temporary measure that allowed for external printing. I had a lot of very positive feedback about that, and I think many members were finding it very helpful in this context. We should be looking at renewing that.
Is there any way we could have a proposal brought to us on how that could be done?
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We'll go to Mr. Patrice on that one.
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Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-12-03 12:25
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I have heard the same concerns as you have. I can guarantee you we'll look at quickly making a proposal that will allow us to address those concerns.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2020-12-03 12:25
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Thank you. That's much appreciated.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Go ahead, Ms. Petitpas Taylor.
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View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
During the pandemic, we've all had to equip our home offices so we can perform our professional duties.
Mr. Paquette or Mr. Fernandez, can you say how many devices, such as laptops and telephones, were purchased to equip our home offices?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:26
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We've seen an increase in overall office equipment expenditures. Computer equipment purchases are governed by a very restrictive policy, and those expenditures are closely monitored.
The upward trend isn't necessarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We often see this trend in office equipment and furniture purchases in the year following an election, as new members need to adapt their offices or change equipment to suit their new duties. We've noticed an upward trend, but there's nothing alarming about it.
We don't have the inventory figures. In any case, when expenses are allocated, we don't always track the number of units purchased, such as the number of chairs. For computer purchases, we're still within the limits prescribed by the Board of Internal Economy's policy.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
You have the floor, Mr. Deltell.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for your presentations, gentlemen.
Have you done a comparative evaluation of the average cost per member for the production of householders by the House of Commons printing service and by local printers?
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Daniel Paquette
View Daniel Paquette Profile
Daniel Paquette
2020-12-03 12:27
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An analysis is under way. I'll let Ms. Kletke tell you about that. I know that the evaluation should be forwarded to the members of the Board of Internal Economy in the coming weeks.
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Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-12-03 12:27
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Thank you, Mr. Paquette.
We've just completed that analysis. As Mr. Paquette said, we'll send you the results of the evaluation as soon as possible next week.
With respect to the comparison of services used, the House printing service processed 87 householder requests, whereas outside suppliers handled 269.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much for your response in French, Ms. Kletke.
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Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-12-03 12:28
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Thank you.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I would like to ask a question.
Will the analysis include information on turnaround times for both the private sector printers and government printing services?
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Rebekah Kletke
View Rebekah Kletke Profile
Rebekah Kletke
2020-12-03 12:28
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Thank you very much for your question.
The analysis focuses on three points. We've included a comparison of costs and turnaround times, as well as other information on service levels across Canada. We observed that there were indeed different levels of service depending on the regions.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Ms. Kletke.
Go ahead, Mr. Julian.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I'd like to know the date when we'll receive the report.
We'll of course have to mail out other householders early next year. Since we're still in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing whether our offices can do business with local printers could make a difference.
If we don't receive the report within a few months, we'll lose that opportunity to mail householders to our fellow citizens.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Go ahead, Mr. Patrice.
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Michel Patrice
View Michel Patrice Profile
Michel Patrice
2020-12-03 12:30
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
We intend to send you the results of the analysis in the coming weeks.
As a result of the concerns expressed and Mr. Richards' question, we also intend, as soon as possible, to send the members of the board a written submission concerning the decision that must be taken with respect to access to external printing services.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Now we will turn the floor over to Mrs. DeBellefeuille.
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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, first I would like to congratulate printing service employees because they meet their standards. Every member's office is well informed of the entire process. From the start of that process to the mailing of their householders, standards are met, including those respecting the number of days or weeks.
I have exhausted my householder budget despite the pandemic, yet the printing service hasn't failed to meet its standards even once. It's important to know that. Part of the responsibility for meeting turnaround times falls to the teams that create householder content, both in the ridings and on the hill. These people have a deadline to meet, a period of three weeks from start of process to mailing. That may not be fast enough for some, but the fact remains that established standards are met. I want to emphasize that.
The advantage of using a local printer is, first, that it would support a local business. That's a positive. We would also have control of the process and the number of days involved. That varies locally, but it's true that it also varies across Quebec and, I imagine, across Canada. Back home, in less than five days, I can get 46,000 copies of a householder of the same quality as that of the House printing service, and turnaround times are shorter.
I'm eager to see the analysis. We're always somewhat reluctant when we discuss privatizing printing services. What will happen to employees if the work is farmed out to businesses in our constituencies? Using our printing service guarantees uniform quality. Formats must be used and graphic standards met, and there's the whole issue of householder standards. Because those standards are applied, all members are put on an equal footing. I care about the fact that 338 members can come and go through the same door, and all of them are treated equally.
The supply of services in the private sector is excellent in some regions and less so in others. In this case, are we going to create a two-tiered system? Some members from urban areas may have access to better services in the private than the public sector, and others may have less leeway and have to navigate the House printing service bottleneck.
I'm eager to read your analysis. These are matters that concern me. They require a fair and equitable decision, but they must especially take into consideration taxpayers' ability to pay. Ultimately, I'd like to know whether it will cost taxpayers more money to print our publications in the private sector or whether the price the House printing service charges is reasonable for all taxpayers.
I just wanted to set the tone for the debate we'll soon be having.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
Mr. Deltell, you have the floor.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
It's entirely fair and relevant to recall that the work the printing service does here in the House of Commons always meets all the requirements that Mrs. DeBellefeuille has rightly mentioned. Quality is never sacrificed. It is always there.
If many members wish to deal with local businesses, that will free up time for those who prefer to use the House service. We could thus save time. If you make this proposal, it might be good to know what percentage of members are involved—20% or 50%, for example. Could we estimate the production time that could be saved? Could we shorten it from three weeks to two weeks, one week or eight days? I'm asking a good question. It would be a good if your evaluation could answer it.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Are there any other questions or comments?
Since there are no comments or questions, we will break for three minutes and then continue the meeting in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
We are now in a public meeting.
We're at item three in the minutes of the previous meeting. I see that everyone agrees with what they received.
Let's move on to item four, business arising from the previous meeting.
We'll go to Ms. DeBellefeuille now.
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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
BQ (QC)
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.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Ms. DeBellefeuille
Over to you, Mr. Julian.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Chair, I fully agree with Ms. DeBellefeuille's comments.
On some of the committees I sit on, when there is an interpretation problem, the committee's work simply comes to a halt. This is what should be happening for all committees and witnesses. Our technical capabilities should definitely enable us to handle both official languages. The practice needs to be introduced just about everywhere to ensure that both official languages are always respected.
Even though I have never experienced this situation myself, I know that when there were problems at some committees, the chair just carried on. In some instances, not all arrangements were in place to ensure that both English and French could be treated equally. I think something could be done, including in our respective caucuses.
Yesterday evening, there was a four-hour debate in the House of Commons. It was about the use of French in Montreal and concerns about the issue from all the parties. The concern expressed was unanimous. Throughout the entire evening, everyone spoke only in French, making it a francophone evening in the House of Commons. It's ironic that we should find ourselves here this morning facing the same problems, which are occurring within the House of Commons' own institutions.
It therefore needs to be taken seriously. I believe that the suggestions Ms. DeBellefeuille just made could steer us in the right direction.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Rodriguez, over to you.
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View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm fully in favour of Ms. DeBellefeuille suggestions. I believe that we all want to strengthen French. This commitment was expressed yesterday, but it needs to be heard every day. I think that we're all sincere, whether in the New Democratic Party, the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québecois or the Liberal Party. But we need to do even more. We all agreed on this yesterday. We need to say it again today and say it again tomorrow. And it needs to go beyond mere words, and transformed into concrete action.
I think that some of this responsibility unfortunately falls to the committee members. We spoke about it earlier. I therefore suggest that when a problem of this kind arises, the MPs themselves, out of respect for both official languages, should ask that discussion cease until the problem is solved.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Deltell, you're next.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
I am 100% behind everything my three colleagues have said. It goes without saying that we need to be able to express ourselves in both official languages and to be understood no matter who is speaking, or where and how they are speaking, our comments need to be be understood and we have to be able to understand what others are saying.
For three months now, we have been in unknown territory with the hybrid Parliament. In the first few days, and even the first few weeks, we put up with a situation that might on occasion have been tentative. After two months, the train is moving forward and making progress. However, it is not moving in the right direction. As Mr. Rodriguez was rightly saying just now, the responsibility is now over to us. As francophones, whenever we don't have access to French interpretation, we should rise on a point of order. And our anglophone colleagues need to do the same.
It's also up to us as parliamentarians to call to order or complain about any colleagues who show up with an inappropriate headset. It's a bit awkward to do this when it's a witness, but we can certainly call out a colleague. We could even apply some rough and ready rules and tell those who don't have the right headset that they simply can't speak.That's all. There are rules and they need to be followed. I would never, for example show up here wearing a cockeyed tie. As an MP, I'm required to wear a tie and I'm also required to wear my headset. Otherwise, I don't have the right to speak. I think we should give this some consideration.
My final point is more technical. If, for one reason or another, a witness is asked only a few hours before the meeting to appear and doesn't have the required equipment, then we should be more flexible. Is it technically possible in cases like that for a person to give evidence by telephone? I don't know whether this is possible. If so, and if we find that they can't give evidence because they don't have a headset, then we could give them give them 20 minutes to find a phone and call us at a number like “1-800-House of Commons”. In the meantime, we could hear another witness.
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Stéphan Aubé
View Stéphan Aubé Profile
Stéphan Aubé
2020-11-26 12:52
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We'll look into that, Mr. Deltell.
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View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Aubé.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Deltell.
Go ahead, Mr. Gagnon.
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André Gagnon
View André Gagnon Profile
André Gagnon
2020-11-26 12:52
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion and thanks to Ms. DeBellefeuille for having raised the question.
You raised another point that 's just as important for us, and that is the service provided in both official languages to parliamentarians and witnesses. There is no reason for me to go into detail about why we had problems in certain instances, because you're thoroughly familiar with the situation.
Several of you have pointed out that part of the solution resides in the decisions that the committees will make. Thus far, the role that the Liaison Committee could play has not been mentioned in the discussion. We need to approach them to inform them more directly about the problem. The guidelines provided by the Liaison Committee could be very useful in solving some of the problems you raised with respect to official languages and technical support.
I've noted the issues raised by Ms. DeBellefeuille, as well as the requests for information about the number of witnesses who speak in French. I think that we can come up with this information, and with the percentage of French spoken.
We'll work with Mr. Aubé'sTeam on other configurations for appearing, as suggested by Mr. Deltell. We'll get back with answers to these questions as soon as possible.
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