I am pleased to see that the scientists at the National Research Council of Canada, the NRC, and the experts hired by the House administration have agreed to work together to achieve the results referred to earlier. The last study done by the experts is still confidential. When it was sent to the members of our committee and of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, it was still identified as not accessible to the public. I don't know whether the plan is to make it public shortly, but we are being asked for it. Since we are being diligent, however, we are respecting confidentiality.
I am eager to read the final report and the scientists' conclusions, because that may enable us to explain why there are still serious accidents relating to acoustic shock. Despite all the efforts made, accidents are still happening.
I understand from the reading I have done that there is an ISO standard that applies to the audio system in the House, but there is no quality standard for the hybrid system. There needs to be more documentation about this. As has been said, it is obviously very important to do everything in our power to reduce the number of accidents and improve the interpreters' workplace safety.
As we know, the House has decided that meetings could continue to be held in hybrid mode until June 23.
I wondered how we, the people around this table, had the power to make simple changes that might give the interpreters more support.
I have read the documents that were also distributed to members of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee carefully. If I understand correctly, members are increasingly attending House debates and committee meetings in person. Based on observation, an average of 70% of members attend debates or meetings in person and 30% of members attend virtually.
However, the figures are reversed for witnesses: 70% of people testify virtually and 30% of people testify in person.
If we want to give the interpreters more support, it seems to me that we should make efforts to switch the numbers by June 23 and get back to what the numbers were before the pandemic, that is, 30% virtually and 70% in person.
That will certainly change how the work done by the team of clerks is organized, now that they have got into the habit of working with people who testify virtually for the most part. To make that change, there will have to be political will. The clerks also have to be asked not to give witnesses the option of participating in the meeting virtually, as was previously the case. In my opinion, we have the power to make a decision and we can influence the clerks, so that they invite witnesses to testify in person. I think we can make changes in this regard by June 23.
I also suggest that we discuss the mandatory of headsets, that is, the one that has been approved by the IT team to reduce injuries as much as possible.
I must say that I find it a bit unusual that I need to say that this is a way to reduce injuries, since, in my opinion, it is a rule that people should already be following. Unfortunately, there are still members, witnesses and chairs who do not follow the rule about wearing headsets.
Parliamentarians and House officers should use every means at their disposal to make headset wearing mandatory.
One analysis found that some people will not want to testify if we require that they wear a headset.
We have been working in hybrid mode for two years. We may have got off to a bad start and are finding it hard to understand how we could bring witnesses back to meetings in person and make headset wearing mandatory, but I think that is a very tangible way of showing the interpreters that we take their health problems seriously.
I am an eternal optimist, as we know, and I am always positive and constructive.
I know that the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food and the chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities have taken responsibility for this and said they would refuse to let anyone speak, whether witness or member, who was not wearing their headset.
However, other chairs allow witnesses to appear without headsets. That is the case for the chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, for example.
So there is some inequality at present. Each committee decides for itself how it will function, but things can't go on this way. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to provide the interpreters with the best possible working conditions. At the end of the day, if too many interpreters are injured, the labour shortage and the inadequate number of employees will have direct consequences on the ability to access interpretation in both official languages.
My third suggestion will have to be taken under consideration by my colleague, the government whip: committee chairs should not chair meetings virtually; they should do it in person. I believe they should set an example.
I rarely speak without getting information beforehand. We have prepared an outline of the situation, based on three weeks of meetings, and we have determined that nine chairs are in the habit of chairing meetings virtually as often as possible.
I think it is within our reach to explain to them that chairing a meeting virtually is not an optimum solution when all the other committee members are present. If our committee asks the chairs to chair meetings in person by June, the point when we will be making a decision, it will reduce the risks for the interpreters, which is our goal.
I can certainly provide the names of those nine chairs to my colleague, the government whip. They would need to be made to understand that by June 23 they will have to be chairing meetings in person.
I don't imagine that the Speaker of the House of Commons would be presiding over debates remotely. It is hard enough to do it in person, but it would be even harder to do it remotely. The same thing applies to committee chairs.
Some people have told me that a chairperson could chair a committee remotely if they were sick, for example if they contracted COVID‑19. In my opinion, when you are sick, you take leave. After all, there are two vice-chairs available to replace them.
Those are the three methods I am proposing. I think they are constructive and easy to implement and they would be in addition to the efforts made to improve the pre-testing process.
I agree with Mr. Aubé that the pre-testing is not being done equally diligently in all committees. Some tests are not done on the day itself, and members of the second panel of witnesses often don't have to pass the tests. There are several gaps in the testing process. I think the pre-testing process should be uniform in all committees. If you want examples, I can give several.
I want to raise two more points.
I feel it is my duty to speak up since the Senate does not seem to be as concerned as we are about the interpreters' working conditions. Mr. Aubé, is it true that it is the pages in the Senate who do the sound tests with the witnesses and senators?