Evidence of meeting #19 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was hybrid.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

André Gagnon  Deputy Clerk, Procedure
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Justin Vaive

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

You are correct.

Mr. Doherty, you have five minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I think the biggest concern that I have is, again, Mr. Speaker, about parliamentary privilege. I'll remind those who are listening that this privilege is to ensure that members are not impeded or interfered with in any way or form in representing the electors. I've said this a number of times, Mr. Speaker, and if you've listened to any of my speeches, you know that I feel very strongly that the House does not belong to us. It belongs to the electors, who put the 338 members of Parliament there. In everything we are doing to this point, we must ensure that parliamentary privilege is protected.

I'm heartened to hear some of your comments, but in one of your notes, you mentioned this with respect to privilege and decorum:

As is the current practice, the Chair maintains order and decorum and makes decisions with respect to points of order. Therefore, the Chair can intervene on any matter of decorum on its own initiative or on a point of order raised by a member. In this regard, the virtual environment makes it possible for the Chair to mute a member’s microphone.

Now, going back to my colleague Garnett Genuis' comment about seeking the eye of the Speaker and getting the attention of the Speaker, would muting a microphone be seen as a violation of privilege, in your view? In the House, a member can at least continue to stand and state his case, even against the wishes of the Speaker; at least in the House that voice is still heard.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Parliamentary privilege is the biggest issue that I feel we have to consider, to make sure there is no one blocking someone from making a statement, or from saying what they have to say, or from acting on what they want to get forward. One thing about privilege, when you look at the description, is that it has to be intentional blockage. If somebody is out there trying to sabotage another member, and it's done intentionally, that's where a question of privilege comes up. That's what we have to look for.

As far as muting a mike goes, one of the things that happen in the House, as you mentioned, is that when the Speaker stands, the microphones all go dead, which is the same as muting everyone. I don't see it being any different.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

But it is.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

I would like to say that muting the microphone is an option for the chair of the committee, or the Speaker for that matter. One other thing—and I'll let you in on a little secret—is that the minute it gets muted, the member can just unmute it and keep going and be disruptive. Now, I'm hoping this doesn't become the practice in our future meetings, but it is a possibility. It's not like you're muted indefinitely; it's just muted for a short term. It's something that hasn't had to be used up until now. What's happened is that, when it's been brought up, most members recognize that the point has been made and continue from there.

Noon

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Another challenge we've had with the Zoom medium is that there are 49 members per screen. You've stated that members can simply raise their hand if they have a question. I've been on numerous Zoom meetings, and I'm sure our colleagues have, where members have not been seen but had raised their hand. Again, this goes back to the question of privilege.

How do you propose to get away from that inability to see the member?

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

I guess I owe you an apology; I didn't explain enough exactly what raising your hand means. You push the button and your hand goes up, which shows up on a list, so electronically, you're front and centre. As far as raising your hand—

Noon

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

I'm very aware of that, but the maximum number of thumbnails that can viewed at a time is 49, so there are challenges. I'm aware of the chat side and that you can raise your hand, but we have all been on Zoom meetings where speakers have been missed.

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

No, the sidebar has a list of all the people. It's not the thumbnails we're talking about. A list shows up with a hand that's up. It's basically an electronic hand, it's not the physical hand of the member.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

That's all the time we have.

Next up, for five minutes, is Mr. Gerretsen.

Noon

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for taking time to be here.

Just to conclude where you were leaving off with Mr. Doherty, I think the virtual hand-raising feature creates an actual list on your screen. It's probably more bulletproof in making sure everybody gets on there.

Going back to Mr. Doherty's questions about privilege and speaking, I think what he was getting at is that even after the microphone is muted by the technician, somebody can continue talking. The truth is that nobody should be talking unless they've actually been recognized by the chair. Is that correct?

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

That's the way it works in the House. Basically, the same orders that apply in the House would apply.

Noon

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Further to that, because we are a House that recognizes two official languages, if the only language you spoke was French and people continued speaking with their microphone off, in English, then that would never get translated. Therefore, you don't have the same capacity to keep speaking with the microphone muted in the House that you would if it were unmuted.

That's correct too, right?

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Yes.

June 2nd, 2020 / noon

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Going to the issue of connectivity, you used the example that it's a member's responsibility to get to the Hill and to be present, even if a snowstorm comes up that could impede the member. Of course it's not an issue of parliamentary privilege because it's not intentional. In terms of getting to the House, if doesn't matter if you live 197 kilometres away like I do or if you live on the other side of the country in a remote, rural area.

On of the things I find extremely fair in the system we've developed is that it doesn't matter if it costs me $200 in mileage or $2,500 to fly someone across the country, as well as everything else involved in his or her transportation. The point is the House plays a role in getting people fairly and evenly distributed, in terms of the costs associated with it, from their point of origin to Ottawa.

That's correct, right?

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Yes.

Noon

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Would you not also agree that it is equally important for the House to play a role in making sure each member of Parliament, regardless of where they are, gets the same access to the same quality of Internet to the best of Parliament's ability if we're going to use a hybrid model like this?

Noon

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Most definitely.

Our IT ambassadors have been working with individual MPs to ensure they have what it takes to connect. It's pretty well there with everyone. I believe there are two MPs who have had difficulty, but arrangements have been made so they can connect and take part. I feel confident that it's there.

Again, whether you live 197 kilometres away or 2,500 kilometres away, it's up to MPs to get to the House any way they can. If there's a snowstorm, or whatever happens, that's an issue they have to deal with individually. It's the same thing with connectivity. I would expect them to either go to their offices or see what would be the best method for them to connect to the Internet.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

However, you would agree that it should not be unjustifiably more expensive for one MP to get that level of access to the Internet than another. If I live in an urban area and it only costs me $40 a month, or it costs someone in a more rural area $150 a month, we should all be treated the same, should we not?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

You're dealing with policy that I think would be more on a political level than on a procedural level, but in principle, I will say yes.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I have one more quick question. I have 30 seconds left.

You talked about roll call and how we would do that. Somebody, I think it was Mr. Nater, brought up a recorded division. Are you aware of any other jurisdictions that are doing a recorded division like that and have the number of MPs that we do?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

The number of MPs is probably the key to what we have. I think the closest we can come to is the U.K., but they've done things a little differently and I'm not sure they are quite there. With what we have, when you look at smaller jurisdictions, they've actually gotten to that point where they can have a vote. Again, when you have a smaller number in the chamber, it's a lot easier; 338 is not an easy number to deal with, but with what I've seen so far, it is not unmanageable and it's not impossible.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Next up for two and a half minutes is Madame Normandin.

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'll pick up from where I left off.

I gather that the idea would probably be to not establish, through an amendment to the Standing Orders, what the electronic voting platform will be. In light of this, if we launch the procedure for enabling electronic voting and the House's technical support team comes up with a platform, who will decide whether the platform will be used, should no changes be made to the rules of procedure? For example, as things stand now, if one party agrees and another party disagrees, how would we decide whether to use the platform?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

When changes are proposed in the House, the members must decide what they want to implement. If they decide that they don't want the system, no one can force them. Personally, I wouldn't want to force this. The House must decide what it wants.