Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, for your invitation to appear today as part of your study on hybrid proceedings.
It is an honour to be here this morning.
I'm pleased to be joined by officials from the House administration. They're sitting on both sides of me, and you pointed out their names and their functions. They will be here to assist with any questions that are asked.
It has been two years since the House first adopted hybrid proceedings in response to the pandemic.
The hybrid model and the resulting temporary changes to our practices and to the Standing Orders that have been implemented have allowed the House to carry on its business.
This has allowed members to fulfill many of their parliamentary duties and to vote in proceedings securely and reliably from anywhere in Canada.
Now that public health measures have been lifted, it is worthwhile to reflect on what parts, if any, of hybrid proceedings the House may wish to retain.
I would like to bring to your attention several considerations.
First, in terms of procedure, the provisions of the hybrid model required temporary and incremental changes to the House's practices and Standing Orders.
These changes, such as social distancing, were adopted to meet public health measures.
Some procedural changes also led to more flexibility in chamber business, such as, counting video conference participants in quorum; adjusting the number of members required for certain procedural activities; amending the procedure by which the chair determines if there is unanimous consent; enabling the electronic tabling of documents; and allowing members to speak and vote from any seat. I can tell you that last one was a bit of a learning curve for me, because you're used to people being in certain areas. All of a sudden, especially during S.O. 31s or during question period, you're suddenly looking for them and madly trying to find out where they are. But that's for you to decide whether you keep that or not.
In committees, changes helped accommodate the participation of members and witnesses, and supported in camera portions and membership substitutions. Special orders also led to the adoption of the electronic voting application change. That changed the way votes are requested and enabled the automatic deferral of votes to after question period.
The issue of electronic voting has also been studied by various committees, including this one for many years. This committee will now have to consider the matter in more detail, taking into account the use of the electronic voting application.
The committee may also wish to recommend additional changes to the Standing Orders to address some of the challenges of hybrid features that we have observed—for example, matters of decorum, dress code and backgrounds when members are video conferencing or guidance on how the House should proceed when members, witnesses or interpreters face connectivity issues.
In addition to these procedural elements, there are several administrative factors that should be examined, especially challenges relating to interpretation services.
The availability of interpretation services has had a particular impact on committees. They have had to adapt their meeting times because of resourcing constraints and to facilitate the participation of members across multiple time zones.
Certain other types of activities, such as regional caucuses and parliamentary associations, have also faced challenges accessing these limited resources and have had to curtail their activities.This is a very important point, which concerns our decisions in the House and the decisions of this committee. We will need to continue working with the Translation Bureau to find solutions to these challenges.
The House has also made significant technological advances, including a new videoconferencing system with a higher capacity and better quality for members and witnesses. This new system also benefited from a new webcasting standard for committee meetings.
I would like to congratulate the members of the information technology team, who have worked very hard. They have continually provided us with everything possible and allowed us to get to this point, as far as virtual meetings are concerned. I saw them work day and night, especially at the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic. I was really exhausted myself, so I can imagine how they felt.
We see increasingly that members seem to prefer either televised or webcast meetings, and rarely depend on the old standard of audio-only meetings.
There are also some big-picture questions the committee may also wish to explore. For example, should the House continue to allow remote participation for all members in any situation at any time? Should this option be available under specific circumstances that the House will define? Will these provisions apply differently in the chamber, in committees, or in other parliamentary activities?
This reflection could help to provide clarity and direction in several instances. For example, if the House retains its use of the electronic voting app, can the video conferencing system be maintained and used as a backup?