Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am honoured to appear before you today to talk about very important issues within the department, and within the government in general. I will then be pleased to answer your questions.
I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the disposal of surplus federal real property and lans, as part of your review of the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
I would also like to take this opportunity to report on what we are doing to improve the workplace safety of parliamentary interpreters.
I am accompanied today by the people who have just introduced themselves.
I assure you that Public Services and Procurement Canada is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Official Languages Act and helping promote linguistic duality in Canada.
Our commitment extends to all of the department's service areas and includes the disposal of land, buildings and other surplus federal property.
Under Part VII, we have integrated positive measures into our disposal process to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities in Canada, and to support and contribute to their development.
Our department plays two key roles in the disposal process. First, as one of the largest property owners in the Government of Canada, PSPC is responsible for disposing of real property assets efficiently and responsibly. Second, as a common service organization, we provide optional support to assist other federal departments and agencies with the disposal of their surplus property.
In general, the policy and orientations in this area are provided by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, in the Directive on the Sale or Transfer of Surplus Real Property.
Recognizing the sensitive nature of surplus real property and the various interests of stakeholdes, the Directive sets for the expectations regarding the management of surplus real property.
The Directive is implemented through a comprehensive process, the various stages of which are found on page 5 of the document that we have just given the Committee.
In July 2017, PSPC implemented a new procedure for reminding provinces, territories and municipalities of their responsibility for considering the interests of official language minority communities when assessing the possible use of surplus property and in the priority bid process.
Our department is committed to working with official language minority communities to better identify their potential real property needs.
In cooperation with the Treasury Board Secretariat, PSPC strives to strengthen and clarify the orientation given to custodians regarding the disposal process in relation to official language minority communities. We would particularly like to hear this Committee's suggestions regarding changes that could be made to the Directive on the Sale or Transfer of Surplus Real Property established by the Treasury Board.
PSPC also ensures that documentation regarding the sale of surplus real property is available in both official languages.
I turn now to the involvement of the Canada Lands Company, CLC, in the disposal of properties which have been deemed strategic. These tend to be larger, more complex, properties where development and joint ventures may be required. Although CLC reports to Parliament through our minister, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, it is a Crown corporation and it operates at arm's length from the government. Under the Treasury Board's directive, CLC buys strategic surplus properties that have the potential to derive further value. It oversees their orderly disposal and their reintegration into communities.
Let me talk briefly about the Heather Street property in Vancouver.
The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, or CSF, has expressed considerable interest in this strategic property, which it felt was a potential site for a new French-language school.
The Canada Lands Company worked closely with its First Nations partners and with the CSF to resolve the issue of the school's location as part of the municipal planning process. Their collective efforts bore fruit.
First, the Vancouver city council unanimously approved a policy statement for the Heather Street project, which included a school under the CSF. Then, the parties involved signed a memorandum of agreement for a long-term lease for the school. I can announce that that lease, which makes the site of the school official, will be established once the city council has approved the necessary zoning change for Heather Street, which is the next step in the approval of the municipal plan.
Let me now turn to the other topic of today's meeting, concerning simultaneous interpretation.
I want to recognize, as we all should, the very hard work, great efforts and expertise of our world-class interpreters here in the Parliament of Canada.
Just over two years ago, our government announced a new vision to position the translation bureau as a leader in providing high-quality linguistic services to the government and Canadians. This is a role that I have taken on with great relish and something that I am very proud of, particularly regarding the turnaround at the translation bureau.
Under the direction of its new Chief Executive Officer, Stéphan Déry, and his team, the Translation Bureau has made significant progress in implementing this vision.
Until recently, simultaneous interpretation was always provided in carefully controlled conditions, in a booth, with specially designed equipment to capture and process sound.
The Translation Bureau offers two interpretation services, one for Parliament and the other for the Government of Canada.
Technological progress in recent years has allowed a greater number of people to attend meetings virtually. This has led to a significant increase in the demand for teleconference interpretation and for over-the-phone interpretation.
Government of Canada clients rely a lot on conference telephones, cellular telephones and hands-free devices in their daily work. However, those devices do not meet the ISO standard required for simultaneous interpretation.
Consequently, over the last two years, there has also been a significant increase in the number of health and safety incidents, including many due to the poor quality of sound over telephone lines.
When the quality of sound is deformed, interpreters tend to turn up the volume on their headphones to better make out what is being said. In such cases, when there is noise, such as paper being rustled or a file folder falling next to a microphone, there can be a sudden increase in volume, resulting in what is known as acoustic shock.
We also know that prolonged listening, under acoustic conditions, that does not capture the entire range of voice frequencies can cause a continuous ringing in the ears, commonly known as tinnitus. This issue has been observed in countries and organizations around the world that have also seen a rise in over-the-phone interpretation services.
The translation bureau has worked with clients, stakeholders, international interpretation service providers, universities, professional associations, and, of course, the union, to develop a way forward.
The Translation Bureau adopts measures to ensure that all interpreters, regardless of their workplace, carry out their duties in a safe environment.
First, the audio element from the telephone is no longer sent to the interpretation console or the conference room. Consequently, for clients of conference interpreting services, participants who take part in teleconferences must send their questions or comments by text or email.
Secondly, we require that all clients upgrade their simultaneous interpretation systems to comply with the ISO standard.
Thirdly, the Bureau now requires that its clients confirm in writing that a sound technician will be on-stie throughout the event and that compressor-limiters will be installed on the interpretation consoles.
For parliamentary interpretation, the translation bureau is working closely with the parliamentary multimedia service to improve audio quality, thereby ensuring the safety of the working conditions for interpreters. Both of the two new legislative chambers have simultaneous interpretation systems and consoles that meet the ISO standard with built-in compressor limiters to protect interpreters from acoustic shock injuries. This summer, all of Parliament's committee rooms are scheduled to be fully upgraded to ISO-compliant consoles. Until then, we have provided all interpreters with portable sound limiters.
We are convinced that these measures will improve the safety and well-being of our interpreters.
In this regard, management at the Translation Bureau will continue to work closely with the union and the professional association representing conference interpreters.
We are also looking for longer-term solutions to these concerns. In particular, we have launched a request for proposals from Canadian companies interested in finding innovative solutions in this area.
We challenge those companies to develop, for the purposes of remote simultaneous interpretation, a modern digital platform that fully complies with the ISO standard and that meets the changing needs of our clients.
At the same time, we remain abreast of emerging technologies and monitor efforts in that regard by other organizations around the world.
We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our interpreters, who provide an important and high-quality service, like the one we are receiving today in the Committee.
I want to mention the progress made by the translation bureau to modernize its internal systems and better serve client departments and suppliers. Those efforts reached a major milestone with the recent awarding of a contract for developing and implementing a new web-based platform that enhances the capacity of the translation bureau to provide timely, high-quality linguistic services.
I will conclude by saying that PSPC is committed to promoting and supporting official languages and bilingualism in Canada in everything it does.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, and we can be proud of our efforts to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice.
We know that we must continue to improve our relations, particularly with our official language minority communities, to better support the vitality of those communities and help build a better future for all Canadians.
I am fully prepared to answer your questions, and am pleased to continue working with this Committee to promote linguistic duality in this country.