Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois's House leader is a tough act to follow. It is hard to improve on his use of metaphor and imagery to get his point across. Nevertheless, I will try to lighten things up and make members laugh.
First, though, I would like to thank the people of Salaberry—Suroît for re-electing me to serve a fourth term. I was fortunate to be a member of Parliament from 2006 to 2011. I ran in 2015 and lost by a slim margin. I ran again in 2019 and won, and I also won in 2021. I am proud to be representing Salaberry—Suroît once again.
I would like to thank the 200 volunteers who were so involved and engaged in the election campaign. I also want to thank my whole family, my partner and my children. You know this first hand, Madam Speaker: an election campaign is an intense time, and our families make lots of sacrifices, so I want to thank them too. I am grateful to my partner, Maurice, my three girls, and my grandson, Victor, who is almost two.
I am the whip for the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons, as I was in the previous Parliament. It therefore has to be said that I had the privilege, in a time of crisis during the pandemic, of contributing to the creation of a hybrid Parliament that allowed us, despite the pandemic, to continue our work during an important time.
I have to say that it was an extraordinary situation, and I really want to commend the entire IT team for contributing to that build, creating what was needed and doing everything that was necessary to allow us to continue our work during the first wave, even though the situation was less than ideal.
We did that because it was the right thing to do, because we were in a crisis. We did not have very much information. It was inconceivable that we were here while so many of our constituents were sick, especially since we did not have any vaccines yet. We are evolving, and we have changed how we work in order to deal with the pandemic. I can honestly say that building the tools to allow us to vote and participate virtually was an impressive feat.
I am not questioning what was. What the Bloc Québécois is questioning today is the need to continue the hybrid Parliament from now until the end of June.
We know that the pandemic is changing, that the fourth wave is here, but that it is being controlled across the country. We know that it is a matter of following universal precautions such as washing our hands, wearing our masks, keeping our distance. We have gone back to our normal lives. Even though we have to keep wearing a mask almost everywhere we go in our daily lives and in our social lives, we have to say that we are pleased to have resumed our quasi normal life from before. Children are going to school, university and CEGEP classes are full, and life is back on track.
Today we are questioning the insistence on maintaining a hybrid Parliament. We could have worked together at weighing the possibility of extending the hybrid Parliament for a month or two. What we want to know is why extend it until June when the situation is evolving?
I know that we created a virtual Parliament in just a few days and that we were able to adapt to the situation in just a few days with a motion. However, the situation is evolving. What my party and I do not understand is why we have to decide today whether the hybrid Parliament will be extended until June 23. Nobody understands that, including our constituents.
We are wondering whether the two parties who support the proposal are doing this to suit themselves. One must admit that, with the hybrid sittings, members can watch or listen to question period while riding their stationary bike, which is something I have seen. They can also watch bare chested or in their pyjamas. We have seen that too. I can understand that some members like to sleep next to their spouse every night since we are not all lucky enough to live in Ottawa or Gatineau, close to Parliament. I can understand that.
However, that being said, when we get elected, we need to sit here in Parliament in person in order to do our job. That is part of the contract.
I think some people got a little too used to being comfortable, particularly those who live far away and who have to travel by plane or train to get here and who find it tiresome. Perhaps there is something behind this decision.
I have to say that I think my leader has been fairly clear. It is not so good for the opposition to have empty benches near the front. It is not as difficult for the ministers and it is less stressful and nerve-wracking for new members. There are many reasons to explain it.
In our view, this is a way for them to shirk their responsibilities and their duty to be accountable. That is why we do not understand this at all.
As whip, I have to say that it seems as though people are forgetting what did not work. Although the hybrid Parliament worked well overall, it was not excellent. There were a lot of issues, and it has been documented that it was the unilingual francophone members who experienced most of the issues. Take, for example, parliamentary committees, at which 86% of the witnesses speak in English. The technical glitches with the interpretation, the interruptions, the loss of speaking time for Bloc Québécois members were all documented with the hybrid Parliament, including in committee. It is not true that everything worked well.
It is disappointing to hear my NDP colleagues suddenly see a hybrid Parliament as the only option. I remember hearing them in the House condemning the ear issues that the interpreters were having because the devices and equipment used and the fact that they were interpreting remotely, via Zoom, were causing occupational illnesses. The New Democrats are supposed to care about House administration workers, but they never talk about these workers anymore.
The interpreters testified and said as much to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which issued a report entitled “Conference Interpreters: The Cornerstone of Bilingualism in Parliament”.
If time permits, I will read an excerpt from the report:
The current technological limitations not only are compromising the health and safety of parliamentary interpreters, but also could undermine the language rights of parliamentarians. Pursuant to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act, parliamentarians have the right to express themselves in the official language of their choice and to be understood by their colleagues and the Canadian public. Canadians should be able to follow the proceedings of Parliament in the official language of their choice, without being put at a disadvantage.
Because I have seen it myself, I can say that francophone witnesses invited to standing committees prefer to speak English, because they can be sure that there will not be any interpretation problems, as most members of Parliament speak English.
In closing, I would like to stress the importance of the interpreters, but we must also consider the members who do not want to lose a second of speaking time. In the hybrid Parliament and in the standing committees, it has been documented that the situation was rather unjust and unfair, and we do not want to go through that again in this Parliament, because, in our opinion, it is inappropriate.
As whip, I have defended my party's position and will continue to do so. There were actually no negotiations; there were no discussions because the government agreed with the NDP to impose the hybrid Parliament on us.
In closing, the Chair can count on the Bloc Québécois members to be present, active, diligent and at work in the House of Commons.