House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was columbia.

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Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Madam Speaker, I sat in the House yesterday and one of the member's colleagues stood and raised a question of privilege, saying that it really offended her privilege to have to be in the House, cheek by jowl, with people who might make her sick. What does he say to her?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague for raising this interesting question about double vaccination.

The answer is quite simple: If everyone is fully vaccinated, there will not be any problem.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, the government House leader during his speech spoke about the possible risk to people who are immunocompromised, but in the last Parliament, for multiple question periods we had zero Liberal ministers ever showing up.

It seems to me that it is statistically improbable that 100% of Liberal ministers are immunocompromised. Does the member agree that it is statistically improbable that all Liberal ministers are at such a great, particular and unique risk?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am being asked to explain the inexplicable. The ministers were not in the House. How do we explain that?

Explaining that is about as easy as eating an apple through a tennis racquet. In other words, it is impossible.

I hope this party will get with it, roll up its sleeves, take responsibility, have respect for the public and come to the House to answer our questions.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to add my name in congratulations of your sitting in that seat. It is an honour to see you there. I also want to take this opportunity, as it is my first time to stand in the House, to thank the North Island—Powell River constituents for allowing me a third term in the House to represent them.

I really did appreciate what I heard from the previous member when he talked about the importance of being double-vaxxed. That is something I am very concerned with as well.

I am particularly concerned for the people who work in this building and who have children 12 and under who cannot be vaccinated. We have members in the House who are travelling across the country and potentially bringing COVID here. If we have members in the House who are unvaccinated, even if they are being tested every 48 hours they are still bringing that here.

What does that mean for the people who work here? Are we not responsible in the House for the work environment of all the people in this place?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

Before I begin to talk about that, we should perhaps come back to the situation of the House employees who were pushed to the limit. Many of them had to go on sick leave. We may have abused the technical support resources. We might have to consider that as well.

We are no different than the rest of society. If we are able to go to the Bell Centre, the movie theatre or anywhere else, then we are able to get here, respect the health measures, wear a mask at all times and maintain a social distance. That way there will be no situation like the one our colleague mentions.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

November 24th, 2021 / 5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate you. I am sure that you will make use of our speaking time fairly, as you usually do.

Earlier, my colleague from Montarville asked the leader of the government a question. He did not get an answer. He was referring to what my colleague from La Prairie had been speaking out against since earlier.

However, by way of response, the government House leader told us that the situation had changed and things were less serious. Are we to understand that the situation is less serious now because everyone, or almost everyone, is double-vaccinated?

He also spoke of immunocompromised people. Are we making the exception to the rule the new normal?

We do not want a government or Parliament that works in a hybrid format to end up becoming a virtual government or Parliament.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, we need to remain in step with what is happening in the rest of society.

People are starting to see each other more often. Thanks to double vaccination, it is becoming easier to see each other with as little risk as possible. There will never be zero risk, but we must be realistic and respect the public by doing what we are asking them to do.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

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.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I was very interested to hear what my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît had to say. I know that she is very sincere when she talks about the situation of the interpreters. We agree with her on the importance of putting resources in place so that the interpreters have the best working conditions possible. I agree with her on that.

However, she is asking why we should continue with a hybrid Parliament when the pandemic is under control. I have to tell her that the pandemic is not under control. In Burnaby, we lost 15 people two weeks ago. Countries in Europe are starting to implement lockdown policies. Having a hybrid Parliament in place means that, whatever happens in the coming weeks, Parliament can continue to function.

Why is she denying that the pandemic is wreaking havoc in some parts of the country and some parts of the world?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. It gives me an opportunity to clarify what I was saying.

I do not know his profession, but I do not think he is a scientist. I am not a scientist, but what I do know is that I received instructions, a directive from the Sergeant-at-Arms, who issued a policy and directives here that said that Ontario Public Health deemed it safe for the 338 MPs to be here if they were wearing masks and following the public health guidelines. I do not know whether British Columbia is off in a world of its own or not, but public health here deems that the pandemic is under control.

That does not mean that the situation cannot change. However, as we speak, it is unthinkable that we would not be here in person when we are permitted to do so under Ontario's public health guidelines.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, if we look at our hybrid Parliament, we can see that those MPs whose ridings are close by have many opportunities to speak. We are in a minority government and the other members from Quebec, the NDP and the Liberal Party have many opportunities to work in their ridings while the House is sitting and we are here, which gives them an electoral advantage.

Can you comment on the opportunities that are there and on the fact that elections are perpetually being held in the constituencies?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I must remind the member to address the Speaker and not speak directly to members.

The hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Yes, we are aware that being at home, being in our ridings, voting remotely, being able to deliver a speech and then leave 10 minutes later to go vote gives us plenty of freedom, more so than if we came to work in the House. I agree with him that this freedom is perhaps more appreciated by the government party, whose gamble to win a majority government unfortunately did not pay off. True, I think there are some advantages to it and we certainly still believe that our primary duty is to serve, but also to represent our constituents in the House of Commons. We have some work to do in that respect.

If I may, I will briefly comment on what my colleague said. The greatest injustices and inequalities for francophones happen on the parliamentary committees. My colleagues know that all the parties were forced to cut the number of meetings for certain parliamentary committees because there was no more space available. To function properly, a hybrid Parliament requires more resources. In a way, we are restricted in what we can do and forced to limit our parliamentary work on committees in a hybrid Parliament.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not start this speech by thanking the voters of New Westminster—Burnaby. They have returned me to this chamber to speak on their behalf and to fight on their behalf to make sure that nobody is left behind in New Westminster—Burnaby and that we are building the kind of Canada my constituents want to see. I thank them for the honour of representing them again in this House of Commons.

I would also be remiss in not mentioning the many, many victims of this terrible pandemic. We have lost nearly 30,000 Canadians over the course of the past one year, eight months and two weeks. The reality is we must be thinking of those victims, the victims in Canada but of course the five million victims of COVID worldwide, when we talk about measures that are put in place to protect public health and to ensure we continue to do the work that is so important as parliamentarians.

We must pay tribute to the victims who lost their lives. COVID killed 30,000 people in Canada and five million people worldwide. We must think of the victims and do everything we can to end this terrible pandemic and prevent future pandemics. We have to implement measures that will achieve that.

It is simply not true. We have had a couple of speakers who said that things are okay and that things are under control when it comes to this pandemic. I can attest—

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry. I am going to have to interrupt the hon. member and remind members that if they are not the ones who are standing and speaking, they must have their masks on in order to ensure the safety of the workers and their colleagues in the House.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby has the floor.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, as the Speaker, you have the right to call members out. If you see a member, and we have just seen a couple, remove their mask in the House, you certainly have the right to interrupt whoever is speaking and call on the member to put their mask back on. I would urge you to do that, Madam Speaker.

We are seeing an outbreak that is having terrible impacts. At the Willingdon Care Centre, just a couple of weeks ago, 15 people were lost. There was a terrible outbreak that killed nearly 20% of the residents of that care facility. The outbreaks we are seeing now at various care facilities are having an impact even on my own family.

When we talk about a pandemic that is under control, we need to look to the outbreaks we are seeing in a number of different jurisdictions within Canada where there is a tragic number of rising cases, and we need to look worldwide too. Austria is now in complete lockdown and Germany is contemplating doing the same thing. There is a rising number of cases, a rising number of hospitalizations and a rising number of people in intensive care units.

This is something that should make all of us pause for a moment and think of the best measures we can put into place, as we have since March 13, 2020 when the House leaders walked out this door and held a press conference to announce we were suspending Parliament. We did it because it was the best thing to do in a public health emergency. Now that we are seeing rising cases around the world, in certain parts of the world and in certain parts of Canada, we have to have the same sense of collective responsibility.

This motion should have been adopted unanimously. It is a continuation of measures that we have already taken collectively as members of Parliament, unanimously. One of the strongest moments through this pandemic was when 338 parliamentarians rose with one voice and said they were going to continue their work as parliamentarians but were going to put in place appropriate public health measures to protect the employees of the House of Commons and on Parliament Hill, and to protect members of Parliament and their families. Many members of Parliament know of family members who are immunocompromised. People are immunocompromised in my own family. When we are protecting members of Parliament, we are also protecting our families, but above all we are protecting the public.

The reality is that 338 of us come in every week from all parts of Canada, some of us from high COVID transmission zones. We heard the member for Salaberry—Suroît say it is not a difficulty in her area, but we know that with this terrible virus, transmission can be quick. If one member of Parliament brings it into the House and other members of Parliament take it back to their ridings, there can be outbreaks. That was the design around suspending Parliament on March 13, 2020, as we knew we could not maintain the public's safety.

We knew we had to take measures that were exceptional in our history as a Parliament, but we took those measures together unanimously and then subsequently built the tools for a hybrid Parliament, first putting in place the ability of members of Parliament to speak, then the ability of members of Parliament to intervene procedurally, then the ability of members of Parliament to vote and then finally, with the voting app, we got away from the long voting sessions on Zoom that we all remember and had the ability and efficiency for each member of Parliament to intervene on behalf of their constituents and vote in the House of Commons.

All those tools were developed at great expense so we could continue the work of Parliament during the pandemic. Those were smart and thoughtful decisions that were consistently made unanimously. I should pay tribute to the many people in the House administration who made all of those actions real so that a virtual Parliament could see the day.

I do not doubt that there were problems. It is very true. Some members have mentioned the fact that the government did not have ministers in the House of Commons. That was a serious error, particularly when they were upstairs in their offices. The government is now committing to have ministers present for Question Period.

The impact on interpreters was considerable, and we need to continue to take steps to make sure that the virtual Parliament provides them with a safe and healthy workplace. Those are measures that, in this corner of the House, the NDP is going to continue to push for. There is no doubt. The member for Burnaby South, our leader, has been very clear, as have NDP members.

We are also aware that having 338 members of Parliament here, some coming from high COVID transmission zones, also creates a threat to employees and staff in the House administration and the House of Commons. We have to make sure we are taking protective measures.

As we know, if a member of Parliament is diagnosed or has to quarantine right now, until this motion passes they would have no ability to intervene for their constituents, fight for their constituents or speak out for their constituents. That is what I endeavour to do every day for my constituents in New Westminster—Burnaby. I know that every member of Parliament feels the same way. Without having the virtual tools in place, if a member of Parliament had to quarantine after being in contact with somebody who possibly had a COVID transmission, they would no longer be able to represent their constituents.

We support the motion. There is no doubt that we support the virtual tools. We believe we have to continue to improve the virtual Parliament. However, what I deplore is that this is not something that was adopted on the first day, unanimously, the way every other motion was. This is a public health issue. This is something that protects employees and staff. It protects the public. It protects members of Parliament and their families. That is why I would urge my colleagues in parties that seem resistant to renewing the virtual mandate to vote yes to this motion.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Madam Speaker, if I go into the lobby over here, I know all but one person has been double-vaccinated. I know the one who is not, and there is a darn good reason for it.

Does the hon. member not agree that he is playing Russian roulette every time he goes into that lobby over there? He does not know who he is mixing with or who could have something nasty, especially when the opposition House leader has indicated that a person who is unvaxxed is more likely to transmit the disease to somebody else.

I am wondering this. What kind of risk management does my colleague use to deal with this?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind members that if they have a difference of opinion on what is being said they have the opportunity to rise to ask questions and make comments.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, the Board of Internal Economy has set the rules, and the Board of Internal Economy will be making sure that the rules are adhered to.

However, there is a broader imperative here. We are asking Canadians to show their vaccination records when they get on a plane or go to a restaurant. There is no doubt that we have to set the example. We also have to make sure that members of Parliament can fully participate.

In the case of any exposure whatsoever, the virtual Parliament allows those members of Parliament to continue to represent their constituents. That is why I find the position of the Conservative Party so baffling. The Conservatives should be the first ones to say we should renew the virtual parliamentary mandate. They certainly supported it in the past. It is inconceivable to me that they are refusing to continue something that is an appropriate public health measure and would protect everybody: employees, staff, members of Parliament and their families.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a very simple question for the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

Our opposition House leader, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, introduced a very reasonable amendment that would increase the length of time we would have for accountability through the Committee of the Whole to provide an additional four hours. It was a very reasonable amendment.

I was wondering if the NDP House leader is going to support our Conservative amendment, or is he still waiting for permission from the Liberal House leader?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, that petty insult is just an example of why Conservatives should not be taking such a lack of seriousness in this debate.

If the members of the Conservative Party are saying that with those amendments they are prepared to vote for this motion, rather than have debate, we can do what we have done every single time, which is pass unanimously these public health measures to ensure a hybrid Parliament. If the Conservatives are saying that these amendments are what would make a difference for them, and we could move on and get back to the business of the country, that would be a wonderful thing.

Could the next Conservative who gets up please clarify whether these are amendments that would actually mean, as far as the Conservatives are concerned, that they would be willing to immediately vote yes and continue with the hybrid Parliament?

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Martin Champoux Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I too would like to congratulate you on being elected Deputy Speaker. I would also like to congratulate the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, whom I understand is to be my counterpart at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. It will be my pleasure to work with him to move forward on cultural matters and the important bills awaiting our attention.

I heard the member's arguments for why we can do our work just as well in hybrid mode. However, as my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît demonstrated earlier, that approach has some serious shortcomings ranging from the interpreters' health and numerous health problems to fair allocation of speaking time. Our job is to hold the government to account and ensure that government business is properly managed, but a hybrid system is not really conducive to that, because there are issues with technology, interpretation and so on.

Does my colleague not think we would all be better off behaving like grown-ups, getting double-vaccinated, being responsible, respecting the rules and remaining vigilant, so that if there is an outbreak, we can pivot back to hybrid sittings, which would always be an option? Then—

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I forgot to mention that we had time for only a brief question. I would therefore ask the member for New Westminster—Burnaby to give a brief answer.

Hybrid Sittings of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I too look forward to working with my colleague at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

I do not understand the Bloc's contradiction. They say we might need this tool, but not now. As we have seen, Austria and Germany are going into full lockdown once again. The number of cases has increased markedly in some parts of Canada. I therefore do not understand why the Bloc Québécois is resisting something that is common sense, namely, continuing with a hybrid Parliament so we can continue our work no matter what happens with the virus over the next few weeks.