NDP, Liberals cut short debate on how Commons should function during pandemic

NDP, Liberals cut short debate on how Commons should function during pandemic

OTTAWA — New Democrats joined forces with the governing Liberals to cut short debate Tuesday over how Parliament should function in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A government motion to impose closure on the debate passed by a vote of 29-23, with the support of Liberal, NDP and Green MPs in a skeleton House of Commons.

Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs voted against closure.

The decision paved the way for a vote later Tuesday on a government motion to waive “normal” Commons sittings in favour of expanding the special COVID-19 committee that has acted as a stand-in for the chamber over the past month.

If the motion passes, the committee will resume sitting Wednesday but in a new hybrid format, with a small number of MPs in the Commons and others participating virtually via two large screens set up on either side of the Speaker’s chair.

The motion calls for the committee — which has been meeting twice a week virtually and once a week in person with reduced numbers in the Commons — to meet four times each week for the next month and four times over the summer.

The Commons has been largely adjourned since mid-March, when the country went into lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly virus that causes COVID-19. It has met only briefly to pass emergency aid legislation and several times to come to agreement on how the chamber should function while the pandemic continues.

The last agreement expired Monday, triggering a resumption of “normal” proceedings in the Commons.

Conservative and Bloc MPs want the House of Commons to resume its normal operations, albeit with a reduced number of MPs in the chamber.

They argued that the committee structure does not allow MPs to use all the tools they would normally use in the Commons to hold the government to account, including opposition days, introducing motions, posing written questions and debating and voting on legislation on topics other than the pandemic.

Conservative House leader Candice Bergen called the special committee ”feeble” and a “fake Parliament.”

However, until the issue of how MPs can vote electronically is resolved, Liberals and New Democrats maintained the special committee is the best way to continue and involve all 338 MPs in the proceedings — not just those who are in the chamber.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier Tuesday that there are still limitations in allowing MPs to vote virtually that would prevent many Canadians from having their representatives have an official say on government policies.

“I think it would be important to ensure that Canadians across the country have an ability to make their voices and decisions heard in Parliament through that process. That continues to be something we are working on,” he said.

The motion calls on the procedure and House affairs committee to further study how a secure electronic voting system could be set up.

The committee has heard from experts that there may be constitutional and technical concerns over electronic voting, which may also violate traditional principles of parliamentary procedure.

But Bloc MP Stephane Bergeron contended that the issue of voting is a “fallacious argument” being used to “silence Parliament.” He maintained that a solution to electronic voting could have been found had MPs put their minds to it.

Bergeron also accused the government of secretly negotiating a deal to secure the NDP’s support for continuing with the COVID-19 committee format, including a promise to work with the provinces to ensure workers are allowed at least 10 days of paid sick leave during the pandemic. That is an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction, he said.

Because the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, they need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to pass the motion.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez chided the Bloc, which had refused to take part in the most recent negotiations about the future of the Commons because it maintained the government had reneged on previous agreements, for going off to “sulk in a corner.”

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus went after the Conservatives, saying it’s ”pretty rich” for them to complain about shutting down Parliament when the previous minority government of Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament altogether in 2008 to avoid defeat in a confidence vote. They’ll be able to resume ”howling at the moon, the abuse of the privileges of the most privileged people in Canada” in September but, in the meantime, he argued there’s work to get done to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 crisis.

“I want to get to that work tomorrow so that we can start to drill down and ask serious questions of ministers, where we have a good period of time to actually go through the issues, push, find out and insist on responses. So let’s just get down to it,” Angus said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Parliament

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Photo submitted/ Millet In Bloom
Town of Millet declared Best Blooming Community

The Town of Millet is being recognized for their efforts to meet the challenges of 2020.

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Paved path to the accessible dock at Agur Lake Camp. Photo submitted/ Debbie Schneider.
B.C. Camp extremely grateful for a Calmar Business’ generous donation

B.C.’s only fully accessible campground floored by a Calmar Business’ generosity.

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is still hopeful about the Keystone pipeline if there’s a change in government in the U.S. next month, saying Alberta has been engaging with American officials from both sides of the aisle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Carolyn Kaster
Alberta premier says he’s still hopeful about Keystone, even if Biden elected

The Alberta government has agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion as equity in the project

Most Read