The future of the Parliament at the time of the COVID-19 remains outstanding

L'avenir du Parlement au temps de la COVID-19 demeure en suspens

L'avenir du Parlement au temps de la COVID-19 demeure en suspens

The leader of the New democratic Party (NDP), Jagmeet Singh


May 25, 2020 21: 17


The future of the Parliament at the time of the COVID-19 remains outstanding

Lee Berthiaume

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – The functioning of the canadian Parliament at the time of the COVID-19 remained pending Monday, while the conservatives have remained stuck on their position that the House of commons should resume its normal activities with a reduced number of deputies present.

For a good part of the day, the deputies debated a motion by the liberal government offering to surrender to sessions “normal” of the House of commons, and broaden rather the special committee COVID-19, which has sat in place for a month. The agreement on this committee was to end Monday.

The conservatives did take the time, including having recourse to a manoeuvre procedure that has forced a debate of an hour and a vote on a committee report of the canada-china relations.

The leader of the government in the Room, Pablo Rodriguez, has finally meant that the government was going to cut short the debate on the motion on Tuesday in the resumption of the work.

A spokesman for the New democratic Party (NDP) has let us know that elected new democrats would support this decision to close the debate “if it comes to it”, because they “don’t want to let other parties to delay our ability to move forward”.

Under such a scenario, the motion to convene the committee COVID-19 at the rate of four days per week in a hybrid, in person and via screens, would be subject to a vote on Tuesday evening.

And if it is adopted, the first meeting of the committee hybrid could then take place as soon as Wednesday, said the office of the president of the House of commons.

The conditions for the NDP

Because they hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, the liberals need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to adopt this motion. However, the conservatives are demanding the resumption of sessions “physical” of Commons, and the Bloc québécois was not involved in these negotiations.

The leader of the Bloc, Yves-François Blanchet, has stated that his party had already outlined a set of conditions before engaging in discussions on how the Parliament could sit. The bloquistes wished for more assistance to firms to cover their fixed overheads, by a refundable tax credit in 2021, as well as a simple plan on how the liberals would result in a pledge of financial support for the elderly. Mr. Blanchet has later indicated that the liberals had not responded to any of the two applications. The chief bloquiste however indicated that his party would probably accept any consensus to govern the way in which the House of commons will be in session.

This leaves in the equation, the NDP and its conditions.

The prime minister Justin Trudeau has sought to secure the support of the new democrats on Monday morning, during his daily press conference outside his home in Ottawa, pledging to work with the provinces to give workers paid sick leave.

But Mr. Singh felt in the Room that this “positive announcement” was below the requirements of his party. “We also need to see concrete actions. And we hope that it will happen”, he said.

Mr. Singh said that the government should also keep its promise to provide more support to Canadians with disabilities that experience difficulties during the pandemic.

The question now is how the two parties could bridge this gap – and if not : what other options might exist to resolve the impasse.

The conservatives want answers

The conservatives have always indicated that they want to delete the special committee COVID-19 and re-establish regular sessions to the House of commons, with a maximum of 50 members at a time. The leader of the conservatives Andrew Scheer on Monday stressed the Commons the necessity of an immediate return to the Parliament, while the leader of the opposition in the Room, Candice Bergen, has exposed some of the major differences between a parliamentary session and the normal to the special committee.

These include the lack of days of opposition, motions for parliamentary initiative and of the opportunity to submit questions on the order paper, one of the principal means available to the opposition parties to obtain information from the government.

“Although questions can be asked to the special committee, we do certainly not answer,” said Ms. Bergen. “And there are a lot of things that the opposition can do when the Parliament is in session to try to get answers and to hold the government to account. This will not happen if this motion is adopted.”

But the liberals and new democrats argue that the plan of the conservatives to deprive essentially, a majority of Canadians of their rights, as members who live far away to Ottawa or who pose a risk to the health will have great difficulties to attend sessions in person.

All parties agree that there are currently technical limitations to the creation of a virtual Parliament full of limitations that don’t exist to the committees of the Commons. These limits had been highlighted in a report of a committee of the Commons at the beginning of the month. It evokes concerns about piracy when the votes of the deputies and of the procedural questions, such as how to deal with the reminders in regulation and questions of privilege.

The liberals claim that this is why they have proposed to expand the current committee COVID-19 by adding a meeting a week and using a hybrid format that would allow all members to participate through presence in person or virtual. “With this motion, with a Parliament-in hybrid, there would be more time for questions”, has pleaded Monday for the government leader in the Room, Pablo Rodriguez.

“There would be deputies in the House and of mps through video conferencing, regardless of the party. And it would allow our democracy to function. The members could ask questions because they are elected and not because they live near Ottawa.”

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