Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Monday April 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Liberals, Bloc, NDP, Greens approve once-a-week sittings in House of Commons

A Conservative motion to add more in-person sittings each week was defeated

The Conservatives’ bid to have Parliament sit in person several times a week throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been thwarted by the combined forces of the governing Liberals and other opposition parties.

A government motion calling for once-a-week in-person sittings, to be supplemented eventually by virtual sittings, was passed Monday by a vote of 22-15.

A Conservative motion to add more in-person sittings each week was defeated by the same margin, with the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, New Democrat and Green MPs voting against it.

The motion was proposed after the Conservatives refused during a week of negotiations to give unanimous consent to the government’s proposal, triggering the return of the House of Commons with a small contingent of MPs on Monday.

Absent unanimity, Parliament was sent back to its normal routine, as that’s what MPs agreed would happen when they decided in mid-March to adjourn until April 20 as the country began locking down to stop the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: Parties still can’t agree on how best to resume House of Commons

But MPs spent the bulk of Monday debating adjustments to that routine, with the Liberals turning the deal they’d reached with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP into a government motion that needed only majority support from the small quorum of MPs present.

The motion included the one in-person sitting a week, and also the creation of a special all-party COVID-19 committee that could meet more frequently. The House of Commons is also currently studying how to make virtual sessions work, and those would be added to the calendar when feasible.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said having in-person sittings more than once a week would increase the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, and argued that the motion made sense for unprecedented times.

“We have found the balance between allowing Parliament to play its fundamental role, which we cherish … while respecting what we ourselves have been saying to the Canadian public, which is to isolate as much as possible,” he said.

Parliament has met twice to pass emergency aid legislation since it was adjourned in March, and some had argued the only reason MPs need to be physically present in the Commons now is to vote on any subsequent legislation.

Prior to the vote, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisted that debate and discussion in the House of Commons are of urgent importance.

The Liberals, he said, must answer questions on issues ranging from the state of the nation’s medical-goods stockpile to accountability for the billions of dollars being spent in federal aid.

“Right here on Parliament Hill, construction workers are continuing to renovate Centre Block, a project that is expected to take at least 10 years,” he said.

“If they can safely renovate the building that houses our Parliament than surely we can do our duty to uphold the bedrock of our democracy.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said two virtual sittings of what’s known as committee of the whole — which allows MPs to ask longer questions and ministers to give more thorough answers — each week is preferable.

Those virtual sittings would not only minimize contact, but also make sure people in regions far from Ottawa would be able to question the government, he said.

“It’s important to hear voices from parliamentarians across this country,” Singh said.

READ MORE: Ban on assault-style guns top of mind for Trudeau, as Canada mourns Nova Scotia victims

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet accused the Conservatives of holding Parliament “hostage” for partisan reasons, and said he wants to get to the business of serving Canadians and the people of Quebec.

The Senate has adjourned until at least June 2, though several committees have plans to meet virtually and the full body can be recalled if legislation needs to be passed.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusParliament

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

Just Posted

Snapshot: Cap and gown in the time of COVID-19

Eagle River Secondary did what they could to keep highscool graduation as normal as possible.

Fallen tree and fire to blame for Shuswap power outage

BC Hydro restored the outage in about an hour.

Boating Safety Week a chance to take stock of hazards on Shuswap Lake

Submerged logs, cold water and intoxicated captains are all safety concerns

$30,000 over 30 weeks for local causes

Send us your good stories and you could win money for your favourite cause

VIDEO: B.C. dentist gets grand welcome home after two months in hospital fighting COVID-19

Michael Chow was given a surprise send off by hospital staff and ‘welcome home’ from neighbours

‘Like finding a needle in a haystack’: Ancient arrowhead discovered near Williams Lake

The artifact is believed to be from the Nesikip period between 7,500 BP to 6,000 BP

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

Friends, family mourn Salt Spring Island woman killed in suspected murder-suicide

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched for Jennifer Quesnel’s three sons

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Indigenous chief alleges RCMP beat him during arrest that began over expired licence plate

Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam calling for independent investigation

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Crews building structure at former Summerland train station site

West Summerland Station will pay tribute to railway history, serve as trail marker

Most Read