Morning light hits the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Less than two weeks before Parliament is to resume sitting, no one knows how it is going to function amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Still no agreement on how returning Parliament will function as pandemic goes on

Theoretically, all 338 MPs could return to the chamber

Less than two weeks before Parliament is to resume sitting, no one knows how it is going to function amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liberal government has proposed a full resumption of parliamentary business using a hybrid model — a limited number of MPs actually sitting in the House of Commons and the rest participating online, including by voting electronically.

New Democrats are proposing a similar approach but it’s unclear whether the Conservatives, who’ve previously opposed electronic voting, or the Bloc Quebecois, will agree.

And House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has warned that until the Commons approves a new approach, his hands are tied.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month, so the committee that was supposed to propose options for electronic voting has been disbanded.

Parliament is to resume on Sept. 23 with a throne speech laying out the Liberal government’s plan for an economic recovery.

Theoretically, all 338 MPs could return to the chamber. It is set to resume all its normal five-days-a-week operations after being largely suspended since mid-March, apart from periodic short sittings to pass emergency aid to help Canadians weather the economic fallout from the pandemic.

But the government is hoping some consensus can be reached in advance to limit the number of MPs in the Commons until a vote can be held on how it should function while the pandemic continues.

“The risks of COVID-19 have not gone away, so it is not wise for all 338 MPs to travel to Ottawa,” said Mark Kennedy, spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez.

Kennedy said Rodriguez has proposed to his opposition counterparts that the House adopt ”a full hybrid approach — with some MPs in the House of Commons chamber and the rest participating online through the videoconferencing that worked well this spring.

“We also believe that remote (or) electronic voting is necessary to ensure that all MPs can represent their constituents during this pandemic. We are working with the other parties on the details of how we move ahead on this,” he said, adding that the government believes ”it should be possible to reach a consensus.”

Kennedy would not disclose details of the electronic voting model the government is proposing.

Since the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, they will need at least one of the main opposition parties to support their proposed approach.

In principle at least, the NDP is on side.

NDP House leader Peter Julian and NDP whip Rachel Blaney wrote to Speaker Rota late last month, requesting that House of Commons officials undertake the necessary measures, including testing of electronic voting, to ensure a hybrid model Parliament could begin immediately after Sept. 23.

While he expressed confidence in the ability of officials to act in a “timely” manner, Rota replied that he cannot instruct them to do anything until the House of Commons decides how it wants to proceed.

He noted that the special orders passed by the Commons to allow for hybrid sittings last spring and periodically over the summer are no longer in force due to Trudeau’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

The procedure and House affairs committee has reported on some options for a more fully functioning hybrid Parliament but Rota noted the committee’s reports ”have not been debated, let alone adopted. With prorogation, these reports have lapsed and are no longer before the House.”

The Conservatives on the committee last spring issued a dissenting report, in which they argued against any form of electronic voting. Gerard Deltell, the Conservatives’ new House leader, declined to comment Thursday on the government’s proposal, with a spokesperson saying he had just received it and needed time to study it.

The Bloc also declined to comment.

In a statement Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the issue of how Parliament will function should have been settled during a single-day sitting of the Commons that had been scheduled for late August but was cancelled when Trudeau “recklessly shut down Parliament.”

“We’re glad the Liberals finally responded and are reviewing their proposal, but it shouldn’t have taken weeks,” he said.

“We could have had this all squared away so we could get to work right away to help people, but instead the Liberals again put their own interests first, instead of putting people first.”

Trudeau, meanwhile, will conduct a cabinet retreat Monday and Tuesday in Ottawa, with most ministers expected to participate in person. They are to focus on plans for the economic recovery and the throne speech.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfederal government

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

Just Posted

Indigenous man walks to Grand Forks in cross-country journey for youth mental health

Kevin Redsky has been walking from Winnipeg, Man. for more than 70 days.

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Grand Forks had second-highest smog levels in B.C. last year

Researchers at Selkirk College point to a cold winter and and smoky summer

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Russell selected as B.C. NDP candidate for Boundary-Similkameen

The director for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary was chosen over Oliver councillor Grice.

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Most Read