Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer gestures as he responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer gestures as he responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Stage set for resumption of Parliament as Tories reject virtual Commons sittings

Scheer said many questions remain about holding a virtual sitting of the House of Commons

Barring a last-minute deal, the stage appeared set for members of Parliament to return to the House of Commons on Monday after the Conservatives rejected a Liberal government proposal to hold one in-person session and up to two virtual sessions per week.

The Liberals announced Sunday that they had reached tentative agreement with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois following a series of closed-door negotiations as federal parties sought ways to increase parliamentary oversight during the COVID-19 crisis.

The plan would have seen 32 MPs meet in the House of Commons each Wednesday for in-person sessions starting this week. One 90-minute virtual session would then be added the following week for MPs to ask questions of the government and ramp up to two per week thereafter.

READ MORE: Plants ‘operating 24/7’ to meet consumer demand for food amid COVID-19

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer dismissed the proposal during a news conference on Parliament Hill, suggesting there remained many unanswered questions about holding a virtual sitting of the House of Commons and insisting on three in-person sittings per week.

“We believe we have a reasonable proposal on the table,” he said. “All parties must come together to ensure Parliament continues to function during the difficult days ahead. Canadians’ lives and livelihoods literally depend on the government getting the response to the pandemic right.”

Scheer went on to list a number of questions he wanted the government to answer, including why many health-care workers don’t have proper protective equipment, whether the emergency benefits rolled out are helping everyone, and Ottawa’s plan for re-opening the economy.

“The best place for our elected representatives to get answers to these questions is in the House of Commons in Ottawa.”

Hours earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that resuming parliamentary sittings at a time when health experts are urging Canadians to limit their movement and work from home as much as possible to prevent the pandemic from spreading would be “irresponsible.”

The government has suggested that unless an agreement is reached, the House of Commons will resume business as usual Monday with all 338 MPs along with their staff along with Parliament Hill clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners, returning to work in Ottawa.

“We have proposed — and it’s been largely accepted by the other opposition parties — that we should have accountability measures, we should have Parliament that functions,” Trudeau said during his daily news conference outside his residence in Ottawa.

“But it has to be done in a responsible way, and right now the Conservatives are not taking a responsible approach.”

He went on to defend the plan to hold virtual sittings, saying the House of Commons administration was not ready to conduct such a session this week, “but we are very open to increasing them over the subsequent weeks.”

The House of Commons has already moved some business online with two parliamentary committees conducting hearings by video conference. The British Parliament is also poised to adopt a hybrid approach in which some MPs will grill ministers in person while others participate online.

READ MORE: B.C. police can now issue $2,000 tickets for reselling medical supplies, price gouging

Scheer, however, raised concerns about connectivity issues for MPs in rural or remote parts of Canada as well as the application of certain parliamentary rules such as those that protect MPs from defamation and libel for what they say in the House.

The Conservative leader went on to accuse the Liberals of misleading Canadians to put pressure on Opposition parties by noting that only 20 MPs need to be in the House for a sitting.

Except for two single-day sittings to pass emergency aid bills, Parliament has been adjourned since mid-March. Those two sessions were held with a limited number of Parliament Hill staff, which Scheer said could be easily replicated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Translators, security personnel and other staff are required for the daily briefings by government ministers and public-health officials on Parliament Hill, he added.

“There are millions of Canadians who are providing services to their fellow citizens in this time of crisis,” Scheer said. “We believe that Parliament is an essential service and that we will get Canadians through this crisis in a better way if Parliament is allowed to do its job.”

Despite the apparent impasse, NDP House Leader Peter Julian remained hopeful that a deal could be reached. While he acknowledged that some work around the rules on virtual sittings needed to be ironed out, “this is a base and after that, we just approve improvements to that.”

The political wrangling in Ottawa came as provincial health authorities reported at least 113 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the national total to 1,583.

Yet while Ontario and Quebec also reported hundreds more positive tests, bringing the national total to more than 34,800, New Brunswick as well as Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said the slow growth in case numbers was encouraging, but it’s too early to let up on preventive efforts.

— with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L.

Lee Berthiaume, 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

A mallard duck swims through Salish Pond in Chilliwack on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
WEATHER: Snow, rain in forecast for Fraser Valley

Fraser Valley has been treated to more than a week of mostly sunny weather, but it’s about to end

sd
VIDEO: Mission drag racer scores 1st career win, sets world record, makes history in 2020

Justin Bond, founder and owner of JBS Equipment, hits milestones in break-out year

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near Chilliwack secondary

Third high-school related assault Rob Iezzi’s cameras have captured since beginning of 2021

Grace Kennedy Editorial Agassiz Harrison Observer image
EDITORIAL: With COVID-19, knowledge is power

Editor Grace Kennedy explains why the Observer is reporting on local case numbers, despite the flaws

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

Giants defenceman Bowen Byram has recorded his first NHL career point (Rob Wilton/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants Bowen Byram records first NHL career point with Colorado Avalanche

Player with Langley-based WHL franchise assisted on goal against the Ducks

Surrey Fire Service responded to a fire in the industrial area of 192nd street and 54th Avenue early Saturday morning (Jan. 23, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews respond to fire in industrial area

Fire happened early Saturday morning

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Most Read