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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May addresses MPs by teleconference at a May 27 meeting of the House's COVID-19 pandemic committee.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press


Since the House of Commons broke for summer last year on June 22, 2019, there have been only 38 regular sitting days over that nearly 12-month period, because of cancellations related to the fall federal election and this year’s pandemic. Wednesday afternoon will be the 39th as MPs have been recalled during the current COVID-19 parliamentary suspension to deal with a government bill.

The Commons has suspended regular sittings until MPs return in September. At that time, they’ll decide how the legislative body will function.

In the meantime, parliamentary experts are urging a committee of MPs to look at a range of remote-voting options.

Story continues below advertisement

The procedure and House affairs committee is facing a June 23 deadline to make recommendations on how the House should continue.

Those options include allowing MPs to vote via videoconference or by proxy voting, in which a colleague in the chamber casts a second vote on behalf of an MP who is not in Ottawa.

Should the House resume as scheduled in September, it would complete the 2020 calendar year with just 86 sitting days.

During the previous Parliament, the House sat for an average of 122 days a year in the three non-election years. The number of sitting days is scheduled to increase to 156 days next year.

TOTAL SITTING DAYS

Election year

160

120

Actual

days

sat

80

40

0

2013

2015

2017

‘19

‘20*

‘21†

‘22†

2011

*Actual and scheduled

†Scheduled

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÃœKSELIR/THE GLOBE

AND MAIL, SOURCE: house of commons CANADA

TOTAL SITTING DAYS

Election year

160

120

Actual

days

sat

80

40

0

2013

2015

2017

‘19

‘20*

‘21†

‘22†

2011

*Actual and scheduled

†Scheduled

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÃœKSELIR/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: house of commons CANADA

TOTAL SITTING DAYS

Election year

160

120

80

Actual

days

sat

40

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020*

2021†

2022†

2011

*Actual and scheduled

†Scheduled

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÃœKSELIR/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: house of commons CANADA

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said in an interview that whether it’s remote voting or the repeated suspensions of regular sittings, the Liberal government seems focused on keeping MPs away from Parliament.

“I think it’s becoming more and more clear that the reason it’s been such an abnormal amount of days, with so little days, is because the government is trying to run from accountability,” she said.

“Ultimately what happens when Parliament is shut down is it’s Canadians who suffer,” Ms. Bergen said, arguing that the opposition is unable to thoroughly review government legislation and spending on behalf of the public. “It’s a tragedy.”

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Conservative MP Candice Bergen speaks during Question Period on May 25.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The committee faces a tight deadline imposed by the House of Commons, but some members warn that the hearings are too rushed, given the significance of the proposed changes to parliamentary traditions. Committee members are reviewing how similar parliaments, such as Britain’s, have adjusted to the pandemic and also heard from provincial politicians to hear about their experiences.

On March 13 of this year, the House of Commons agreed unanimously to suspend regular sittings owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The suspension was extended in April over the objections of Conservative MPs.

On May 26, a third suspension was approved until Sept. 21, and opposed by Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs. That motion included provisions for a June 17 sitting day to review and approve government spending and four sitting days during the summer.

In lieu of regular sitting days, the government agreed to the creation of a temporary COVID-19 committee, made up of all MPs. Under the current extension rules, it meets four days a week until June 18. The latest version of the committee allows some MPs to be in the House and others to participate remotely via videoconference. Prior to the May 26 agreement, the committee generally met twice a week online and once a week in person. The COVID-19 committee will cease to exist after its 25th meeting on June 18.

The Liberal government calls the COVID-19 committee a virtual Parliament, but Conservative MPs say it is a fake Parliament. While the temporary committee allows opposition MPs to question the government, the committee doesn’t debate or propose legislation.

Other differences with regular sittings include the lack of opposition days where an opposition party can control the agenda and put forward a motion for a vote. Rule changes have also limited the opposition’s ability to receive written responses to questions, which are normally a major tool used by opposition MPs to force the disclosure of spending details and other information that can be embarrassing to the government.

British MPs line up for a vote at a June 2 session of Parliament.

UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

In a May report, the committee listed numerous examples of other countries and provinces that have suspended regular sittings. Some have allowed committees to carry on, while others have scheduled a small number of regular sittings to approve urgent matters, usually in reduced numbers.

Britain initially approved a hybrid Parliament in which a reduced number of MPs participated in person, while others participated remotely via videoconference. That practice has since ended. More recently, the British Parliament approved a system of proxy voting, where an MP who is not able to attend in person can authorize a colleague to cast a vote on their behalf.

Several procedural experts – including former House of Commons clerk Marc Bosc and lawyer Kevin Deveaux, an international governance consultant – told the committee that MPs should be given a number of remote-voting options, such as proxy votes or a verbal roll-call vote where they appear on a screen.

They also noted that the House regularly makes decisions with “voice” votes, where the Speaker judges where the majority lies based on “yeas” or “nays” shouted by MPs in the Chamber. This avoids the need for a standing vote by all MPs. Experts urged MPs not to make any remote voting rules permanent without much more study.

Former NDP House leader Bill Blaikie, who specialized in parliamentary reform during his 29 years as an MP from 1979 to 2008, told the committee that federal MPs are doing more than many of their provincial counterparts when it comes to maintaining parliamentary debate during COVID-19.

“Whatever people think of what the federal Parliament’s doing, it is struggling to continue to be a Parliament in the pandemic context, which is more than you can say about, for instance, the Manitoba legislature,” he said. “The Canadian Parliament, in spite of criticisms that have been levelled at it … the fact of the matter is they are working. They’re working in their constituencies and they’re working in the context of this committee and other contexts to make sure that Parliament continues in some meaningful way.”

Story continues below advertisement


A calendar of Parliament’s last year

When the House of Commons is recalled

Wednesday afternoon to deal with a govern-

ment bill, it will be just the 39th regular sitting

since the Commons broke for summer nearly

a year ago. The House sat for just seven days

in the fall of 2019 due to the federal election.

Members of Parliament agreto suspend regu-

lar sittings on March 13 due to the coronavirus

pandemic. That suspension has since been

extended twice and regular sittings are not

scheduled to resume until Sept. 21

KEY DATES

SITTING DAYS

JUNE 2019

JULY

S

M

T

W

T

F

S

S

M

T

W

T

F

S

1

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

28

29

30

31

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

SEPTEMBER

AUGUST

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

29

30

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

1

2

1

2

3

4

5

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

27

28

29

30

31

DECEMBER

JANUARY 2020

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

26

27

28

29

30

31

29

30

31

FEBRUARY

MARCH

1

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

29

30

31

APRIL

MAY

1

2

3

4

1

2

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

26

27

28

29

30

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

JUNE

KEY DATES

1

2

3

4

5

6

OCT. 21, 2019

Federal election

MARCH 11, 2020

WHO declares

pandemic

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

MARCH 13

Government announces Parliament will

go on break

MARCH 21

U.S.-Canada border closes to nonessential travel

28

29

30

When the House of Commons is recalled Wednesday

afternoon to deal with a government bill, it will be just

the 39th regular sitting since the Commons broke for

summer nearly a year ago. The House sat for just seven

days in the fall of 2019 due to the federal election. Mem-

bers of Parliament agreed to suspend regular sittings on

March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic. That suspen-

sion has since been extended twice and regular sittings

are not scheduled to resume until Sept. 21

KEY DATES

SITTING DAYS

JUNE 2019

JULY

Sun.

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

Sun.

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

1

2

3

4

5

6

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

28

29

30

31

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

SEPTEMBER

AUGUST

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

29

30

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

1

2

1

2

3

4

5

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

27

28

29

30

31

DECEMBER

JANUARY 2020

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

26

27

28

29

30

31

29

30

31

FEBRUARY

MARCH

1

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

29

30

31

APRIL

MAY

1

2

3

4

1

2

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

26

27

28

29

30

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

KEY DATES

JUNE

OCT. 21, 2019

Federal election

MARCH 11, 2020

WHO declares

pandemic

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

MARCH 13

Government announces Parliament will

go on break

MARCH 21

U.S.-Canada border closes to nonessential travel

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

When the House of Commons is recalled Wednesday afternoon to deal with a govern-

ment bill, it will be just the 39th regular sitting since the Commons broke for summer

nearly a year ago. The House sat for just seven days in the fall of 2019 due to the fed-

eral election. Members of Parliament agreed to suspend regular sittings on March 13

due to the coronavirus pandemic. That suspension has since been extended twice and

regular sittings are not scheduled to resume until Sept. 21

KEY DATES

SITTING DAYS

JUNE 2019

JULY

Sun.

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

Sun.

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

1

2

3

4

5

6

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

28

29

30

31

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

SEPTEMBER

AUGUST

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

29

30

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

1

2

1

2

3

4

5

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

27

28

29

30

31

DECEMBER

JANUARY 2020

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

26

27

28

29

30

31

29

30

31

FEBRUARY

MARCH

1

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

29

30

31

MAY

APRIL

1

2

3

4

1

2

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

26

27

28

29

30

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

JUNE

KEY DATES

1

2

3

4

5

6

OCT. 21, 2019

Federal election

MARCH 11, 2020

WHO declares pandemic

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

MARCH 13

Government announces Parliament will go on break

MARCH 21

U.S.-Canada border closes to nonessential travel

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30


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