Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs pushed back Wednesday against a Liberal effort to restore hybrid sittings in the House of Commons, warning that allowing ministers to appear via video link weakens accountability.
But Opposition House Leader Gérard Deltell said he doubted the Conservatives would be able to head off the Liberals’ plan, given the prospect of NDP support for the measure.
“At the end of the day, the Liberals will tailor their motion with the help of their friends, the NDP, who would like to have a hybrid Parliament,” he told reporters at the House of Commons.
MPs debated a government motion proposing a return to the hybrid format. The motion says members may participate in proceedings of the House, either in person or by video conference, provided they do so in accordance with COVID-19 vaccination requirements. It also says reasons for medical exemptions for vaccination follow Ontario guidelines as well as those from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The Liberals and NDP have said they support a hybrid Parliament because it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allows MPs who are ill, or have sick family members, to participate from their homes or offices.
During Wednesday’s debate, Government House Leader Mark Holland said it is not acceptable that MPs should have to choose between their health and representing their constituents, adding that the pandemic continues to claim lives. He also said it puts members in a position of questioning whether they should come into the Commons when they’re feeling under the weather.
“We have an old, outdated and, I dare say, dangerous view of what has to happen on the other side,” Mr. Holland said in reference to the Conservatives. “Members can, with these hybrid provisions in this motion, represent their constituents. They can hold the government to account. They can vote. They can debate. They can participate in committee. And they can do it all safely.”
“There are many debates that we have here where the science and the evidence leaves some grey areas in between,” he said. “There is no grey area of science here. There is no area of ambiguity in terms of the imperative action that we need to take to protect not only members, but the people who work here. I’m saddened that this has taken a debate.”
NDP Peter Julian said it is important for hybrid tools to continue to be used for all the reasons Mr. Holland referenced.
But he said the difficulty has been that the government has often been represented in the House of Commons by Mark Gerretsen, the MP for Kingston and the Islands, “basically alone.”
“This is not acceptable for accountability and transparency,” Mr. Julian said. “So can the Government House Leader be very clear and on the record that ministers will be present in this House as we move forward in a hybrid Parliament, that they will answer the questions and that we will no longer have ministers in this building upstairs on Zoom? That they will be in the House and responding to members of Parliament’s questions.”
In response, Mr. Holland said that under the current COVID-19 circumstances, the government has “every intention” to make sure there is a “full presence from cabinet” and to ensure ministers take questions. It is important for the opposition to have a chance to challenge the government, he added.
Prior to the debate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that a hybrid Parliament is a necessity, noting that a Conservative MP tested positive for COVID-19, and should, nonetheless, be able to contribute to parliamentary business. He was referring to Quebec MP Richard Lehoux, who, though fully vaccinated, is at home after being diagnosed Saturday with the virus two days after attending an in-person Conservative caucus retreat.
“It’s a way of making sure that parliamentarians can speak for their citizens,” Mr. Trudeau said, referring to the hybrid option.
Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen told reporters her caucus supported a hybrid Parliament earlier in the pandemic, but Canadians now want MPs to get back to work in person.
“I don’t believe the Liberals are doing this because they are afraid of COVID. They are afraid of accountability,” she told the media. “They are afraid of Conservative questions.”
The Manitoba MP said Liberals have used the hybrid option to avoid the scrutiny that comes from actually being in the House of Commons. Ms. Bergen said most Canadians don’t have hybrid options.
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