Members of Parliament and their staff are gathering in large numbers on Parliament Hill – where they are “encouraged,” but not required, to wear masks, defying guidelines set by the province and the city.
The House of Commons is not subject to Ontario’s provincial regulations limiting the number of people who can attend an indoor event. Currently in Ontario, no more than 50 people are allowed to gather indoors. Kori Ghergari, a spokeswoman for the House of Commons, said while the House is not subject to regulations, it continues to follow health and safety “best practices” while carrying out its essential functions.
“In support of House business, any meeting currently being held on the House of Commons precinct follows the appropriate physical distancing and public-health protocols (including an assessment of how many people a room can hold),” Ms. Ghergari said in an e-mail.
Similarly, the House is not subject to the City of Ottawa’s temporary mandatory bylaw requiring masks be worn inside public places. However, Ms. Ghergari said the Commons is currently closed to the public so it is not considered a public space.
In the House and surrounding government buildings, masks are required for administration staff when physical distancing can’t be maintained. When asked if it is mandatory for MPs to wear masks inside parliamentary buildings, Ms. Ghergari said they are “encouraged” to wear them when physical distancing can’t be maintained. Their staff, she said, are “asked” to wear masks when distancing can’t be maintained. Masks are required in buildings that are leased, she said.
“Workplace requirements are based on Ottawa Public Health recommendations and guidance provided by provincial and federal public-health officials is also being closely monitored,” she said.
Alex Wellstead, a spokesman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said the Liberals will “continue to follow best health practices from the appropriate health authorities, including social distancing,” but did not say whether Liberal MPs would gather indoors in groups larger than 50.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends on its website to refer to provincial or territorial websites for details on current restrictions related to gatherings and events. It also suggests avoiding multiperson meetings by using video conferencing.
On Wednesday, Conservative MPs gathered in person for the first time for a caucus meeting with new party Leader Erin O’Toole. The meeting was held in a hybrid format with some MPs and senators joining through video conferencing while the majority gathered in a large main room and in two overflow rooms. Mr. O’Toole’s office said the event was organized in accordance with public-heath guidelines.
When asked how many MPs and senators were allowed in the main room, Kelsie Chiasson, a spokeswoman for Mr. O’Toole, said the main room can hold 89 people. Ms. Chiasson said Parliament is exempt from provincial and municipal orders with respect to maximum occupancy within a single room. She said the House occupational health and safety staff determined the main ballroom of the Sir John A. Macdonald building can safely accommodate 89 people when physical-distancing requirements are considered.
A Canadian Press report said the room was set up with six rows of about 13 chairs each, spaced apart. Most chairs were filled, meaning roughly 78 people were seated. Members of Mr. O’Toole’s House team were at the front of the room. Many MPs took off their masks once they were seated, but about 20 people kept them on.
A spokeswoman for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that since the beginning of the pandemic, all of the party’s caucus meetings have happened virtually. Mélanie Richer said the party is having its first caucus retreat next week and it will be a hybrid meeting with some meeting in person and others by video conference.
The Green Party has been meeting virtually since March 11. It is planning an in-person gathering on Oct. 3 to announce the results of the leadership contest and it will be a hybrid gathering outside Parliament Hill in two separate locations connected by video. Rosie Emery, a spokeswoman for the party, said no location will have more than 50 people indoors.
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