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The Prime Minister’s Office has said that the House won’t resume sitting until Nov. 22, eight weeks after voters re-elected a Liberal minority Parliament.ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Liberal government’s move to limit House of Commons sitting days this year and delay the return of Parliament until late November is part of an effort to avoid scrutiny, opposition MPs say, amid a needed debate over pandemic economic supports.

The Prime Minister’s Office has said that the House won’t resume sitting until Nov. 22, eight weeks after voters re-elected a Liberal minority Parliament.

MPs say debate over the extension of pandemic supports for businesses and individuals is urgent now. Rent and wage-support programs for businesses and direct income support for individuals who can’t work because of COVID-19 are set to expire on Oct. 23. Cabinet has the power to extend them until Nov. 20, but any additional changes or extensions would require parliamentary approval.

House of Commons and Senate sittings,

by year

Number of days

House of Commons

Senate

 

1

6

0

Election years

are highlighted

in grey.

20 more days

currently are

scheduled

for 2021.

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

2013

2014

2015

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2011

2012

2016

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

House of Commons and Senate sittings, by year

Number of days

 

Senate

House of Commons

 

1

6

0

Election years

are highlighted

in grey.

20 more days

currently are

scheduled

for 2021.

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

House o

f C

ommons and Senat

e sittings, by y

ear

Number of days

 

 

Senate

House of Commons

1

6

0

20 more days

currently are

scheduled

for 2021.

Election years

are highlighted

in grey.

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

2014

2015

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2011

2012

2013

2016

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

Trudeau to visit Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc after facing political backlash over Tofino vacation

Recent low numbers of parliamentary sitting days under the Liberals continue a clear downward trend over the past few decades, according to a Globe and Mail review of historical data. To date this year, the House of Commons has sat for 76 days. Twenty more sitting days are scheduled before the end of the year, which would bring the total to 96. The House sat for 86 days in 2020 and 75 days in 2019. It sat for 122 days in 2018, the last full year that the Trudeau government had a majority.

Parliamentary sittings, 1867-2021

Number of days

 

House of Commons

Senate

2021: House of

Commons 76

days to date,

with 20 more

currently scheduled.

The Senate has

sat 33 days so far.

2

5

0

2

0

0

1

5

0

1

0

0

5

0

0

2021

1867

1885

1903

1921

1939

1957

1975

1993

2011

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

Parliamentary sittings, 1867-2021

Number of days

 

House of Commons

Senate

2021: House of

Commons 76

days to date,

with 20 more

currently scheduled.

The Senate has

sat 33 days so far.

2

5

0

2

0

0

1

5

0

1

0

0

5

0

0

1867

1885

1921

1975

1993

2021

1903

1939

1957

2011

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

P

arliamentary sittings, 1867-2021

Number of days

 

 

Senate

House of Commons

2021: House of

Commons 76

days to date,

with 20 more

currently scheduled.

The Senate has

sat 33 days so far.

2

5

0

2

0

0

1

5

0

1

0

0

5

0

0

1867

1885

1921

1957

1975

1993

2021

1903

1939

2011

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA

Part of the reason for fewer sittings over the past two years is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the shutdown of all forms of in-person group meetings before the House adapted by switching to hybrid arrangements with video links.

The number of sitting days per year increased after the Second World War but has been on a decline since about the mid-1970s. Between 1945 and 1975, the House of Commons sat 138 days per year on average. However since then, the House of Commons has sat 123 days per year on average.

After the Trudeau Liberals formed government in the fall of 2015, the House has sat for 105.6 days on average during the five full calendar years it has been in power (2016-2020).

“They don’t like being in Parliament. It’s like we’re bothering them,” said Bloc Québécois House Leader Allain Therrien in an interview. “In the last session, there was often only one Liberal MP in the chamber. The others were participating virtually … The legislative calendar was very light. Not much was happening. And now we see it is continuing.”

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won a majority in 2015 with a campaign platform that made extensive promises to improve Parliament’s role as a check on the power of government. But after being reduced to a minority government in 2019, the number of sitting days per year dropped significantly.

A federal minority government can govern for up to four years, or as long as it maintains the confidence of the House of Commons. That means the Liberals will need the support of at least one other party on important votes that are matters of confidence, such as budget bills.

But the hunt for votes also goes the other way, especially in committees. The opposition parties can join forces in a minority Parliament to outvote the Liberals on issues that are not confidence votes, and in the previous Parliament, they frequently did.

Over the objections of Liberal ministers, opposition MPs in the previous minority Parliament used the powers of committees to approve motions compelling the disclosure of sensitive documents. That included a steady release of e-mails related to the pandemic that were written by political staffers in ministers’ offices and the Prime Minister’s Office.

One of the most contentious battles was over a Commons order demanding that the federal government hand over uncensored records related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. The Liberal government asked the Federal Court to intervene, but dropped the matter after the election was called.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian said the fact that Mr. Trudeau called this year’s election in the first place, less than two years into the minority mandate he secured in the fall of 2019, is clear evidence that the Prime Minister wanted the increased power that comes with a majority.

“I think given that Mr. Trudeau triggered an election that nobody wanted, and Canadians sent a very clear message that they wanted things to continue as before, Mr. Trudeau should heed that and get parliamentarians back to work on legislation that’s needed,” he said.

Mr. Julian said he also expects the opposition parties will continue to work together at times to order witnesses and documents from the government when required.

“These are parliamentary powers. It’s actually, I think, more unusual when we have majority governments that Parliament doesn’t exercise its powers … because the majority party tends to shut down that accountability,” he said.

“This is a minority Parliament. That’s what Canadians chose. And so parliamentarians, I think, will be using the powers that we have available to all parliamentarians in order to make sure that there’s full accountability and disclosure to Canadians.”

When MPs do return on Nov. 22, the issue of vaccination is set to be an immediate source of tension between the Conservatives and the other parties. The Liberals and Bloc Québécois support mandatory vaccination requirements. The NDP says all of its MPs are vaccinated, but Mr. Julian said the party is open to discussions about potential virtual arrangements for unvaccinated MPs.

Days between election and opening of

Parliament, 1867 - 2021

2

4

0

2

2

0

2021: 63 days

between election

and opening of

Parliament

on Nov. 22

2

0

0

1

8

0

1

6

0

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

1882

1904

1925

1945

1962

1974

1993

2008

2021

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA,

ELECTIONS CANADA

Days between election and opening of

Parliament, 1867 - 2021

2

4

0

2

2

0

2

0

0

1

8

0

2021: 63 days

between election

and opening of

Parliament

on Nov. 22

1

6

0

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

1904

1945

2008

1882

1925

1962

1974

1993

2021

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA,

ELECTIONS CANADA

Days between election and opening of Parliament, 1867-2021

2

4

0

2

2

0

2

0

0

1

8

0

2021: 63 days

between election

and opening of

Parliament

on Nov. 22

1

6

0

1

4

0

1

2

0

1

0

0

8

0

6

0

4

0

2

0

0

1882

1904

1925

1945

1962

1974

1993

2008

2021

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PARLIAMENT OF CANADA, ELECTIONS CANADA

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has not announced a firm position on the issue. Some of his MPs have spoken out against requiring MPs to be vaccinated.

Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said in a statement that his MPs are eager for sittings to start.

“Canada’s Conservatives want to get to work in the House of Commons,” he said. “The Prime Minister’s vacation time is over, it’s time to get to work.”

Simon Ross, a spokesperson for Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, said the government is working to deliver on its campaign promises, including further action on COVID-19, child care, paid sick leave, climate change, Indigenous reconciliation and economic growth.

“As the Prime Minister has said, a cabinet will be formed this month and Parliament will be convened this fall. We are preparing to move ahead on the big, bold ideas where Canadians want action,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Ross also indicated the Liberals support mandatory vaccination for all MPs.

“With the return of Parliament, vaccination of MPs will be a relevant issue. We believe MPs who choose to set foot on the floor of the House of Commons and committee rooms should be fully vaccinated, unless there is a valid medical exemption.

“This will be a key part of future discussions on the return of Parliament. It’s a matter of safety for all MPs, their communities and for all staff who work at the House of Commons.”

With reports from Chen Wang in Toronto

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