Liberal, NDP adopts proposal to resume hybrid format in House of Commons

OTTAWA – Members of Parliament are able to work from home again after adopting a proposal Thursday to resume hybrid meetings in the House of Commons.

OTTAWA – Members of Parliament are able to work from home again after adopting a proposal Thursday to resume hybrid meetings in the House of Commons.

Liberals and New Democrats joined forces to pass the motion on objections from conservative and bloc Quebecois lawmakers who had wanted to return to normal, personal operations.

The proposal allows MEPs to participate virtually in cases, including votes and debates in the Commons and its committees, from Friday and continues until Parliament breaks until the summer of June.

It passed late Thursday with a vote of 180-140 after the NDP supported the Liberals in putting an end to two days of debate on the matter.

MEPs first adopted the hybrid format a year ago, with the aim of limiting the number of Commons members in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. But the agreement between all parties to allow this format expired in June last year.

Since Parliament resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus, all but one of the country’s 338 MPs have been in the Commons because there was no unanimous agreement to return to hybrid meetings.

The missing MP – conservative Richard Lehoux – tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, two days after attending a personal Tory caucus retreat.

Government House leader Mark Holland welcomed the return of the hybrid format, saying it would allow Lehoux and anyone else who becomes ill or has to isolate themselves due to exposure to the virus to continue working externally.

In a post-vote interview, he said he hopes unvaccinated Conservative MPs also choose to work from home “and not cause a public health problem.”

“I still want to know how many there are, and I want the assurance from the leader that he will not allow these unvaccinated people into the chamber.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said all of his 118 MPs are either fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption. He has refused to say how many have been exempted, and the Netherlands has questioned the statistical likelihood that more MPs would have valid medical reasons for not being immunized.

The proposal specifies that lawmakers who choose to participate in person must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption based on the limited exemptions specified by the Ontario Department of Health and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Earlier Thursday, O’Toole accused the “liberal-NDP coalition” of “closing” parliament.

He argued that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues were content to call an election and take part in campaign events in September and to gather “with thousands of people” at the UN climate summit in Glasgow a few weeks ago.

While they were willing to do these things, “because it suited them,” he said they “today shut down debate and limit democratic accountability because it bothers them.”

It is “hypocrisy of the highest order,” O’Toole accused.

But the Netherlands replied that there is a big difference between people choosing whether they want to attend events and requiring all Members of Parliament, regardless of their health status, to be physically present in the Commons if they want to take part in the cases.

“This is a very different situation. We have people flying in from all corners of the country, spending a week together, mingling in a very, very small space and then going back to all parts of the country,” he said.

The Netherlands said he had heard from some MEPs who are immunocompromised and afraid to be in the Chamber, especially when Conservatives refuse to say how many of their members are unvaccinated or whether these members are self-isolating after being exposed to Lehoux last week.

“It is absolutely unacceptable in a pandemic to put people who are in a vulnerable health situation in order to force them to be in a situation where their health is in danger,” he said.

During the debate on the proposal on Thursday, Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs argued that virtual procedures allow the government to avoid scrutiny. They noted that in the last session, cabinet ministers often did not show up at the Commons, even though they were in their Parliament Hill offices.

The Netherlands promised that a majority of ministers, including the Prime Minister, will be in the House in the future.

New Democratic MP Laurel Collins spoke in the hall while holding her seven-month-old daughter in her arms. She said it’s never easy to travel back and forth from her Victoria BC, to ride with an infant, but it’s “nerve-wracking” during the pandemic.

Should her daughter catch a mild cold or a baby fever, Collins said she would not be allowed to board a plane with her. And should that prevent her from traveling to Ottawa, Collins said she would be denied the right to attend the trial if there is no hybrid format.

“Women deserve the choice to participate,” she told the Commons, adding that the chamber “was built by men, for men, and we have a long way to go if we want equal access.”

But Conservative MP Raquel Dancho disproved that during the last session there was often only one Liberal MP in the Chamber, the rest participated virtually.

“Not all the others had COVID or had children,” she said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 25, 2021.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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