May 26th, 2020

Liberals table proposal for expanded Commons COVID-19 meetings, summer sittings

By Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press on May 23, 2020.

A House of Commons clerk prepares for the COVID-19 committee to meet in the House of Commons Chamber Wednesday April 29, 2020 in Ottawa. Intense behind-the-scenes negotiations are to continue today among federal political parties over how Parliament should function as the COVID-19 crisis drags on. The House of Commons, which has been largely adjourned since mid-March, is to resume normal operations on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The Liberals have tabled a proposal that would see expanded Parliamentary meetings to discuss the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis as well as a handful sittings over the summer.

The proposal is laid out in a motion that will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday.

The motion proposes to add an additional day to the weekly meetings of the special COVID-19 committee, which have been acting as a sort of stand-in for the Commons.

The special committee has been meeting in the House of Commons chamber once a week in person, with fewer than three dozen MPs actually present, and twice a week virtually.

The Liberals are now proposing four meetings a week until mid-June with a hybrid of in-person and virtual attendance that would see a small number of MPs in the chamber and others participating via two large video screens set up on either side of the Speaker’s chair.

The motion also proposes four sittings of House of Commons in July and August, which would allow question period. That would give MPs the chance to ask cabinet ministers about issues unrelated to COVID-19 – a key concern raised by the Conservatives in recent weeks.

Because they hold only a minority of seats, the Liberals need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to pass this motion.

Mark Kennedy, a spokesperson for Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, says if this motion is adopted, it would provide more hours for MPs to question government than they would have if Parliament was sitting normally.

He would not comment on the behind-the-scenes negotiations ongoing among federal political parties over how Parliament should function as the COVID-19 crisis drags on.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Friday for the House of Commons to resume its normal work schedule five days a week – albeit with no more than 50 MPs sitting in the chamber at any one time in order to respect public health protocols on physical distancing.

That would allow MPs to resume moving motions, ask questions on whatever topic they like and engage in what Scheer called “proper debate” on government legislation, private members’ bills and opposition motions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2020.

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