OTTAWA—Just as organizations around the country are grappling with what a post-COVID return to the office ought to look like, so too is Parliament.
The House of Commons is poised to break for the summer this week, and the Liberals want a decision made before that happens on keeping the hybrid Parliament model in place for a year, to guard against any potential future disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liberal House leader Mark Holland pointed Monday to the fact that last week, five MPs — including the prime minister — had COVID, and needed to participate remotely.
“This pandemic continues and so does the need to have flexibility,” he said.
Conservatives oppose the approach, arguing that allowing MPs to choose between logging in remotely versus being present in person allows the government to duck accountability and evade proper scrutiny.
Not to mention all the technical glitches that continue and the outsized burden being placed on House of Commons staff, including interpreters, Conservative House leader John Brassard said.
“These kinds of circumstances are contributing to a decline in our democracy,” he told reporters Monday.
“And it’s time for these hybrid tools to be put back in the box and to look for ways to strengthen our democracy, not to diminish it.”
Holland said he’s sensitive to the questions raised about accountability via a hybrid model and would work to ensure all questions in question period, for example, are answered in person.
With the support of the NDP, the Liberals’ motion to stick to the hybrid model is likely to pass.
So, the government and Official Opposition will cap off the first half of 2022 likely as divided as they were when they entered what turned into a highly tumultuous time in federal politics.
Against the backdrop of the ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic, a war breaking out in Ukraine and persistently high inflation causing severe economic anxiety for many Canadians came a trifecta of political dramas.
The so called “freedom convoy” that paralyzed the nation’s capital and led to the hotly-contested invocation of the Emergencies Act. An internal coup that led to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole being kicked out of his job and the robust leadership race that’s ensued. A historic deal between the New Democrats and Liberals that will keep the minority Liberals in power potentially until 2025.
Holland said the deal is working as it should.
“It’s taken the temperature down. We’re seeing less partisanship. We’re seeing — this is by the Bloc and the NDP that there’s been good bridges built to find a way despite our differences and despite the fact that we’re adversaries to find common ground,” he told reporters.
“The biggest challenge inside of Parliament, if I can be frank, has been the Conservatives.”
Holland blasted the Tories for what he said was a determined effort to just gum up the works of Parliament for no reason at all, accusing them of faking motions and playing “pretend” on wanting more time to speak during debates just for the sake of obstruction.
Brassard said the Liberal-NDP deal has meant the Liberals no longer bother to act like a minority and consult with other parties in good faith, and instead just think they have an “audience,” not an opposition.
“So I’m not going to apologize for doing our job as an opposition,” he said.
But if the Tories keep it up come fall, Holland said, the Liberals won’t stand for it.
“I’m not going to just wait around hoping that the Conservatives don’t act the same way,” he said.
“We’re going to have conversations right out of the bat around expectations.”
By fall, the Conservatives will have a new leader — their leadership race is ongoing and the winner will be announced Sept. 10.
Brassard was asked Monday whether the Liberals’ move to make a decision on the hybrid model now could be seen as an effort to undermine the Tories’ next leader.
Businesses, other legislatures and everyday Canadians are now getting back to some sense of normalcy and the House of Commons should too, he said.
“And if all they’re doing it for is political reasons, to somehow, as they have been over the last several months, to poke Conservatives in the eye, this is not the way our Parliament is supposed to function,” he said.
All MPs are fully aware they get elected for the purposes of being in Ottawa, Brassard said, and it’s time for them to take their seats.
Monday marked the first time since last fall that all MPs were allowed to be physically present in Parliament even if they refused to provide proof they were vaccinated against COVID-19, as the mandate for the Hill has now been lifted.
Though MPs could have a medical exemption from vaccination and be allowed in, none were able to provide one that was in line with Ontario’s public health rules.
Among the MPs who had previously said they were not vaccinated was Oshawa’s Colin Carrie.
He was in Parliament in person Monday, saying he has mixed feelings about being back, and that he wished there could have been a less divisive way for the issue to be handled.
“I’m hoping it’s a new step forward and we’ll see how it goes.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION