After a COVID reality check in Ottawa, parties close in on deal enabling hybrid parliamentary sittings with remote voting

2 minute read

After several weeks of uncertainty following the prorogation of parliament, a deal is very close to being struck between the government and opposition parties on how the House of Commons will sit and pursue its business through the fall, as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19.

The negotiations have been underway for the last couple of weeks, and the Conservatives are known to have initially advocated for a model that maximizes the number of MPs in the House of Commons, which the government and NDP saw as too risky. The risks and the requirement for a safe solution were brought into stark focus late last week, as news broke that both Bloc Quebecois leader Jean-Yves Blancet’s and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole had tested positive for COVID-19. Both are in self-isolation and reportedly feeling well. Many other family members, staff and caucus members are also in self-isolation and monitoring for symptoms after being in close contact with the leaders. Further, Quebec Premier Francois Legault is in voluntary self-isolation after meeting with O’Toole last week, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is self-monitoring after having lunch on Friday with Legault.

A unanimous consent (UC) motion resulting from negotiations will likely be introduced and passed when the Speaker recognizes the Government House Leader either prior to or immediately following the Speech from the Throne on Wednesday. It will include hybrid sittings of the House, with both in-person and virtual participation, and a system for remote voting, allowing members to fulfill their parliamentary duties while avoiding the risks of travel and gathering in the House of Commons. 

The House sittings will look very similar to those of the COVID Committee through the spring and early summer, with a limited number of MPs sitting in the House of Commons, and the remaining MPs joining virtually via Zoom and on broadcast screens in the chamber. The remote voting, however, has never happened before in Canada and was the subject of controversy among MPs in all parties. The government’s proposal to have members vote via mobile application was a non-starter with the Official Opposition, who we understand to have preferred a model whereby members would be seen to be voting. Instead of the app, it has been agreed that MPs will vote in the House and over Zoom by roll call. The opposition feels strongly that this visibility is important for public accountability.

As of our writing, the parties remain in productive negotiations over a final few points, including how quickly standing committees will be struck. It is expected that a final deal will be reached in-time for Wednesday’s Throne Speech marking the opening of the new and unprecedented session of parliament.

The intent is for these temporary rules to be in place for the duration of the fall sitting, with a revisiting of negotiations before the House sits again in the new year. 

Missed this week’s Look Ahead?

We’ve got you covered.

Articles we think you’ll like

Subscribe to our mailing list.