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Liberals seeking input on possible virtual sittings of the House of Commons

The Liberals are seeking input on how the House of Commons could sit without MPs having to travel to Parliament Hill amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said Sunday that he wrote to the speaker of the House of Commons, along with house leaders of other parties, seeking advice on how Parliament could conduct business remotely.

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“Specifically, I would like advice and assistance on the ability for the House of Commons administration to support and facilitate virtual sittings of the House of Commons where it could conduct its regular business,” he stated.

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The letter pointed out that moving forward with such a plan would require significant changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons — the rules that govern proceedings — along with all-party consultation.

“Before embarking on such a project, I was hoping to have advice and ideas from your office on how we can make this proposal a success,” he said.

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The House of Commons, which was shut down over the COVID-19 crisis, reconvened in late March with a small number of MPs to pass emergency legislation to green light $82 billion in aid.

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It will be recalled again in the next week to pass additional measures, though the initial suspension was scheduled until April 20.

Most provinces are extending physical distancing measures well into May at this point, suggesting a return for the House in two weeks is unlikely.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the Tories will be “fully supportive” of any virtual return to Parliament.

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Later on Sunday, however, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer issued a statement to clarify the party’s position.

The Conservatives believe the House of Commons is “the best place to provide oversight and accountability” on the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, Scheer said.

“We have already demonstrated that a small number of MPs, representing the various parties, can follow public health directives while we fulfill our parliamentary duties,” he said. “Virtual meetings are an interesting possibility that can be used in addition to in-person meetings to ensure broader participation of MPs, in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.”

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New Democrats support the idea, said House Leader Peter Julian.

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Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also agrees with the proposal, but in his own letter addressed to House Speaker Anthony Rota, Blanchet came out against the idea of virtual voting. He expressed doubts that the Constitution would allow this.

—With files from The Canadian Press

 

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