In a crowded House of Commons, MPs voted on Thursday to extend a hybrid format of Parliament until mid-2022 in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The motion to return to the hybrid model, which means MPs can participate in votes or debates virtually from home if they so choose, passed 180 to 140. The Liberals teamed up with the NDP to get the vote through after two days of debate, while the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois stood against it.
The hybrid model will begin Friday and is set to last until at least the end of June, when the House breaks for the summer. There are no restrictions on how many MPs can sit in the House, if they so choose.
The hybrid model was first adopted a year ago, but the agreement to allow that format expired last June.
In the debate since then over whether to reinstate the format, the Conservatives have been vocal against it.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said Thursday that the model would shut down debate and limit “democratic accountability.”
“To hold the government to account as Canadians expect, we must be here in Ottawa working for Canadians,” he said. “A virtual Parliament will limit the voice of Canadians.”
O’Toole also pointed out the crowded events Liberals held during the recent election and summits they have attended with “thousands of people,” such as COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Conservatives also pointed out that during the last session of Parliament, there was frequently only one Liberal MP in the chamber, with the rest participating virtually.
However, others argue that a virtual Parliament will allow the proper adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Green Party MP Elizabeth May said Wednesday that she does not feel safe in the House of Commons when six feet of distancing cannot be achieved given the proximity of the desks to each other.
The NDP has also noted that the format allows those who must self-isolate due to contact with a COVID-19 case to still attend Commons proceedings, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the format can allow MPs to take care of their children from home while still working.
New Democrat MP Laurel Collins attended the debate Thursday with her seven-month-old daughter in her arms, bringing home the challenges of parenting and attending Parliament in person.
Parliament has reconvened since Monday with all but one of Canada’s 338 MPs attending in person as there was no agreement on a return to virtual sittings.
The one MP who has been missing is Conservative Richard Lehoux, who contracted COVID-19 two days after an all-party in-person retreat.
It was pointed out in Thursday’s debate that a hybrid House would allow Lehoux to participate even while in self-isolation.
While the Conservatives oppose attending Parliament virtually, it is still unclear how many of its MPs can attend in person given the new rule that they must be fully vaccinated.
O’Toole has said that all 119 Conservative MPs are either fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption, though a count by The Canadian Press found 83 have publicly said they have had both shots and two have said they need the exemption.
Government House leader Mark Holland welcomed the return of a hybrid model after the vote, saying it will allow Lehoux and anyone else who falls ill to continue to work remotely.
He said he hopes unvaccinated Conservatives choose to work from home and not “cause an issue around public health.”
— with files from The Canadian Press and Rachel Gilmore