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COVID-19 hybrid sittings no excuse to let standards slip, Speakers tell MPs

Click to play video: 'Parliament to allow MPs to participate virtually after contentious vote on hybrid sittings' Parliament to allow MPs to participate virtually after contentious vote on hybrid sittings
Parliament has voted in favour of allowing MPs to participate virtually, reviving the hybrid model that was adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision comes after contentious debate and a vote of 180-140 that saw the NDP support the Liberals in favour, with the Bloc Quebecois joining the Conservatives in opposition. – Nov 26, 2021

MPs have been advised to wear parliamentary attire, which means a jacket and tie for men, in the new hybrid Parliament that begins in earnest this week.

The deputy Speaker instructed MPs on Monday not to let standards slip if they are at home and joining debates via videoconference as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

MPs are also being warned not to wear masks in the House of Commons chamber “that deliver messages,” but to keep them neutral. That message was reiterated by Speaker Anthony Rota after a question was raised by Conservatives about whether it was appropriate for Environment Minister Steven Guillbeault to have a bicycle visible in the background of his video.

READ MORE: Parliament will allow virtual sittings after contentious vote

Some MPs have been wearing masks with slogans, including ones advertising companies.

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The hybrid Parliament means MPs can choose to participate in debates remotely via videoconference or attend in person.

MPs attending debates virtually will not have to wear a mask but the dress code “remains the same” as in the Commons chamber. They will have to make sure no props are visible and that the background on their video screen is neutral, added Rota.

The warning about attending via teleconference, made by deputy Speaker Chris D’Entremont in the chamber on Friday, follows a mishap in the previous virtual Parliament where a Liberal MP appeared naked on camera. The incident was captured by another MP in a screenshot and broadcast around the world.

Click to play video: 'Parties spar over economy, COVID-19 mandates in first post-election question period' Parties spar over economy, COVID-19 mandates in first post-election question period
Parties spar over economy, COVID-19 mandates in first post-election question period – Nov 24, 2021

William Amos, the member in question, was visible standing stark naked behind a desk between the Quebec and Canadian flags, his private parts hidden by what appeared to be a mobile phone. He apologized for being captured on camera by accident while changing into work clothes after going for a jog.

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A month later Amos apologized again after urinating in another parliamentary meeting “without realizing” he was on camera. Amos did not run in the recent general election.

On Friday, the deputy Speaker cautioned MPs not to take screen shots, just as they are not allowed to take photos of one another in the Commons chamber.

MPs voted last week to extend the hybrid Parliament, although the move was opposed by the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois, who complained that in the previous session ministers were rarely physically present in the House to answer questions.

Bloc Quebecois House leader Alain Therrien spoke out against extending the virtual Parliament, saying that not only did too few ministers turn up in person, but some MPs sat in their basements snacking while voting. Some ministers “sounded like R2-D2” because of technical glitches, he added.

The deputy Speaker reminded members “that virtual sittings are an extension of the proceedings of the House and that their conduct must respect our rules and practices, even if they are participating remotely.”

“As soon as a member connects to a virtual sitting and opens their camera, they are considered to be, for all intents and purposes, in the House,” he said.

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