Talks continue on reconvening House of Commons as Senate extends its break

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today conversations are continuing on reconvening the House of Commons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five weeks ago, Parliament agreed to adjourn until April 20.

Trudeau said that, without a new arrangement, 338 MPs would have to travel over the weekend to Ottawa to attend Monday’s sitting.

“That is obviously not a good idea,” he told reporters during his daily briefing outside of Rideau Cottage on Friday. “We are not in normal circumstances.”

Trudeau said the government has suggested to opposition parties that Parliament come back once a week to discuss legislation.

“We need to make sure that our democracy continues to function and this is something that we are very serious about,” he said.

Conservatives have been pushing for Commons sittings four times a week, with a small number of MPs from all the parties participating. They argue that Parliament has an essential role to play in holding government to account and that question period is an important part of that work.

“Now more than ever, Parliament is an essential service. In the words of the great John Diefenbaker, Parliament is more than procedure. It is the custodian of the nation’s freedom. No government should use a health crisis to try to shut down democracy or take away hard won rights or freedoms,” Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer said during his own news conference Friday morning.

“We’ve put forward a proposal. We believe several sittings a week would be ideal. We’re not satisfied with the government’s response. So we’re making an appeal to Canadians for them to realize the important work that Parliament has to be able to play during this pandemic.”

Trudeau said the parties also are discussing how virtual sittings could work. While using online conferencing technology could bring MPs together while limiting the number of people physically present in the Commons chamber at any one time, some have said the plan could be frustrated by slow internet connections in some parts of the country.

“Obviously the point of virtual sittings would be to ensure that Canadians who are not within driving distance of Ottawa continue to have their views represented and their concerns heard,” Trudeau said.

“That is a technological challenge that we will work very, very hard on to ensure that as we move forward on virtual Parliament solutions, as the Speaker and the House of Commons work on that, that we make sure that every voice can be heard.”

The spokesperson for the office of the Speaker of the Senate said the Upper Chamber has agreed to extend its adjournment until June 2. The Senate can be recalled earlier if needed to deal with government legislation.

 

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