Liberals propose more COVID-19 sittings, summer sessions in new motion

The liberal government introduced a motion that would see Parliament's special committee at COVID-19 meet for an additional day each week – a proposal that would involve a limited number of deputies meeting in the House of Commons alongside members outside Ottawa, who would join the video conference transmitted to the camera itself.

The motion, to be debated on Commons Monday, would cause the federal government's special COVID-19 committee to meet on Mondays, in addition to three existing sessions per week.


"We thought [the proposal] it's reasonable, "said Mark Kennedy, a spokesman for the office of Chamber leader Pablo Rodriguez." We believe that this guarantees accountability and transparency and also respects public health councils ".

The proposal is a departure from the current government agreement to hold virtual committee meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a person arrested in the House of Commons on Wednesdays.

That deal – due to expire on May 25 in the absence of a new deal – was supported by liberals and other opposition parties in April, although conservatives rejected the deal in favor of more personal sessions.


If the liberals' motion is adopted, parliamentarians will meet four days a week, with members from across the country visible on two large television screens installed on Commons.

There is no consensus between the parties as to how many deputies would be allowed inside the chamber, but conservatives have calculated that it can contain 50 members and still respect physical distance.


Restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 – as guidelines for distancing and limiting travel across countries for non-essential purposes – have launched a key to the way Parliament normally operates, which normally sees all 338 deputies and the House of the Commons, officials meet weekly in the chamber. All parties initially agreed to suspend Commons in March early in the pandemic.

WATCH: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer on how Parliament should return on May 25

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer continues to pressure the government to reopen Parliament to allow a small-scale contingent of parliamentarians to return to Ottawa on May 25, consistent with public health guidelines on physical distance. 1:28

Movement puts summer sessions on the agenda

The motion also addresses the question of what happens to Parliament during the summer months – a time when the House of Commons usually stands for several weeks.

Under the liberals' proposal, Commons sat four times a week before postponing it on June 17.


The chamber would take the unusual step of calling the COVID-19 committee four times during the season: July 8, July 22, August 12 and August 26.


During these sessions, parliamentarians would have the ability to question the Prime Minister and cabinet members on any issue, not just those limited to COVID-19.

"In the end, the motion would provide more hours for parliamentarians to question the government than [would] until it occurs now if the Chamber is seated normally, "said Kennedy." We look forward to the debate ".

NDP is not yet ready to adopt motion

NDP House leader Peter Julian told CBC News that the liberals' motion included many elements previously proposed by his party, including holding hybrid sessions and extending the existing schedule to four days a week.

"The hybrid model is important so that not only the 15% of deputies who are in Ottawa, but the 85% who are not in Ottawa, can participate fully and represent their constituents," he said.

NDP House leader Peter Julian said that preserving parliamentarians' ability to hold ministers accountable, regardless of where members are located in the country, is an essential part of his party's demands for parliament's return. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The NDP says it supports the motion, but wants a promise from liberals – who need the support of another major federal party – to give specific support to those on sick leave and people living with disabilities who are suffering during the pandemic.

"We are continuing the discussion with the government on these two issues, which are of fundamental importance," said Julian.

Conservatives say position remains unchanged

Conservatives said on Saturday that, while the party is considering the motion, it remains firm in pressing for additional sessions in person.

On Friday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he was not defending a complete list of parliamentarians to return to the House of Commons, but doubled his position that the videoconference committee does not allow adequate parliamentary oversight.

"Virtual committee meetings are not a substitute for parliament, nor are the prime minister's daily press conferences in front of Rideau Cottage," said Scheer.

In a statement to CBC News, the party referred to its own motion to be tabled next week, which would see Parliament declared an essential service and said it was asking all commissions to begin meeting virtually with their normal restored powers.

According to the liberals' motion, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans would be added to the list of eight other committees that are already meeting virtually to discuss issues related to COVID-19 – a move that the NDP also supports.

The committees would also be given the green light to study issues unrelated to the pandemic.

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