Parliament appears set to resume regular sittings after the Liberals aligned with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to set a new schedule for the House of Commons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A motion that is expected to pass in a reduced House Monday will see MPs come together once a week, on Wednesdays, for in-person sittings. Those sittings will include a two-hour-and-15-minute session for questioning cabinet ministers, and another session for debating new legislation.
There will also be two virtual sittings of parliament per week, with 90 minutes for questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Conservatives are the lone holdout against the plan and are expected to vote against it. They have offered their own proposal through an amendment that would lead to three in-person sittings per week.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that with a reduced number of MPs, there is no reason the sittings can’t continue.
“Right here on Parliament Hill, construction workers are continuing to renovate Centre Block, a project that is expected to take at least ten years,” he said. “If they can safely renovate the building that houses our parliament then surely we can do our duty to uphold the bedrock of our democracy.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done near daily press conferences since the crisis began, as have his ministers. Scheer said if there is time for those daily events, there should be time for parliament.
“Mr. Trudeau needs to explain why he has replaced Parliament with press conferences,” he said.
Trudeau declined to comment on the Conservatives’ stance during his morning press conference on Monday, but said he expected the issue would be resolved.
“There is agreement among most of the parties in the House of Commons and I hope to see by the end of this day that we are all in a place where we can have our parliamentary institutions functioning, but doing so in a responsible way,” he said.
Trudeau previously told reporters it would be “irresponsible” to resume parliamentary sittings at a time when health experts are urging Canadians to limit their movement and work from home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said virtual parliament meetings are a better choice right now because they will allow MPs from all across the country to participate.
“In parliament, we are limited to a small number and that is often people who are close to Ottawa,” he said.
The vote on the Liberals’ proposal is expected later this afternoon.
The House of Commons has already moved some business online, with two parliamentary committees conducting hearings by video conference.
Except for two single-day sittings to pass emergency aid bills, Parliament has been adjourned since mid-March.
The discussion in Ottawa played out as one of the provinces hit hardest by the outbreak prepared to release updated projections on the impact the virus is having on the local health-care system.
Ontario previously estimated that up to 1,600 people could die by the end of April without stricter measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those forecasts prompted Premier Doug Ford to issue mandatory shutdown orders to even more local businesses.
The growth rate of new cases has come down in recent weeks, though Ontario still reported 606 new cases and 31 new deaths on Monday. The provincial case load is the second-highest in the country after Quebec.
More than 35,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 600 people have died across the country.
— With files from The Canadian Press