Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Vaccine delays top agenda as Parliament set to resume after less-than-restful break

Opposition parties have blamed the government for mishandling the rush to approve and buy vaccines

Members of Parliament return to the House of Commons on Monday following a month-long break that was anything but restful to again face the ramification of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the threat of a possible election.

One of the first orders of business will be for MPs to decide how Parliament will continue to function during the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether to let parliamentarians continue attending remotely and whether to adopt a new voting app for those who do.

Those decisions come amid a much-changed situation as Ontario and Quebec remain under lockdown and stay-at-home orders following record-setting surges in new cases through much of the past month.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez’s office on Sunday said the Liberals had held “constructive” discussions with the other parties, and there were signs that the measure would be adopted without much fuss.

Yet an agreement on the functioning of Parliament is likely to be the exception rather than the rule as opposition parties have indicated they plan to go hard at the government on a number of fronts — starting with its handling of the pandemic.

The Liberals are expected to table new legislation this week aimed at preventing people who have travelled outside the country on non-essential business from being able to access up to $1,000 in federal sick-leave benefits to pay for their 14-day quarantine after returning.

Yet delays in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to dominate the agenda, with opposition parties indicating they plan to press the Liberals for answers on why Canada is facing delays in the delivery and distribution of shots — and what Ottawa is doing about it.

That includes the news last week that Canada would receive only a fraction of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations originally promised over the next few weeks, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Pfizer has promised to deliver 4 million doses by the end of March.

Opposition parties have blamed the government for mishandling the rush to approve and buy vaccines, saying the Liberals have left Canada far behind other countries in terms of inoculating its citizens.

Both NDP House Leader Peter Julian and Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong left the door open to parliamentary committee hearings into the government’s handling of the vaccination campaign — including what it is doing to get shots into arms faster.

“Why are other countries ahead?” Julian said. “That’s the question that the government will have to respond to. And we believe that the government needs to very clearly spell out their plan to accelerate the vaccine distribution across the country.”

The government has said it is doing all it can to secure as many shots as possible, which includes signing contracts with multiple pharmaceutical companies to secure millions of doses over the past few months.

“I spend … every day working to ensure that we have earlier and earlier doses in this country for Canadians given the importance of this vaccination effort,” Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the CBC last week.

The Conservatives are also expected to continue pushing the government to approve rapid tests for COVID-19 and increase federal assistance for small businesses, Chong added, noting that many are in danger of closing permanently during the second wave.

“Our singular focus is on the pandemic because that’s what Canadians expect of us,” Chong said.

READ MORE: No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

The Bloc Quebecois has also called for more answers on vaccines while pushing for more support for seniors, while Julian indicated that the NDP will be pressing for the government to extend assistance to families and business past March while cracking down on profiteers.

Yet looming in the background will be the ever-present threat of a snap election. While Trudeau has insisted the Liberals don’t want to send Canadians to the polls, opposition parties have alleged that is exactly what the government hopes to happen.

Parliamentarians are also returning only days after Julie Payette resigned as governor general, which has raised questions about how she will be replaced — and how Trudeau selected her for the vice-regal job in the first place.

The Liberals are also expected to face fresh accusations of abandoning Western Canada for not raising more of a ruckus over U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision upon taking office last week to pull the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Yet the Liberals aren’t the only ones jumping back into the fire as they return to Ottawa for the resumption of Parliament, as the Conservatives will be looking to turn the page on Derek Sloan’s ouster last week.

The decision to kick the former Conservative leadership candidate from caucus for accepting a donation from white supremacist Paul Fromm capped a week in which Tory Leader Erin O’Toole sought to distance his party from far-right elements.

That followed Liberal efforts to associate the Conservatives with the type of right-wing extremists who stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., earlier this month at the urging of outgoing president Donald Trump.

In an interview, O’Toole dismissed the idea that kicking Sloan from caucus has pitted him against one of the party’s most powerful wings, social conservatives, whose support O’Toole courted during the leadership race last year in part by backing Sloan at the time.

The Bloc Quebecois also returns facing allegations of using “coded language” for seemingly questioning new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s fitness to serve in cabinet after having previously worked as head of the Canadian Arab Federation.

—With files from Stephanie Levitz.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusParliament

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sandy Carmichael is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Seniors’ Champion. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Worker bee returns to volunteer: Sandy Carmichael a fixture at Langford Royal Canadian Legion

Sandy Carmichael is the 2021 recipient of the Seniors’ Champion Award

The It’s Critical campaign has raised $5.89 million towards its $7 million goal to expand critical care capacity at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Critical care improvements make the list with Greater Victoria shoppers

Save-On-Foods pledges $300,000 to Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s It’s Critical campaign

West Shore Parks and Recreation facilities face a challenging future in terms of funding, due to reduced operations throughout the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore Parks and Recreation faces challenging future

West Shore Parks and Recreation Society submits 2021 budget request to owner municipalities

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon to listen to speakers decry COVID-19 restrictions. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Victoria residents protest masks, COVID-19 restrictions

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after cancellations on Friday due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Most Read