Members of Parliament are still working in the roles the people of Canada elected them to do, namely holding the government to account and scrutinizing its various policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though the House of Commons has been, with the exceptions of March 24/25, April 11, April 20, April 29, May 13, May 25/26, and June 10, effectively adjourned since March 13, there is still debate and discussion within the chamber. We are now utilizing a hybrid model, which allows MPs to attend either in person or virtually through the Zoom platform.
There were serious concerns from public health officials in having the full House of Commons resume, as it would have required all 338 of us to fly back and forth across Canada, potentially acting as the perfect vectors for the spread of COVID-19. Even if only a small number of MPs were to participate in person and respect physical distancing rules, it would still leave many constituencies across Canada without effective representation, especially because there is no mechanism to allow for remote voting. It is certainly not a replacement for the full House of Commons, but it is an adequate measure for the time being.
The Special Committee on COVID-19, composed of the entire membership of the House of Commons, and the various standing committees that are meeting regularly each week are providing MPs with an appropriate avenue to question all aspects of the government’s strategy to combat this pandemic. The five-minute back and forth question rounds are proving to be a far superior option to the 35 seconds that are given during a usual Question Period. They are allowing for more substantive exchanges and follow-up questions, especially if a minister does not give a satisfactory response.
The regular calendar had the House of Commons sitting only until June 23, meaning that there was less than a month left to go before we adjourned until our scheduled return on Sept. 21. The House does not normally sit through July or August, but the NDP caucus managed to negotiate sittings on July 8th, July 22nd, August 12, and August 26th so that we can hold the government to account through the summer.
My goal through this pandemic has always been to get more help to more people more quickly. We now have a model where every MP has the chance to participate and represent their constituents, whether virtually through the Zoom platform or in-person in the House chamber. Throughout this pandemic, we have constructively used our leverage in the House of Commons to make programs and benefits better and have worked to provide more accountability from the government while respecting the physical distancing recommendations of our public health officials. Despite this pandemic, Canadians have continued working hard, and as Members of Parliament, it is important that we do the same.
Alistair MacGregor is the MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.