OTTAWA – Conservative lawmakers will oppose a government motion in the House of Commons today to return to a hybrid format that has allowed lawmakers to virtually participate in proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen says her party fears hybrid seating will “shut down the government” and give ministers an excuse not to answer questions in the Commons.
MPs will debate today whether to reintroduce the hybrid format, with both the liberals and the NDP supporting the move. They argue that it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allows lawmakers who are ill, or whose family members are ill, to attend from their homes or offices.
Conservatives and bloc Québécois both want to return to completely normal in-person sitting.
Bergen argued that the hybrid format is designed to protect the government from “investigation and accountability”, not to protect Canadians from the deadly virus.
“The fact that the government has been let off the hook is because they are not here,” she said, adding that she sometimes sat in the chamber without a single Liberal MP or minister in the House during previous sessions of parliament. .
She said the government’s enthusiasm for virtual action “has nothing to do with protecting yourself or anyone else from COVID.”
“They are shielding themselves from accountability and scrutiny. We have seen this and we believe it is time to stop it,” she said.
The NDP supports the hybrid format because it allows all lawmakers – including those forced to self-isolate if they come into contact with anyone who has COVID-19 – To take part in the Commons Proceedings.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has said that MPs should consider adopting the hybrid format permanently as it will allow MPs with young children to participate in debates from home. They argue that this, in turn, would make becoming an MP more attractive to those with caregiving responsibilities.
But Bergen said voters expected newly elected or re-elected MPs to come to do their jobs.
He said, “We do not agree that a hybrid Parliament is needed. We do not believe that it is. And we are worried that the Liberals and the NDP are just going to do Ramayana through this.”
He said ministers “prefer to sit in their offices and answer questions” than face opposition MPs’ questions in the House of Commons.
But Government House leader Mark Holland said on Wednesday that the government was committed to a “full presence” in the Commons, regardless of format.
Holland reiterated his concern that no one knows how many Tory lawmakers have not been vaccinated, and began to question whether the Tory medical exemption is valid. He suggested that further verification of his doctors’ notes may be required.
Bergen hit back at Holland’s suggestion, saying it was “too dangerous” for a politician to question the integrity of medical professionals.
“I think it’s reckless in a lot of ways. Mark Holland is not a doctor. My colleague called him a “spin doctor.”
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said all 118 of her lawmakers are now either fully vaccinated or have medical exemptions. He declined to say how many people have claimed exemption for medical reasons.
Quebec Tory MP Richard Lehoux, who has been fully vaccinated, is at home after being diagnosed with COVID-19 on Saturday, two days after attending an in-person Conservative caucus retreat.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2021.