Parliament should restart on September 23, but there is no plan in place, The Canadian Press reports. Trudeau's government wants a limited number of the 338 MPs to return to Ottawa, with the majority taking part online, potentially via Zoom or other virtual methods.
Speaker Anthony Rota has stated that he needs Commons' approval before working towards any particular course of action. Given that the Liberal government is a minority, this means that the plan requires support from other parties; yet they are unclear whether this will happen.
The committee, created to work on the plan for the reopening of Parliament, was shut down when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued it in August. Parliament had already stopped functioning as usual since mid-March when it was suspended due to the pandemic.
Mark Kennedy, speaking for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, said, "the risks of COVID-19 have not gone away, so it is not wise for all 338 MPs to travel to Ottawa." He added that Rodriguez had proposed to opposition parties that they agree to "a full hybrid approach - with some MPs in the House of Commons chamber and the rest participating online through the videoconferencing that worked well this spring."
Many MPs disagree with the government on this issue; in June, as The Canadian Press reported, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergan argued that keeping MPs from Ottawa would also hinder them from holding Trudeau's government accountable. To help, she made several suggestions for how this situation might be avoided, including working MPs in small shifts and rotating through voting areas. To which Rodriguez replied in an interview, "this is the 21st Century."
Conservatives began as sympathetic, given the scale of the crisis. Still, Candice Bergan offered that she "would say we have become progressively more opposed to it and more suspicious of the idea.” In particular, she noticed "the hypocrisy" of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he joined thousands of anti-racism activists in large scale public protests while keeping opposition MPs from Parliament. "That was I think for Conservatives a clear signal that he was running more from accountability than he is… concerned about health and safety."
Accountability is not the only issue raised. As of yet, the government has not detailed how they will maintain the integrity of the electronic voting that this plan entails.
Other concerns are also present. Canada, for example, is the only member of the Five-Eyes intelligence community which continues to allow Huawei access to domestic 5G networks.
Even with the risk of foreign interference during high profile votes, like on the budget, or China policy, Liberals have not explained how they will secure critical parliamentary decisions. MPs were previously warned not to use Chinese apps such as WeChat in 2019, but with no more direction offered.
During the Finance Committee hearings into the WE Scandal, the Chair, using their cellphone, was cut off by a storm. MPs in rural and remote areas are particularly vulnerable to this. Added to the potential for foreign interference, it is unclear as to how Parliament would authenticate who actually votes. In a statement last week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that all of these issues were to be agreed in late August, but the sitting was cancelled when Trudeau "recklessly shut down Parliament."
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