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The Liberal government's plan to suspend regular parliamentary sittings until September has been approved, sparking outrage from Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, according to the National Post.
The motion passed by a vote of 28-23 in a very slim House of Commons, with Liberal, NDP, and Green MPs supporting it. Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs had argued for a resumption of normal Commons operations with a reduced number of MPs in the chamber, and as such they voted against the suspension.
The NDP also supported a motion to shut down all debate on the extension, which was also opposed by Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois.
As a result, the special committee that convened to handle the coronavirus will continue sitting Wednesday, but in a new format. A small number of MPs will be present in the Commons and others will take part virtually via two large screens set up on either side of the Speaker's chair.
The Commons has been largely put on hiatus since mid-March, when the country initially went into lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, though it met briefly to pass emergency aid legislation and several times to discuss how the chamber should operate while the pandemic continues. It was during this time that the national unemployment rate rocketed to 13 percent, resulting in the downward spiral of the economy.
The last agreement expired Monday, igniting a brief resumption of "normal" proceedings in the Commons, with only about 50 of the 338 MPs actually in the chamber.
The Trudeau government introduced a motion on Monday which outlined alternatives for political debate during the proposed suspension to September 21, such as meetings of some committees and a total of four sittings days.
This allows the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic to meet four days a week in Parliament until June 18, including some remote participation by MPs via videoconferencing. The government says this setting will allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet members to field questions from opposition MPs, but Conservative and Bloc Quebecois have dismissed this on the grounds that it is a weak replacement for regular sittings.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen went so far as to say the special committee "feeble" and a "fake Parliament."
The opposition argued that the special committee currently installed does not allow MPs to utilize all the tools they would normally use to hold the government to account, including opposition days, introducing motions, posing written questions, and debating and voting on pieces of legislation on topics other than the novel coronavirus.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the COVID-19 committee was not an adequate substitute for a fully functioning parliament.
"Parliament must meet. Its role and its place are fundamental. This house, our elected legislature is the beating heart of our democratic government," he said when debate on the measure started on Monday. "This house is an essential service to the country and we its members are essential workers."
However, the government insisted that this new strategy balanced the need for accountability and public-health considerations during the pandemic.
Parliament was last suspended in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to hold off a no-confidence vote in his leadership. The opposition Liberal Party leader Bob Rae asked "do we want a party in place that is so undemocratic that it will not meet the House of Commons?"