From the relatively empty streets of Kamloops to the echoes of Parliament, Cathy McLeod traded one quiet city for another this past week as the local Conservative MP made her first trip to Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it’s quieter around Parliament, there has been raucous debate over how the House of Commons should function during the crisis.
MPs spent Monday debating the government’s call to waive normal Commons sittings and expand the special COVID-19 committee — that has essentially been meeting in its stead — to four days a week and include MPs participating both in-person and online. On Tuesday, despite objection from the Conservatives, the House approved the minority Liberals’ proposal to suspend full parliamentary sitting until Sept. 21, a motion that passed with the support of the NDP.
McLeod said the Conservatives believe the Liberals are using the pandemic to extend their powers, noting she felt the NDP opted to support the motion because the government committed to look into paid sick leave.
McLeod told KTW she believes remote participation should be enabled for regular Parliamentary sittings, but noted that will take some rule changes.
While McLeod sees value in the hybrid committee model, she and the Conservatives want a return of the regular House of Commons meetings — with reduced numbers due to COVID-19 — arguing the committee meeting structure doesn’t allow for the same level of scrutiny of the government.
“Parliament is not sitting with the powers and tools that it normally has,” McLeod said, noting regular sittings of the House have private member bills, order-paper questions and days devoted to opposition parties, which don’t exist at the committee level and will have to wait until September.
Committee meetings allow MPs to ask questions of the government, but there is no voting.
Previous meetings of Parliament during the pandemic have convened with an abridged number of MPs to comply with physical-distancing measures and McLeod was at the top of the rotation this past week to sit in the chamber.
Wednesday involved a historic meeting — Parliament’s first hybrid committee meeting, taking place with large screens on either side of the Speaker’s chair to allow MPs from across Canada to engage with the 48 MPs attending in person.
McLeod asked about the provision of personal protection equipment and seniors care facilities, with ministers answering in person and via video.
The four-term Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP said it was very quiet around the halls of the Parliament building this past week and estimated about one-third of her colleagues were wearing masks. She said greetings are kept to a head nod or a smile and there is plenty of hand sanitizer available.
It’s also fairly quiet around downtown Ottawa too, she said, as federal public servants are working from home.