Lack of deal sets stage for House of Commons to re-open April 20 amid COVID-19 [UPDATED]
The House of Commons has already moved some business online with two parliamentary committees conducting hearings by video conference
OTTAWA — The partisan wrangling that has largely paused amid the COVID-19 outbreak made a partial return on April 20 as federal politicians debated how best to resume Parliament while the pandemic continues.
MPs returned to the House of Commons after the four main parties failed to reach a unanimous agreement on how parliamentary business should be conducted.
The Liberals announced April 19 they had struck an agreement with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to have 32 MPs meet in the House in person each Wednesday starting this week, with up to two virtual sessions also added for members to ask questions of the government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters it would be “irresponsible” to resume parliamentary sittings at a time when health experts are urging Canadians to limit their movement and work from home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer condemned the deal on April 20, saying Parliament needed to convene more often in order to hold the Liberals accountable for the sweeping measures and vast economic stimulus packages they’re rolling out during the pandemic.
A motion put forward by the Liberals to sit once a week in person, and virtually otherwise, was being debated April 20.
The House of Commons has already moved some business online with two parliamentary committees conducting hearings by video conference.
Scheer is insisting on three in-person sittings per week, saying many unanswered questions remain about holding a virtual sitting of the House of Commons.
Except for two single-day sittings to pass emergency aid bills, Parliament has been adjourned since mid-March.
The discussion in Ottawa played out as one of the provinces hit hardest by the outbreak prepared to release updated projections on the impact the virus is having on the local health-care system.
Ontario had previously estimated that up to 1,600 people could die by the end of April without stricter measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those forecasts prompted Premier Doug Ford to issue mandatory shutdown orders to even more local businesses.
The growth rate of new cases has come down in recent weeks, though Ontario still reported 606 new cases and 31 new deaths on April 20. The provincial case load is the second-highest in the country after Quebec.
More than 35,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 600 people have died across the country.