Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet issued the ultimatum on Tuesday as the Liberals and opposition parties began behind-the-scenes negotiations before the Commons expected to return on May 25.
The House adjourned on March 13 to help limit the spread of COVID-19, but has resumed partial operations. The latest agreement among the majority of MPs on how to do business expires on Monday. Without a new one, parliamentary work resumes with, in theory, 338 members of the House in Ottawa.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that the Liberal government would prefer to continue the emergency procedures that have been adopted in the past three weeks – two virtual meetings and one in-person meeting each week of a special COVID-19 committee, at which all MPs are members. He left the door open to additional weekly virtual sessions.
But for this to happen, the minority liberals will need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his party’s position on Tuesday that more face-to-face meetings are needed, as well as a restoration of some powers in Parliament.
He said that the existing three times a week meetings of the amended Commons and the few meetings of the other committees were practically not enough. He said, among other things, that the current configuration does not allow MPs to compel the government to produce documents or have witnesses testify.
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“It is not a partisan question, it is a question of whether a democratic country like Canada should have a functioning parliament,” said Scheer.
“If members of the Bloc, the NDP or the Liberal backbench do not believe that Parliament is an essential service, they should first ask themselves why they ran for office. “
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In April, the parties agreed to suspend work until May 25, with the Bloc, the NDP and the Greens on the side of the Liberals to thwart the Conservatives’ attempt to force more face-to-face meetings.
However, Blanchet said that this time the Bloc is ready to support the return to five-day-a-week sessions, with a limited number of physically present members, if the Liberals do not accept his party’s requests. .
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Among other things, Mr. Blanchet said the government had reneged on its promise to introduce measures that would encourage recipients of the Canada Emergency Benefit and emergency student aid to accept available jobs. And it has not done enough to deliver on its promise to provide non-repayable financial assistance to help small businesses cover their fixed costs.
Although the Bloc prefers to continue the ongoing proceedings three times a week, Blanchet said it would only support this if the government lived up to its commitments in both areas.
“If you don’t respect your own word, what’s the point of continuing with special powers for the government?” He said in an interview.
“This government is going back to its old ways of not keeping its own promises.”
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In addition, Blanchet said that the Commons were losing about 40 sitting days due to the pandemic. He wants to compensate for this by having the modified Commons sit for at least four weeks during the summer, probably in August.
He also wants the government to set a date in June to present an economic update.
And he wants clarity on last week’s announcement of an increase in old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, including how long it will last and when the checks will start to flow.
“These are not very difficult conditions to fulfill. A little bit of good faith could solve the problem, ”said Blanchet.
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Trudeau said he believed the procedures going on three times a week worked well. He reiterated his objection to more face-to-face meetings, arguing that they prevent the participation of MPs from remote parts of the country who may not want or be unable to travel to Ottawa.
“We have presented proposals that combine both virtual and face-to-face sessions to continue the approach we currently have. We are counting on good conversations with other parties to find the right balance as we move forward safely to maintain the importance of our democracy, “he said.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian has said that there are no plans to return to normal parliamentary procedure.
“The reality is that we can’t have 338 MPs going to Ottawa next Monday. It would make no sense, “he said in an interview.
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“What it does is it increases the chances that we are vectors of the virus and that we are far from out of the woods in terms of COVID-19. “
New Democrats believe it has made significant improvements to emergency assistance legislation through the ongoing procedures and intends to continue lobbying to fill some of the gaps that have left some Canadians without help, a said Julian.
He wants to see the transition of the Commons over the next few weeks become fully functional using a hybrid model, in which some members are in the House and others are participating virtually. But that will first require figuring out how to allow MPs to vote electronically, which Julian suggested doing by June 21.
In the meantime, he said that the NDP was ready to discuss additional weekly hybrid versions of the COVID-19 special committee.
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The House of Commons Procedure and Affairs Committee, which had been tasked with studying how to move to a fully virtual municipality, recommended last week that the municipality do so for all routine House of Commons business, including voting.
In the meantime, he suggested the possibility of using a hybrid model.
Scheer said this is how he would like to see it unfold.
“The bottom line is that virtual committee meetings are not a substitute for Parliament,” he said.
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