Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrives at a caucus meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Opposition blames Liberals as talks around return of Parliament near 11th hour

Both leaders are isolating and will not attend the throne speech, but instead plan to respond to the speech in person next week

Federal opposition parties blamed the Liberal government for failing to properly prepare for the return of Parliament as negotiations around in-person versus virtual sittings went down to the wire Tuesday.

The lack of agreement followed what Conservatives described as a disastrous trial run of a proposed electronic-voting system for members of Parliament, prompting fresh calls from the official Opposition for some form of in-person voting.

That was despite Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his wife Rebecca having both tested positive for COVID-19, along with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. Both leaders are isolating and will not attend the throne speech, but instead plan to respond to the speech in person next week.

“We’ve offered some very positive, and I think realistic, solutions to voting in person whereby safety can be respected,” Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen said as she and other Tory MPs gathered for a day of talks ahead of the throne speech.

“Schools are resuming, there’s a lot that’s resuming. We have to be able to continue life in this COVID crisis and do it in a safe way and I think that includes parliamentarians.”

The disagreement among the parties was laid bare later in the day when NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for the House of Commons to adopt a hybrid model, with a limited number of MPs in the chamber and the rest attending online.

The Liberals and NDP used their superior numbers in the spring to adopt such an approach for a special COVID-19 committee, but MPs were leery of doing the same for full House of Commons sittings because of questions around remote voting.

Monday’s test of a proposed electronic voting system saw more than 245 MPs simulate that critical task.

Conservative MP James Bezan described the simulation as “quite the ordeal,” with one vote that should have taken only a few minutes instead taking nearly an hour and a half.

“It was slow — a lot of technical glitches and difficulties,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’m really concerned about people being able to exercise their right, and their privilege, to vote knowing how intermittent rural broadband is for all of us rural MPs.”

READ MORE: PM Trudeau to deliver national address on COVID-19 pandemic after throne speech

Conservatives appeared ready to throw the idea of electronic voting out the window, but NDP whip Rachel Blaney said the fact there were difficulties should not have been a surprise given that it was the first time the system had been used.

“What we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, in Canada even, is that when the testing starts, it’s a little bit bumpy at the beginning,” she said. “So the NDP is working very aggressively with all the other parties to try to get another round of testing.”

While the NDP and Conservatives were at odds over what approach MPs should take to the return of Parliament, they were united in blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the minority Liberal government for not doing more to find a consensus earlier.

“I think Trudeau made a huge blunder by not giving any intention, any time, any strategy to how Parliament would resume its full function, and Canadians deserve that,” said Conservative MP Rachael Harder.

Conservatives later flagged what they described as another snag in the talks: Liberal reluctance to quickly bring back the parliamentary committees that were shut down when Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month. Those include several committees that were studying the WE controversy.

The Liberals can technically wait until November to bring back committees, said Conservative House leader Gerard Deltell. But he described such a delay as “totally unacceptable.”

“The prime minister decided by himself to stop and to kill the committees in the last month,” Deltell said. “So Canadians need and deserve to have a real Parliament working.”

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez’s office did not immediately response to requests for comment.

Singh said the Liberals should have done more to address a problem first raised when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring.

The NDP leader said he was frustrated and worried about the lack of agreement, given one of the first orders of business for the new session of Parliament will be deciding what to do with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

The $2,000-per-month benefit that millions of Canadians have received during the pandemic is set to end this week, with the government saying it plans to introduce legislation for three new benefits tied to the employment insurance system.

Singh said that if federal parties don’t reach agreement on how Parliament will function, Canadians could suffer.

“It’s not like this date snuck up on us,” Singh said. “We know that we’re just seven days away, a week away, from CERB ending. And that’s for millions of Canadians their only lifeline.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Conservative Party of CanadaCoronavirusLiberalsParliament Hill

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Troll Ski Resort is preparing for a ski season in the middle of a pandemic. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)
Quesnel-area ski resort preparing for throwback season

Troll owner Hildur Fossberg Sinclair said they will operate like it was 30-40 years ago

Fifty spectators will be allowed in the West Fraser Centre, alongside 50 people on the ice. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
After tumultuous week of changes, Quesnel’s West Fraser Centre allowing spectators again

Capacity limits at the rink have changed four times in the past two weeks

The Quesnel SPCA is looking for foster homes for kittens, puppies and other small animals. (BC SPCA Photo)
“Genuine lifesavers”: BCSPCA puts out call for foster volunteers

The COVID-19 pandemic means more foster volunteers are needed to handle reduced capacity

Quesnel residents still needed to cross Fraser River footbridge, despite the winter weather. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel discovers October winter wonderland

Cariboo residents awoke to snow on their cars, and plows on the road to deal with the white stuff

Grizzly bear sightings are up in the Likely area this year. (Ivan Hardwick photo)
COS says grizzly bear sightings up in the Likely area

Two grizzly bear siblings were moved a short distance away from Likely

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read