This article refers to virtual sittings of the federal COVID-19 committee. There were also in-person meetings, which St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper has attended. Cooper was assigned to participate in the in-person sittings, while other MPs were assigned to participate in virtual sittings.
St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper defended his attendance record of a special COVID-19 committee as better than reported by The Canadian Press on July 4.
The article, as reported online by National Newswatch, indicated that he attended only two out of 14 meetings of the committee between May 27 and June 18.
The information is “completely misleading,” he said, as it does not take everything into account. He averred that when he was unable to be in attendance, he attended virtually or was in observance of the meetings through the Cable Public Affairs Channel.
“Our leadership team assigns MPs to participate and so I happen to log in first on my computer, which I guess by the statistics of that article … constitutes attendance. I just concluded that the effect of this is the same as watching it on CPAC, so I generally watched it on CPAC in the background while I got other work done because again, I would literally just be sitting there in front of my computer,” he stated.
He added that he still had many opportunities to engage on issues related to the pandemic through his work sitting on the biweekly Finance committee and suggested that his overall record proves his performance.
“If you want to talk about attendance, I would also note that there's a very good way to measure attendance and that's on one's voting record. Pre-COVID, before parliament was effectively shut down, I would just note that my voting attendance record on all substantive matters before parliament, including bills or substantive motions was 100 per cent. I missed only two votes, both of which were unscheduled procedural motions to adjourn the House.”
The report stated that “the average attendance for Alberta's Conservative MPs at this special COVID-19 committee, which has acted as a stand-in for the chamber, was about 42 per cent from May 27 to June 18.” It notes that Edmonton-Strathcona NDP member Heather McPherson, achieved 100 per cent attendance for the 14 meetings.
McPherson noted the challenges of attending this “hybrid” committee but that it’s the best option available for now.
“We've tried to develop a way forward knowing that we just couldn't all come to Ottawa and go back to our communities. We're a terrible vector for the spread of disease, parliamentarians, because we literally come from all four corners of the country, spend time in one room, and then go back to all four corners of our country. We had to come up with a compromise that would work so that people … could still continue to represent their constituents,” she said.
MPs can table petitions, bring points of order, ask questions of ministers, and make statements on behalf of their constituencies during the meetings.
“We were able to negotiate a lot of wins for Canadians during this time because if the government wants to pass legislation, then we'll support it as long as it's a negotiation and there's a compromise there.”
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy were just two of the supports that came out of the committee’s work.
“I can literally see the wins we’ve been able to get for Canadians, for Albertans, by being there and by pushing the government. Even more importantly, it’s our job. We are politicians: we work for our constituents,” she said.
"The one thing that we are asked to do is to participate in the parliamentary process. I am disappointed for Albertans that their representatives aren’t showing up.”
Lori Williams, a policy studies professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, confirmed that the committee was created to try and manage the short timelines and program adjustments that were necessary to deal with the many challenges of the pandemic.
She said that it has worked quite effectively in many ways, not so much in others.
“Essentially, it was a reduced, condensed or focused parliamentary committee that was basically designed to have proportional representation of all the parties in parliament so that they can engage in working together to try to develop programs, policies (to tweak them), and to ask questions,” she said.
According to Williams, most of the committee’s work is being done amongst the leaders.
She guessed that the Conservatives would argue that the important thing is that the leaders are present.