OTTAWA — The federal Liberals want to make virtual participation in the House of Commons a permanent option for members of Parliament and they are vowing to make sure that happens before any can go home for the summer.
All parties agreed to create a hybrid workplace once MPs started returning to the House of Commons after the initial lockdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Voting by app began in 2021.
The hybrid system, designed to be temporary, has been in place ever since, even though public health guidelines are no longer encouraging people to avoid gatherings and work from home whenever possible.
Government House leader Mark Holland said Thursday this has meant MPs can continue their work while also attending important events in their ridings or dealing with personal and family matters.
He argued that making it permanent could help encourage new people to run for public office, such as parents of young children.
Holland was expected to put a motion forward in the House of Commons on Thursday, and he says it will be debated and voted on before June 23. That is the last day a sitting could be scheduled before a summer break.
The current order allowing for a hybrid Parliament expires at the end of the month. Holland said the need to debate the extension of that emergency order at the start of each sitting of Parliament has taken up a great deal of time.
"We had three years to try this out, for us all to feel and see how it would function and work, and now I think it's time to not do this every time we start a new session of Parliament," he said.
Parties have accused one another of abusing the hybrid voting system throughout the last three years. On Thursday, Holland suggested that Conservative MPs were making up fake technical issues to slow down debate on the Liberal budget bill.
The Conservatives have voted against maintaining hybrid options in the past, saying that members should be in their seats during sittings.
The committee on procedure and House affairs recently recommended the option to take part remotely through video-conferencing permanent. New Democrat and Liberal members voted in favour of the recommendation, but Conservative and Bloc Québécois opposed it.
In their dissenting report to Parliament, the Tories said the benefits of hybrid proceedings "might not be worth the cost in interpreters' health, maintenance of bilingualism, government accountability, quality decision-making and political discourse." The Bloc argued that issues with translation are a threat to language rights.
There have been more reports of hearing injuries among federal interpreters since parliamentary work shifted to virtual formats, and in February, a tribunal ruled the government breached the labour code by failing to protect interpreters from workplace injuries.
New rules have been created to standardize the type of headsets and microphones used by committee witnesses and MPs when they are participating remotely.
Holland acknowledged that there have also been issues with virtual interpretation both in the House of Commons and in committees, but said the government is working on solutions.
"I want to be absolutely clear: we are not leaving Parliament until we get hybrid adopted."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press