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

A monument was unveiled during a ceremony in Tofino last week honouring Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka. The monument will be placed on Hwy. 4 near Kennedy Lake. (Photo courtesy of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC)
Somber ceremony held in Tofino to mark 10th anniversary of fatal ambulance crash

Beloved paramedics Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka died in a tragic ambulance crash on Hwy. 4.

New Bulldogs forward Oak MacLeod fires a shot on the Grizzlies’ goal during the first period of a preseason game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Tuesday, Oct. 27. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: New guys get game winner for Alberni Valley Bulldogs

Alberni records a 5-4 overtime win against the Victoria Grizzlies

From left to right: Mark Walter, BJ Gillis, Kyle Munro and Danny Gillis of the Alberni Valley Disc Golf Club stand beside a disc golf basket at Dry Creek Park. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Disc golf expands to Port Alberni’s Dry Creek Park

New 18-hole course will be ready to play by spring of 2021

A Trio of Roses (CYNTHIA BONESKY)
ARTS AROUND: Stop and smell the flowers at the Rollin Art Centre

Next exhibit features Port Alberni artists Cynthia Bonesky and Jan Vriesen

PanAmour, featuring some familiar Port Alberni faces, will perform online via Zoom Oct. 30, 2020 at Char’s Landing. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Cure the blues with PanAmour at Char’s Landing

Tickets for virtual concert available online

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as fake Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Adam Ireton holds his son Weston, along with Kristen and Beckett as they celebrate Weston's last day of treatment for lukemia. (Kristen Ireton photo)
799 days: ‘Super’ Weston defeats cancer

‘Weston is disease-free now, so we will be going into a period of checkups and things until he’s 18’

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read