Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is talking to the provinces about bringing in 10 days of paid sick leave for workers — something the NDP demanded in exchange for supporting the Liberals’ plan to extend the suspension of the House of Commons during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Nobody should have to choose between taking a day off work due to illness or being able to pay their bills. Just like nobody should have to choose between staying home with COVID-19 symptoms or being able to afford rent or groceries,” Trudeau said during his prepared remarks this morning at his daily press conference.
“That’s why the government will continue discussions with the provinces, without delay, on ensuring that as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it has access to ten days of paid sick leave a year. And we’ll also consider other mechanisms for the longer term to support workers with sick leave.”
WATCH | Trudeau questioned about paid sick leave plan
The federal NDP conditioned its support for suspending the full House of Commons sitting schedule on getting a commitment from the Liberal government to bring in paid sick leave for all Canadians and supports for people with disabilities struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just moments after Trudeau announced the ongoing negotiations with the provinces, NDP Leader Singh sent out a statement claiming victory.
“As more and more businesses are being asked to reopen, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh secured two weeks of paid sick leave for every worker in Canada by pushing the federal government to act,” reads the statement.
“We will keep pushing the government to make sure they deliver on this commitment and that they work with provinces to make sick leave for workers permanent going forward.”
A small number of members of Parliament gathered in Ottawa today to debate the Liberals’ proposal to waive normal House of Commons sittings in favour of expanding the special COVID-19 committee that has acted as a sort of replacement for most in-person sessions for the past month.
Liberal motion would see expanded sittings
Their motion proposes adding an additional day to the committee’s current schedule of one in-person meeting per week (with fewer than three dozen MPs actually present) and two online meetings per week.
The Liberals are now proposing four meetings a week until June 17, with a hybrid of in-person and virtual attendance that would see a small number of MPs in the Commons chamber and others participating via two large video screens set up on either side of the Speaker’s chair.
The motion also proposes four sittings of the House of Commons in July and August, each with a question period that would allow MPs the chance to ask cabinet ministers about issues unrelated to COVID-19 — something the Conservatives have demanded in recent weeks.
The Conservatives have indicated they want to do away with the special COVID-19 committee and bring back House of Commons sittings, including opposition days, private members’ business and other activities that cannot occur within the committee format.
Conservatives to debate but not obstruct
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said that while the motion unveiled by the Liberals over the weekend was an improvement over the way the special committee has been allowed to operate for the past month, it’s still not enough.
“We just still firmly believe that Parliament and the powers of Parliament — opposition days, private members’ business, motions around committees and things that we do in Parliament — should be resuming,” she told The Canadian Press.
“Although we don’t dislike what the government is now proposing and at least it’s more than one day in person, we are still very disappointed and still maintain that Parliament should be sitting … We are going to be there for four days face to face. Why can’t we have Parliament?”
Bergen told CBC News on Sunday that despite the motion’s shortcomings, the Conservatives don’t plan to block it outright.
“We won’t be trying to obstruct it or anything like that, but we will take the time that we have allotted to debate it,” she said.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Jean-Yves Blanchet said today his party isn’t participating in negotiations on the return of Parliament.
The Bloc previously laid out a set of conditions it wanted met before it would engage in discussions on how Parliament could sit.
Those included more help for businesses to cover their fixed overhead costs and a clear plan to follow through on a Liberal promise of financial support for seniors.
Blanchet said the Liberals haven’t met either condition, and ensuring they do is his priority.
“Every time we spend five minutes talking about parliamentary rules, we’re spending five minutes less talking about what Quebecers require,” he said.
He said his party likely will go along with the Commons consensus on how it will operate for the next while. In French, he said that while the Bloc won’t argue about who drives the bus or where it’s going, it will probably get on board when it arrives.
Returning to regular sittings ideal — expert
“I think it’s natural and normal that the Official Opposition would want all the mechanisms available to it to hold the government to account,” said Philippe Lagassé, Barton Chair of International Affairs at Carleton University and an expert on the Westminster parliamentary system.
Lagassé said he hopes the House of Commons is able to ease into regular sittings as soon as possible because in-person meetings of the chamber lead to stronger exchanges between politicians.
“I think it’s the scope of the types of questions that you get,” Lagassé said. “It’s also the theatrics that some people will choose to downplay or believe are unnecessary at this time. They’re meant to … allow parties to ask uncomfortable questions.”
But Lagasse said the hybrid model could be in place for some time, even as the United Kingdom takes steps to phase out a similar system in its own Parliament.
“We may very well see some of these hybrid aspects becoming part of our regular functioning of Parliament, particularly given the size of our country and given the costs to bring MPs back, given health concerns.”
Technical limitations to virtual attendance
The key hangup for both sides of the debate appears to be representation as the House of Commons’ administration works through the technical limitations on virtual attendance — limitations that both the Conservatives and NDP have acknowledged.
Those limitations were highlighted in a report by a Commons’ committee two weeks ago, which cited concerns about hacking and procedural questions about points of order and privilege.
“Conservatives are supportive of this hybrid committee,” Bergen said. “Where we have concerns is a hybrid model of Parliament. There’s still far too many questions that have to be answered … If you see the book that governs us, it is a huge book. There’s a lot of rules that govern us.”
NDP House Leader Peter Julian agreed that there remain unanswered questions and concerns about virtual sittings of Parliament.
“We want to be immune from hacking,” he said. “We want to make sure the vote is clear and public … We have to make sure that we work this out. It’s not a detail. It’s actually pretty fundamental to have a hybrid Parliament work.”
The Conservatives’ proposal to resume House of Commons sittings with no more than 50 MPs in the chamber at any time, he said, would mean many MPs would not be able to bring their constituents concerns to Parliament.
“What we need to do is answer that question about virtual voting so MPs can fully participate. So where we would differ from the Conservatives is the Conservative motion does not allow for that full participation,” he said. “It is full participation of a very small percentage of parliamentarians.”