OTTAWA – Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and on Tuesday, all 338 MPs are meeting virtually for the first time ever, to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, a majority of parties agreed to hold one in-person sitting and up to two online meetings each week until the end of May.
You can think of it as a massive Zoom meeting of the debate club. That’s what it will feel like as MPs connect via video conference instead of walking in to the House of Commons chamber, as they normally would.
This new online forum will allow opposition members across the country to physically distance but still question the government on its response to this health crisis.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he’s ready to hold the government to account.
“The Liberals have been slow to react, and their failures have cost Canadians,” he said. “The prime minister owes Canadians an explanation and a plan to fix his mistakes.”
The Tories say they’re ready to question the Liberals on things like emergency stockpiles, gaps in emergency benefits, and the restart of the economy — something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says needs to be a slow and cautious process.
“If we get this wrong, everything we have sacrificed over the past many weeks could have been in vain,” Trudeau said.
This is not technically a sitting of the House of Commons. Instead it is a committee meeting of all MPs, so the rules are different.
Instead of a 45 minute question period, this meeting will last an hour-and-a-half. During that time, members will have five minute time slots to ask several questions of Trudeau and his cabinet.
Members are using a secure version of the Zoom platform, that will be controlled by House of Commons staff.
The House has held small committee meetings via video link before, but never anything to this scale.
On Wednesday, a limited number of MPs will meet again, but in person in the House of Commons chamber, in order to debate and vote on the government’s $9-billion support package for students.