OTTAWA — Opposition leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday that more powers of Parliament must be restored to properly scrutinize the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The existing thrice-weekly meetings of a special COVID-19 committee and the smattering of other committees still in session aren’t enough, Scheer said.
Among other things, the current setup doesn’t allow MPs to compel the government to produce documents or to get witnesses to testify, he said.
“This is not a partisan issue, this is about whether or not a democratic country like Canada should have a functional Parliament,” Scheer said.
“If members of the Bloc, or the NDP, or the Liberal backbench don’t believe that Parliament is an essential service, they should consider why they ran for office in the first place.”
The House of Commons adjourned in mid-March as the pandemic began to sweep across Canada and with it, the implementation of travel bans, mandatory isolation and physical distancing requirements.
In April, the parties agreed to postpone the full return again until May 25, next Monday.
If all four parties don’t agree that it ought to remain adjourned, it would resume then.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday his overriding concern is that if it does, MPs from far-flung parts of the country may be unwilling or unable to travel to Ottawa to be take part.
“Therefore there will be parts of the country that won’t be reflected in our democratic institutions,” he said.
Parliament has returned several times for single-day sessions to pass emergency aid legislation, and meanwhile the special COVID-19 committee also meets.
At the same time, one of the regular House of Commons committees still meeting was tasked with studying what would be required for the legislature to go entirely virtual.
The report of the procedure and House affairs committee released Friday made several recommendations, including that the House of Commons add virtual proceedings during the pandemic for all regular business, including voting.
It also suggested the possibility of a hybrid model, where some MPs could connect virtually and others be present in person.
Scheer said that’s the way he’d like to see things go.
“The bottom line is that virtual committee meetings are not a replacement for Parliament,” he said.