The Liberal government’s desire to limit Parliamentary sittings, and therefore accountability, during this COVID-19 crisis is completely contrary to Canada’s democratic process. Columnist Rex Murphy has aptly questioned, “Is Parliament not as ‘essential’ as your corner store?”
Frontline workers – doctors, nurses, and first responders are critical essential services. Thankfully, so too are pharmacies, grocery stores, truckers distributing goods and our agricultural sector. To place liquor and convenient stores ahead of Canada’s Parliament as an essential service is absurd. During this time, robust debate and greater accountability are not only required, they are fundamental to Canada as a democratic nation.
A global pandemic has brought Canada’s economy to its knees. Our nation is experiencing the greatest crisis since World War II. Yet the Liberals are restricting the voices of dually elected individuals to represent constituent interests. If ever there was a time for in-person Parliamentary debate to force accountability over government actions, it is now.
During this crisis, the rights of Canadians to work, associate, travel, and practice their faith has been curtailed by public health requirements. For the most part, Canadians have accepted these directives to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the government’s refusal to be accountable to Canadians during this crisis is a historical trend favoured by dictators, not one tolerated by a free, democratic society.
Prior to the Liberals’ motion to replace Parliamentary sittings, officials had told Trudeau that virtual meetings with all MPs are beyond the capacity of the House of Commons. The Speaker of the House, as well as the Clerk of the House, recently told the government that a full virtual meeting of Parliament is not possible to accommodate on one platform before the middle of May. The reasoning, unreliable internet access across the country, especially for MPs in rural and remote locations, places limitations on virtual meetings. Participation of all elected members will be sporadic at best.
I was in the House of Commons when Conservatives collectively objected to the Liberal motion, arguing that, in the short-term, virtual sittings would not work and small numbers of MPs should meet in person. Conservatives believe that frequent accountability sessions in Parliament get better results for Canadians. As we have repeatedly demonstrated, debate, discussion and opportunities to question the Prime Minister and Ministers in the House improve government programs and policies.
Canadians have many serious questions about the government’s response to the pandemic. We all need to know why it is taking Health Canada so long to approve new companies to import and distribute test kits. Why does the government keep announcing new benefits, only to change the eligibility criteria days later? What is the government’s plan to reopen our economy? What criteria will need to be met for that to occur?
Lack of proper democratic government accountability means those answers, and many more, will not be forthcoming any time soon. Nothing can replace in-person Parliamentary sessions.
Glen Motz is the Member of Parliament for the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.