OTTAWA -- A very small number of MPs took their seats in the House of Commons on Monday, kicking off the first sitting of 2021 by inking a new deal to continue limiting the number of in-person participants.

Under the new hybrid sitting agreement — agreed to unanimously and in place until the end of the spring sitting in June 2021 — MPs will continue to be allowed to participate in House business either in-person in Ottawa, or by logging in remotely from their riding.

Given the rate of COVID-19 spread, the stay-at-home orders, and advisories to continue to avoid any non-essential travel, parties are encouraging their MPs to work from home as much as possible.

The new agreement is also ushering in a new app-voting system, but it’s not being put into practice right away. For now votes will continue to happen by roll-call through a modified Zoom-like platform as adopted previously.

The voting app will be put into practice one day after the House administration completes the onboarding process for all members; completes two comprehensive simulations with all members; and after the Speaker has received a notice from the House leaders of all recognized parties stating that they are “satisfied that the remote voting application is ready to be used.”

A move suggested by the governing Liberals, the House of Commons administration has been working on the voting-by-app system for months. As it's designed, the app would allow for a nearly instantaneous vote count. It was the Liberals' position that the way votes have been conducted virtually is taking up considerable time and hindering debate.

The app has prompted some security concerns and hesitation from those who want to see their MP stand up and be counted, so to speak, rather than be a number in a tally.

The motion that passed Monday morning sought to address this by noting that: the voting has to happen on MPs’ House-managed mobile device; the whip of each recognized party has access to a tool to confirm the visual identity of each member voting through the app; and that the votes of members voting by electronic means be made available to the public during the 10-minute voting period.

The app already includes a security measure that takes a photo of the person using their smartphone to cast their vote, and that image is then compared to a photo of the MP on file to verify the identity and eligibility of the voter.

Further, the motion stipulates that any technical voting issues that arise will be brought up and the whips for each party can then raise those troubles before the results of the vote are announced, so the members having difficulty can still cast their vote. For MPs participating in-person, they can continue to cast their vote by standing up in the Chamber to be counted.

Similar to the hybrid sitting motion that was in place prior to the holidays, MPs will continue to be allowed to participate remotely at committees, and table documents electronically.