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Trudeau defends suspending regular House sittings, downplays chance of snap election
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the decision to suspend all regular sittings of the House of Commons until September, with the special all-party COVID-19 committee acting as a stand-in over the next few weeks, and then four special House sittings over the summer.
Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday that he thinks under the hybrid model that’s been adopted— where a limited number of MPs participate in-person inside the House of Commons in Ottawa, while the remaining representatives are shown from their ridings on two large video screens on either side of the Speaker’s chair—Parliament is still working.
On Tuesday, Liberal, NDP and Green MPs voted in favour of the government’s proposal for the structure of what remains of the spring parliamentary session.
Though, many of the usual functions of the House, from private members’ bills to mechanisms that force government responses, are not able to be advanced while the House is suspended. That has prompted the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois to call the move a shutdown of Parliament and an abdication of accountability in the middle of a pandemic.
“I think it’s extremely important that we continue to have a well-functioning Parliament and functioning democratic institutions during this crisis,” Trudeau said.
“Going forward, we will now sit four times a week and there’ll be more than double the usual time for questions from MPs,” he continued, adding that this new format allows MPs from across the country to participate without having to travel to Ottawa.
“This is a way of demonstrating that we are moving forward on upholding our democratic principles and our institutions not in spite of a crisis but because of this crisis,” Trudeau said.
Wednesday was the first day of the new hybrid approach, which some have viewed as historic, if not precedent setting as a way to adapt amid a pandemic that’s prohibited large in-person gatherings that the House is usually home to.
There were nearly 50 MPs taking part in person, with eyes focused on the large screens featuring their colleagues calling in from across Canada over the two-hour session. Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May was the first to speak during the first hybrid meeting.
Trudeau, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took part in-person.
Deputy Speaker Bruce Stanton concluded the meeting thanking the administration for what he called a “mark of accomplishment.”
Trudeau was also asked Wednesday whether an early election is a good way to give Canadians a say on whether his government’s massive spending in an effort to boost the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic is the right approach.
Trudeau shut down the speculation of a snap vote, saying he hasn’t heard many Canadians “demanding an election right now.”
“But obviously, in a minority Parliament, Parliament gets to decide when it no longer has confidence in the government,” Trudeau said, noting the current crisis has called for “unprecedented investments.”
“There will be many challenges that we will face over the coming years as to how we improve the Canadian economy, how we make better digital changes, how we move forward on a greener and cleaner economy, how we support our most vulnerable in better ways. And there will be many debates in Parliament, and eventually in an election. But I’m not going to speculate on when that might be,” Trudeau said.