Giving members of Parliament the ability to attend proceedings virtually first emerged during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s social distancing measures.
Now, government House leader Mark Holland wants to make hybrid Parliament permanent.
“This should be a signal that the House of the common people is a place where all can run, where somebody who has a family or who has challenges is going to be able to be afforded the flexibility to still represent their communities,” Holland said.
“And I think that it will materially change those who look at public life.”
Since March 2020, parliamentarians have had to repeatedly introduce temporary — and expiring — provisions allowing for MPs to appear in the House of Commons virtually.
The current rules are set to expire this month.
Now, the Liberals will start debate on making hybrid access permanent. Holland says he expects debate to run through the week of June 12 but couldn’t say a specific date for when voting will take place.
The House of Commons is quickly approaching its summer recess.
On their way into question period Thursday, several Conservatives voiced their opposition to the idea of making hybrid Parliament permanent.
“Hybrid system is convenient for sure, but we have to take it not on a daily basis or not on a regular basis,” said Quebec Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, adding it should be used in “exceptional” situations.
Deltell, who is the Conservative environment critic, said it’s good to have MPs in person on Parliament Hill so they can easily meet. He noted he had an informal one-on-one conversation with Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault earlier in the day as an example of the benefits.
In contrast, British Columbia NDP MP Peter Julian says he was still able to take part in routine business while being with his dying mother back in November because of the hybrid option. He added the move should have happened well before the pandemic.
“The idea of having in place provisions in the largest democracy on Earth so that if you were 5,000 kilometers away because there’s an emergency in her riding and your mother is dying or you’re sick, you can still represent your constituents, still vote on their behalf — that just is a matter of common sense,” Julian said.
Holland said he isn’t worried about parliamentarians not showing up in person if hybrid Parliament becomes a permanent fixture. He said the last several years have shown hybrid options have been used “judiciously and carefully.”
“Parliamentarians want to be here and that’s been demonstrated,” he said. “I think that you’re going to see continue to see a very full and active participation in the House, because frankly … it is a very different thing to stand in your place.”
He added the move to making hybrid permanent would give options when there is no other choice to work virtually,” but said, “you’re much more effective when you’re in person.”