OTTAWA—Federal Conservatives have crusaded for a return to parliamentary business as usual but theyre opposed to the one thing Liberals and New Democrats insist is necessary to do that in the midst of the COVID−19 pandemic: electronic voting.
Conservative House leader Candice Bergen says her party is suspicious of anything promoted by the Liberals that would keep most MPs out of the House of Commons and, in her view, help the government avoid accountability.
Besides, she says there are other options that would allow all 338 MPs to vote in person in the chamber while maintaining physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID−19.
In a letter to Commons Speaker Anthony Rota earlier this month, Bergen suggested six different options, including having MPs line up in “yea” and “nay” queues in the courtyard space surrounding the chamber from where they could individually enter the Commons to have their votes recorded.
Other options included having small groups of MPs vote in shifts, issuing paper ballots and allowing each partys whip to “block vote” on behalf of their colleagues.
Allowances would be made for any dissenting MPs to cast their own votes.
“When Liberals dont want members of Parliament in Ottawa, Im suspicious,” Bergen said in an interview.
“When they want MPs to do their jobs in a nice, far−away setting and where their powers are diluted, where their responsibilities are taken away, I am very suspicious.”
However, government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says he cant figure out why the Conservatives are so dead set against the “one little thing” that would allow the Commons to resume all normal operations and restore all MPs powers, including voting, without risk for transmission of COVID−19.
“This is the 21st Century,” Rodriguez said in an interview.
“It would be very, very simple to bring back Parliament … with MPs in the House, others virtually. That means 338 MPs participating which is what we want because this is whats best for democracy, with everything of a regular Parliament, the only difference (being) you vote electronically.
“The Conservatives are still opposed to that and I dont know why … Theyre the only ones.”
Rodriguez says the Conservative position makes no sense because it would require MPs to travel back and forth from their ridings to Ottawa, increasing the potential for catching and spreading the infection.
The Conservatives have been pushing for weeks for a full resumption of normal in−person parliamentary business, albeit with a limited number of about 50 MPs actually physically present in the Commons. The Bloc Quebecois recently sided with them on that front, after initially opposing the idea.
But New Democrats joined forces with the Liberals to reject that option, arguing that normal business cant resume until a way is found to allow electronic voting by MPs not in the chamber.
In the meantime, they agreed to continue having a special COVID−19 committee meet four times a week in the Commons, with a small number of MPs in the chamber and the others participating virtually.
The last special committee meeting took place Thursday but there are to be similar sessions four times over the summer.
Normal proceedings in the Commons have been suspended since mid−March, except for a handful of brief, single−day sittings to pass emergency aid legislation. It is currently scheduled to resume regular business on Sept. 21.
However, if public health experts continue to recommend physical distancing in the fall, Rodriguez said the Commons could still safely resume all normal operations, with most MPs participating virtually and voting electronically from remote locations.
Rota has said hes confident electronic voting can be done securely. The all−party procedure and House affairs committee has been instructed to recommend aRead More – Source