Another ‘virtual’ hybrid Parliament could be a dangerous thing in government hands

Have you always wanted to be an MP, but dread the thought of commuting to Ottawa? Well, you can go ahead and expand your career horizons now that the House of Commons has approved yet another session of a hybrid Parliament. Last week, MPs voted along party lines, with 180 Liberal and NDP members versus 140 Bloc Québécois and Conservatives, in favour of House sittings that combine in-person and virtual participation.

The government’s official line is that this plan respects health guidelines and protects MPs from COVID exposure. “If we have no hybrid measures, there’s an obligation for members to attend regardless of their health circumstances, regardless if they’re immunocompromised,” said Liberal House leader Mark Holland . “It is absolutely unacceptable, in a pandemic, to force them into circumstances where their health is at risk.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole didn’t buy that line. “It’s totally unacceptable for Mr. Trudeau to go to big meetings such as the (COP26) one in Glasgow, but not be able to meet here on the Hill,” he thundered. “What are the Liberals afraid of? The answer is obvious. Justin Trudeau has an aversion to accountability.”

The irony with the Conservatives’ complaint is that a hybrid Parliament helps them duck the question of just who is and isn’t vaccinated in their caucus, an issue that has dogged them since the election. MPs from all parties will choose to work virtually for any number of reasons, including spending more time in their constituency, or at home with a newborn baby. And with millions of workers now demanding the right to work at least partially from home, it may seem retrograde to argue that legislators should be an exception.

But is it? Is Parliament just a workplace like any other? Can the cause of democracy truly be served when people are not staring each other in the eye, debating the laws that will govern the life of every Canadian?

Read the full column on the National Post website

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