Deadline Looms for Agreement on Reopening House of Commons

April 19, 2020 Updated: April 19, 2020

COVID−19 claimed another 160 lives across Canada Saturday as politicians in Ottawa continued to argue over how to conduct business in the House of Commons during the pandemic.

The Liberals and Opposition parties are still negotiating whether the Commons will re−open Monday, and under what terms.

If they fail to reach an accord before tomorrow, the Commons will resume business as usual with all 338 MPs and their staff back at work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was hopeful an agreement would be reached that would maintain current guidelines for physical distancing.

Trudeau is proposing one in−person sitting each week, with a small number of MPs and extended time for question period. The Liberals are also proposing one additional session be held each week with another lengthy question period, but this one would be held virtually.

Only the Conservatives seem opposed to that plan, with leader Andrew Scheer  demanding three in−person sittings per week, to hold the government to account for its response to the health crisis. Scheer has scheduled a news conference for 1:30 p.m. today to discuss the issue.

Except for two single−day sittings to pass emergency aid bills, Parliament has been adjourned since mid−March. And it was announced on Friday that the Senate, which was to resume Tuesday, will not return until June 2 at the earliest.

While there are signs some regions of the country may be closer to re−opening parts of the economy than others, caution remained the watchword as Canada and the United States moved yesterday to extend the border closure to all but essential traffic for another 30 days.

“Let us be very clear, while we want to be optimistic, we need to be absolutely cautious,” Treasury Board President Jean−Yves Duclos said.

The total number of confirmed and presumptive COVID−19 cases in Canada rose by 1,456 to 33,383 yesterday, with Quebec and Ontario accounting for the vast majority.

Sad reminders of COVID−19’s deadly threat were heard throughout the day as case numbers continued to climb in Canadian nursing homes and prisons.

In Quebec, 125 military personnel with medical expertise geared up to deploy to   devastated nursing homes in the Montreal area after Premier Francois Legault issued a plea to Ottawa for help from the Canadian Armed Forces.