NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rises during a sitting of the House of Commons Wednesday April 29, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

As COVID-19 response ramps up, more scrutiny required: NDP’s Singh

Normal parliamentary proceedings are scheduled to begin Monday

As the Liberal government expands the financial supports designed to blunt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party wants more transparency on where those dollars are going.

Singh said Wednesday that’s what is driving his party’s point of view in talks underway now to determine in what form Parliament may or may not return next week.

“We want to make sure that money that is being put out by the government goes directly to workers, that it is tied to jobs, that it is tied to employment,” he said.

“To do that we need to get back to a more normal operation of Parliament.”

READ MORE: Feds expand criteria for emergency loans to include family businesses, contractors

A special COVID-19 committee is due to meet in person later Wednesday; its tri-weekly meetings are now the stand-in for Parliament, which has been largely adjourned since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada in March.

But the pause on normal parliamentary proceedings is set to expire on Monday, unless the four parties in the House of Commons can come to some kind of agreement on how to extend it.

Singh said his party is still fine-tuning its proposal for the talks, but the New Democrats are eyeing a hybrid model similar to what is now being used in the U.K. It allows for MPs to attend either virtually or in person, allowing for participation from those across the country.

“The principle that we would want to operate on is that MPs are not limited from their access to representing their constituents so that they are able to be in some way representing their people, the people that elected them,” he said.

The Conservatives also support the hybrid approach, which Singh said has been presented as an option to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Both the Commons and Senate have met several times to pass emergency aid legislation, doing so in single-day sittings with close to the minimum number of members required under the procedural rules of Parliament.

READ MORE: Canada–U.S. border to stay closed to non-essential travel until June 21

There are a handful of House of Commons committees still meeting as well, entirely virtually.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has said he’s prepared for the Commons to return to a fully normal schedule, albeit with fewer MPs in the chamber, if the Liberal government doesn’t agree to a set of demands from his party.

Among other things, Blanchet has said the government has reneged on a promise to introduce measures that would give incentives to recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and student emergency aid to take available jobs. And it hasn’t done enough to deliver on a promise to provide non-repayable financial assistance to help small businesses cover their fixed costs.

The current special committee meets twice a week virtually, and once in person.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested he prefers a continuation of that approach, leaving the door open to additional weekly virtual sittings.

A review of the minutes from the first six meetings reveals that Scheer has attended three, while Trudeau, Singh and Blanchet have all attended four.

The Canadian Press


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