It’s time to make parliament work – and vote remotely, say Greens

July 16, 2020

OTTAWA – The Green Party of Canada is calling for the immediate adoption of distance voting by members of parliament, the only factor holding up the necessary transition to virtual parliament while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“Our democracy is being held hostage as Conservatives continue to demand a reckless resumption of full parliament, while refusing to allow what other democracies around the world are doing – studying and passing legislation at distance,” said Green parliamentary leader Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). “While they deny they are calling for 338 MPs to meet, they have not offered any alternative.”

Canada’s parliament must function in a timely and efficient manner. The serious health risks associated with 338 MPs congregating in the Chamber and travelling to and from Ottawa from across the country means that parliament cannot operate as usual.

“During this extraordinary time MPs have demonstrated that virtual committees function extremely well. So too does hybrid Question Period,” said Ms. May. “The only missing piece is remote voting.

“Last month, Speaker Anthony Rota said that he was comfortable with remote voting using existing House of Commons security and technology. It was up to the MPs to decide if they were ready to move forward.

“When I spoke to this issue in the House, I asked the Liberal government if it wasn’t time to accept what the British Columbia legislature is already doing – allowing us to vote and pass legislation from our constituencies. The Liberal House leader agreed, but said remote voting is being blocked by the Conservatives.”

Ms. May said that the country has been well run with committees and virtual parliament. “We’ve held the government accountable, passed important legislation, but only by unanimous consent, and worked well together. A small number of MPs have travelled to Ottawa during this time. But we have only been able to pass legislation when there’s not a single MP voting ‘no’. All 338 MPs should have a right to participate but cannot, as long as we don’t have virtual voting. If MPs agree, virtual voting procedures could be in place immediately.

Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts points out that the world of work is changing as a result of the pandemic. “Many Canadians have found ways to continue working together while being apart,” said Ms. Roberts. “MPs, who are working on behalf of all Canadians, must also find a way to work safely, securely and with the health and safety of everyone in mind. Incorporating virtual voting into our democratic process also lowers our carbon footprint.”

“We need to adapt parliamentary rules to fully function in this pandemic,” concluded Ms. May. “We are in a climate emergency and need to see the promised Climate Accountability Act. Reforms to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) are also yet to be tabled. Important legislation that has been tabled sits idle, such as the urgent issue of police reform and the amendments to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation. As well, we urgently need to get cheques to people with disabilities. This tiny legislative change was blocked by the Conservatives on a request for unanimous consent, not because they want to deny help to those most in need, but because they are using unanimous consent votes as a pressure tactic to get the House meeting again in person.”

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