Canada must implement ‘distance voting’ for MPs in wake of coronavirus, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will be moving ahead with a hybrid model for Parliament that will include “distance voting” in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

If approved by the House Standing Committee, the new model could allow members of parliament to be both physically in the chamber and represented through video conference.

“It would be extremely unfair for MPs in more remote sectors or particularly vulnerable sectors to not be able to speak up for their constituents,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

Read more: Trudeau to wrap up cabinet retreat as coronavirus cases surge across Canada

“We’ve got interim measures, but we’re moving forward on ensuring that our democracy continues to be fully functional in a way that doesn’t put employees, their families or their communities at risk.”

Trudeau added while quarantine measures differ across the country, having all 338 members of Parliament converging in Ottawa “is probably not what we’d want to see from our leadership in this country” right now.

As it stands, MPs can only vote in-person, which could prevent Liberals and opposing party leaders from voting on the throne speech depending on when that vote is held. Conservatives have actively spoken out against voting virtually and electronically.

In the absence of one or more ministers during what is considered to be a crucial vote, party whips could agree to “pair” that cabinet minister’s vote with an opposition member’s to maintain the relative calculus of the House.

3:33 Coronavirus: ‘I do not want an election,’ Trudeau says

Coronavirus: ‘I do not want an election,’ Trudeau says

According to House of Commons procedure, both members would “agree to abstain from voting on a particular occasion in order to permit one or both to be absent from the House.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole and his family were forced into isolation after one of the opposition party leader’s aides tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he was self-isolating after his wife was diagnosed with the virus.

Trudeau’s announcement comes following two and a half days of closed-door cabinet meetings meant to help Canada put its best foot forward through the coronavirus pandemic in preparation for a new Speech from the Throne.

Trudeau said a “cleaner and greener” recovery will be part of the party’s plan, but his priority would be getting back on track after the pandemic.

“Obviously, the green sector and newer jobs and innovation and clean tech are going to be an essential part of building back better and building a stronger future,” he said.

Read more: ‘You have to show up’: NDP MP questions virtual attendance of Alberta Tories

“At the same time, we have to remember — we are not out of this pandemic yet.”

Following his Throne Speech, Trudeau will face a confidence vote, which could trigger a fall election.

O’Toole has said that forcing an election was “not his priority,” while Blanchet vowed to force one if Trudeau refused to resign in the fallout from the WE Charity scandal.

Trudeau said he does not want an election, but that it would not be “irresponsible” to hold one.

2:57 Coronavirus: Trudeau says handling pandemic ‘job one,’ throne speech has several elements

Coronavirus: Trudeau says handling pandemic ‘job one,’ throne speech has several elements

“Our country and our institutions are stronger than that and if there has to be an election, we’ll figure it out,” he said.

Trudeau also announced over $19 billion in federal funding to help provinces and territories safely restart their economies.

Over the summer, premiers were asked to submit letters outlining how best to allocate funds within their jurisdictions based on each province and territory’s needs.

2:02 Coronavirus: Trudeau says mandate letters for ministers will give insight into what government will deliver

Coronavirus: Trudeau says mandate letters for ministers will give insight into what government will deliver

“The premiers have now submitted those letters, which will allow over $19 billion in federal funding to flow towards our shared work to protect Canadians as we safely restart the economy,” Trudeau said.

The money is aimed at helping provinces increase testing and contact tracing, keeping the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed, supporting essential services such as public transit, and securing personal protective equipment for front-line workers as the country prepares for a second wave of COVID-19.

The number of confirmed cases per day has been on the rise in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the country reported 792 new infections, pushing Canada’s total to 138,695.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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