Mr. Speaker, I would like to notify the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Fredericton.
I would like to thank all our front-line workers who are serving Canadians and putting themselves at risk to ensure the rest of society is safe and able to access essential services. I also want to give a shout-out to our public service. Our public servants have been working around the clock providing support to Canadians when they need it during this pandemic.
It is important to highlight this starting point. We are going through a pandemic. Millions of Canadians have lost their jobs because public health advice has required people to stay at home to ensure that people are separated, so the virus does not spread even further and to minimize the loss of life. As a government, through the advice of science and public health advisers, we asked Canadians to stay at home. We asked Canadians to figure out how they could work differently. The same applies to Parliament.
One of the first things Parliament did, and it was a wise move, was ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study how Parliament could react in response to the situation. I am lucky to sit at that committee. Members of the committee went on to do its business. We did it virtually, interviewing and hearing from experts at home and from other parliaments around the world. We came up with a report that set out a road map for Parliament to resume.
We advised that Parliament needed to create a new set of standing orders for exceptional circumstances and that those standing orders would only come into play when all recognized parties in the House of Commons agreed to it for a defined period. If we were to extend that defined period, we would still need the consent of all parties in the House. We know that in extraordinary circumstances, we need all of us to work together. These exceptional standing orders would enable Parliament to work under these exceptional circumstances. We would revise how opposition days would be held. We would revise how bills would be tabled, how we would debate those bills and how we would vote on them.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs put together a road map for how Parliament could come back to work. However, for some reason, my colleagues in the Conservative Party were dead set against it. They disagreed. They tabled a dissenting report, and that is their prerogative. However, let me be very clear that the debate here is not whether Parliament is an essential service; we agree that it is. What we do not agree with is why the Conservatives are refusing to find alternative ways for Parliament to do its job.
Members of Parliament deserve equal access, so their privileges are protected. All members, regardless of where they live or what ridings they represent, must have equal access for their role as parliamentarians. That is why the committee asked Parliament to ensure we respected the privilege of every member. However, the official opposition is asking for us to have a reduced number of members here, which we understand, but how will other members of Parliament fulfill their duties? How will the privileges of other members be protected if the Conservatives are not willing to enable them or empower them to have the ability to participate?
I actually want to ask my colleague, the previous Conservative speaker, about this. While I appreciate his remarks, he said that we were languishing behind, and I agree. Parliaments around the world are finding ways to conduct their work in either a hybrid fashion or a virtual fashion, but they have empowered their members to do their work.
However, the Conservatives are standing in the way. They are saying no, that we have to do it exactly the same way and get “back to normal”. That is an exact quote from the previous speaker. We know we are not in normal circumstances. We know that Parliament, the government and public health officials have asked the rest of the country to figure out how to do their work differently to ensure that they are respecting public health advice. Why can Parliament not do that? We have asked millions of Canadians to do so.
Will the Conservative members look their constituents in the eye and tell them that yes, they have asked them to stay at home, but they are not able to figure out how to do their work differently, and they are requiring MPs to come to Parliament? When they say they are not asking all 338 MPs to be here, how will the MPs who are not here be able to represent their constituents? How will they be able to participate in the debate? How will they be able to vote?
When I asked the leader of the official opposition that yesterday, he said this is what we should be spending our time on. We did. We spent our time studying this and the committee made a proposal, again with the Conservatives dissenting. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want Parliament to work, but then when alternatives are proposed for how Parliament can work, they say no, they are not for that. How does that work?
I heard my colleague say this is not Parliament. I agree. That is right. When we go into committee of the whole, that is not a fully functioning Parliament. We are proposing that Parliament be fully functional, but when we present that proposal to the Conservatives they say no. What do they want?
One cannot be inconsistent and have a straight face. If they want a hybrid Parliament, they need to figure out what Standing Orders we need to change. How will MPs who are not here be able to debate? How will MPs who are not here be able to vote? They cannot say they do not want to talk about that, but Parliament must resume. It is inconsistent.
Other countries around the world have figured that out. Other legislators around the world have figured that out. Why can the Conservatives not figure that out? Why can the Conservatives not get with the times, recognize that we are in a pandemic and we have asked the entire country to find a way to work remotely, to work virtually and to respect public health advice? The Conservatives say the parties would select which MPs would be here, which MPs would not be here and which MPs would vote or not vote. That is a contravention of the privileges for members, who represent their constituents.
I agree with the Conservatives that Parliament is an essential service, and we all want to see Parliament fully functioning under these circumstances. The question is how we do so. We all agree that 338 MPs cannot be here physically. Good, we are making progress. We agree that it is essential and we agree that not all MPs need to be here, but how would the MPs who are not here, when we do have a fully functioning Parliament, participate and represent their constituents? I am hearing crickets. Conservatives are proposing no ideas on how to deal with that.
However, I have good news. The committee has made proposals. The committee is suggesting how Parliament and all MPs can represent their constituents while respecting public health advice, and while recognizing that we are in the midst of a pandemic that has, regrettably, taken away so many lives.
That is my challenge to my colleagues in the Conservative Party. Let us figure out how this Parliament can work under these circumstances, with all MPs' privileges and duties able to be fulfilled. Spare me all the rhetoric. We agree that Parliament is an essential service. Let us get our work done and make sure we represent our constituents. The opposition parties have a role to play and the government has a role to play. Canadians will benefit from a fully functioning Parliament that respects the advice of public health officials.