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Members’ Activities

The pandemic resulted in significant changes to how Members carry out their work. Our institution, which is rooted in over 150 years of customs, practices and traditions, had to become more innovative and more flexible than ever so that parliamentarians could continue to perform their duties, even when they could not be physically present on Parliament Hill.

Key dates for the House during the pandemic


March 13, 2020

The House adjourns its scheduled sittings until April 20, 2020. The House of Commons precinct is closed to visitors, public tours as well as parliamentary functions and events are cancelled, and committee travel is suspended.

March 22, 2020

The Speaker recalls the House to sit on March 24.

Between March 16 and August 18, 2020, the House sat 14 times. Of these 14 sittings, six were occasions on which the House was recalled. Previously, the House had been recalled only 12 times since Confederation.

The Speaker may recall the House, when it stands adjourned during a session, to meet before the date that it is scheduled to reconvene. Following a request from the government, the decision to recall is taken once the Speaker is satisfied an earlier meeting of the House is in the best interest of the public.

March 24, 2020

The House adopts urgent legislation related to the pandemic. The House also adopts a motion that allows the standing committees on health and finance to meet virtually.

March 31, 2020

The Standing Committee on Health meets by teleconference. This is the first time that a House of Commons committee meeting occurs by teleconference.


April 9, 2020

The Standing Committee on Health meets by videoconference, making it the first videoconference committee meeting at the House of Commons.

April 11, 2020

The House allows four more committees to meet remotely.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) is instructed to study how House procedures could be temporarily changed to adapt to the pandemic.

April 20, 2020

The House agrees to create the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic (COVI) to examine the response to the pandemic in Canada. COVI is chaired by the Speaker and composed of all Members.

April 28, 2020

The first virtual COVI meeting is held. A total of 294 Members participate.


May 15, 2020

PROC tables its report entitled Parliamentary Duties and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the House.

May 27, 2020

The first hybrid COVI meeting takes place: a limited number of Members are in the Chamber, while others connect virtually.


July 8, 2020

The first House of Commons sitting takes place in hybrid format, with some Members participating in the Chamber and others by videoconference.


August 18, 2020

The first session of the 43rd Parliament is prorogued.


September 23, 2020

The second session of the 43rd Parliament opens, with the Speech from the Throne delivered by the Governor General in the Senate.

The House adopts a motion to allow hybrid meetings for all Chamber and committee business and returns to its regular sitting calendar.

September 28, 2020

The House holds its first hybrid vote, with some Members voting from the Chamber and others by videoconference.


January 25, 2021

After the typical winter adjournment period, House sittings resume, and a motion is adopted to continue hybrid proceedings.


February 25, 2021

The House Leaders of all recognized parties agree that an electronic voting system developed by the House Administration is ready to be used by Members participating remotely starting on the next sitting day and continuing until June 23, 2021.


March 8, 2021

The House holds its first vote using the new electronic voting system.

Adapting to the Pandemic

In this video, Speaker Rota provides an overview of how Parliament adapted to the conditions brought about by the pandemic and continued to uphold the Canadian democratic system.

In the Chamber

The Chamber is where Members come together to debate issues of importance to Canadians, hold the government to account, receive documents such as those prepared by departments and agencies, and debate and vote on proposed laws. Presiding over all these activities are the Speaker of the House and the other Presiding Officers.

More specifically, Members’ work in the Chamber typically includes:

Reviewing and debating bills and motions
Scrutinizing public expenditures—no public funds may be spent without prior approval by the House
Holding the government to account by means of oral and written questions and requests for information on government policies and activities
Adopting resolutions on issues of public interest
Presenting petitions (either paper or electronic) on behalf of the public

It was an unprecedented year in the House’s history, and one in which innovation and agility enabled the continuation of Canada’s parliamentary democracy.

In the initial months of the pandemic, between March and August 2020, work in the Chamber was adjusted to allow Members to uphold their parliamentary duties. With the opening of the second session of the 43rd Parliament on September 23, 2020, the House returned to a regular schedule of sittings and its normal daily agenda, using a hybrid model: some Members were present in the Chamber, and others were able to participate fully in debate and votes by videoconference. In the following months, the House debated bills and motions related to COVID-19 and a wide range of other topics, including the environment, amendments to the Criminal Code, fisheries, trade agreements, language rights, and foreign policy.

Photo of the new screen installed in the House of Commons Chamber to allow Members in the House to see their colleagues participating remotely

Adapting the Chamber

Several changes have been made in the Chamber to protect the health and safety of everyone on site, including Members, their staff, and House Administration employees.

In order to ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements, certain standing orders were suspended. A limited number of Members are present in the Chamber during sittings, and those Members can now speak from any seat in the House.

In addition, when permitted by the House, many Members participate in parliamentary activities by videoconference. Since September 2020, masks are required in all public spaces in the House of Commons precinct.

This year, the Speaker played a key role in helping Members adjust to new ways of participating in proceedings, including through statements in the House concerning votes by videoconference and the wearing of masks in the Chamber.

Photo of signage on a Member’s desk to ensure compliance with physical distancing guidelines
Two large screens were installed in the House, on either side of the Speaker’s Chair, to allow Members in the House to see their colleagues participating remotely.

Guiding principles for hybrid sittings of the House

The following guiding principles inform the House’s approach with respect to its hybrid proceedings, both in the Chamber and in committees. They were first presented by the Speaker to PROC in April 2020.

  1. The rights, immunities and privileges of the House and its Members must be upheld.
  2. Simultaneous interpretation, both in French and English, must be available to Members. Members should also continue to have access to established processes for the interpretation of Indigenous languages.
  3. All Members must be able to participate, recognizing that connectivity can vary in constituencies.
  4. Any changes to the House’s rules and practices should be made in a manner that ensures that the legal validity of the proceedings continues.
  5. The solution should limit the changes to the rules and practices of the House to what is temporarily required for its implementation.
  6. The video of the proceedings of the House should be accessible, include French and English closed captioning, and be available live and on demand for distribution to viewers across Canada.
Photo of the pages singing O Canada virtually

House of Commons pages work alongside Members in the Chamber to provide a wide range of services, including collecting and distributing documents.

Voting in a hybrid Parliament

From September 28, 2020, until February 25, 2021, votes during hybrid proceedings were conducted by roll call, following traditional practice, with each Member being called on in turn to cast their vote. Those Members who were present in the Chamber would stand to have their name recorded, while those participating by videoconference would, when it was their turn, be required to unmute their microphones and announce how they wished to vote. On February 25, 2021, a new electronic voting application developed by the House Administration was approved for use beginning on the next sitting day.

On March 8, 2021, Members participating remotely used the new electronic voting system for the first time and cast their votes from their mobile devices. Members voting in the Chamber continued to vote by roll call. The voting application allows Members to cast votes securely and more efficiently than by videoconference. It is an important example of how the House has leveraged modern technology during the pandemic, and it is the culmination of the efforts of a team of House Administration employees with technical and parliamentary expertise.

Table Officer Natalie Foster is taking votes by roll call during hybrid proceedings, ensuring that each Member’s vote is recorded.

In committees

Committees provide an opportunity for in-depth discussions on a variety of topics. Typically, ministers, public servants, citizens, experts and representatives of organizations are invited to appear before them to provide information relevant to a study. When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, the House of Commons precinct was closed to visitors, committee travel was suspended, and all parliamentary functions and events in the precinct were cancelled. These measures changed committee operations considerably.

In the early days of the pandemic, the House authorized committees to meet to study the impacts of COVID-19. The Standing Committee on Health resumed meeting on March 31, 2020, by teleconference. This first meeting was followed shortly after by meetings of other committees, which were all held by teleconference at first before quickly transitioning to videoconference.

On Thursday, April 9, 2020, the Standing Committee on Health became the first committee to meet by videoconference, employing webcasting technology in lieu of teleconferencing technology. Over the following months, the committee received many briefs and heard from over 170 witnesses as part of its study of the Canadian response to the novel coronavirus. Behind the scenes, the House of Commons’ legal and legislative counsel reviewed large volumes of documentation to ensure that the privacy of Canadians, national security and confidential contract information was protected, as well as to support the important work of the committee.

The Speaker, the Clerk of the House of Commons and administrative staff conduct a dry-run exercise to prepare for future virtual and hybrid committee meetings.

What is COVI?

The Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic (COVI) was established to consider ministerial announcements, allow Members to present petitions, and enable Members to question ministers of the Crown, including the Prime Minister, on matters relating to the pandemic. COVI met a total of 25 times. This included seven meetings by videoconference; four in-person meetings, with a limited number of Members present; and 14 hybrid meetings, with some Members participating in person in the Chamber and others participating by videoconference.

The continuation of committee business

Although the disruption caused by the pandemic presented challenges, committees were able to quickly adapt in order to resume meeting. They held numerous meetings with many witnesses and produced important reports through the remainder of the first session of the 43rd Parliament.

In the fall, the second session of the 43rd Parliament began. Committees had adapted to the circumstances facing them and adopted new practices, including virtual and hybrid meeting formats, the virtual appearance of witnesses, and even the virtual tabling of reports. The important work of committees continues, exemplified by reviews of significant legislation, including the study of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as well as substantive reports such as the Standing Committee on Finance’s Pre-Budget Consultations study in advance of the 2021 Budget.

Photo of a committee room

Appearing before a committee during a pandemic

The current COVID-19 context prevents witnesses from attending meetings in person. Instead, they appear by videoconference, usually from their homes or offices. To ensure they are adequately equipped to participate in committee meetings, the House Administration now furnishes them with headsets for their appearances. The House also provides ongoing support to Members and witnesses, before and during the meeting, including conducting technical tests to ensure appropriate connectivity and equipment functionality.

Photo of a witness appearing before a committee remotely

New ways of working together

Since meetings had to shift from an in-person format to a virtual setting because of the pandemic, a significant adjustment was made to the way committee chairs and committee clerks communicate with each other during meetings.

In the past, the clerk would be seated next to the chair at the committee table, given that communicating and providing advice is easier when they are located next to one another. In the virtual setting, technology has played a major role in bridging the physical gap. Various methods and tools are used during meetings, including open phone calls, text messaging, and online messaging and chatting applications.

What are the roles of the committee chair and committee clerk?

Committee chairs are Members of Parliament who have procedural, administrative, and representative responsibilities, including calling committee meetings and deciding on their agendas, presiding over meetings, as well as presenting committee reports to the House. Working by their side are committee clerks, the professional, non-partisan and independent employees from the House Administration who serve as the committees’ procedural and administrative officers.

Photo of a computer screen presenting a virtual committee meeting

International and interparliamentary activities

Parliamentary diplomacy is the practice of dialogue and cooperation among the world’s legislators. Whether welcoming visiting parliamentarians and dignitaries to the House of Commons or participating in delegations to foreign legislatures and international conferences, Members play an active role in parliamentary diplomacy.

On March 11, 2020, the Joint Interparliamentary Council issued a moratorium on all international travel and incoming delegations. Given the restrictions, Parliament had to embrace new forms of virtual diplomacy, and the focus quickly shifted to organizing and supporting virtual meetings for associations and courtesy calls related to international and interparliamentary activities. For the Speaker, the number of virtual calls remained high, not only with members of the diplomatic corps residing in Ottawa, but also with G7 and other Speaker counterparts around the world, notably in the context of the pandemic and the parliamentary response to it.

What is the Joint Interparliamentary Council?

Canada belongs to 13 parliamentary associations that promote the country’s interests abroad on a continuing basis. The Joint Interparliamentary Council (JIC) is responsible for determining all budgetary and administrative matters relating to parliamentary associations. The JIC also reviews Parliament’s involvement with associations and recognized interparliamentary groups.

This past year, the Speaker participated in a number of important international and interparliamentary virtual events, including:

  • Inter-Parliamentary Union Fifth World Conference of Speakers in August 2020
  • G7 Speakers’ Meeting in September 2020
  • Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Webinar for Speakers and Presiding Officers on COVID-19 and Independent Parliaments on November 25, 2020
  • Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth on January 18, 2021
  • Canadian Presiding Officers’ Conference on January 19, 2021, along with Senator Pierrette Ringuette
The Speaker participates in the virtual meeting of the Standing Committee of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth.

Despite travel restrictions preventing in-person attendance at conferences and association meetings, parliamentary diplomacy did not slow down this past year. Canadian parliamentarians participated in over 200 virtual events hosted by the different parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups.

66th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in November 2020

From November 18 to 23, 2020, the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association participated in the Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the first held entirely online. During the session, parliamentarians from NATO member countries and partner nations met to study draft reports and hear from experts and officials about a wide range of issues concerning the Alliance.

46th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie in January 2021

The parliamentary delegation of the Canadian Branch of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie participated in the 46th Annual Session of the Assemblée from January 28 to 29, 2021. More than 350 participants from 46 branches attended the Annual Session titled “Les parlements francophones face à la crise de la COVID-19, perspectives pour demain.

5th Gathering of the ParlAmericas Open Parliament Network in March 2021

Canada is one of the 35 members of ParlAmericas, an association that provides parliamentarians with a forum to engage counterparts in the hemisphere on important bilateral and multilateral issues.

From March 15 to 26, the association held a series of sessions on the topic of countering disinformation to promote responsible public discourse.

Delegates are exchanging perspectives and experiences with counterparts from the Americas and the Caribbean on disinformation and democratic accountability as part of the ParlAmericas Open Parliament Network.