OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to Parliament Hill Wednesday to attend a cabinet meeting after nearly a month in self-isolation.
The prime minister has been working from his Ottawa home at Rideau Cottage since his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 12. She has since recovered from the respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus.
“I will continue to work from home, day in and day out, as we’re asking most Canadians to do,” Trudeau said in his daily press conference. He said he would take “all proper precautions” in the event “particular issues” or “strategic meetings” require him to leave his home.
“But most of my work will continue to be from home on the telephone,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to HuffPost Canada that Trudeau travelled to West Block to attend the meeting.
Watch: Government, Opposition spar over role of Parliament in pandemic. Story continues below video.
Trudeau’s emergence from self-isolation comes amid negotiations over the government’s yet-to-be-tabled wage subsidy bill.
Parliament will need to reconvene to pass the bill, which proposes $71 billion to help small, medium, and large businesses keep employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government proposes virtual sittings for MPs
With MPs spread across the country, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez wrote to the House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota earlier this week, asking him to “support and facilitate” virtual sittings. It would give members the option of respecting physical-distancing advice while also conducting regular business.
“It is only appropriate that members of Parliament practice these same measures, and adapt the way that we conduct our business during the time that the House cannot meet on a regular and normal basis,” Rodriguez wrote.
He acknowledged that such a shift would require changes to the standing orders, the rules that govern House proceedings, to accept electronic and remote voting.
Rota’s office responded to Rodriguez’s letter Wednesday, saying House administration is working toward the goal of a virtual sitting within four weeks.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre criticized the government Wednesday for being slow in its delivery of financial relief to small businesses impacted by widespread physical distancing measures. He called for more accountability for the next round of emergency debate related to coronavirus aid measures.
One of the sticking points in negotiations over the draft bill is reportedly over proposed accountability measures.
“We are proposing that there be some form of question period so that we can hold the government accountable for its actions throughout this time,” Poilievre said.
He pointed to the government’s attempt to work in a provision into its emergency relief bill last month to give federal cabinet sweeping powers to tax and spend without parliamentary approval until the end of 2021. The provision was scrapped from the final version of the bill.
“They’re spending $200 billion in the course of a couple of months,” Poilievre said. “They are in the middle of a massive public health matter for which they should be accountable.”
Minimum 48-hour notice
Under current House rules, at least 20 MPs are needed for quorum to pass legislation.
Party leaders agreed last month to call 32 MPs back to Ottawa — proportional to the number of seats each caucus has in the House — to debate and vote on the government’s emergency $107-billion coronavirus aid package.
Priority was given to MPs within driving distance of Ottawa. The government sent a plane to pick up Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who represents a riding in Regina, and other senior members of his caucus who live well beyond a car ride away from the precinct.
Trudeau is also pushing for virtual sittings. “I think it’s important that parliamentarians from every corner of the country, not just those within driving distance of Ottawa, should be able to weigh in on the working of our democracy,” he said.
The House is currently suspended until April 20. The government and opposition parties are expected to come to a deal over the draft version of the wage-subsidy bill before a formal request is made to the Speaker to recall the House within a minimum of 48 hours notice.
It remains unclear whether Parliament will reconvene over Easter.
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