MPs reviewing virtual voting options to bolster COVID-19 Parliament

MPs reviewing virtual voting options to bolster COVID-19 Parliament

MPs reviewing virtual voting options to bolster COVID-19 Parliament

OTTAWA — As millions of Canadians contemplate what it will take to work long-term from home in order to control the spread of COVID-19, MPs are considering a very particular problem: how to virtually vote.

Options to do so are now on the table as members of Parliament and hundreds of behind-the-scenes staff begin to plan for what their headquarters could look like come fall, to the extent they can.

“Is it better to meet in person or virtually come September?” House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota said to the procedure and house affairs committee Monday.

“COVID has been changing so drastically along the way it’s very difficult to predict what will happen in a month and a half or two months from now.”

But in the meantime, a mobile app could be deployed to allow MPs to vote whether they’re on Parliament Hill or off, Rota said.

The app is fully bilingual, meets accessibility standards, and is secure, including providing administrators the ability to know where MPs are when they vote and authenticate their identities.

“The proposed approach for an electronic voting system respects several key principles,” Rota said.

Finding a way for MPs to vote while limiting the risk of COVID-19 transmission has been a sticking point for the Liberal government as it has faced pressure from the Opposition Conservatives to allow for the full resumption of Parliament.

MPs have grappled with how they can do their jobs ever since Parliament, like much of the rest of the country, shut down in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Several compromises have been reached along the way, including a hybrid model that allows MPs to participate in person or virtually in debates or committee meetings.

Those debates and meetings have been limited in scope and the Opposition Conservatives have pressed for a full return to business that would expand the powers MPs have available to press the government and get more information.

Right now, Parliament is expected to resume sitting full-time on Sept. 21, though there is a single sitting day scheduled for this week.

Summer sitting days were among the concessions opposition parties won as they’ve fought for greater accountability.

The virtual voting plan is best to be rolled out come fall, Rota said, citing the time needed to get the right system in place.

In addition to an app, he’s presented MPs with the option of a video-conferencing approach that would piggyback on the hybrid arrangement in place now.

Rota’s report, however, raised several concerns with that, including unstable internet connections, the amount of time it would take, and the sensitive issue of MPs not being present to vote.

A video-conferencing approach would need to name each MP in turn to double-check an MP isn’t on mute or having trouble with the connection.

“The absence of members would be highlighted to the public, to the media and to other members of the House, contrary to current practice,” the report said.

Conservative MPs have come under scrutiny in recent weeks for their absence from the current special COVID-19 committee of MPs that replaced the normal House of Commons sitting.

Unlike in regular sittings, for the committee it is possible to see exactly who attended, and tallies have suggested many Tories haven’t shown up regularly.

When it comes to virtual voting, the Conservatives have largely opposed the approach, citing a resistance to anything that keeps MPs off the Hill.

They argue it is possible to adjust regular procedures to allow for physical distancing, and had asked for a look at how voting could take place in person.

Pandemic-safe options could include lining up outside the Commons chamber to vote, voting in shifts or voting by proxy, Rota’s analysis suggested.

Among the issues in-person voting raises is the question of time and resources needed to keep the chamber clean as well as how long the votes themselves would take.

The MPs are aiming to have their recommendations in place later this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

File Photo
Blackfalds RCMP seeking suspects in traffic collision

RCMP are asking the public for help identifing two suspects wanted for multiple offences

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday 12, 2020.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Most Read