A House of Commons message board welcomes newly elected members of Parliament in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Rookie MPs start orientation amid uncertainty over Parliament’s future

Rookie MPs start orientation amid uncertainty over Parliament’s future

OTTAWA — Ten newly elected members of Parliament were shown the ropes of their new jobs on Monday, even as questions swirled around when — and how — they and their more experienced colleagues on both sides of the aisle will head back to the House of Commons.

The 10 MPs were the first of 52 rookie parliamentarians who will receive orientations over the next few days as they prepare to represent their constituents on Parliament Hill following last week’s federal election.

Brigitte Lemire, the House of Commons’ official responsible for the sessions, said the training this year is largely unchanged from what new MPs received following the 2019 federal election with one exception: new MPs can attend in person or virtually.

Those MPs attending Monday’s session met in a medium-sized conference room in a building across the street from West Block, where the House of Commons chamber is located while Centre Block is being renovated.

The incoming MPs, including six Conservatives, four Liberals and the Greens’ Mike Morrice, all wore masks as they identified themselves by name and riding — but not political affiliation — during the start of the meeting.

Lemire said all newly elected MPs are being contacted to see whether they would like to attend the sessions in person or online to learn how to manage their office budgets and hire staff, and to receive training on sexual harassment prevention.

While nearly all wanted to attend in person, she said six had so far opted for online.

The training session came amid continued uncertainty over when exactly members of Parliament will be allowed to resume their work — and what form that work will take.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has held only one brief public news conference since his Liberals were re-elected with a minority government on Sept. 20, where he spoke about the release of two Canadians who had been detained by China.

He has yet to say when his new cabinet will be sworn in or when a throne speech will be delivered, kicking off the next session of Parliament.

A provisional date of Oct. 18 was set for the return of Parliament when Gov. Gen. Mary Simon agreed to dissolve Parliament in August, but House of Commons principal clerk Jean-Philippe Brochu said that date can be changed by the prime minister.

It’s also unclear whether parliamentarians will be required to return to in-person sittings, or whether they will be allowed to again attend House of Commons proceedings virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While parties previously allowed a hybrid model that included in-person and virtual attendance, Brochu noted those provisions ended when the House rose in June and any decision on whether to bring them back will be decided by parliamentarians.

“A decision of the House would have to come before we could resume hybrid proceedings,” he said during a briefing.

“It’s more of a political question, so I don’t have an answer to that. But there’s likely going to be discussions between parties and it’s up for members to decide what they want to do with their proceedings.”

Parties say talks on whether to revive the previous hybrid approach won’t start in earnest until the cabinet is announced.

Conservatives were the most reluctant to adopt the hybrid format and among the most keen to see the end of it in June, setting up a potential fight if the other parties try to bring it back.

Yet NDP MP Peter Julian, who served as his party’s House leader in the last session of Parliament, indicated New Democrats support a return to the hybrid model given many parts of Canada are being afflicted by a deadly fourth wave of COVID-19.

“It has been effective,” he said. “And given the rise of the Delta variant, it would be prudent.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

canadian politics

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