Virtual parliament encourages decorum among MPs

Virtual parliament encourages decorum among MPs

The first session carried out by Zoom had some glitches but also some benefits: Bachrach

Canada’s first experiment with a virtual parliamentary session was not without technical difficulties, but also a bit of an unexpected benefit.

On April 28, MPs from remote locations all over the country gathered on a version of the Zoom conferencing platform modified for the House of Commons to meet and discuss the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technical issues were largely the result of MPs being on mute when they started speaking. There were also some issues with translation and some members had problems associated with slow internet speeds.

Nevertheless, Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said he felt it went as smoothly as could be expected given the circumstances.

“It’s good because this allows us to hold the government to account and parliamentary oversight is such an important part of our democratic process here in Canada,” he said.

Parliament is adjourned until the end of May but the House will meet remotely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In-person sessions with a limited number of MPs occur on Wednesdays.

As for the unexpected benefit of the Zoom session, Bachrach said it was nice to sit without all the interruptions, heckling, desk-pounding and disrespect that typically characterizes the House, particularly during Question Period.

“Obviously that’s not really possible when everyone except the MP that’s speaking is on mute, so in some ways it’s been a little bit refreshing having sort of a more of pure back and forth between the MP asking the question and the minister giving the response,” he said.

“I think it actually, in some ways, puts more pressure on the government to answer the questions in a substantive way.”

Bachrach added it remains to be seen whether that decorum will last even during the Zoom sessions as MPs do still have control of their own mute buttons. He would like to see it continue, though, when the House does meet again in person.

“My hope is that we’ll all reflect on that during this unique time and then bring those changes back and improve the quality of the in-person sittings,” he said.

And, although the business of parliament has been almost exclusively COVID-19 related, he believes it is functioning well.

“My sense is that the number of adjustments the government has had to make in response to pressure from both the public and the House of Commons shows that this minority parliament is having an effect,” he said. “Our caucus has been pushing from the very beginning for changes to these relief programs the government has been announcing in order to make them more universal and to prevent people from falling through the cracks.”