Madam Speaker, before I start, I would like to greet my colleagues and also mention that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Ottawa West—Nepean.
I am very pleased to join today's debate on the motion that sets out how Parliament will once again adapt to the unparalleled circumstances that we face with the COVID-19 pandemic. This motion will help ensure that the important work of parliamentary democracy is maintained and carried out in a way that is both responsible and safe.
I would like to use my time today to focus on three of the motions that we have previously adopted that progressively changed how Parliament would operate during the pandemic. The first was on March 13, the second on April 11 and the third on April 20. Looking at the steps these motions took will clearly demonstrate how today's motion marks a logical evolutionary step forward in restoring the daily activities of this place while still ensuring the safety of all of the people who make this place work, and demonstrating leadership to Canadians who have had to make sacrifices and adapt their lives as well.
On March 13, the final day of our regular sittings, all parties unanimously adopted a motion, based on significant discussions and negotiations, to adjourn the House until April 20. It was clear at that time that having 338 parliamentarians and their staff working in close proximity and travelling between Ottawa and their constituencies would be dangerous and irresponsible given what we knew about the disease, which was quickly spreading throughout the world. We were asking Canadians to stay home, to cancel their travel plans and to physically distance themselves from each another. We had to take a leadership role in demonstrating the serious dangers that COVID posed at a time when governments around the world were being faced with similar decisions.
Parliament agreed that our government should be laser focused on the task of getting help to Canadians who were facing job losses and changes to their way of life, as well as dealing with the psychological impact of social and physical distancing and isolation. The motion that we adopted when we adjourned the House also required that any recall of this place would have to be for the purposes of considering measures to address the economic impact of COVID-19 and the impact on the lives of Canadians. With that in mind, we all left and returned to support our constituents back in our ridings, hoping, albeit with a certain measure of uncertainty, that by the time Parliament was set to resume on April 20, we might be in a position to resume normal sittings.
We were able to use the processes put in place by this initial motion to recall Parliament twice during this period to urgently pass two COVID-19 emergency response acts, which provided important financial supports to Canadians in their time of need, including the creation of the Canada emergency response benefit, CERB. This was thanks to the co-operative and collegial support of all members of Parliament to be flexible and adjust the regular parliamentary rules as needed to allow this to happen.
The second motion I would like to focus on was adopted on April 11 as Parliament met to consider the second COVID-19 emergency response act, which brought the wage subsidy program into being. What I would like to highlight in that motion were the changes that were made with respect to committees.
Very importantly, the motion adopted that day allowed certain committees, including the Standing Committee on Health; the Standing Committee on Finance; the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities; and the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, to meet either by video conference or teleconference while the House was adjourned in order to receive evidence related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also enabled the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to undertake a study on how parliamentarians could fulfill their duties even when Parliament was adjourned. It is a report which I am sure many members have reviewed, and its was recently tabled.
The report raises important issues that we will need to consider as we move forward with alternative and virtual sittings of the House. Furthermore, we have added other committees to the list of active committees, allowing members yet another venue to gather information and raise issues with the government.
The motion we are discussing today would even further empower committees to continue their important work. We saw an incremental return to the some of the types of activities that normally took place in Parliament, using technology to allow ourselves to do so while continuing social and physical distancing guidelines. These early committee meetings provided an opportunity to test our meeting virtually, which helped us to learn how eventually this technology could be used to allow for virtual sittings of the House.
As we came closer to the date when Parliament was set to return, as prescribed by the motion on March 13, it became clear that we would not be able to safely return to full sittings. Instead, we would be able to make use of technology to help take small but safe steps toward to reopening Parliament.
This lead us to the third motion. On April 20, I returned to Parliament and after many hours of negotiation, a new motion was adopted by Parliament. This one recognized that there was a need for Parliament to return in some form to provide a regular forum for MPs to question the government, while still ensuring the safety of all members. A unique solution was put forward to adapt to the challenging global circumstances that we faced.
We agreed to a special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic, which would serve as a temporary replacement for what would normally have been daily question period. That committee would start meeting two days a week, beginning on April 28, with a virtual sitting on Tuesdays and an in-person sitting on Wednesdays, with a reduced agreed upon number of us in the chamber. The next week, as our Parliament became more comfortable with the technological requirements of holding virtual meetings, a third sitting began, being held virtually on Thursdays.
While not considered a regular sitting of Parliament, this committee provided more time for opposition parties to question the government than they would have had during regular sittings. While there have been some minor technical challenges, we have overcome many of them.
The motion not only reinforces all the work that has been done, but also brings us closer. When I reflect on today and all of us, we work in a safe manner. When I look at question period and the way the government has proposed it, I would certainly appreciate that all my colleagues would have equal opportunity to represent their ridings the same way we do. This is what we are proposing in the motion, to sit four days.