Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order regarding the COVID-19 safety protocols. I have two specific questions for you.
In a report submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs dated June 30, 2020, entitled “Options for In-person Voting”, the recommended number of members who can safely attend sittings of the House is 86.
As you are well aware, we, all parliamentarians, follow public health guidelines. We keep our distance, we wear our masks when we are not speaking, and we have far fewer than 86 members in the House at any one time. We have never exceeded that number, and no one has even thought of exceeding it. Everyone is doing their part and, generally, all political parties are working together—well, almost all.
I realize that the virtual chamber is an extension of the physical chamber. You will have noticed that, for several weeks now, here in the physical chamber, only two government members have been attending the sittings of the House—sometimes three, but very often only one.
As you know, in all House committees, the principle is that the number of members selected to attend meetings reflects the proportion of seats held by each of the recognized parties in the House. This principle applies to all membership matters involving the House of Commons.
I would say this principle should apply to the maximum number of members who can safely attend, in accordance with established standards and the maximum number of people allowed in the House. The government side should not be limited to two members. There is absolutely no justification for this, especially since there have been some disappointing contradictions on the government side for weeks now.
For example, the Minister of Justice always responds to questions virtually from his office, which is here, on Parliament Hill, two buildings away. In a specific sense, he is not physically in the chamber. He is in his office, 1,023 feet away. To get to that office, the minister faces all of the usual risks. He crosses the provincial border, he encounters security officers, he encounters people in the halls and in the elevator. However, he is not here, in the House.
He even came to this building, the West Block. He made a comment to the press a few days ago, not very far from here at all, in room 125-B. You are very familiar with the physical spaces in the House. Room 125-B is the one that is located just under the floor of the House of Commons. Since he was in the building, why was he not at his desk here in the House of Commons?
Here is another reality. When we leave the West Block at night and go out the side door, we often see a fair number of the ministers' executive vehicles or limousines, a word that might, in and of itself, give us pause. We do not see just one or two from time to time but a fair number. I do not have any proof, but if a minister's executive vehicle is at the door of the West Block, then the minister in question is probably in the building.
If ministers are coming to the West Block for cabinet meetings, why can they not come here, to the physical House of Commons?
I repeat: Members are allowed to participate from another place as long as it is by virtual means. Of course, we recognize that the virtual House is an extension of the physical House. However, like you, we have noticed some disappointing inconsistencies and contradictions.
Now the Prime Minister is leaving the national capital region. Last week, he went to Montreal. Today, he is in Trois-Rivières. If he and his cabinet can make themselves available in places other than Ottawa, why can they not do the same here in the House, safely and in accordance with the rules?
We find the under-representation of the government party and cabinet in the House to be unacceptable. That should be remedied in order to ensure the integrity of our system of responsible government.
What is most troubling is that the very important doctrine that must guide our work is ministerial responsibility. Ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention whereby ministers are responsible to Parliament for the actions of the government. It also means that they have a duty to be present in the House and to be accountable for their actions and failures.
For the third time, let me be clear: We recognize that the virtual chamber is an extension of the physical chamber. However, when we see, as you do, Mr. Speaker, incongruities, contradictions and appalling situations where ministers and government members come to Parliament Hill, even to West Block, but do not attend sittings in the House, that is very disappointing. That is why the under-representation of this group in the House makes a mockery of our system of government and the very institution of Parliament.