Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Vaccine delays top agenda as Parliament set to resume after less-than-restful break

Opposition parties have blamed the government for mishandling the rush to approve and buy vaccines

Members of Parliament return to the House of Commons on Monday following a month-long break that was anything but restful to again face the ramification of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the threat of a possible election.

One of the first orders of business will be for MPs to decide how Parliament will continue to function during the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether to let parliamentarians continue attending remotely and whether to adopt a new voting app for those who do.

Those decisions come amid a much-changed situation as Ontario and Quebec remain under lockdown and stay-at-home orders following record-setting surges in new cases through much of the past month.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez’s office on Sunday said the Liberals had held “constructive” discussions with the other parties, and there were signs that the measure would be adopted without much fuss.

Yet an agreement on the functioning of Parliament is likely to be the exception rather than the rule as opposition parties have indicated they plan to go hard at the government on a number of fronts — starting with its handling of the pandemic.

The Liberals are expected to table new legislation this week aimed at preventing people who have travelled outside the country on non-essential business from being able to access up to $1,000 in federal sick-leave benefits to pay for their 14-day quarantine after returning.

Yet delays in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to dominate the agenda, with opposition parties indicating they plan to press the Liberals for answers on why Canada is facing delays in the delivery and distribution of shots — and what Ottawa is doing about it.

That includes the news last week that Canada would receive only a fraction of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations originally promised over the next few weeks, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Pfizer has promised to deliver 4 million doses by the end of March.

Opposition parties have blamed the government for mishandling the rush to approve and buy vaccines, saying the Liberals have left Canada far behind other countries in terms of inoculating its citizens.

Both NDP House Leader Peter Julian and Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong left the door open to parliamentary committee hearings into the government’s handling of the vaccination campaign — including what it is doing to get shots into arms faster.

“Why are other countries ahead?” Julian said. “That’s the question that the government will have to respond to. And we believe that the government needs to very clearly spell out their plan to accelerate the vaccine distribution across the country.”

The government has said it is doing all it can to secure as many shots as possible, which includes signing contracts with multiple pharmaceutical companies to secure millions of doses over the past few months.

“I spend … every day working to ensure that we have earlier and earlier doses in this country for Canadians given the importance of this vaccination effort,” Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the CBC last week.

The Conservatives are also expected to continue pushing the government to approve rapid tests for COVID-19 and increase federal assistance for small businesses, Chong added, noting that many are in danger of closing permanently during the second wave.

“Our singular focus is on the pandemic because that’s what Canadians expect of us,” Chong said.

READ MORE: No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

The Bloc Quebecois has also called for more answers on vaccines while pushing for more support for seniors, while Julian indicated that the NDP will be pressing for the government to extend assistance to families and business past March while cracking down on profiteers.

Yet looming in the background will be the ever-present threat of a snap election. While Trudeau has insisted the Liberals don’t want to send Canadians to the polls, opposition parties have alleged that is exactly what the government hopes to happen.

Parliamentarians are also returning only days after Julie Payette resigned as governor general, which has raised questions about how she will be replaced — and how Trudeau selected her for the vice-regal job in the first place.

The Liberals are also expected to face fresh accusations of abandoning Western Canada for not raising more of a ruckus over U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision upon taking office last week to pull the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Yet the Liberals aren’t the only ones jumping back into the fire as they return to Ottawa for the resumption of Parliament, as the Conservatives will be looking to turn the page on Derek Sloan’s ouster last week.

The decision to kick the former Conservative leadership candidate from caucus for accepting a donation from white supremacist Paul Fromm capped a week in which Tory Leader Erin O’Toole sought to distance his party from far-right elements.

That followed Liberal efforts to associate the Conservatives with the type of right-wing extremists who stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., earlier this month at the urging of outgoing president Donald Trump.

In an interview, O’Toole dismissed the idea that kicking Sloan from caucus has pitted him against one of the party’s most powerful wings, social conservatives, whose support O’Toole courted during the leadership race last year in part by backing Sloan at the time.

The Bloc Quebecois also returns facing allegations of using “coded language” for seemingly questioning new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s fitness to serve in cabinet after having previously worked as head of the Canadian Arab Federation.

—With files from Stephanie Levitz.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusParliament

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Baker Street in downtown Cranbrook. Trevor Crawley photo.
Cranbrook looks to create a master plan for future of downtown core

City staff is eyeing a master plan to help city council and… Continue reading

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Real estate has been moving very briskly in Kimberley since last summer. Bulletin file
Hot Kimberley real estate market leads to tightened inventory

Real estate sales in the entire Kootenay region have been brisk for… Continue reading

This week the Kootenay East Youth Soccer Association’s  Domino’s Pizza Junior Players of the Week were Mia Molnar and Isabella Savage  (pictured above with Coach Rob Niedermayer ),
Keysa Players of the Week and team standings

This week the Kootenay East Youth Soccer Association’s Domino’s Pizza Junior Players… Continue reading

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Gas prices jumped in Golden to 131.9c this week, a trend that's supposed to continue into the summer. (Claire Palmer/Golden Star)
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Clovechok concerned as gas prices continue to rise

Fuel prices are supposed to skyrocket this summer as British Columbians await BCUC analysis

The area shaded in yellow was purchased last year by the Regional District of Central Kootenay. The purple area is the current purchase. Map: Submitted
Cottonwood Lake fundraiser reaches goal

The Nelson community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read