OTTAWA — Members of Parliament have returned to the House of Commons for the first time in five months, and are being told they have until just before the holidays to OK a new round of pandemic aid.
Government House leader Mark Holland says a bill to approve billions in new aid for businesses still hurting from COVID-19 is one of four pieces of legislation the Liberals want passed by the middle of next month.
Of the remaining three, one bill would approve 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers, another would ban conversion therapy that targets LGBTQ people, and another would fulfil a campaign promise to criminalize the harassment of health-care workers.
Holland says he expects the bills to pass on the aggressive timeline while warning the government won't tolerate any political shenanigans to stall the legislative agenda.
Since they hold only a minority of seats, the Liberals can't necessarily control the agenda. The opposition parties have their own priorities that they intend to push.
Before debate on policy can begin, the parties must decide whether to allow MPs to take part in proceedings remotely, as they have since the start of the pandemic, amid mistrust over the vaccination status of Conservative MPs.
The issue of Conservative MPs' vaccination status gained fresh urgency over the weekend when Quebec Tory MP Richard Lehoux was diagnosed with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.
Lehoux had attended a two-day, in-person caucus retreat late last week and under public-health guidelines the party says will be followed, that could mean any unvaccinated colleagues will have to self-isolate.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has refused to say how many of his MPs have not received two shots, only saying that all 119 Conservatives will be able to enter the Commons because they are either immunized or have a medical exemption.
Holland on Monday questioned the number of exemptions, suggesting the Commons needs to check anew the validity of medical waivers claimed by an unknown number of Conservative MPs.
He also expressed frustration that the parties haven't been able to agree to hybrid sittings.
Liberals, New Democrats and Greens strongly favour continuation of the hybrid format, but the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois want the Commons to fully return to normal in-person proceedings.
Because there is no unanimity on how to proceed, the matter will likely be put to a vote later in the week.
The first piece of business Monday is for the election of a new Speaker and only MPs who are in the House will be able to vote.
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon will deliver the throne speech in the Senate on Tuesday to officially open the new session of Parliament.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2021.
The Canadian Press