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

Just Posted

Soccer games returned to Max Turyk in Fernie this May and June, after a year-long break due to COVID. (Contributed by Yori Jamin)
Fernie kids get stuck into soccer

Youth soccer games returned to Max Turyk for May and June after a year-long break

A small scale example of how big the maximus dinosaur is compared to Sparwood's Titan truck. (Image courtesy of District of Sparwood)
Sparwood goes digging for fossils (maybe)

The district is exploring options that could see it acquire a giant dinosaur skeleton

Pride and Transgender flags wave on the lawn of Fernie's City Hall. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
Fernie Pride launches inclusivity survey

The survey will help identify gaps in supports for the LGBTQ2+ community in the Elk Valley

The freshly re-painted rainbow crossings in Fernie in 2021. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Rainbow crossings come to Fernie

Volunteers painted the crossings at 3rd Ave and 5th Street in Fernie in pride colours

Coal Creek and forested land near Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Elk Valley Regional Land Trust inks deal with Community Foundation of Kootenay Rockies

Donations to the trusts project to secure forested land in the Elk Valley can now be made through the CFKR

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

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

Grace (left), a caribou that was born in a maternal pen north of Revelstoke, is alive and well said the province. It appears she even has a calf. Maternity pens aim to increase caribou calf survival by protecting them from predation until they are older and less vulnerable. (Contributed)
For the first time in years, caribou numbers increasing near Revelstoke

North herd growing but south herd still concerning

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Most Read