House of Commons can’t settle on how to protect politicians from COVID-19


OTTAWA -- Parliamentarians are grappling with how to protect themselves and their staff after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife isolated themselves over concerns about the novel coronavirus.

MPs on the all-party board of internal economy that governs the House of Commons' operations discussed potential measures with public-health officials at a scheduled meeting Thursday.

Speaker Anthony Rota, who chairs the body, said he expected to announce new measures Thursday afternoon, but the members were not able to agree before they suspended their meeting.

"When you have different parties working together it take a bit of effort," said NDP MP Peter Julian, who sits on the board.

He added that Parliament would '"for sure" sit Friday, the last day before a scheduled one-week break.

Several MPs were asked how comfortable they feel assembling in the House of Commons as large gatherings across the country, from hockey games to awards shows, have been abruptly cancelled.

"I think that we're taking decisions by the minute," said Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly. "I'll go and answer questions, if I have any, from the Opposition and our democracy is important."

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said a decision about whether to suspend Parliament will ultimately be up to health officials.

"If they make a determination that we shouldn't be sitting, then we shouldn't be sitting," he said.

On Wednesday, Rota issued instructions to MPs that mimic the health advice to the public, including frequent hand-washing and staying home while sick.

"We've been providing the MPs and all staff on the Hill with some guidelines and instructions on how to deal with the coronavirus at this time," Rota said.

The board of internal economy already has a pandemic plan designed to allow MPs to perform their constitutional duties in the event of an outbreak.

Minor changes could be seen outside the House of Commons chamber Thursday, including new hand-sanitizer stations and stanchions set up to keep journalists at a greater distance from elected officials during "scrums," when a politician faces a group of reporters.

Press gallery staff have also started wiping down standing microphones between interviews with disinfectant to limit the spread of germs.

Conservative MP Mark Strahl, the Opposition whip, said members of his party have been encouraged to go back to their constituencies if they're not feeling well.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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