Canadian MPs meet online in first virtual session of House of Commons

Some MPs couldn’t figure out how to unmute themselves

OTTAWA — Canada’s first-ever virtual House of Commons kicked off this afternoon with almost 90 per cent of MPs dialed in to start.

The House of Commons special committee on COVID-19 is meeting via videoconference this afternoon. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said in his opening statement that he could see that 297 of the 338 MPs were online at that moment.

The special committee was struck as a way to circumvent the rules that govern how official sittings must occur, while further discussions are held about whether those rules can be changed to allow virtual sittings of the House officially.

Just as many Canadians have discovered moving in-person meetings to the virtual world, MPs experienced some technical glitches — mostly with the audio.

Some MPs couldn’t figure out how to unmute themselves, others accidentally began to comment when they didn’t mean to unmute. The biggest problem appeared to be with the translation, a glitch that continually had some MPs complaining they couldn’t hear or that the translation was being played at the same volume as the actual speaker.

Most MPs appeared good-humoured about the problems. Health Minister Patty Hajdu laughed at herself when she was unable to initially figure out how to unmute her microphone.

Being outside the chamber brings its own host of issues, though thus far no children or pets have made an appearance.

Blanchet did have to pause his opening speech because something in his office was ringing. He assured people it was not a fire alarm as he tried to find the source of the noise. Unlike the real House of Commons, Speaker Anthony Rota did not chastise him for the interruption.

He did however chastise MPs he caught taking photos of their screens. Much like photos are not allowed to be taken during House or committee proceedings, Rota told them they are not to take photos of MPs on their screens.

He said he knows it’s a “historic” day but warned them not to post any photos they have taken on social media.

While Rota and MPs can see squares of anyone who is dialed in, the public can only see the person who is speaking, which is similar to the way parliamentary sittings are broadcast in normal times.

Hajdu was the first member of cabinet to issue a statement, thanking front-line and essential workers for their service, and Canadians for doing their part to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada.

“We are seeing hopeful evidence that Canada’s COVID-19 epidemic is slowing down,” she said.

She said the length of time it is taking for the total number of confirmed cases to double, has gone from about three days in late March to more than 16 days now. However Hajdu said the outbreaks in long-term care homes are responsible for more than three-quarters of all deaths in Canada.

“This is indeed a tragedy,” she said.

The rest of the afternoon is now reserved for questions from MPs to ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is participating in the virtual committee meeting from his home office in Ottawa.

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