OTTAWA — The Speaker of the British House of Commons scolded the prime minister Wednesday for treating Parliament with “contempt” by rushing sweeping COVID-19-related restrictions without debate.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle brandished the rare reprimand before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s weekly question-and-answer period. Explanations for how measures have come into force without proper scrutiny by MPs have been “unconvincing,” Hoyle said, adding those actions have shown a “total disregard” for the House.
“The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory,” Hoyle said. “I now look to the government to rebuild trust with this House and not treat it with the contempt that it has shown.”
Watch: U.K. Speaker condemns British government’s used of emergency powers. Story continues below video.
Some big changes, from establishing a “group of six” rule for social bubbles to guidelines impacting public places, have come into force in the U.K. through regulation, not debate.
Johnson and authorities were granted increased powers after the passage of emergency legislation in March.
Now, the Conservative prime minister faces a rebellious faction from backbench MPs, keen to see Johnson’s increased powers curbed and fulsome debates returned to the House.
Rushed legislation without scrutiny is a situation that has parallels in Canada’s Parliament.
MPs voted into the early hours Wednesday morning, passing legislation to create three new benefit programs to replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which wrapped over the weekend.
The CERB was introduced this spring at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to buttress Canadians’ lost incomes after the economy ground to a halt.
A new paid sick leave benefit was also included in the legislation, a measure the NDP had identified as a key item in exchange for the party’s support of the Liberal minority government’s throne speech.
“My first reaction was, ‘Seriously?’”
The Liberals deemed Bill C-4 a matter of confidence, so the passage of the bill averts a fall election. Prior to the vote, the Liberals moved a closure motion to truncate debate — which wasn’t received as appropriate by members of the opposition.
“My first reaction was, ‘Seriously?’” In my role as the mayor of my little city, we spent many hours and even days scrutinizing spending and I can assure members we were not dealing with numbers of this magnitude,” said Conservative MP Gary Vidal.
The Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP previously served as mayor of Meadow Lake, Sask. before making the jump to federal politics in 2019.
Several MPs also lamented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to prorogue Parliament, questioning the necessity to halt parliamentary work for more than five weeks to write a new throne speech.
“Shutting down Parliament for several weeks in the midst of a pandemic, in the middle of an emergency, as we were coming up with ideas, is not what the public could and should have expected from its elected officials, especially when prorogation need not have lasted more than a few hours,” said Bloc Québécois MP Marilène Gill in French.
Despite outcry from opposition Conservative and Bloc MPs over the bill’s shortcomings, the legislation passed unanimously.
Before the House adjourned, Conservative MP Alain Rayes raised concerns about MPs not abiding by the hybrid-Parliament rule that cameras must be turned for the duration of a vote for those working remotely.
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House Speaker Anthony Rota then heard Liberal, Conservative, and NDP MPs rise on points of order to blame technical issues on their apparent gaffes before the House adjourned at 3:16 a.m.
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