Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota speaks during a virtual session of Parliament Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota speaks during a virtual session of Parliament Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Virtual sittings have MPs doing things not allowed in House of Commons

Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has expressed concern about MPs using the virtual setting to break the rules

A stuffed deer head made a cameo appearance Tuesday during a virtual gathering of members of Parliament.

The deer head, replete with antlers, was mounted on the wall behind Conservative MP Blaine Calkins as he questioned the government on what he called its ”forced confiscation of law-abiding firearms owners’ property” — referring to the recently announced ban on military-style assault weapons.

Were MPs actually sitting in the House of Commons, they’d be banned from using any props or visual displays to illustrate or emphasize their remarks.

Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has expressed concern about MPs using the virtual setting to break the rules of decorum that normally apply.

“One issue that I think must be addressed has to be with the visual background in front of which members appear,” Rota told the procedure and House affairs committee Monday.

“Based on established practice, these backgrounds should be as neutral as possible, and consistent with the non-partisan environment of the chamber or committee.”

Rota did not give any example of backdrops that he believes have strayed from neutrality.

However, he may have had in mind the screen that British Columbia MP Paul Manly used as a backdrop during a virtual sitting last week. It was green in colour and Manly is, of course, a Green party MP.

Or he might have been thinking of the distracting painting of colourful turbans that served as a backdrop for Industry Minister Navdeep Bains last week.

In a letter to the chair of the House affairs committee, Rota elaborated on his view that despite the “exceptional circumstances” created by the pandemic, he believes “it is still necessary to maintain the authority and dignity of Parliament and its proceedings as much as possible.”

“The House has long-established rules for decorum that prohibit the use of displays, props and exhibits. The House also regulates how it is broadcast, to the point of specifying what shot angles to use when it is to be video recorded.

“Not only does this preserve the dignity of Parliament and its proceedings, but it also better ensures that what is debated and decided upon in the House remains more important than what is seen.”

Rota asked the committee to issue guidelines on ensuring decorum during virtual proceedings, which he could use when presiding over the twice-weekly virtual sittings of a modified House of Commons.

Until then, he said he’ll continue to advise MPs to ”refrain from including any background that is not consistent with the norms and standards followed within the parliamentary precinct.”

Rota has also chided MPs for not wearing business attire when participating in virtual proceedings.

However, Rota did experience some pushback Tuesday to the manner in which he’s attempting to preserve decorum.

After Conservative MP Mel Arnold interrupted Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan’s response to one of his questions, Rota reminded MPs they are not to interrupt when another person is speaking. He mused that he may start muting MPs who interrupt ”if it’s necessary.”

During a normal sitting of the House of Commons, only the microphone of the person speaking is turned on. Other MPs frequently heckle but their remarks are usually hard to make out. The Speaker will stop proceedings and call for order if the noise level is too high for the person speaking to be heard.

The virtual proceedings have eliminated the heckling. But Rota’s attempt to also prevent interruptions drew an objection Tuesday from Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.

She noted that the virtual sittings during the COVID-19 pandemic are structured like committee meetings, which typically allow MPs more freedom to interrupt to cut off lengthy answers or to castigate a witness for not answering their questions.

Given that, Rempel Garner said Rota’s threat to mute MPs who interrupt “seems a little dictatorial.”

Rota denied having threatened to mute MPs. Rempel Garner retorted that he “actually did,” before Rota cut her off and said he’d look into the matter.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penticton's Global Grocers, an expansion of Oliver's Global Grocers will be opening up around the end of April. (Facebook)
Penticton to get taste of global flavour with new grocer in April

Oliver’s Global Grocers are opening up their new store by the start of May

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow is closing its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
Petition to save South Okanagan’s only midwife clinic nears 3,000 signatures

After 12 years, Willow Community Midwives has to close its doors due to a shortage of midwives

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES photo)
UBCO program increases drug checking availability in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon

January 2021 data shows of 95 opioid samples tested across Interior Health, 93 contained fentanyl

Youth from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and the Kootenays were able to dig into two evenings of online learning and connection through United Way Southern Interior B.C.’s <CODE>anagan program. (Submitted)<code> </code>
CODEanagan gives youth a chance to learn about technology

The youth, aged 12 to 21, built their own WordPress sites and developed blogging ideas

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

The Salmon Arm Economic Development Society released a video on Feb. 22, 2021 promoting agriculture and food production in Salmon Arm and the Shuswap. (SAEDS image)
New video promotes Salmon Arm staples of agriculture, food production

Three-minute video from economic development featuring local producers receives appreciative reviews

One person was extricated from a vehicle that rolled off Highway 97 Feb. 25, 2021, near Clerke Road in Coldstream around 2 p.m. (Roger Knox - Vernon Morning Star)
Two hurt in Highway 97 rollover south of Vernon

Ambulance transfers two patients with non-life-threatening injuries

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in B.C. woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

A puppy stolen from a West Kelowna residence has been reunited with its family. (Kelowna RCMP)
Stolen puppy reunited with Central Okanagan owners

A happy ending; puppy stolen from West Kelowna vehicle found in Kelowna, returned to family

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)
Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Veteran Vernon radio announcer Frank Martina is returning to the local airwaves with his popular Saturday Classics show, which will run from 1-4 p.m. on Vernon’s new community station Valley FM, set to launch in the fall of 2021. (Morning Star - file photo)
Vernon radio announcer returning to airwaves

New community station Valley FM reaches deal with Frank Martina to air his Classics show

Most Read