The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a steep learning curve for many Canadians who now find themselves working from home relying on video conferencing technology to keep in touch.
From how to set up a video call and when to unmute to which headphones to use, there’s a lot to learn and it’s led to some high-profile foibles along the way — from pants-less news reporters to a city official throwing a cat to someone flushing a toilet in Vancouver.
And now we get to watch our federal members of Parliament navigate those learning curves in real time.
Tuesday marked the first large virtual meeting of Canada’s House of Commons, after MPs last week agreed to an arrangement with two virtual meetings and one in-person sitting a week.
“This is a historic day.”
“This is a historic day,” House Speaker Anthony Rota said repeatedly throughout Tuesday’s Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, which featured more than 250 MPs.
And historic it was. From the first time a prime minister was reminded to “unmute” during Parliament, to the first time an MP apologized for her “unhappy kid” in the background, to what is likely the first appearance of a can of WD-40 in a parliamentary proceding, Canada’s first virtual House of Commons’ meeting was a wild ride and a good reminder that our politicians are trying to figure out video conferencing just like the rest of us.
Who among us hasn’t accidentally unmuted while someone else was talking? Or forgot to unmute ourselves before speaking?
But most important in video calling is the art of crafting the perfect background. Whether in a home office, kitchen or at Ottawa’s Parliament buildings, Canada’s MPs made some strategic — and not-so strategic — choices in how they presented themselves and their space to the world.
And so, with that in mind, allow me to present the very first accolades of the very first virtual Parliament.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains chose colour as the key highlight for his background, posing in front of a bright painting of turban designs, which his own hot pink turban blended into perfectly. It was a welcome reprieve from the bland grey offices and kitchens of other MPs.
Cambridge MP Bryan May also showcased colour, revealing that he is one of those people who throws alphabetical order out the window to organize his books by colours of the rainbow. This is a debate my best friend and I have had for years — I’m firmly on team “organize alphabetically by author’s last name” and she insists that colour-coordinated books are a good idea. Whatever floats your boat I guess.
Elmwood-Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie decided to hang a sheet behind him, giving his home the appearance of a low-budget high school graduation photo studio. A colleague pointed out that it raises an important question of how a plain white bedsheet is better than whatever is in Blaikie’s house.
Truly, we’ll never know.
Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly took it a step further by choosing to do his call in front of a literal green screen. While the shoutout to his own party is cute, it does open up some dangerous opportunities for meme creation à la the Queen’s green dress from a few weeks ago.
The B.C. MP might soon find all sorts of backgrounds Photoshopped into this iconic image.
Strangest items in the shot:
While most MPs opted for minimalism or the classic office bookshelf as their background, a few included some surprise Easter eggs in their views.
Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley MP Marty Morantz had a can of WD-40 in the background of his shot for some reason, suggesting the Manitoba MP was possibly fixing some squeaky doorknobs to pass the pandemic time.
My personal favourite though is Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis, who appeared to have a brand new, empty IKEA picture frame in the background beside some suspiciously empty bookshelves.
What the B.C. MP planned to hang in the empty frame is left up to the imagination, but it certainly stands out simply because who goes to the effort of hanging the frame with nothing in it? That’s not a normal thing to do!
Best provincial pride:
Several Saskatchewan MPs used the opportunity to showcase their Saskatchewan Roughriders spirit. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had both a Roughriders cap and bobblehead on the shelf behind him, while Gary Vidal had an actual jersey hanging proudly next to his Saskatchewan flag.
Honestly, with most sports leagues cancelled or postponed, it was a nice reminder that sports actually do exist.
The Quebecers were not to be outmatched though, with several Quebec MPs prominently featuring the blue and white fleur-de-lis in their backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet pulled out all the stops, with a huge Quebec flag hanging from his window.
Best use of the Canadian flag despite the fact you’re in Oklahoma:
We see you, Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel-Garner 👀.
The Tory MP is spending the pandemic in Oklahoma, where her husband and stepchildren live, after travelling to the U.S. for an “urgent private personal matter” shortly before the pandemic shut everything down. The former cabinet minister said she’s working with party administration to sort out if and when she should return to Calgary. But for now, she’s working from Oklahoma.
But Rempel-Garner made a point of showing a little Canadian pride with a small desktop flag behind her, which begs the question — does she just always travel with a mini Canadian flag in case the need arises? The people need to know.
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