OTTAWA — The frenetic energy that’s been lost since House of Commons sittings went virtual returned briefly Thursday after a Conservative MP targeted the Green Party parliamentary leader for her comments about oil.
Falk, a Saskatchewan MP, claimed May and “the leader of the separatists,”the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet, were members of the “fringe left” who “want to destroy our country.” She asked if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed with them, or would stand up for Canada’s energy workers.
May abruptly called for a point of order to bring Speaker Anthony Rota’s attention to Falk’s “unparliamentary” language. Falk’s framing of her comment about the economy as a desire to “destroy” the country was “unacceptable,” May said, and a violation of her parliamentary privilege.
A few Tory MPs then began interrupting her with a disjointed chorus of the word, “debate.” In a typical House sitting, MPs who raise a point of order are supposed to briefly flag what rule of order or decorum they think has been breached before awaiting the Speaker’s ruling.
“No, it’s not debate,” May said, adding that it’s up to the Speaker to rule on that, “not members of the Conservative party.”
Watch: MPs show what heckling looks like in a virtual sitting. Story continues below video.
With MPs talking over each other during the Zoom call, Rota used the chaotic moment to remind members to be respectful, in both their questions and answers.
“This is a committee of the House, and I would expect no less of the honourable members,” Rota said.
After the ruckus, Trudeau responded by repeating much of what he said earlier in the day. At a press conference outside his Ottawa home Thursday morning Trudeau said he did not “share the view” of May and Blanchet about the future of Canadian energy.
The expertise of energy sector workers is integral to finding ways to innovate and lower carbon emissions, he told the MPs gathering virtually.
Scrutiny and pressure
The government is facing scrutiny from the oil industry, and pressure from MPs representing the Prairies, to bring in more emergency help for an energy sector expected hard-hit by the drop in demand as Canadians are ordered to stay at home.
These concerns are being raised in virtual committees, where MPs continue to learn about the perils of the mute button on a regular basis.
MPs have been using Zoom, a video conferencing software, for public meetings. For in-camera sessions, citing some security concerns, MPs migrate to Skype.
Instead of meeting as a whole chamber for a daily question period, the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic meets virtually to allow MPs to ask questions to cabinet ministers for 90 minutes twice a week.
Following physical distancing rules, MPs have scaled down in-person meetings in the chamber to once weekly.