'Scrutiny makes for better decisions': Democracy watchdog urges all parliaments to reopen amidst COVID-19 crisis
VANCOUVER -- Just a third of the typical spring sittings had taken place before the B.C. Legislative Assembly was adjourned until the fall because of the pandemic.
But other governments are showing it's able to hold meetings online and in-person.
Duff Conacher, a co-founder of non-partisan group Democracy Watch, said a critical part of the country's democracy depends on parliaments being open.
"It may seem frivolous to have the legislature open when all sorts of businesses have to be closed, but it's key to government accountability and government accountability is key to preventing waste and abuse," he said.
Earlier this week, about 280 MPs joined a video conference with a few hiccups and technical glitches.
Conacher said it's an example that virtual meetings can't replace in-person debate.
"It's important that there are face-to-face meetings; it's part of judging whether politicians are being credible. And the opposition parties should have this opportunity regularly to question government ministers and the premier," he said.
There have also been examples of the federal government and provinces holding meetings with modifications.
On Wednesday, a limited number of MPs met face-to-face in the House of Commons to pass a student aid bill.
B.C., Alberta and Ontario have also held emergency meetings with a small number of MLAs since the pandemic.
"It's been shown to be possible and there's really no excuse anymore," he said.
Manitoba will be taking the most drastic step; the legislature there is set to resume next week and it's expected to be a routine sitting, including question period and debate on government business. There will be physical distancing measures and a reduced number of members.
"If you want to ensure the government is actually addressing problems effectively and efficiently, you want the legislature to be open every step of the way because that scrutiny makes for better decisions and better actions by the government," Conacher said.
According to B.C.'s parliamentary calendar, the next scheduled sitting is on October 5. But committee meetings have been taking place online.
Opposition House Leader Mary Polak said her party is taking a collaborative approach.
"I think this would be a pretty tough time trying to grill government in terms of question period," she said.
She said when the emergency meeting was held in March, Horgan's government was permitted to spend money for nine months.
She said when the time comes, they will take the government to task.
"Certainly we're going to have a lot of questions about how the aid money has been spent in various sectors and what kind of new regulations are coming down, if they are," she said. "There will be lots of things we'd want to question about."
Horgan's office hinted there may be a sitting sooner than the fall.
In an email to CTV News, a spokesperson for the premier said they are discussing ways to hold a further session, promising that more information will be released in the coming days.