It was a busy year for the House of Commons, marked by a shifting pandemic situation, a weeks-long convoy protest just outside its front doors and the death of Queen Elizabeth.
Through it all, said Speaker Anthony Rota, MPs managed to make democracy work.
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of in Canada and when we see democracies in other countries falling apart, I think we can be proud of the democracy that we have here in Canada,” he said.
Over a year that began with a pandemic wave driven by the Omicron variant and ended with a fall sitting that looked a lot like pre-pandemic 2019, MPs passed 21 bills in 129 days — the highest number of Commons sitting days in a decade.
Rota credits the House leaders and whips from each party with effectively cooperating to ensure the chamber and committees ran relatively smoothly. He also said pandemic innovations like electronic voting and virtual debates have boosted access.
But the hybrid model of Parliament is still being hotly debated (a parliamentary committee is studying the issue). Rota noted it also has led to significant questions about the safety of interpreters who have reported health problems related to the work of interpreting MPs online via poor internet connections.
And while MPs showed they could adapt to a hybrid Parliament, Rota said he was glad to see more people return to the chamber. While it has led to some noisier sessions, he said, it meant MPs were better able to form connections and friendships outside of the cut-and-thrust of parliamentary debate.
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“Since we’ve come back, the MPs themselves have gotten to know each other a little bit more and it’s been working out fairly well. I think that’s important because they’re no longer just a face on the screen. They’re an actual person on the other side,” said Rota, who is in his second term as Speaker.
Rota said that while heckling has been a problem on some days, he again credited party leadership with encouraging a relatively high level of decorum. Rota did expel Conservative MP Raquel Dancho from the House earlier this month after she refused to apologize for calling a Liberal MP a liar in relation to the government’s controversial gun control legislation.
Rota said that while he felt he had no choice in Dancho’s case, ejecting an MP is something “you can’t help but feel terrible about.”
Though there have been some decorum problems as the House begins to look more like its pre-pandemic self, Rota, who has served a cumulative six terms as the MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming, said he’s “seen much worse Parliaments.”
Make sure Parliament works for Canadians, NDP says
NDP House leader Peter Julian said the minority Parliament and the confidence-and-supply agreement between his party and the Liberals were what allowed legislators to make real progress on helping Canadians — though he noted government House leader Mark Holland has shown he’s open to collaboration.
But “the real litmus test is to what extent Canadians are being supported and helped” by the current Parliament, Julian said.
The B.C. MP pointed to developments in dental care, GST tax credits and a study of rising food prices as key changes in 2022, and said there’s more to come in 2023 on matters like anti-scab legislation and pharmacare.
“There’s so much left to do. By no means is the job finished,” he said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic going into 2023 that we’re going to be able to do more.”
In a media statement, Holland said he’s committed to working with other parties to push forward legislation.
“We worked collaboratively with other parties [in 2022] to deliver direct, comprehensive relief …” he said. “In January, we will continue our aggressive agenda to make life more affordable and to take action on the existential crisis of climate change.”
The Conservatives did not reply to a request for comment from CBC News.
Stable but irrelevant?
Over a very busy year, the confidence-and-supply agreement achieved one of its key goals by bringing a measure of stability to a minority Parliament, said Lori Turnbill, director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University.
But that stability may be coming at the cost of relevance, Turnbull said, adding that there’s a growing disconnect between what’s being debated inside the House and the concerns of Canadians more broadly.
She said the Liberal-NDP deal was more about establishing trust between the parties than any particular list of policies.
“I think it does have some effect on taking the temperature down in the House. I also think it has the effect of making the House less relevant,” Turnbull said. She said the deal turned many policy moves in the House into foregone conclusions.
“I really think that whatever we will get by way of policy outcomes from this confidence-and-supply [agreement] we would have gotten anyway,” she added.
Turnbull said that events like the convoy protests showed growing discontent with the performance of Canadian institutions and their ability to address shifting challenges.