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

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Sooke woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny business

Amy McLaughlin has rescued over 400 bunnies across the Island, mainland

Port Renfrew Fire Chief Dan Kuzman, left, and Juan de Fuca Electoral Area Director Mike Hicks, separated by two fishing rods for safe pandemic physical distancing, display the village’s new snowplowing unit. (Contributed)
Port Renfrew gets new snowplow

With equipment, CRD crew can clear roads following snowfall

(Black Press Media file photo)
Court-registered sex offender arrested for breach of parole in Langford

Cameron Ratelle returned to correctional facility after female youth approached at bus stop

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth in police custody after kitchen knife call

A knife was recovered during the arrest, no injuries reported

Marc Porpaczy said he’s glad he delayed his daily walk with his dog, Juno, after a car crashed just outside his driveway just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dramatic crash highlights need for sidewalks, say Colwood residents

‘The residents have gone from frustrated to angry’

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Residents of the Cowichan Valley decorated more than 55 vehicles with anti-racist slogans for a car rally in support of Cowichan Tribes on Saturday, January 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Dozens join anti-racism car rally and virtual panel in Cowichan Valley

Provincial ministry and BC Green caucus issue joint statement detailing concerns

Jesse Savidant, 31, is wanted by the RCMP after failing to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo in December. Police warn Savidant should be considered violent. (Photo Submitted)
Warrant out for man accused of stolen property offences across Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant did not appear for court date in Nanaimo last month, say RCMP

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

OPINION SIG
SOOKE HISTORY: Milne’s Landing CNR station

Elide Peers | Contributed Back in the 1920s, freight was often carried… Continue reading

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Most Read