Chris Hall: Conservative whip compares online Commons voting to 'swiping right' on Tinder
The parties are butting heads over how many MPs can safely be present in the chamber at one time
A senior Conservative MP is comparing a government proposal for online voting in the House of Commons to the dating app Tinder.
Chief opposition whip Blake Richards said using an app to determine the fate of important bills after the Commons returns on Sept. 23 is inappropriate because it makes it more difficult for voters to hold parliamentarians to account for their decisions.
"And I really don't believe that voting can be reduced to having MPs sitting at home in their pyjamas and doing the voting almost like Tinder, where they swipe right or swipe left," Richards said during a panel discussion airing Saturday on CBC's The House.
"I think the idea of an app where you're swiping right, swiping left kind of cavalierly is not really the way we should be voting."
(On Tinder, swiping right on someone's photo indicates an interest in connecting. Swiping left is a no.)
Hooking up MPs for votes is just one of the issues being negotiated between the parties now as the Commons prepares to resume in less than two weeks with the Liberals' throne speech.
The 'hybrid' model vs. in-person voting
Disagreements persist over how many MPs should be allowed to attend in person and how quickly Commons committees — suspended when the government prorogued this summer — can resume their investigations into the WE scandal.
The Liberals and NDP want to continue with the "hybrid" system used this summer, which saw relatively few MPs sitting in the chamber and the remainder taking part virtually. The Conservatives want as many MPs to attend in person as possible.
Liberal whip Mark Holland wouldn't discuss the specifics of the government's proposals or the ongoing negotiations with the opposition parties. But he told The House the government is committed to ensuring all MPs, whether they attend in person or take part virtually, have the tools they need.
"I have absolutely no doubt that we're going to be able to move through this process in a way that allows every parliamentarian, in every corner of the country, regardless of the fact that we're in a pandemic, to participate," he said.
NDP Whip Rachel Blaney acknowledges work is being done by Commons staff now to ensure everything is ready. But she said she's frustrated by the fact that negotiations among the parties were left to the last minute — and there's still no guarantee that everything will function properly when MPs return.
"I think what Canadians deserve more than anything is a Parliament that's functioning, that's respectful of the pandemic that we're in and that we're moving forward to look after the things that they need every day," she said.
Blaney wrote to Commons Speaker Anthony Rota late last month to ask that House staff test electronic voting options. Rota said that he can't authorize that work until MPs decide how they want to proceed.
He also said the recommendations put forward in July by the procedure and house affairs committee — which suggested the Commons continue with the hybrid model coupled with a secure, remote voting system — were not adopted by the Commons before Parliament was prorogued.
Richards said the Conservatives believe a minimum of 86 MPs can be present at any one time in the Commons without violating physical distancing guidelines. Conservatives also put forward a number of proposals to ensure voting can be done in person on matters of confidence, such as the throne speech and an economic update expected later this fall.
Parliament Hill is exempt from Ontario government regulations that limit the number of people at indoor gatherings to 50. Blaney, who represents the B.C. riding of North Island-Powell River, said protecting the safety of MPs, Commons staff and their families has to be the paramount goal.
"Let's be very clear. This is going to involve some MPs operating from home. We are in a global pandemic. Employees could be super-spreaders," he said.
"I mean, you're talking about people coming from every corner of the country, flying through airports, coming to Ottawa every single week, crowding into a tiny chamber. The best public health advice is that if you can work remotely, you should work remotely."
However the Commons ends up running votes in the coming months, the argument over how MPs ought to do one of the most critical aspects of their jobs is certain to remain something of a "tinderbox".