Did anyone have worldwide pandemic on their 2020 Bingo card? Yet here we are, months into an event that has profoundly affected our personal and professional lives.
Many non-essential workers were sent home to help limit the spread of COVID-19 – some were laid off completely while others transitioned into working from home. Schools were shut down and many students experienced what has probably been the longest March Break ever. And our institutions, including our parliaments, adapted to a world where public health requirements for physical distancing changed everything from seating arrangements in chambers to videoconferencing proceedings to opposition members being sworn in to cabinet committees.
In this issue, we review some aspects of how parliaments and parliamentary staff have responded to working through a pandemic. Samara Canada’s Mike Morden summarizes the results of a survey the Canadian Parliamentary Review distributed to the table clerks on how parliamentary sittings and proceedings have changed. Examining Canadian and international examples of parliamentary modifications, Steven Chaplin suggests that hybrid sittings (a mix of in-person and virtual participation) combined with a greater role for committee work could become a workable medium-term solution for parliaments during a pandemic.
Elsewhere in the issue, authors explore how the pandemic has affected parliamentarians who are parents (Bittner and Thomas), parliamentary staffers (Wilson), institutions such as libraries and Assemblies themselves (Lank and Dewetering, Paradis and McGreechan), and interesting arrangements among governments and oppositions (Lewis and Burroughs). We held a roundtable discussion with some parliamentarians and committee clerks to ask how virtual participation has been working. Our Legislative Reports also contain significant information on how individual jurisdictions have met the challenges posed by COVID-19. We conclude with a Sketches column about Alberta’s first Speaker who suffered an untimely death from the Spanish Influenza pandemic that occurred 100 years ago.
At the time of publication, we are only six months into this pandemic. The full extent of the changes it has wrought, and their potential for permanency, remain unknown. In future issues, the Canadian Parliamentary Review will endeavour to keep track of the effects of this pandemic on parliaments in both our legislative reports and feature articles.