The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some significant changes to how parliaments in Canada, and around the world, operate – particularly as they employ new technologies to increase parliamentarians’ ability to work and meet virtually. In the face of a similar pandemic about 100 years ago, these technologies didn’t exist or were in their infancy. In this article, the author explores how Canada’s provincial legislatures and federal parliament responded to the 1918-1919 Influenza and finds that many simply didn’t meet during the pandemic’s peak (or bizarrely held buffets immediately afterwards).
For all the talk of “unprecedented times,” it can sometimes be easy to forget that Canada has been through pandemics before. The 1918-19 Influenza pandemic (also known as the Spanish flu outbreak – a misnomer as the illness did not originate in Spain) devastated Canada – claiming around 50,000 Canadian lives and infecting thousands more, around 1 in 4 Canadians.1 The onset of this highly contagious and deadly disease forced the closure of public spaces across the country – including bars, schools, and other non-essential public spaces.2 Mask mandates were enacted and stay-at-home orders were imposed on some regions, much like today.3 With limited access to telephones – and Zoom decades away – what changes did provincial and territorial legislatures and the federal Parliament adopt in order to continue working through these difficult times?