Opinion from Canadian MP: Here's why Parliament should be hybrid

Jan 18 2023, 7:45 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Parm Bains, Member of Parliament for Steveston-Richmond East in British Columbia. 

Prior to the House of Commons Fall 2022 session ending, I had the opportunity to appear before my colleagues in the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) as a witness to the study conducted on hybrid proceedings.

Over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the House of Commons to sit in a formal hybrid format, my fellow MPs were debating the merits and challenges of whether this model of in-person and virtual attendance in Parliament should extend, terminate, or become a permanent measure.

During my appearance before the committee, I shared how the hybrid provisions helped me serve Canadians through my difficult health journey and I answered questions on how this modern parliament format is beneficial to the region I am serving.

In my thirties, well before I was elected, my doctor discovered that I was born with a solitary kidney, and I was told that at some point in my life I would need a replacement.

In the fall of 2021, as I began my work as an MP in Ottawa, my symptoms worsened. Upon my return to BC, I was informed that my only kidney was deteriorating faster than expected. The time had come to prepare for a transplant, and I was to immediately receive dialysis treatment.

To ensure there were no conflicts with my parliamentary responsibilities, I trained myself to self-administer the dialysis treatment at the Nocturnal Dialysis Unit at Vancouver General Hospital – where I would stay overnight three days a week.

While I waited for my transplant, it was crucial that I avoid contracting viruses like COVID-19, so that I could be operated on safely when the time came.

If it were not for the hybrid Parliament provisions, I could not have safeguarded my health and kept my commitment to represent my constituents in Parliament.

Because I was able to virtually fulfill my responsibilities in the House of Commons and in Committees, I was able to speak to bills like the Emergency Act, the study on military procurement, and share an untold inclusive Canadian Heritage story confronting the realities of systemic racism.

I was also able to provide statements in the House regarding key investments the government is making in Richmond. Since I was elected to office in 2021, over $200 million in investments were secured in my city.

I participated in all respective caucus meetings to communicate Richmond’s social, economic, service, and infrastructure priorities. At the same time, I was able to meet stakeholders within the municipality and throughout the city. Many individuals mentioned that they had never met their MP, and some of them had served in their role for over 20 years.

Additionally, I was able to vote on every single important measure introduced in the House using the facial recognition mobile application.

mp parm bains

Paramvir Bains Official Portrait

In 2016, the PROC committee released a report titled “Initiatives toward a family-friendly House of Commons.” Although virtual proceedings were not one of the recommendations, the hybrid provisions are vital to the pressures caused by uncontrollable long absences from Ottawa.

The hybrid provisions allowed me to fulfill all my parliamentary obligations, limit my exposure, maintain strong mental health, and reduce the fears my family had as they supported me through my health journey.

Of course, it also would not have been possible to keep doing a job I passionately enjoy without the excellent care provided by the team of medical professionals, the dialysis unit, and the organ transplant team at Vancouver General Hospital, as well as Canadian Blood Services.

I received my transplant in August and I owe a world of thanks to the person who gave me the gift of life. It is very hard to express how very fortunate and extremely grateful I am to be able to work in and serve the city I was raised and the province I was born.

A modern Parliament is a hybrid Parliament. It is inclusive, accessible, and a window into the future of democracy in the 21st Century. As Canadians, we must not let this window close, or we will be doing a disservice to democracy and to Canadians.

As Members of Parliament, we are responsible for nurturing our democracy. It is our role to ensure that Canadians can participate fully in our democratic processes, not just when it comes time to vote, but for those who want to raise their hands and represent their fellow Canadians. But for many Canadians, travel commitments and long separation from family and friends are a price they are unwilling to pay.

Expanding each Canadian’s capacity to stand for elected office and serve as MPs is important not just for the individuals who sit in the House of Commons, but for our communities, because the best ideas on the needs of Canadians come from the regions each MP represents. Allowing you to remain rooted in your community and maintain a strong understanding of everyday impacts people are experiencing.

Hybrid Parliament creates a more flexible environment to accommodate a greater variety of Canadians and keeps MPs closer to their communities. Returning to the way things have always run would be a step back in our national journey to build a stronger, more inclusive, and engaging democracy.

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