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Embracing… or leading change: The House of Commons Firsts

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling wrote:

“Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who never sought it. Those who […] have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

The same can be said about innovation, that all too often is thrust upon us.

In 1977, the House of Commons proceedings were broadcast for the first time. This was a significant move, providing Canadians with a better insight into parliamentary work, as it happened.

Today, nearly 43 years later, the House of Commons met entirely virtually for the very first time. Although not an official sitting of the House, but a special committee meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s event is also a historic moment in our country’s democracy.

Forty-three years aside, a lot of comparisons can be made between both historic events. Both historic moments are a result of the need to adapt to changing times. From technical staff working around the clock to MPs learning what not to do, below are some notable similarities.

In 1977, the move to broadcast resulted from the need to keep Canadians interested in the work of Parliament. Today it is the need of a responsible approach to continue our work in Ottawa while following the recommendations of our health officials, so we can flatten the curve and combat COVID-19.

In 1977, MPs had to adapt to the newly added bright lights, the cameras and the microphones. Today, MPs had to remember to unclick the mute button, to speak clearly and to speak loudly.

In 1977, the bright lights resulted in MPs wearing their sunglasses to the House. Today, the excitement of seeing colleagues for the first time in over a month resulted in some MPs taking pictures of their screen. Both not allowed.

In 1977, the public could see controlled close ups on the MP speaking, those heckling could be heard, but were not seen. Today, only the MP speaking could be seen and heard, eliminating heckling entirely.

Both then and now, the House of Commons technical staff played a significant role in making these meetings happen successfully and their efforts deserve to be acknowledged.

While our first virtual meeting had minor technical challenges, staff members were prepared to immediately assist MPs throughout the meeting and remain committed to finding solutions so that, soon, all MPs are able to join in.

I must admit that I enjoyed an early introduction to the virtual process during meetings of the Standing Committee on Health (HESA), which started a few weeks prior to our virtual parliament today. I know there are some minor adjustments that will be implemented, but by and large I believe it will lead to more effective and meaningful discussions.

Virtual meetings are slightly different than what I am accustomed to, but it was exciting to participate in this historic moment. With innovation thrust upon us, the possibilities are many and I am confident we will find, to our own surprise, that we wear the mantle well.

Looking ahead, my commitment to best represent Newmarket-Aurora in Ottawa remains strong, whether in person or online.

Tony Van Bynen, MP


Tony Van Bynen

Member of Parliament for

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