Ontario creates MPP cohorts to avoid ‘Zoom parliament’

TORONTO — Ontario politicians will begin implementing a cohorting system to avoid a shutdown of the provincial legislature in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at Queen’s Park.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra said MPPs are trying to avoid the Zoom-style parliament that was implemented by Parliament Hill during the pandemic — where a portion of politicians appear via teleconference rather than in person.

The change is a direct response to the increase in COVID-19 case numbers, and the close calls experienced by Ontario politicians.

Last week, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton was swabbed for the novel coronavirus after having a face-to-face meeting with Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole — who later tested positive for the disease.

While McNaughton tested negative, Calandra said it underscored the need for a new system in order to keep the legislature operational.

“None of us want to see the legislature turn into a Zoom parliament as much as possible, we want to make sue that all members can be here [and] can vote.”

The government will have 35 MPPs per cohort, while the NDP will have 14 as part of the same group. Calandra said efforts would be made to match government ministers and their opposing counterparts in the same cohort.

However, select members, including the premier and the ministers of education, health, long-term care and the government house leader, would be allowed to attend the legislature on a daily basis.

Calandra also said independent members would have a “little bit more flexibility.”

The government house leader also stressed that members of cohorts would be expected to remain distant from other cohorts and not mingle or even attend the same social functions.

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