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Senate extends adjournment until June 2 as talks over return of MPs continue

OTTAWA — The Senate will not resume sitting until June 2 at the earliest, but it was unclear Friday when and how the House of Commons would return.

OTTAWA — The Senate will not resume sitting until June 2 at the earliest, but it was unclear Friday when and how the House of Commons would return.

The Senate was slated to come back Tuesday, but the office of the Speaker of the upper chamber said it was decided to extend the current adjournment to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The Senate's priority remains the health, safety and well-being of all Canadians and it is taking every precaution to protect senators and staff as they carry out their duties," the office said in a statement.

The work of three Senate committees will continue by videoconference or teleconference.

In addition, Speaker George Furey's office said, the Senate could be recalled before June if it is needed to deal with government legislation.

Furey's decision to extend the adjournment of the Senate was made after consultations with the leadership of all the parties and groups in the Senate, which would include the Conservative caucus in the upper house.

But an impasse persisted Friday over when and how the Commons should function during the crisis, as Conservatives in the elected chamber continued to insist on in-person sittings up to four days a week.

The Commons is scheduled to resume business as usual Monday, unless an agreement is reached among all four recognized parties in the chamber on scaled back sittings.

The Liberals are proposing in-person meetings of the House once a week until there is a technical means of holding virtual sittings, but the Conservatives say several meetings a week are needed to hold the government to account.

As it stands, 338 MPs would gather in Ottawa on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news briefing Friday.

"That is obviously not a good idea," he said. "We are not in normal circumstances."

Trudeau said discussions were continuing with opposition parties to find a way to uphold democracy while respecting public health advice on physical distancing.

Virtual sittings would ensure MPs who are not within driving distance of Ottawa could participate in House meetings during the pandemic, he added. "That is a technological challenge that we will work very, very hard on."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told a briefing the events of recent weeks have demonstrated the importance of accountability and vigilance, including the essential role of Parliament.

The Conservatives have proposed "a very reasonable work plan" that would entail fewer than 50 MPs sitting in the chamber at a time, he said.

"We believe several sittings a week would be ideal."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

Jim Bronskill and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press