CPA Parliamentary Academy
65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference

CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament (CPA Canada Region Host Topic)

About the Workshop

CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament

Emergency situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, often see the Executive Branch acting quickly to handle the situation. However, in some cases, emergencies can also provide an opportunity for the Executive to consolidate power, precisely at a time when parliamentary oversight and scrutiny are most needed. Such consolidation of power is often described as “executive overreach” and can represent a serious threat to the role of Parliament. Therefore, this session will look at the role of Parliaments in holding the Executive to account during trying times and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This session looked to emphasise the particular and enduring importance of Parliament in times of crises and when providing oversight of emergency responses, whilst also assessing the need for Parliaments to undergo urgent modernisation to better equip themselves in responding to crises. Participants were provided with the opportunity to identify best practices that can be explored and possibly adapted and adopted by their Parliaments to help them remain relevant and function effectively in response to and after a pandemic or other crisis.


CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament
Mr. Chris d’Entremont MP, Deputy Speaker, House of Commons (Canada)

Chris d’Entremont is a proud Acadian from Nova Scotia. He was first elected on August 5, 2003, as MLA for Argyle-Barrington under the Progressive Conservative banner and held his seat in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly until 2019 having won four consecutive elections.

During his 17 years in provincial politics, Chris held several positions in the cabinet. He has served as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Acadian Affairs, Health and Community Services and was the Parliamentary Leader of the Official Opposition during his last six years.

As Minister of Health, he introduced Nova Scotia’s first Continuing Care Strategy, which provided the best possible care for our seniors and launched the largest long-term care home building program in our province’s history. Chris also introduced Canada’s first family drug insurance program, helping Nova Scotians with catastrophic drug coverage.

In October 2019, Chris was elected as the federal Member of Parliament for the riding of West Nova and was at the time, the only Conservative representative elected in the entire province.

In September 2020, the Leader of the Official Opposition and Canada’s Conservatives, Erin O’Toole, appointed Chris as the Shadow Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs and the Atlantic Canada Economic Promotion Agency.

In September 2021, Chris was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for West Nova. In November 2021, Chris was appointed as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and Chair of Committees of the Whole. In fact, he is the first Acadian and second from Nova Scotia to be appointed to these positions.

Chris has been married to his wife Anne for 25 years; they have two sons Alec and André.

Hon. Nathan Cooper, Speaker, Alberta Legislative Assembly (Canada)

Nathan Cooper was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, representing the constituency of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, on May 5, 2015, and again on April 16, 2019.

On May 21, 2019, the Honourable Nathan Cooper was elected by his fellow MLAs to serve as the 14th Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. He also serves as the chair of the Special Standing Committee on Members’ Services.

He previously served on the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing, the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices and the Special Standing Committee on Members’ Services.

Prior to serving as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Cooper served two terms as Councillor for the town of Carstairs and was highly engaged in the nonprofit sector. Nathan’s true joy are his three children, Porter, Paxton, and Peyton.

Mr. Cooper was the 885th Member to be sworn in to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Ms. Catherine Fife MPP, Provincial Parliament of Ontario (Canada)

Catherine Fife is MPP for Waterloo. First elected in 2012, she has served as caucus chair, and Critic on portfolios including finance, the Treasury Board, economic development, international trade, employment and job creation, research and innovation; LGBTQ issues; and early years and childcare.

Ms. Fife has served on a number of standing committees including Estimates; Finance and Economic Affairs; Public Accounts; Regulations and Private Bills; as well as on the Select Committee on Financial Transparency. Ms. Fife is the Ontario representative for the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians network.

MPP Fife was instrumental in passing Rowan’s Law (Concussion Awareness); the Missing Persons Act; the Tax Fairness for Realtors Act, and recognition of Craft Brewers.

Ms. Fife also introduced a Bill to protect vulnerable road users and sponsored a Private Member’s Bill that provided spouses with the right to live together in a long-term care home.

Before being elected as MPP, Ms. Fife served as Trustee and Chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board; Vice-President of the Canadian School Boards’ Association; and President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.

Dr Lisa Barrett MD PhD FRCPC, Clinician Scientist of Infectious Diseases, Dalhousie University (Canada)

Dr. Lisa Barrett is an Infectious Diseases Clinician Scientist with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, as well as an Assistant Professor in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases, Microbiology and Immunology, and Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  She is a viral immunologist involved in COVID-19, hepatitis C and HIV studies at the local, national and international level. Dr. Barrett has studies assessing clinical and immunologic aspects of COVID-19 disease. Her research spans laboratory based discovery science, clinical research, and implementation science in public health systems with an emphasis on policy influence. She was a member of the Canadian COVID Therapeutics Taskforce, the Canadian COVID-19 immunology research collaborative, and is an expert contributor to national COVID testing and therapeutics policy group. She is passionate about knowledge translation in science, and is a speaker in many public and academic spaces.

Workshop Resources

CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament

The Parliamentarian: Related Issues

The Parliamentarian 2022: Issue One: Reflecting on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic

This digital edition of The Parliamentarian reflects on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and asks how Commonwealth Parliaments have delivered parliamentary democracy during the pandemic?

This issue features articles from Commonwealth Speakers, MPs and parliamentary officials from Canada, India, UK, Pakistan, Uganda as well as global experts and international organisations. This issue looks at the governmental changes in St Helena, the appointment of the first Aboriginal Liaison Officer in New South Wales, the importance of intra-Commonwealth trade and a case study on gender equality from the Swedish Parliament.

This issue of The Parliamentarian also features a series of Commonwealth Youth Voices articles on a wide range of topics by young citizens from Gibraltar, Wales, UK, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Belize and Pakistan.

The Parliamentarian 2020 Issue Two - Parliaments responses to COVID-19

This digital edition features a special report on Commonwealth Parliaments responses to the COVID-19 Coronavirus global pandemic. This issue also features articles on tackling modern slavery in the Commonwealth; parliamentary oversight in Small States; and Commonwealth road safety.

Workshop Summary

CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament

This workshop explored how emergency situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, results in the Executive branch assuming greater power to quickly mitigate the situation, often at Parliament’s expense.

This can be dangerous because it undermines the Legislative branch at a time when parliamentary scrutiny and oversight is required. Thus, the workshop sought to emphasise Parliament’s continuing importance in times of crisis and the role it plays when providing oversight of emergency responses, while further assessing the need for Parliaments to modernise themselves so they can better respond to handling crises.

The workshop illustrated that Parliament itself became a confluence for the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts, as Canadian Parliamentarians at both the federal and provincial level adapted to the virus’ effects both within and outside the Legislature.

Delegates heard about the benefits and shortcomings of adopting hybrid sittings and electronic voting at various jurisdictional levels to prevent the transmission of the virus. Generally, attendees agreed that the lack of scrutiny by Parliament during the pandemic resulted in an upsurge of ‘government overreach’ by the Executive branch, although these were checked in most cases. Furthermore, they discussed the viability of continuing hybrid and electronic voting in a post-pandemic world, as a means of overcoming geographic and personal hindrances to attending Parliament, as well as the possible shortcomings associated with these practices.

Attendees also raised national experiences of the pandemic and commented on their shared experiences of increasing public reliance on their constituency offices due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy, public health, and food supply, among other areas. Finally, the role of Parliament in planning for the next pandemic was debated by Members, some of whom raised the challenges posed by said planning, due to a myriad of ever-changing public interests within their home countries.

Workshop Recommendation

CPC Workshop A: Remaining Relevant in Response to a Pandemic: The Role and Responsibilities of Parliament

As part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference outcomes, each workshop put forward a recommendation. The following recommendation was approved:


“Parliaments (both large and small) should develop contingency plans for future pandemics and crises. The contingency plan should facilitate the discharge of parliaments in all of its roles and responsibilities and make allowances for procedural changes, public consultation where possible and be adaptable in accordance with the specific crisis.”


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