Yesterday a Toronto Star reporter found out that Conservative MP Michele Rempel Garner had been working remotely from Oklahoma. The reporter contacted the MP to ask where she has been delivering service from during the COVID-19 crisis. You can read her response to him below.
In early March, the House of Commons passed a motion to suspend Parliament given the COVID-19 crisis. Home isolation measures were instituted for Canadians, businesses have shuttered, air travel has slowed to a trickle, and more. The House of Commons has not had a regular sitting since that time, and all political parties have restricted the number of Members who have come to Ottawa to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Parliament Hill.
The COVID-19 crisis has also brought unprecedented challenges to the people of Calgary Nose Hill, who were already facing economic issues with the change in federal government policy towards the energy section. In spite of physical distancing limitations during this time of great need, I have not shied away from the work for which I’m responsible.
I have worked hard to make sure my office remains open virtually and has provided easy access to support. I have assisted and advocated for hundreds of people in my riding on a huge variety of individual case work.
In addition to this I have been busy writing policy, appearing on national media, writing press releases, getting changes to and advocating for emergency support programs, and most recently managed to get the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry to virtually convene to get work done, which I Vice Chair, even though Parliament has been suspended.
I am making countless calls and regular virtual meetings with community groups, colleagues from different levels of government, civil society groups, industry leaders, and most importantly my constituents. I am regularly communicating with the via social media, email, phone and my website. I will be hosting a virtual town hall in coming days.
All of my press releases, questions to the government, resources for constituents and all other accomplishments for our community during this time can be viewed on my website.
Included in my report to my community have been ongoing efforts to be transparent with my constituents about how and where I am providing service to them, which can be found here https://mprempel.ca/news/f/update-to-constituents. I update it regularly. This document contains over 20 pages of detail on my activities during the lockdown and I encourage you to read it.
On a personal note about my family circumstance, I am newly married to a recently retired US Army veteran. My step-children and their mother live in Jeff’s state of Oklahoma. Because my life and work is firmly in our community, travel responsibilities primarily fall to my husband Jeff, with him dividing his time between me in Canada and our children in the US. With neither of us being a stranger to work related absences – Jeff’s deployment experience and my experience travelling between Calgary and Ottawa as an MP – this situation has worked for us to date.
However, I was attending to an unexpected and urgent private personal matter with my family in the United States prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions being set. As events related to the COVID-19 crisis quickly unfolded, I was in constant contact with my Party Whip. It was made clear to me that a full contingent of MPs would not be returning to Ottawa any time soon, and that all MPs would be required to conduct most of their duties from a remote location. I was advised to not travel but instead self-isolate as millions of Canadians are doing, monitor the situation given how rapidly it was changing, and continue my work virtually.
Thus, as most other MPs have done, I am sheltering in place with my family, am reevaluating the situation on a daily basis, and continue with my duties remotely, given that there are no physical events in either Calgary or Ottawa that I can regularly attend due to COVID-19 isolation guidelines, and party mandates on MP attendance.
I did not travel to the US purposely to be with my family during the COVID-19 crisis. Had my circumstances been different I likely would have still been in Canada and unfortunately separated from my family. I have never allowed my personal life to interfere with my service to my community. I have always, am currently, and will continue to, put my constituents first. My whereabouts are transparent and included in my regular updates to my community, and in no way has my capacity to attend to my duties been diminished or changed any more than any other MP has during this time. I have been a productive voice for the people of my community.
I am in daily contact with my Party Whip and members of our community about next steps. I stand ready to immediately physically return at my own expense when advised that a) Parliament is to resume full in person sittings or my party Whip advises me to attend a reduced quorum sitting, b) I can safely resume in person meetings and in person outreach in the riding, or c) I cannot continue my duties from my current location or it becomes apparent that I could better serve my constituents elsewhere. My family understands that our specific circumstance means that when this happens, we likely won’t see each other for an extended period of time, but we also understand the nature of my responsibilities.
I was also advised that all MPs, regardless of party affiliation or personal circumstance were being given the same advice. Only certain Members of Parliament have been selected by their parties to enter the House for any given in-person session, with most parties primarily relying on Members who live within driving range of Ottawa to maintain quorum.
In the middle of all this, I have been a vocal advocate to ensure that Parliament continues to have mechanisms to hold the government to account while maintaining social distancing guidelines. I understand that fully functional virtual sittings may not be immediately possible due to the House of Commons Standing Orders and technological limitations, so have supported hybrid plans that allow Parliamentary committees to virtually sit but also accommodate in person, reduced quorum House of Commons accountability sessions that respect social distancing standards. I also understand that at present this means that not all Members of Parliament will be allowed into the House for any given session, and have respected advice that all parties are using to primarily rely on Members who live within driving range of Ottawa to maintain quorum.
I have also been strictly observing Alberta’s self-isolation standards. As many MPs are subject to 14-day domestic interprovincial travel quarantines, my daily review of this scenario also accounts for the necessary 14-day quarantine upon return, for which I have fully compliant plans in place.
As every Canadian who has been sheltering in place can relate, I miss the simple taken-for-granted joy of being out and about in my community and in person interactions with my constituents. I want to safely return to that way of life as soon as possible, which is why I’m working hard to build a plan to get our community back to work while stopping the spread of COVID-19.
As other MPs are doing with their families within their own self-isolation scenarios, I am attending virtual Parliamentary sessions and committees that are held. I have already taken part in the virtual House of Commons question period (today), Health Committee, and am regularly Vice-Chairing the Standing Committee on Industry. I am ready to return to Ottawa once I have been advised to do so by my Party Whip. I will continue to advocate for my constituents, hold the government to account with the tools I have, assist with local case work, remain in regular contact with local community leaders, stakeholders and other elected officials. I continue to thank and be grateful for the front line essential services workers who are all sacrificing to serve our community. And, I very much look forward to being back in Calgary.
As always, I will continue fighting for my community.
Former Transportation Minister and fellow PC MP Lisa Raitt published the following tweet.
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