HALIFAX — For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nova Scotia legislature will sit Tuesday with a full complement of 55 members.
The fall session will open with a speech from the throne that will set the course for the province's new Progressive Conservative government, which swept to power in the Aug. 17 election.
The Tories captured 31 seats after running a campaign almost exclusively on fixing the province's ailing health-care system — a focus Premier Tim Houston said won't change once the sitting is underway.
"I think Nova Scotians can expect to see a continuation of the stamp we put on the campaign," Houston said following a cabinet meeting last week. "We have our mandate from Nova Scotians and that is to fix health care and that will remain our focus."
The premier gave few details about pending health-care legislation, but said a number of other areas will also be addressed such as the lack of mental health services and the shortage of affordable housing.
"I really don't know how many pieces of legislation yet," the premier said about his upcoming agenda.
The party's election platform projected $553 million in new spending during the first year in office — including $430 million just for health care. That money, Houston promised, would go toward a pension plan for doctors, extending operating room hours on weekdays and adding 2,500 more long-term care beds.
Since coming to office, the government has revamped the provincial health authority — firing its CEO and dismissing its 14-member board and replacing it with a four-person "leadership team." Houston and his health officials also conducted a provincewide tour last month, speaking with front-line health workers on ways to reform the system.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, however, whose party lost power in the election, said the government's top priority should be tackling the "immediacy of the housing issue," particularly in the Halifax area, where tent encampments for the homeless have been sprouting up in various city parks.
Rankin said the rent control order that was imposed at the start of the COVID-19 crisis should remain until the housing shortage and the issue of quickly rising rents are addressed. The Liberals will also be interested to see what the government proposes for the health-care system, he told reporters earlier this week.
"We will be holding them to account with their promise to Nova Scotians that they will fix health care," Rankin said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the Tory government has talked in "wonderful generalities" about its agenda since being elected and will now have to own up to its promises.
"Key areas such as housing, health care, the environment — they actually have to be addressed," Burrill told reporters last week. "They actually have to bring forward things that are needed."
As for its conduct in the legislature, Houston said his government will proceed with an open mind. He said a government should engage in proper consultations before it brings legislation to the floor of the house.
"If somebody brings a perspective or a point a view that just hadn't been considered, it should be considered," Houston said. "If it results in changes to legislation, our government will have the confidence to make those changes."
The members of the legislature haven't met all at once to debate bills since the sitting that concluded in early March 2020. A hybrid format was in place for the recent spring sitting, which limited most members to virtual participation.
The returning members will have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and will be required to wear masks during the fall session.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press