House leaders want 'hybrid' spring sitting of Nova Scotia Legislature

·3 min read
The spring sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature begins on Tuesday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The spring sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature begins on Tuesday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The only legislature in Canada not to have sat during the pandemic may start the upcoming spring sitting a whole new way on Tuesday.

The House leaders for the three parties in the Nova Scotia Legislature are seeking unanimous approval to hold a "hybrid" sitting, in which most MLAs would join the proceedings virtually, and only 12 representatives would be allowed to take their seats in the legislative chamber.

The proposal has gone out in an email from the clerk of the House, James Charleton, to all 51 members of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.

According to the message, obtained by CBC News, each of the three caucuses would be allowed up to three members to sit in person. The two Independent MLAs at Province House, Alana Paon and Hugh MacKay, would also be able to attend, as would Speaker Kevin Murphy.

"A hybrid proceeding will minimize the number of persons in the legislative chamber to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while permitting members appearing virtually to participate as fully as they would when appearing in the chamber," wrote Charleton.

'This is going to be chaotic'

Others needed in the chamber would include a clerk or deputy clerk, the sergeant-at-arms, as well as legislative pages and a member of the House of Assembly operation staff.

Liberal House leader Geoff MacLellan told reporters Thursday he does not expect a hybrid House would run anywhere near as smoothly as a traditional sitting.

"This is going be chaotic and very difficult to manage for everybody in terms of having, you know, people in the seats versus the virtual component. The Speaker's Office and the [Legislative] TV working and all the IT components — there's a lot to it," said MacLellan.

The leader of the Official Opposition, Tim Houston, took a more optimistic view.

"I think Nova Scotia would accept that in the way of the world today, the legislature should be able to operate and it should be able to operate virtually just like other areas are," said Houston. "My main concern is making sure that elected representatives have a legitimate opportunity to represent their constituents and represent their communities.

"I'm optimistic that this virtual sitting will meet that standard."

MLAs spent just 14 days in legislature

The governing Liberals under former premier Stephen McNeil refused to allow the legislature to sit during the pandemic.

Politicians spent just 14 days at Province House last year. One of those days lasted for less than five minutes — just long enough to prorogue the session.

NDP House leader Claudia Chender said having a hybrid sitting would be the most "durable" of the solutions offered to make the legislature COVID-19 safe.

"If we go back into some kind of lockdown situation, if there's a public health issue, there's not rationale for stopping the work of the legislature, and that work desperately needs to happen," she said.

The legislature is scheduled to resume sitting on Tuesday. Without all-member approval, 15 MLAs would have to take their seats to propose debate on the matter. There would need to be 48 hours notice to debate.

That would delay the work for the House until at least Thursday where the motion would be put to a vote and likely pass, given it is being put forward by all three caucuses.

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