COVID exposure warning to MLAs prompts 1st hybrid-virtual regular sitting of legislature

·3 min read
Green MLA Kevin Arseneau was still waiting for his COVID-19 test results as of Monday morning. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Green MLA Kevin Arseneau was still waiting for his COVID-19 test results as of Monday morning. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Fourteen members of the New Brunswick legislature have been told to get tested for COVID-19 after an exposure notification at a hotel where they stay in Fredericton.

And that is triggering the first-ever hybrid-virtual sitting of the full assembly this week.

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau confirmed that Public Health held a conference call with the 13 MLAs on Sunday night. Arseneau wouldn't name them out of privacy concerns, but he said they included members from the Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Green parties.

The MLAs were "encouraged very strongly to get tested, and we were then told, as with anyone in this case who would not have to self-isolate, to 'work isolate,' to limit close contacts to the lowest possible."

The house leaders of the four parties in the assembly met Monday afternoon to implement a special order allowing some MLAs to participate virtually.

"As with any new procedure, it's likely going to take some getting use to and there'll be some bumps along the road," said PC government house leader Glen Saovie.

"We expect we'll be able to manage our way through this and continue providing good government for the people of the province."

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming, whose departments are leading the province's COVID-19 response, are among those who had to get tested.

On Sunday, Public Health issued an exposure notification for the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Fredericton, half a block away from the Legislative Assembly.

It covered the hotel and its restaurant from May 11 to May 16.

The legislature sat from May 11 to May 14. Ironically, the first day of the exposure notification period was the same day MLAs approved the special order allowing hybrid virtual sittings during the pandemic state of emergency.

The special order requires party house leaders to give three days' notice if any of their MLAs are going to participate virtually.

Savoie said legislature staff started looking at shifting to hybrid sittings "out of an abundance of caution" last Friday, before the Hilton notification but when cases in the Fredericton area were already rising.

Hybrid all week

He said the house will use the hybrid system all week, even though some affected MLAs may get test results back in the next day or two.

"Owing that there could be a couple of days to get tested and a couple of days to get your response back, it's easier to let the whole week unfold in that hybrid manner rather than trying to go through this process on a day-to-day basis."

Arseneau booked a test in Miramichi as soon as the exposure notification was released on Sunday. He was still waiting for his results Monday morning.

He said his Green colleague Megan Mitton had also stayed at the hotel and was getting tested.

Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault is among those isolating because of the Hilton hotel exposure notice.
Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault is among those isolating because of the Hilton hotel exposure notice.(Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Liberal spokesperson Ashley Beaudin said that two of the party's MLAs, Isabelle Thériault and Keith Chiasson, were self-isolating while awaiting their test results.

She said Thériault had stayed at the hotel and Chiasson had used the restaurant.

Savoie said nine PC MLAs are among the 13 affected by the Hilton notification. Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain confirmed he was among the Progressive Conservative MLAs at the hotel last week.

A spokesperson said 10 PC MLAs are among the 14 affected by the Hilton notification.

Besides Shephard and Flemming they are Kathy Bockus, Greg Turner, Daniel Allain, Gary Crossman, Margaret Johnson, Tammy Scott Wallace, Arlene Dunn and Ernie Steeves.

Now that the order is in effect, any MLA has the right to participate virtually whether they're affected by an exposure notification or not, Savoie said. The rules require at least 14 MLAs including Speaker Bill Oliver be physically present in the chamber.