N.S. government prorogues legislature after 17 minutes, drawing ire of opposition

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Liberal government quickly prorogued the legislature Friday — a move that drew heavy criticism from opposition parties who said it was an affront to the democratic process.

The fall sitting, which included a short speech by Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc, lasted all of 17 minutes, after which the House of Assembly was closed. The next session is scheduled to begin Feb. 16.

Progressive Conservatives and the NDP panned the Liberal government's decision, noting that Nova Scotia is the only province that has not had a full sitting of its legislature since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Two-hundred and 82 days the legislature hasn't sat — that's not a service to Nova Scotians," Official Opposition Leader Tim Houston told reporters. The Tory leader said it was a signal of contempt for the democratic process by Premier Stephen McNeil, who he said had "belittled" what the legislature is meant to represent.

"Democracy is an inconvenience, he's not concerned about the wishes of Nova Scotians … and he doesn't need to be or want to be, in his estimation, held accountable by opposition members and probably by the media," Houston said.

There had been plenty of times since March, he continued, for the government to figure out a way for the legislature to meet virtually, adding that "every other legislature figured it out."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the decision by the Liberals to prorogue the legislature was "very small," adding that it had only served the agenda of the government and not the public. "Perhaps it fulfils the legalistic letter of the law, but it is a small thing for a government to do," Burrill said. "It is even a selfish thing for a government to do."

Under a provincial law enacted in 1994, Nova Scotia governments must hold two legislative sittings a year. A short sitting was held in February, during which the government passed its budget.

McNeil declined to comment to reporters as he quickly left the building. Later, he defended the move to prorogue the house, saying that he is focused instead on dealing with the pandemic.

"If we hadn't been in the midst of a pandemic we probably would have had a fall sitting," McNeil said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

When asked why other provinces had found a way to open their legislatures, McNeil pointed out that many needed to pass budgets — something his government managed to do before most of the country closed down.

"They needed the spending authority and we already had it," he said. "I understand why the opposition might be frustrated because it's their place to grandstand. I get it, I was there (in opposition) too."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press