NDP bills seek more consistency to Province House schedule

·3 min read
New Democrat MLAs say a lack of consistent schedules around legislature sittings creates barriers for some people considering public life. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
New Democrat MLAs say a lack of consistent schedules around legislature sittings creates barriers for some people considering public life. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

When the Nova Scotia legislature is sitting for long hours for successive days, NDP House leader Claudia Chender knows she has a plan she can rely on so her three children have care while she's at work.

But not everyone has the financial means or social network for that. Chender, the MLA for Dartmouth South, said that creates a barrier for many people when it comes to considering a run at public office.

The NDP recently tabled bills that would see fixed hours for the days the House sits, and fixed calendar dates for when the spring and fall sittings take place.

Right now, those times and dates are at the discretion of the government. The NDP bill would have the spring sitting run from early February to late May and the fall sitting from early October to late November.

The only argument against the change is political, said Chender, particularly when something that could generate negative press is happening. In recent years the government has routinely sat for extended hours, in some cases around the clock, to rush through bills that generated controversy.

Claudia Chender is the NDP MLA for Dartmouth South.
Claudia Chender is the NDP MLA for Dartmouth South.(Robert Short/CBC)

"When they can control the agenda, when they can control … whether an act comes up for debate at 9:30 at night after [reporters'] filing deadline has passed, when most people are not watching Legislative Television or listening to the radio or watching TV, that's advantageous for them," she told reporters Tuesday at Province House.

Idea worth considering

Premier Iain Rankin said he hasn't given the issue much thought, but he sees merit in looking at ways to make the legislature and MLA positions accessible to more people.

"I think there still is a lot of work to do to ensure we accommodate, I think, different aspects of one's personal life," he told reporters.

That is especially true when it comes to women and other underrepresented communities at Province House, he said.

Rankin said he sees it as an opportunity for the three parties to work together toward something more accommodating.

Tory Leader Tim Houston said having regular calendar dates for the spring and fall sitting — as well as fixed election dates — would be something he'd welcome.

Sittings require substantive business

Nova Scotia is the only province without fixed election dates. As of 2019, British Columbia, Ontario, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador all had regular calendar dates for when their legislatures sit.

One of the NDP bills would also do away with a procedural loophole the government used during the most recent fall sitting.

Then-premier Stephen McNeil recalled the legislature just long enough to prorogue it, without conducting any business. Right now, that is good enough to count as a fall sitting.

But the NDP bill, however, would require a sitting, even if it lasted a single day, to include the daily routine and question period.

Chender said the lack of a set schedule also creates an advantage for the government because it means opposition MLAs have less time to prepare for sittings at the legislature.

MORE TOP STORIES