HALIFAX — The opening of the spring session of the Nova Scotia legislature Tuesday means an unofficial election campaign, underway for weeks, will be temporarily shelved as the Liberal government gears up to present a budget later this week.
The budget is scheduled to be tabled Thursday. Whether house proceedings continue much beyond that is up to Premier Stephen McNeil, who is widely expected to call an election as early as Friday or Saturday, resulting in a May 30 vote.
For the last seven weeks, all three parties have been on election footing with candidates knocking on doors and taking part in election-style rallies. Meanwhile, the Liberal government has rolled out a flurry of spending announcements worth ten of millions of dollars since the beginning in March.
In an interview Monday, Liberal house leader Michel Samson wouldn't say whether the government had planned any legislative business beyond this week.
"We'll start the budget debate as required and we'll see how things go from there," he said.
However, he said the government intended to pass its reworked law to make the province more accessible for the disabled.
"There's absolutely no reason why that bill cannot pass third reading this week," Samson said. "It's really going to come down to what type of co-operation that we get from the opposition."
The proposed Accessibility Act was shelved last fall after heavy criticism from the groups it was meant to help. On Monday, the bill was unanimously supported by the all-party law amendments committee after changes that resulted from public hearings conducted last month.
The revised bill now includes a goal of achieving an accessible province by 2030, and revamps a proposed 12-member accessibility advisory board to include seven members with disabilities.
Under the changes, the new act would initially set out six specific provincial standards to be met to make public places more accessible. A new position of director of compliance and enforcement would also be created, removing ministerial involvement in the process.
The changes were welcomed by Gerry Post, who represents a coalition of 35 disabled groups.
"I'm very pleased with the outcome of the bill," said Post, who said he hoped the act would be passed later this week.
"It needs to be passed this week ASAP. Let's get going on this, we have been waiting for 15-plus years for this."
But Chris d'Entremont, the Progressive Conservative house leader, said the changed bill would have to be presented to Tory caucus before his party would commit to helping it through to third and final reading.
"As much as this is a good news announcement, the (government) is taking it and being very political with it," said d'Entremont, who refused to give any guarantee of co-operation.
"If somebody could tell me there is an election (call) on Saturday, well then I'll let it go through the process. If someone's being coy and not telling me what's going on then I don't see why we are not here until next week. What's the rush?"
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he believes the die is cast.
"The McNeil Liberals ... are in the bottom of the ninth as far as their mandate is concerned," Burrill said at a news conference to announce his party's legislative agenda for the session.
"There is every expectation afoot that this is a session that's going to be very short and will lead perhaps very quickly into an election."
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press