The House of Assembly will be full for the first time since the start of the pandemic when the 55 people elected this summer to represent Nova Scotians gather together at Province House today.
The House sat last spring but most MLAs participated in debates and took part in question period or committee meetings by video from their offices or homes.
There were people in the chamber but numbers were kept to a strict minimum.
Premier Tim Houston told reporters last week that MLAs are keen to return to face-to-face interactions.
"There's a general excitement about the return to the legislature," he said following last Thursday's cabinet meeting. "I don't know how quickly that excitement will dissipate but I'm sure it will at some point in time."
There's no limit on the number of MLAs who can be in the chamber at any one time, although when they are at their desks on the floor of the chamber, they will need to wear face masks as a precaution.
24 newcomers to legislature
Almost half of the 55 members of this assembly are brand new to the House.
Of the 24 rookie MLAs, 15 will sit on the government benches, seven are now part of the Liberal Official Opposition, and there are two more New Democrats.
Of the class of 2021, Health Minister Michelle Thompson is the rookie facing the biggest challenge. She defeated former Liberal cabinet minister Randy Delorey in the election and is now in charge of the biggest-spending department in government and responsible for helping deliver her party's key election promise: improving health care.
A reporter asked Thompson if she was looking forward to her first sitting, eliciting a nervous laugh from the new cabinet minister.
"Yes. Of course, I'm anxious," said Thompson. "I can't say that I'm not, but I am looking forward to getting that under my belt. The only way to the other side of it is through it.
"I'm just going to do my best and beg forgiveness and, you know, just keep moving forward to get that experience."
6 new MLAs in cabinet
She's one of six newly elected MLAs in cabinet. Twelve of the other 13 have spent time in the House, but never in government.
There's only one member of executive council with any experience in cabinet: Pat Dunn, who was part of Rodney MacDonald's government as minister of health promotion and protection and minister of volunteerism.
He's now minister of communities, culture, tourism and heritage and minister of African Nova Scotia affairs. His appointment to that portfolio has sparked some anger and frustration.
This new sitting will start with Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur Leblanc reading the throne speech — the document that lays out, in broad terms, the government's priorities.
Health care, housing, poverty
It's likely to focus on issues that propelled the PCs from opposition into government, most notably health care and the need to beef up mental health services.
These issues were echoed by Houston when he was asked about his priorities for the coming sitting.
"We have our mandate from Nova Scotians and that's to fix health care and that will remain our focus," he said. "Housing will be a discussion in this session, and child poverty rates."
He said they could all fit under the umbrella of a "healthy Nova Scotia."
"That will be our focus and that will remain our focus," he said.
Opposition waiting for action
Nova Scotia's opposition leaders echoed those priorities when they were asked for their focus this fall.
"At the top of the list is housing," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. "We know that the election was fought in the midst of a housing crisis, which has only intensified since that time, and the government, now in their eighth week of being in office, has not yet brought any initiatives forward on many of the main areas where we need to see some changes."
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said he was looking forward to holding the government to account on housing, health care and the environment.
"We do think that rent controls should remain," said Rankin.
As for the fact he and other Liberals are now sitting on the opposition side of the House, Rankin said he was "feeling good" and confident in his team.
"I think it's a great opportunity for them to showcase their skills," he said.
"It's tougher in the early days after losing an election, but there's important issues the province is facing, so I'm looking forward to that."
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