Sask. government, Opposition at odds over masking policy for speakers in assembly

·3 min read
Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison (left) and Opposition House Leader Vicki Mowat differed on whether speakers inside the chamber should be masked. Harrison said the policy follows public health guidance. (Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly - image credit)
Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison (left) and Opposition House Leader Vicki Mowat differed on whether speakers inside the chamber should be masked. Harrison said the policy follows public health guidance. (Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly - image credit)

Before the first question period of the session, the Saskatchewan government and Opposition MLAs debated the masking requirements for speakers inside the legislative chamber.

The two house leaders, Jeremy Harrison on the government side and Vicki Mowat of the Opposition NDP, discussed the parameters of the six-week sitting.

The two sides agreed to the terms of the sitting, including making special arrangements to follow physical distancing rules.

"There's a lot of work that has went into this report, it is nearly 50 pages long, looking at all of the different rules we need to bring into place to keep members and all of the staff of this assembly safe. Largely the Opposition agrees with these rules," Mowat said Tuesday, standing at her desk with a mask behind a Plexiglass shield.

"There is one exception to that: the masking requirement. The Opposition disagrees with these rules which allow members to remove their mask while speaking. If masks were required in December, they should definitely be required now as we look at variants of concern running rampant in Regina."

Mowat said the Opposition supported the other rules, which include fewer members in the assembly at once and no visitors inside the chamber.

Harrison removed his mask before he spoke and thanked the staff, Speaker Randy Weekes and Mowat for their efforts in getting the rules adjusted to allow for the chamber to hold proceedings.

"We are very comfortable having worked with Dr. Shahab through this entire process who was literally in this chamber with a measuring tape to make sure we were distanced and that we had the appropriate Plexiglass which we have," Harrison said.

The motion to adopt the adjusted rules was passed on division.

The government said the mask policy was approved by chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and falls under the following rule for mask requirements: "Persons who are leading a service or ceremony while speaking from a podium, lectern, platform, stage, desk or other standing or seating area dedicated to speaking but only when they are able to maintain three metres distance from others."

The current order also allows for municipal, provincial and federal officials to remove their mask when doing a television interview or other news media or conferences. Media is also included in the order. Three metres of distance is required.

According to the government, New Brunswick is the only province that requires speakers to mask inside the assembly. Speakers are not required to mask in federal parliament.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 17, 2021. Members in the House of Commons are not required to wear a mask while speaking.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 17, 2021. Members in the House of Commons are not required to wear a mask while speaking.(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In a rare occurrence, government members will sit Saturday, April 10, to ensure the sitting reaches a full 30 days.

The following five weeks will see members sit Monday through Friday.

Meili, Moe continue mask debate

During Tuesday's proceedings, each government member that spoke did so without a mask. Each Opposition member who spoke did so with a mask on.

During question period, the mask issue was again raised by Opposition Leader Ryan Meili

"The premier dithered on mask use earlier in the pandemic, giving greater fuel to those who would resist evidence-based public health measures and last session we agreed we would wear our masks in this house so that we would protect each other, the staff and set a good example."

Meili asked Premier Scott Moe why he "would rather have people see his face than protect his colleagues, staff and to set a good example?"

Moe said the government had taken a "balanced and measured approach throughout the pandemic."

He said the Plexiglass erected on each desk was there to "ensure we are keeping people in this assembly safe."

Moe concluded his answer "ultimately our path through this global pandemic in this province, in this nation and around the world is mass access to vaccinations and we are doing everything we can to ensure those are available here."