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Nova Scotia Opposition leaders call for committees to resume as COVID-19 briefings take hiatus

Tim Houston speaks to the crowd after being elected the new leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party at the PC leadership convention in Halifax on Saturday, October 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Ted Pritchard

The leaders of Nova Scotia’s Opposition parties are hoping the premier will restart normal government processes during the anticipated two-week break from coronavirus news briefings.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston says as the economy begins the process of reopening, so too should the committee structure within the legislature.

“It’s time now,” Tim Houston said in a phone interview Thursday.

“The committees should be restarted right now; that should happen immediately.”

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Wednesday that COVID-19 press briefings will be placed on hold while Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s top doctor, follows public health protocol and self-isolates for 14 days.

Strang confirmed he would be heading to New Brunswick for a follow-up surgical procedure that isn’t available in Nova Scotia. He said he has a “minor type” of skin cancer which spreads locally and has already been removed.

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READ MORE: Dr. Strang to undergo ‘minor’ skin cancer surgery in New Brunswick this week

Strang plans to work from home during his two-week isolation period and McNeil said the two will be in regular contact to work towards the next stages of reopening.

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Houston notes that though the briefings have been helpful and informative, the flattening of Nova Scotia’s coronavirus curve is a good cue for government to return to more normal times.

“The briefings have been pretty restrictive,” he said. “I think media’s been restricted in what they can ask. Certainly the Opposition has been shut out of fulfilling its responsibilities of holding the government accountable.

“I think this is the opportunity for the government of the province to return to normal just like the rest of society is doing.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: N.S. top doctor to self-isolate after surgery in N.B. for type of skin cancer' Coronavirus outbreak: N.S. top doctor to self-isolate after surgery in N.B. for type of skin cancer
Coronavirus outbreak: N.S. top doctor to self-isolate after surgery in N.B. for type of skin cancer – Jun 10, 2020

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill agrees, highlighting that the end of the briefings leaves government to function behind closed doors.

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“A democratic government is a government that’s in the open, and that means that it’s subject to scrutiny of the public, accountability of the public and oversight of the public,” Burrill said.

“For the media now to no longer have those daily press briefings and only really have access to the government by means of the teleconference with the cabinet when it meets every couple of weeks, if that, is a troubling limitation.”

READ MORE: No new cases reported as Nova Scotia active case total drops to 4

Burrill says for the province to have neither the legislature functioning nor the daily scrutiny of the press briefings results in a low standard being set.

“With the whole legislature shut down and all its functioning bodies shut down … it places a heightened, added importance on the government making itself available to the media of the province,” he said.

“For them to fail to that, I think, is to fail to meet the adequate democratic standard.”

The provincial government declined to comment beyond the statement made during Wednesday’s briefing.

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