Nova Scotia opposition parties call on McNeil government to reopen committee meetings

Click to play video 'Opposition wants to see legislative committee meetings back in action' Opposition wants to see legislative committee meetings back in action
As Nova Scotia moves to reopen its businesses, opposition leaders are calling on Premier Stephen McNeil to bring back legislative committee meetings. – Jun 18, 2020

As the Nova Scotia economy gradually makes moves towards reopening for business during the coronavirus pandemic, there is a call from opposition leaders for the government to get back to business as well.

Both NDP Leader Gary Burrill and PC Leader Tim Houston are calling on the McNeil government to bring back legislative committee meetings but for now, the government doesn’t appear interested in doing so, rather focusing its attention on managing the public health crisis.

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“This is the time that opposition should be able to ask questions, the media should be able to ask questions, and Nova Scotians’ voices should be heard,” said Houston.

The Tory leader says he wrote a letter to the province’s chief medical officer of health detailing a plan to safely reopen the legislature, only to receive a letter back from Dr. Robert Strang saying there was no public health decision made regarding work at parliament.

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“Dr. Strang responded to us saying that it was not his decision, it was a government decision for the committees not to meet,” said Houston. “So that confirmed what we suspected that it was a political decision.”

Both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP suggest pandemic and its impacts on public health and the economy is reason enough for committee meetings to resume.

“It’s not just because we think committees are great and that it’s good to have meetings,” said Burrill. “It’s that these committees have a job and responsibility to scrutinize and to hold to account the work of the government.”

Click to play video 'Nine days without new cases in Nova Scotia, two active cases remain' Nine days without new cases in Nova Scotia, two active cases remain
Nine days without new cases in Nova Scotia, two active cases remain – Jun 18, 2020

At a press briefing Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil says there are ongoing daily briefings with opposition members for those who choose to take part, but as far as committee meetings go, he argues the legislature fulfilled its obligation in March, voting to adjourn until the fall sitting.

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“There’s nothing untoward here, we had our spring session and we passed our budget,” said McNeil. “We just passed some expropriation measures to deal with some of the issues associated with moving our province forward, which we have done every year since I have been the premier.”

McNeil said this is the same process the NDP followed when it was in government, and the same path the Conservatives followed when they were leading the province.

“The only difference is, is that we believe it’s more important that Dr. Strang and public health focus on the health and well-being of Nova Scotians instead of sitting in a committee room,” said McNeil.

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Burrill finds it ironic that Nova Scotians can meet in restaurants and in bars amid COVID-19 but it’s not safe for politicians to gather for committee business.

“I think it is arrogant and high-handed for the premier to suggest that in Nova Scotia we can’t both deal with the health crisis and with the rest of our work,” said Burrill. “Everybody else in Nova Scotia is looking after their kids and dealing with their jobs.”

The standing committee on human resources is scheduled to meet on June 30, as it’s legislated by law to meet on a monthly basis, but all other committees require unanimous consent to meet outside of their scheduled session.