When the Nova Scotia House of Assembly reconvenes Friday the only two MLA’s inside the legislature will be Premier Stephen McNeil and House Speaker Kevin Murphy.
Opposition house leader and PC MLA Allan MacMaster says house leaders have been working since August, brainstorming and preparing for a safe return to an in-person sitting for the fall legislature which is set to sit on Friday, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency was declared in early March.
It’s anticipated the house of assembly will sit for only a few minutes to allow McNeil to prorogue the fall legislature until the new year.
“Finally we landed on an in-person sitting with reduced numbers and that’s what was planned for Friday until we received communication last night,” said MacMaster.
In a letter to government house leader Geoff MacLellan, McNeil advised MacLellan to communicate with PC opposition House leader Allan MacMaster and NPD opposition House leader Claudia Chender that when the House resumes sitting on Friday it will be conducting business virtually.
McNeil said the prorogation procedure requires that he be physically present with the lieutenant governor for the ceremony, but with COVID-19 restrictions in place, he is requesting some changes.
To honour the province’s COVID-19 gathering limits of 5 people or less, and to meet the requirements of prorogation, McNeil says the only individuals present in the Chamber will be himself, the Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, Sergeant at Arms, and the Clerk.
“Those physically present will be masked and will maintain physical distancing. No paper will be exchanged and no shaking of hands will occur,” said McNeil.
The rest of the members will attend virtually.
MacMaster said the premier stifled democracy in action by not allowing the legislature and MLA’s to sit for a fall sitting and discuss business and makes it difficult for MLA’s to do their jobs.
“It makes me question what kind of democracy we have,” said MacMaster. “If the intention was for people’s safety, and if that’s the real intention for moving Friday’s sitting from in-person to a virtual meeting, then we could have been sitting virtually back in September.”
Nova Scotia is the only province to not hold a legislative sitting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province’s elected officials have only sat in the House of Assembly for a total of 13 days this year.
In August, Premier McNeil announced he would step down.
The decision means he won’t face opposition questions again, as a new Liberal leader and premier will be selected by the party in February before the legislature resumes.
MacMaster says he’s disappointed the Premier waited until two days before the fall sitting of the legislature to say it would be happening virtually.
“We agreed to an in-person plan with reduced numbers and that was the wish of the speaker and we agreed to that,” said MacMaster. “Now suddenly, it’s changing. Essentially he’s choosing to do what’s convenient for him and what he wants, over respecting the wishes of everybody in the province, to have a democracy that functions.”