Premier Stephen McNeil was indignant at the suggestion by the province’s opposition parties they should attend a brief sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature on Friday.
“The opposition parties are choosing to politicize this issue,” McNeil said after a meeting of the province’s cabinet on Thursday.
“I sit here for 10 months (next) to Dr. (Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health), encouraging Nova Scotians to follow the rules. I’m going to go to break public health protocol because they’re forcing me to do it.”
The legislature will be holding some sort of in-person sitting on Friday, but it will only be brief as the Liberal government moves to prorogue the legislature.
House leaders for all parties had worked for months on an arrangement that would have allowed 29 MLAs, based on party representation, to be in Province House to conduct legislative business.
But on Tuesday, McNeil sent a letter to the province’s opposition parties suggesting that only speaker Kevin Murphy and himself be in the chamber on Friday. They would be joined by the lieutenant-governor, the sergeant-at-arms and legislative clerk, with other MLAs joining virtually.
The letter indicated the goal would be for the legislature to comply with the five-person limit on indoor gatherings under the province’s current COVID-19 restrictions.
It’s unclear how many MLAs will be present on Friday but McNeil said it’s too many.
“We’ll go about our business. But I’m going to have to tell people that I have to ignore the public health protocols because the two opposition people think they’re equivalent to health care workers,” he said, referring to a letter sent by the NDP caucus.
Global News has not been able to obtain a copy of the letter, although CBC reports that the letter does not claim MLAs are the same as healthcare workers, but that their work is important and “see no reason why MLAs could not be present in the legislature.”
PC Leader Tim Houston says opposition parties were prepared to attend a virtual sitting and had been told earlier this week that is how it would go.
But Houston says they found out at the last minute that a virtual sitting wouldn’t be possible.
“To hear that the premier really didn’t have that organized, he didn’t have that planned out and it’s not possible, that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure how the Liberals dropped the ball,” he said.
“They had 282 days since our legislature sat so they’ve had a lot of time to prepare for this.”
Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada to not have had its legislature sit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Houston says even though the legislature is being prorogued, it’s important to have opposition parties have representation present in Province House.
He said there’s always the possibility the government could table something and elected officials need to be there to respond.
McNeil announced in August that he would step down as premier once a new Liberal leader, and therefore the next premier, is chosen on Feb. 6.
The decision means he won’t face opposition questions again, as that will occur before the legislature resumes.