MLAs wrangle over coping with COVID at the N.S. legislature

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WATCH: Impacts of COVID-19 on workplaces are being felt at the Nova Scotia legislature. Several MPs are out because of COVID, and budget estimates had to be delayed Thursday because of staffing issues. As Alicia Draus reports, opposition members say this is something that should have been planned earlier. – Mar 31, 2022

Throughout the pandemic, workplaces have been impacted by staffing shortages due to COVID-19. The Nova Scotia legislature is facing those same challenges.

This week five MLAs and a staff member are out, and Speaker of the House Keith Bain announced on Thursday they would be postponing the estimates committee set for Thursday and Friday.

“We thought it was best to hold off for a couple of days on estimates, see what solution we — we being my office and the house leaders — could come up (with) to make everything safer for all the members and the staff in this building as well,” said Bain.

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The idea of returning to a hybrid model has been floating around, something the government suggested over the weekend when the first case of COVID was announced, but Bain says making the switch takes time.

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“That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to delay estimates to next week, it gives (Legislative) TV and the clerks and everyone the opportunity to get ready.”

The three house leaders will be meeting with the Speaker Thursday evening to discuss all options, but opposition leaders say they’re frustrated that it’s gotten to this point.

“The speaker did approach all the house leaders prior to the convening of the house to ask us to discuss what would happen in this eventuality, which was pretty much a given statistically,” said Claudia Chender, house leader for the NDP party. “The government didn’t want to talk so here we are.”

Premier Tim Houston said his caucus had put forward the suggestion the the Legislature move to a hybrid model, as they have throughout the pandemic.

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“Those discussions picked up intensity on the weekend, but there was no appetite from the opposition parties to have a hybrid session,” he said.

But opposition parties say there were no real discussions and that the government was trying to make a decision without consulting all MLAs. They also say that moving to a hybrid model isn’t as easy as flicking a switch and so the government’s solution to go straight to a hybrid without notice just wasn’t feasible.

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“There are a number of processes that have to take place logistically in here to support that model,” said Derek Mombourquette, house leader for the opposition Liberals.

The three house leaders will be meeting Thursday evening with the Speaker of the House to discuss next steps which could include moving to a hybrid model next week or finding alternative staff to be able to accommodate a committee meeting being held while the house sits.

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