Edmonton

Alberta government suspends spring session of legislature as COVID-19 cases surge

"The government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent," said Jason Nixon.

Critics say provincial government is ducking public accountability

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notely called the government’s decision to suspend the legislature for the next two weeks “cowardly and hypocritical,” at a press conference Sunday with NDP health critic David Shepherd, left, and NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman, right. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The Alberta government has suspended the spring sitting of the legislature for two weeks, citing the surging numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province.

"With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent," government House leader Jason Nixon said in a news release Sunday.

"Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase."

The spring sitting will remain paused until May 17.

The suspension is not due to any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among MLAs or legislature staff but to "prevent the further spread of COVID-19," the news release said.

The government says it's leading by example by suspending the spring session as COVID-19 cases spike. 

'Work being left undone'

Critics said the government is ducking public accountability. 

"I think it's because of a series of these events that Premier Kenney did not want to walk into the legislature on Monday and face a bunch of really tough questions from the NDP about what the government is doing, but more importantly what the government is not doing," said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said the decision leaves work undone for those still headed out to their jobs, from paid sick leave to support for online classes.

"It is incredibly cowardly and hypocritical for Jason Kenney to claim it is not safe for him to come to work, when all of these folks, none of whom or very few of whom have sick leave, unlike the premier and his House leader, have to go to work," Notley said at a news conference.

"Alberta workers need paid sick leave, families need a learn from home fund to support students online, our variant testing system needs immediate improvement and our existing public health measures must be enforced," Notley said. 

"All this work is being left undone because Jason Kenney is afraid of public scrutiny."

An amendment passed earlier in the legislature session allows for the option to adjourn the assembly in response to "public safety concerns," the news release said. 

Cabinet will continue to meet virtually. Legislative committees will continue their work, meeting remotely.

Alberta experienced three consecutive days with more than 2,000 new cases, topping out on Saturday with 2,433, the single-highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic, along with a positivity rate of 12.1 per cent.

Health restrictions in the province are currently at Step 1. Indoor social gatherings are not permitted and outdoor gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 10 people. Restaurants, bars and retail are allowed to operate, with restrictions.

Last week, Kenney added additional restrictions to a targeted list of "hot spots" — that is, regions with at least 350 cases per 100,000 people and 250 active cases.

The additional restrictions, including online learning for all junior and senior high schools and no indoor fitness activities, affect Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Strathcona County, Edmonton and St. Albert.

A little more than one year ago, the Alberta Legislature was embroiled in a similar debate, except the government was determined to continue daily sittings while the NDP worried that being in the legislature, even with precautions, would be risky.

"The work of democracy does not end in a crisis," Kenney said last April. "The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London."

With files from Jordan Omstead

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