New Brunswick

Legislative committee to debate virtual meetings of the legislature

A committee of MLAs will debate on Friday whether the New Brunswick Legislature should adopt virtual or hybrid sittings as a way of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition parties argue some MLAs could attend virtually during pandemic, education minister opposes idea

Opposition parties have pushed for the ability to attend meetings of the Legislature virtually. (Twitter/David Coon)

A committee of MLAs will debate on Friday whether the New Brunswick Legislature should adopt virtual or hybrid sittings as a way of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Green Party Leader David Coon introduced a motion Tuesday to force the committee to deal with the issue, which flared up last week and derailed the early passage of several government bills.

MLAs have been holding hybrid committee meetings for months, with some MLAs taking part virtually using videoconferencing technology.

But so far, sittings of the full legislature are not allowed to use the same system because of objections from Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. 

On Friday, Cardy said he would oppose going against "hundreds of years of history" and parliamentary tradition that he says requires MLAs to debate issues and vote on legislation in person.

Green Party Leader David Coon made a motion before the committee on procedure, privileges and legislative officers to allow for virtual meetings of the legislature. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo)

He said those traditions outweigh the risk of MLAs travelling between health zones in red and orange phases to be in the legislature in person. 

To protest Cardy's resistance, the Liberals and the Greens refused to give unanimous support Friday to a Progressive Conservative attempt to fast-track four government bills and a private member's bill. 

Glen Savoie, the PC House leader, said that rather than obstruct government business, the opposition parties should raise the virtual-sittings issue at a meeting of the committee on procedure, privileges and legislative officers.

That committee met Tuesday and Coon's motion called on members "to draft proposed changes" to house rules "by which the House may conduct hybrid and virtual proceeding" and to send its recommendations to the legislature by March 17. 

Education Minister Dominic Cardy opposes virtual meetings of the legislature during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though his own leader has agreed the idea could work. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick)

PC MLAs amended the motion to simply say the committee would "discuss" virtual sittings at its next meeting this Friday.

Cardy's adamant opposition to virtual sittings is at odds with Premier Blaine Higgs himself, who pointed out Friday the legislature has the technology in place to operate virtually.

"If it becomes a heightened concern because of the pandemic, not being able to conduct the business of the province is not an option, so we have to find a solution, and we will," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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