Nova Scotia

A little crying aside, first virtual legislature committee meeting goes smoothly

There was rare all-party agreement and a little crying, but otherwise the first-ever virtual meeting by a Nova Scotia Legislature committee was mundanely routine.

'It's time for us to get back to business,' says NDP MLA Claudia Chender

MLA Brendan Maguire, chair of the Nova Scotia Legislature's human resources committee, joined the virtual meeting on Tuesday by telephone. (Legislative TV)

The only novelty offered by Nova Scotia's first-ever virtual meeting of a legislature committee was a 16-second pause by committee chair Brendan Maguire, who excused himself during the teleconference to deal with a crying child.

He was home Tuesday for the call, as were most, if not all committee members and committee staff. Otherwise, the nearly hour-long meeting was as routine and uneventful as in-person human resources committee gatherings.

The committee unanimously ratified 21 government appointments to agencies, boards and commissions, including naming Cheryl Stewart-Walsh, a former policy advisor to Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, to the board of the IWK Health Centre.

"I'm glad that we were able to have this meeting and it ran so smoothly," remarked Maguire just before ending the conference call. The committee is next scheduled to meet on June 30.

By law, the committee is mandated to meet monthly, the only standing committee with that kind of fixed schedule. The governing Liberals have used their majority on every other legislature committees to sideline them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meetings can work, says MLA

Because of the pandemic, the human resources committee skipped two monthly meetings and last met on Feb. 11.

Premier Stephen McNeil recently told reporters the other five regularly scheduled standing committees will only meet again in the fall.

PC MLA Brad Johns said Tuesday's meeting showed it was possible for committee members to meet virtually and get work done, without putting politicians or Province House staff at risk.

"Obviously, what it proved was that legislative committees can meet even at this time of pandemic," he said. 

"It has been shown across the country. Other legislatures and other levels of government, including HRM, have found ways to be able to have meetings and I think today's proved that government in Nova Scotia can as well."

New Democrat committee member Claudia Chender agreed.

"As we've been saying for the better part of six weeks it's time for us to get back to business," she said.

Workplace pandemic plans

Chender put forward a motion calling on Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis to require all workplaces looking to reopen to have pandemic plans that include accommodations for employees with dependents who may not have access to child care or other supports. That motion passed unanimously.

"This is exactly the kind of thing we're pointing to when we are advocating for the re-establishment of committees," Chender said.

This was the first meeting for Kendra Coombes, the newly sworn-in NDP MLA for Cape Breton Centre. 

Before Tuesday's meeting, the last time a standing committee met was on March 11. The public accounts committee heard from senior bureaucrats from the Department of Lands and Forestry on contaminated lands.