Nova Scotia·Analysis

5 things to watch in Nova Scotia legislature fall sitting

The McNeil government is in the midst of contract talks with thousands of government workers, teachers and hospital staff. That could dominate the fall sitting, which begins today.

Fall sitting begins today and is shaping up to be far from routine

The fall sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature begins Thursday. (CBC)

For a government at the midway point in its mandate, this fall sitting should be routine. More about housekeeping than grandiose plans.

The fact this time of year is also reserved for passing laws rather than debating budgets, should also make it a less controversial or acrimonious sitting than the one last spring.

But that's not the way things are shaping up.

The McNeil government is in the midst of contract talks with thousands of government workers, teachers and hospital staff, including doctors, nurses and residents. And that may dominate this fall sitting, which begins today.

5 things to watch this sitting

Here are are some things to key an eye out for in the next several weeks: 

  • A bill affecting those contract talks with public employees
  • Extra-long or round-the-clock proceedings 
  • Former cabinet minister Andrew Younger's new role as opposition member
  • How three rookie MLAs fare
  • The province's new relationship with the Trudeau government in Ottawa

The governing Liberals have repeatedly said the province needs public sector contracts that are fair and affordable to taxpayers.

To that end, the province is offering those workers a five-year deal with salary increases worth a total of two per cent over the life of those contracts.

Rather than negotiate, medical residents have already asked for an arbitrator to intercede. Other unions are equally unimpressed with the offer.

This fall, Premier Stephen McNeil may bring in a law to try to speed those contract talks along or even impose a contract on those workers.

Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald considers that a definite possibility.

"All of the signals of this government leading up to this session are that they intend to impose their will on the public sector unions rather than negotiate," she said.

Holiday debates

McNeil said he didn't plan to impose a contract on public sector workers, but caucus members have been told the House may sit between Christmas and New Year's Day, which would be unprecedented in recent decades.

Getting another contentious labour bill through the legislature would take time, so if the government were to bring one in, government House leader Michel Samson would likely do what he's done previously and impose extra-long hours.

Provincial politicians sat round-the-clock during debate in April, 2014. That's when the McNeil government pushed ahead Bill 37, the Essential Health and Community Services Act, which severely restricts who and how many workers can walk off the job in the event of a strike.

MLAs also sat extra-long hours later that fall during debate on the bill that restructured the health authorities.

The Younger factor

Ironically, the premier's decision to toss his former minister of environment overboard makes the job of turning bills into law more difficult.  

When Andrew Younger was on the government benches, the Liberals were one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the legislature. That meant all they needed was independent Chuck Porter's vote to be able to change the house rules unilaterally and to limit debate on a bill.

The government is now two votes short of that mark. That likely means it will have to suffer through the normal law-making process, without the ability to fast-track any bill.

Younger, as an independent, may also be a problem for the government when it comes to debates or question period.

Despite his seven-month break from cabinet earlier this year, he was readmitted this past summer and has been privy to backroom conversations about government strategy and policy. That may make him a powerful and informed voice on the opposition benches.

There also remains unanswered questions about how the premier's office handled the Younger affair, and that too may provide fodder for accusations during question period.

This fall we also have three new faces in the house. New Democrat Marian Mancini (Dartmouth South), and Liberals David Wilton (Cape Breton Centre) and Derek Mombourquette (Sydney-Whitney Pier) were all elected July 14.

Although they will all sit near one another on the "opposition" side of the house, each will be trying to make their mark during their inaugural sitting.

This is also the first sitting in which the governing Liberals will have a "friendly" federal partner in Ottawa.

Expect more congratulatory messages aimed Ottawa's way and perhaps tangible movement on key files such as immigration, health-care funding and money for such pressing infrastructure needs as a new hospital.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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