Nova Scotia

NDP eager to restart committee work, meeting virtually if need be

Nova Scotia New Democrats are anxious to resume their work on legislature committees, even if that means holding virtual meetings to adhere to public health directives.

PCs, Liberals in less of a rush to re-engage legislative work

MLA Claudia Chender has been working out of her Dartmouth, N.S., home for six weeks. (Jamie MacLellan)

Nova Scotia New Democrats are anxious to resume their work on legislature committees, even if that means holding virtual meetings to adhere to public health directives.

"I think it's time for our committees to figure out how to start meeting again," said NDP House Leader Claudia Chender, who has been working out of her Dartmouth home for the past six weeks.

"We definitely recognize that to meet safely, at this time, is going to require some planning and thinking. We think that it's time that that planning begin in earnest."

Given the more than $160 million the McNeil government has promised struggling individuals and businesses suffering as a result of the pandemic, Chender said reactivating the public accounts and health committees should be the priority.

"I think if government is going to continue, if capital spending is going to continue, then we need to have the oversight mechanisms in place so that that continues in a democratic fashion," said Chender.

'We'd be fine with that'

But PC and Liberal MLAs don't share the third party's sense of urgency.

"I think if committees were started up again, if the government had a way to safely restart them, likely by using technology, at this point in time, we'd be fine with that," said PC House Leader Allan MacMaster.

MacMaster reiterated his party's call for the creation of an all-party committee devoted entirely to the province's response to COVID-19. It is the PC's top priority for legislative work.

"With all of that going on the government needs to be focused on the task at hand, which is getting this virus under control and we want to help that," he said.

So far, the governing Liberals have ignored that offer.

Liberals willing to consider

As for the resumption of existing committees, government House Leader Geoff MacLellan said he was willing to consider it.

"Were open to the discussions but, you know, I certainly don't feel that it's pressing at this point," he said. "It's not a closed conversation."

He suggested any meeting would likely have to be held virtually.

"If it's any time in the next few months there's no way whatsoever that they'll be face to face. I can't fathom that that would ever be possible," he said.

He also suggested restarting committee business might be a longer-term project for the government.

"If we're sort of loosening restrictions down the road, come early summer and people are back to work and they're back to some measure of sort of social interaction, and you know it's important for the legislature, legislative functions of the province to be rolling as well."

Legislative Television, the House of Assembly entity responsible for broadcasting debate on the floor of the House as well as committee business, is examining the possibility of holding gatherings at a distance.

"We are exploring available options to see what the possibilities may be for the holding of standing committee meetings virtually," said William Hirtle, manager of Legislative Television.

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