N.S. legislature's fall sitting likely to be short with disjointed debate
Only 29 MLAs will be allowed in the 51-seat House at a time
Province House, Canada's only legislature not to have sat during the pandemic, is gearing up for what will likely be a short sitting — one where MLAs may spend as much time shifting in and out of the chamber as debating bills or putting questions to cabinet ministers.
All three parties have agreed to new pandemic rules that will limit the number of MLAs in the chamber to 29 rather than the 51 members that make up the legislature.
The numbers will be divvied up to reflect the proportion of government and opposition members in the legislature.
Debate will be halted every hour to give elected representatives waiting in the wings a chance to swap seats with those in the chamber, in order to give as many MLAs as possible a voice during proceedings, including time allotted for the two Independents in the legislature.
Questions piling up
It may make for discontinuous debate but NDP House leader Claudia Chender is eager to return to Province House, which last sat March 10.
The governing Liberals passed a budget last spring in the shortest amount of time allowable under the rules: 13 days.
"We have not been in the legislature since early March and the world has changed," said Chender. "We're in a fundamentally different landscape now than we were then."
Chender said her caucus colleagues have many questions to put to the McNeil government, including what a second wave of COVID-19 would mean for the province.
They also want to hear from the Liberals on the dispute between commercial and Mi'kmaw fishermen that has turned violent in recent days, said Chender. As well, they want an update on the planned public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting.
"We have big questions about justice [and] law enforcement," she said.
Not enough time
Members of the Official Opposition are just as anxious to question the governing Liberals, according to PC House leader Allan MacMaster.
His major concern, however, is the possibility of another lightning-quick sitting.
"The earliest the House will go in now is late November," said MacMaster. "And there's not much left of the year at that point and the House has only sat 13 days this year.
"This is a government that's out to do what it wants and ... it certainly doesn't care about what the opposition thinks."
Government House leader Geoff MacLellan refused to answer questions about the next sitting.