Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia legislature to prorogue until 2021

Provincial politicians will meet for a single day in December to discontinue the current session of the legislature, and start a new session in 2021 after the Liberal party chooses a new premier.

Opposition criticizes premier for government's decision to hold one-day sitting in December

The province's House of Assembly will prorogue on Dec. 18. A new session will begin with a new premier in February. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia MLAs will meet for a single day in December to discontinue the current session of the legislature, and start a new session in 2021 after the Liberal party chooses a new premier.

Nova Scotia has the only legislature in the country that has not met since the start of COVID-19 — a fact that has been much criticized by the opposition.

Premier Stephen McNeil argued Friday that he's been answering to the public throughout the pandemic. He held news conferences most days during the first wave.

Further, he said it "made no sense" to have the house sit and set policy direction during a leadership race. 

"[The new leader] will have the opportunity to set their own mark on their government and they'll do that in the spring," McNeil told reporters.

House to return in February at the earliest

The notice to prorogue calls for the House of Assembly to return for a new session on Feb. 16, 2021 with a speech from the throne.

But the incoming premier could push that back to a later date. The Liberal party is due to select a new leader, who will automatically become the next premier, on Feb. 6.

Before the sitting begins, the incoming premier will have to assemble his cabinet, write the throne speech and prepare any legislation to be tabled during the spring session, including the budget.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government was showing disrespect to Nova Scotians by proroguing, and "evading the scrutiny of the public."

"There is a fundamental thing about democracy that the premier clearly does not understand and it is this: Stephen McNeil is not the government of Nova Scotia," Burrill told reporters Friday.

PC leader Tim Houston was also critical of the decision to prorogue. He said he had been joking for some time that the required fall sitting may only last a few hours.

"But today we learned that the joke really is on us and on Nova Scotians and on democracy," said Houston.

Houston said he does not accept McNeil's argument that he's been answering to the public by holding public news conferences. He said those appearances are not the same as debating legislation in the house and answering questions of accountability from the opposition.

Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University, echoed the critiques of the opposition, calling the premier's decision an "extraordinary approach of legislative avoidance."

Urbaniak said he expects the move to negatively affect McNeil's legacy, and put "tremendous pressure" on his successor to distance themselves from the approach.

Leadership hopeful defends government

Randy Delorey, the recent health minister who left his cabinet post to run for the Liberal leadership, said he is "more than comfortable" defending the decisions of the current government. 

"I believe the positive results speak for themselves," Delorey said in an emailed statement, "but there is more work to be done."

Delorey is up against Iain Rankin and Labi Kousoulis, also former cabinet ministers, in the leadership race.

Rankin responded to Friday's announcement by saying that he's "ready to work, whether that's in the legislature, or in my community, as all MLAs have been doing since the start of the pandemic."

Kousoulis was not available to comment.

When the House of Assembly meets on Dec. 18 to prorogue, it will wipe the order paper clean of any bills that have been tabled but not passed since the current session started in the fall of 2018. Those include 165 bills from opposition members, and one government bill — the Biodiversity Act.

House leaders from each of the three parties have been preparing to return to the legislature under public health protocols since the summer. Some legislative committees that were on pause through the spring and summer have since resumed.

With files from Michael Gorman and Tom Murphy