Nova Scotia

Stephen McNeil uses last day at Province House as premier to shut down legislature

Stephen McNeil's last day at Province House as premier lasted less than 13 minutes. It may have fulfilled his government's legal requirement to hold a fall sitting, but his political foes were unimpressed.

NDP leader calls move 'small' and 'selfish'

Stephen McNeil leaves the Nova Scotia Legislature on Friday. (Legislature TV)

Premier Stephen McNeil used his last day at Province House as government leader to have Lieutenant-Governor Arthur LeBlanc briefly sum up what the governing Liberals consider their accomplishments during this session.

Then he brought the fall sitting to an end.

By recalling the House to prorogue the session without any work whatsoever, McNeil is fulfilling the legal obligation governments in Nova Scotia have had since 1994 to hold two sittings a year.

But NDP Leader Gary Burrill was unimpressed with a fall sitting that lasted 12 minutes and 22 seconds.

"What the government has done here could be well characterized as being just very small," he told reporters in the Red Room following the physically distanced gathering of MLAs in the legislative chamber down the hall. "Perhaps it fulfils the legalistic letter of the law, but it is a small thing for a government to do.

'A selfish thing for a government to do'

"It is even a selfish thing for a government to do."

Official Opposition Leader Tim Houston also criticized McNeil's decision to shut down the work of the House, leaving it to the next Liberal leader to deal with questions about the pandemic and his government's handling of it.

 "It's really a belittling of what this institution is meant to stand for," said Houston.

"He's saying that democracy is an inconvenience, he's not concerned about the wishes of Nova Scotians," he said. "He feels like he's above democracy and doesn't want to be and doesn't need to be, in his estimation, held accountable by opposition members."

Nova Scotia is the only legislature in Canada without a sitting during the pandemic. The spring sitting wrapped up after passing a budget at breakneck speed, just days before the COVID-19 virus was detected in Nova Scotia.

Repeated calls to recall legislature rebuffed

McNeil refused repeated calls by opposition members to recall the legislature, even if the sitting had to be virtual.

Liberal MLAs also used their majority on legislature committees to sideline that work for six months. The only exception was the Standing Committee on Human Resources, which did meet virtually because it was mandated by law to meet monthly.

Outgoing premiers are usually praised by opposition leaders on their last day in the legislature, but the only recognition offered McNeil Friday came from Leblanc in an end-of-session speech that is usually written by someone in the premier's office.

"I hope that all Nova Scotians will join me in congratulating him and wishing him the very best in his next chapter," said LeBlanc in his 11-minute address to the House.

Although McNeil expressed concern Thursday that any gathering over five people in the chamber could pose a risk to Leblanc's health, the number of people on the government side of the house dwarfed the number of MLAs on the opposition benches.

There were 15 Liberals in the chamber, three NDP members, two independents and one PC MLA.

McNeil left the chamber seconds after adjournment, shrugging on his coat as he headed for the door.

He offered a quick "no" when asked by a reporter if he would answer any questions. He then left the building and hopped into a vehicle waiting in the middle of Granville Street.