Nova Scotia

Premier rebukes Speaker for closing N.S. Legislature to the public after COVID-19 case

In a tweet, Premier Tim Houston said his government disagrees with a decision by Speaker Keith Bain to bar the public from Province House after a person tested positive for COVID-19. 

Speaker issued new restrictions Saturday after PC MLA tested positive for COVID-19

Speaker Keith Bain's decision to bar the public from Province House, seen here in 2018, was made after being notified a person tested positive for COVID-19. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has publicly criticized a decision made by the man he personally nominated from his caucus for the Speaker's job six months ago.

In a tweet, Houston said his government disagrees with a decision by Speaker Keith Bain to bar the public from Province House after a person tested positive for COVID-19. 

"There absolutely should never be two different standards for politicians and the public," tweeted Houston, who pointed out that the decision was made by the Speaker's Office "on their own."

The Progressive Conservatives used their majority to elect Bain, the MLA for Victoria-The Lakes, for the job as Speaker last September. 

Over the weekend, Bain outlined the new ban in a memo to staff, MLAs, caucus staff and reporters.

"On Saturday, the Speaker's Office circulated a memo that introduced new COVID workplace policies, ultimately creating two sets of rules —  one for politicians and one for the public," Houston tweeted amid criticism levelled at his government for the decision.

Government House leader Kim Masland confirmed to CBC News the person who tested positive is a member of the Tory caucus who was in the building last Thursday and Friday when the spring sitting started.

Houston's government faced criticism prior to the decision because Bain has also mandated masks continue to be worn inside the legislature. Masks are no longer required in almost every other public building in the province. 

The rules for Province House are also in stark contrast to other public venues where access to buildings, particularly schools, is not being restricted when there are COVID-19 exposures in those places.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said he agrees with Nova Scotians who claim there's now a double standard, saying that if restrictions are lifted elsewhere in the province, "then they shouldn't be on in the legislature."

The Speaker's Office, which said Bain was unavailable for interviews on Monday, issued a statement on his behalf. 

Victoria-The Lakes MLA Keith Bain. The PCs used their majority to elect Bain for the job of Speaker last Sept. 24. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

"The legislature is independent of government," said the statement. "The Speaker makes all directives concerning the health and safety for everyone working at and visiting Province House."

The statement went on to say the temporary measures enacted over the weekend would ensure "the House of Assembly can successfully fulfil its duties." Bain would reassess the situation within 10 days, it added.

"The Speaker considered public health recommendations, the voluntary notification of a positive case, and the unique environment and responsibilities of the legislature to reach his decision," said the statement.

Although visitors are not allowed in the building, a single presenter to the legislature's law amendments committee was allowed to take part in Monday's meeting. A second presenter appeared virtually.

Asked before the premier's tweets what they thought about the Speaker's decision, Housing Minister John Lohr said he had no issue with it.

"I respect the decision and I know that it's based on concern about actual COVID cases in the building," said Lohr.

Backbencher Tory Dave Ritcey offered a similar comment.

"It's a decision that was made by the Speaker of the House, and he runs the House," he said.