Nova Scotia

With Province House closed, new MLAs forced to wait their turn

Nova Scotia's newest Members of the Legislative Assembly are working on behalf of their constituents, but they are not permitted to do any legislative work before they are sworn in.

'You've gone from one extreme to the next,' says Kendra Coombes

New MLA Kendra Coombes has to wait until she can take her seat at Province House. She won a byelection in March. (Matthew Brown)

Dave Ritcey and Kendra Coombes worked flat out to win their way into Province House.

But nearly two months after their March 10 byelection victories, neither has claimed the prize of becoming a full-fledged member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. That comes with a swearing-in ceremony that can't happen right now due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Coombes calls it an "odd" time." Ritcey describes it as "challenging."

Both have been working from home, juggling their new duties along with parental obligations.

Coombes said the change of pace for someone used to being out in public has been jarring.

"You've gone from one extreme to the next," she said.

'It's been a whirlwind'

She is at home with her partner, Matthew, and their nine-month-old daughter, Rory.

"It's been a whirlwind," Coombes said, "but also it feels like forever at the same time."

Coombes has not yet been able to meet face-to-face with her new NDP colleagues. She has participated in at least 30 caucus conference calls.

Ritcey was more fortunate. He was formally welcomed into his PC caucus the day after election night.

"I arrived [in Halifax] on the next day for a caucus meeting," he said. "Everything went sideways after that."

He's been working out of his Truro home since then. He shares the home with his wife, Amber, and daughters, Addison, 11, and Alex, 8.

Pay, benefits, but no seat in the legislature

Both rookie MLAs are receiving their pay and entitled to benefits and allowances. Each has access to the support services available to all elected officials.

But neither has a seat in the legislature and neither is allowed to do any committee work.

According to the Acting Chief Clerk at Province House Annette Boucher, "the person declared elected under our House of Assembly Act is a member, however, the member cannot take their seat or vote in the House of Assembly, or sit on a House committee before the Oath of Allegiance is administered."

"The Oath of Allegiance is administered in a swearing-in procedure." 

Province House has been closed for business since March 16 because of the pandemic. 

Ready to get started

That has prevented any gathering at the legislature, including for traditional swearing-in ceremonies.

Coombes and Ritcey are anxious for that to happen.

Dave Ritcey has found the isolation brought on by the pandemic to be challenging. (Amber Ball Ritcey)

"It's disappointing but … the safety measures and the health of Nova Scotians is more important at this time," said Ritcey. "I look forward to that day to enjoy it with my family and my friends and my colleagues."

Coombes would be happy to be sworn in virtually if it could be done.

"Hands down, no question about that, absolutely," she said.

"In person, virtually, it doesn't matter to me as long as I'm sworn in and can take and can take my seat on committees or take my seat in the legislature."

As for working from home, Coombes and Ritcey have different experiences.

"I worked out of my home as a councillor," said Coombes. "I worked out of my car as a councillor. I worked on the sidewalk as a councillor. To me, working from home is normal."

She said it's been a bigger adjustment for her partner, who's a teacher and has had to deal with students from home.

Ritcey has found the adjustment difficult. He likes to be out and about.

"I'm a community person and that's probably the biggest disadvantage for me," he said. "I shouldn't say disadvantage — a discouragement for me because I am a people person."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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