Nova Scotia

MLAs returning to Province House this fall, despite pandemic

The 55 people who make up the new Nova Scotia Legislature are allowed to return to Province House this fall, but only if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Elected representatives in N.S. will have to show proof of vaccination to take their seats

MLAs haven't gathered together in Province House in Halifax for 20 months. (Robert Short/CBC)

The 55 people elected this summer to represent Nova Scotians in the House of Assembly will be returning to Province House in Halifax next week, in spite of the ongoing pandemic.

It will be the first time in almost 20 months that MLAs will gather together face to face to debate bills or question cabinet ministers from the floor of the chamber.

Last spring, the three main parties and two Independents at Province House agreed to a hybrid format, which severely restricted the number of people allowed in the chamber. Most MLAs took part virtually from their homes or offices. Despite minor technical glitches, and more frequent breaks, the spring sitting went relatively smoothly.

Speaker Keith Bain has decided a more normal fall sitting can take place safely as long as MLAs are fully vaccinated against COVD 19 and they continue to wear masks while they are in the chamber. They will be allowed to unmask when they speak.

The three main parties and the Independent in the House have agreed to voluntarily supply a proof of vaccination to the Speaker's office.

Fifty-five MLAs were elected this summer. (Robert Short/CBC)

On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia government announced that all provincial public servants will have to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30. James Charlton, the chief clerk of the House of Assembly, said Thursday the policy will apply to staff at Province House once it comes into effect.

Reporters and politicians will also interact in a more normal fashion, reverting back to interviews on the fly rather than having politicians agree to interviews and stand at a podium in the Red Room to answer questions. This fall, media "scrums" will take place in the hallway outside the chamber, as is the tradition.

Reporters who cover the legislature regularly have also agreed to voluntarily supply proof they are properly vaccinated.

Although visitors are welcome back at Province House, the public will not be allowed to watch proceedings from the public gallery due to limited space.

Legislature TV is now occupying parts of the gallery normally reserved for the public because the control room it uses is too constrained to allow for safe distancing, and there's a possibility the House might have to revert back to hybrid sittings if COVID infections spread and there's a need to retighten the rules.