N.S. government's attempt to install deputy Speakers thwarted during late-night sitting
PCs want to install 3 new deputy Speakers but opposition members delayed those efforts Tuesday
Nova Scotia's opposition parties were able to delay the installation of three more deputy Speakers to the roster at Province House, despite the Houston government extending the sitting hours until midnight Tuesday.
Deputy Speakers preside over debates in the chamber or act in the Speaker's stead when the Speaker of the House is unavailable or they need a break. The government is attempting to add three members of its caucus to the slate, joining the two already ratified by all MLAs who represent each of the opposition parties.
During this fall sitting, the move to beef up the number of deputies has become a partisan fight because of Premier Tim Houston's desire to remove Speaker Keith Bain from his job after just one year.
Despite Bain's desire to keep the job, he signed a letter last Wednesday promising to step down next April. The MLA for Victoria-The Lakes told reporters he expected that letter to remain confidential until then, but the PC caucus issued a news release, on the premier's behalf, the day after he signed the promise in Houston's office.
On Tuesday, Houston refused to address the issue or answer any questions about his dealings with Bain, once again accusing a reporter of trying to "create" an issue.
"This is kind of a theme you continue to try to create," said Houston, who last week apologized for saying a reporter "manufactured" the story about his interactions with Bain.
Houston suggested a ruling Tuesday by the Liberal deputy Speaker, Angela Simmonds, that his attempt to oust Bain did not amount to intimidation was reason to turn the page.
"I'm happy that this could be put behind us and we can focus on what is important to Nova Scotians, like health care, like the cost of living, like housing — important issues," Houston told reporters outside the chamber.
Watering down representation
But the move to add to the number of deputy Speakers drew condemnation from opposition members during debate on the motion at Province House Tuesday night.
New Democrat MLA Suzy Hansen, one of only four Black members in the House, denounced the move as a dilution of the historic nature of Simmonds being named as the first Black woman to hold the post.
"Doing this particular change is the same as asking Viola Desmond to leave the whites-only section," said Hansen, referencing the nationally celebrated civil rights activist whose likeness now graces Canada's $10 bill.
"And I know you may not understand that, but for me as a Black woman, I can tell you that's how I felt when I'm hearing that we're going to be pushed back from the role that we've had."
Liberal MLA Kelly Regan also noted the historic nature of New Democrat MLA Lisa Lachance, the first genderqueer person in the House, serving as the other deputy Speaker.
'A bad joke'
Regan suggested Nova Scotia, nationally celebrated for the move a year ago, would be the butt of jokes Canada-wide.
"It's like it's a bad joke, you know," said Regan. "How many Speakers does it take for Nova Scotia to come through the shortest House session in the country?
"Apparently, the answer is five. Amazing!"
Tuesday's long night at the legislature was the first of many to come after the government used its majority to extend daily sittings until midnight for the next seven days the House sits.
It's the type of tactic Houston was fiercely critical of former premier Stephen McNeil for using when the Liberals were in power.
Doing the work of the people
Now premier, Houston struck a different tone with reporters on Tuesday.
"Premier McNeil would have did what he did just like every other premier before him. It's the rules of this House to set the hours. We will set the hours, as a government, that we think are appropriate to get the work of the people done."
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, a member of those Liberal governments that called marathon hours at the House, had a different theory for Houston's change of view.
"You call House hours long when you want to get out of here in a shorter period of time," he told reporters.
Change in tone
Churchill noted that Houston's opinion on House hours isn't the only thing that's changed since he moved to the government side of the chamber. Several Liberal MLAs recited comments Houston made while in opposition that criticized a move by the former Liberal government to add a deputy Speaker without putting it to a vote of the House.
"So what I would say is I would appeal to the members of this House to think about the message that we're sending to Nova Scotians," Houston said in the chamber on April 15, 2016.
"Is it a message of working together? Is it a message of humility? Or is it a message of aggression? Because that's what you see when you say 'Well, this person is elected and this person — we're not going to have an election, we're just going to put them in there because we can.' That's not the way that it's supposed to work."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said Houston's changing views since coming to power are "part of a pattern of hypocrisy." The change in hours is an extreme version of an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia politics, she said.
"It's undemocratic. It means that the media can't cover what happens here, it means that opposition can't effectively oppose the bills that are brought to the floor of the House," she told reporters.
"It means that the public can't meaningfully engage in debate and it's embarrassing, frankly."
Although opposition MLAs were able to run out the clock on debate Tuesday, the government motion will likely pass at some point because of its majority in the legislature.
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