Nova Scotia

PCs extend House hours using tactic they criticized previous governments for

As Opposition leader, Tim Houston was never in a rush to end a sitting, but as premier he's using the same tactic Stephen McNeil used to try to hurry legislation through the House: extra-long daily sittings.

'Political expediency, it's the same reason that the McNeil Liberals did it,' says NDP's Claudia Chender

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says extending the legislative workday ensures the voices of opposition members are heard. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservatives used their majority on Thursday to extend the legislative workday by six hours, to midnight, in an attempt to speed up the passage of bills through the provincial legislature.

It's the kind of procedural tactic for which, in opposition, Tim Houston was harshly critical of former Liberal governments.

Speaking to reporters outside the chamber after the motion passed, Houston at first denied he used to "rail" against former Premier Stephen McNeil for the extra long daily sittings his government set. 

Then Houston suggested he was simply trying to accommodate opposition members.

"Look, we want to make sure the opposition, they have their opportunity to speak to the bills," said Houston. "They have amendments they want to put forward. They want to speak to those amendments, so we'll make sure they have appropriate opportunity to do that."

Two years ago, after the shortest spring sitting in almost 15 years, Houston accused then-Premier McNeil of wanting to escape the scrutiny of the legislature for ending a sitting on a Monday, a day the house normally does not sit.

"The government doesn't want to be here," the leader of the Official Opposition told reporters. "This is the place where opposition parties, where media, where Nova Scotians can hold the government to account on their record, and they don't want to be here.

NDP MLA Claudia Chender introduced a private member's bill last year that would set in law the days and hours when the House of Assembly must sit. (Robert Short/CBC)

"This is a government that doesn't like to be held accountable."

On Thursday he denied his government's decision to extend sitting hours to midnight — for the second time in a week —had anything to do with wanting a quick end to the current sitting.

"You have to look at the quality of time in the legislature," the premier said. "When it's all said and done we will have passed somewhere in the range of 30, 31 pieces of legislation."

Pressed by a reporter, Houston joked, "Stephen McNeil always used to say people were smarter in opposition than they were in government.

"What happens in the chamber is very, very significant but what happens in the communities, talking to Nova Scotians [is] also very significant. It's time to do that."

NDP blasts premier's reasoning

NDP MLA Claudia Chender dismissed the premier's suggestion that extended hours were for the benefit of opposition members.

"Basically we're being told by the premier that by sitting until midnight, he's giving us time to speak," said Chender. "Well, with all due respect, we could have that time when people are awake and paying attention."

She suggested Houston was simply following in McNeil's footsteps.

"Political expediency. It's the same reason that the McNeil Liberals did it and it's the reason why we need a sitting calendar like every other legislature has so that the way in which we conduct our business in this house is less subject to partisanship."

A year ago, Chender introduced a private member's bill that would set in law the days and hours when the House of Assembly must sit. That bill died when an election was called. The bill has since been reintroduced. Without support from the government, that proposed bill will not become law.



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