COVID-ready legislative chamber has a new look
Desks moved, transparent dividers installed for emergency session
Changes to the layout of P.E.I.'s legislative chamber will allow all elected members in, but the public and media will have to stay away.
Desks have been moved and transparent panes of Plexiglas have been installed, as officials prepare for an emergency session of the legislature Tuesday, while respecting physical-distancing protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allowing all elected members to meet was a priority, according to officials. Legislatures in other provinces and the House of Commons have conducted business with reduced numbers of democratically-elected members.
"We wanted to make sure that we could fit everybody in the same room and conduct business as normal as possible," said Joseph Jeffrey, clerk of the legislature. "That is what we proposed to members and they agreed with us."
But to meet the two-metre physical distancing requirement, the public gallery has been eliminated. So has the media section where journalists sit.
"It was a compromise for sure," said Jeffrey. "The whole point of this place is so that I guess how we make laws and government policy has open and public scrutiny."
A live video feed of legislative proceedings will continue to be available, on cable TV, and on social media. A separate viewing room for journalists, in which TV and audio feed has been available for years, will be limited to three reporters. A tent-like structure will be set up outside the Coles Building for media interviews.
"We're going to be doing this for a while I think, but it's also flexible," said Jeffrey. "We're adaptable.'
Tuesday's emergency sitting of the legislature will mark the first meeting of P.E.I.'s elected members since the pandemic began. The government is expected to hold votes on legislation related to the coronovirus.
P.E.I.'s legislature last met in November. The spring session, slated to start April 7, was postponed due to COVID-19.
All other provincial legislatures met in some form during March and April.
MLAs have been meeting in the Coles Building for the past six years, while structural renovations continue at Province House, the traditional home of the province's elected assembly.