COVID-ready legislative chamber has a new look

Alterations will allow all 27 MLAs to be in the chamber, but public and media will have to stay out.

Desks moved, transparent dividers installed for emergency session

Assistant Clerk Emily Doiron and Clerk of the Assembly Joseph Jeffrey will be seated 2 metres apart. So will all 27 MLAs. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

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."

This tempered glass divider traditionally separated the public gallery from the members' floor. Additional transparent panels have also been installed between some members' desks. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

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.

Writing desks are stored against a wall in what was formerly the media section. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"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.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting, newspaper and magazine writing in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.


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