Saskatchewan

Sask. legislative assembly disagreement over mask use continues as NDP MLA reveals he's immunocompromised

The Saskatchewan government and Opposition MLAs are on opposite ends of a mask debate when it comes to the legislative chamber, even following the news that one NDP MLA is immunocompromised. 

Matt Love says legislature members who don't wear masks while speaking put him at risk from COVID-19

Matt Love, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon Eastview, revealed this week that he is immunocompromised. He wants all members of the provincial legislature to wear masks while speaking in the House. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan government and Opposition MLAs are on opposite ends of a mask debate when it comes to the legislative chamber, even following the news that one NDP MLA is immunocompromised. 

On Tuesday, each member of the Saskatchewan Party government that spoke in session at the legislature did so without a mask. But each Opposition NDP member who spoke did so with a mask on.

On Thursday, Matt Love, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon Eastview, revealed he is immunocompromised. He would not say how, calling the matter "deeply personal."

Love says House members who don't wear masks while they're speaking put him at risk from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"What I was speaking to was concerns that I have for my family, like many people in Saskatchewan have right now," Love said during a media scrum at the legislature on Friday. 

"I have concerns about being in Regina. But obviously I'm here.... As an immunocompromised person I am seeing things differently, as many people in the province have come to look at COVID in different ways over the last year.

"It's renewed my belief that we're called to look out for our neighbours, we're called to do the right thing. We live by this mantra that we're all in this together. And so we have a responsibility to the better good."

Meanwhile, government House leader Jeremy Harrison says he feels the safety precautions in the legislative assembly are appropriate. Those precautions include plexiglass barriers and moving the desks two metres apart. 

Harrison says the government has worked closely with provincial Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab on COVID-19 safety precautions for the legislature. 

"Other jurisdictions don't have a big enough chamber actually to physically do that. So if you watch Manitoba today, for example, they're sitting very closely together. They're not masked either in their chamber at all, for the most part," Harrison said on Friday.

"Other jurisdictions have taken other approaches. But eight out of the 10 jurisdictions do not require mask-wearing in the chamber. The House of Commons does not require mask-wearing when speaking."

Government House leader Jeremy Harrison says he feels the safety precautions in the legislative assembly are appropriate.  (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Love says he believes wearing masks while speaking at the legislature sets a good example

"I think that perhaps the message is that leading by example is something that isn't valued here. And that's something that I value. I believe that as elected leaders, we're asking people all around the province to wear masks.

"We're asking children to wear masks when they go to daycare, young children when they go to school, people in the workplace. Not because they're comfortable ... because it's the right thing to do."

The original plan

Harrison says the two parties came to an agreement on most of the COVID-19 rules that would be in place for the current legislative session. 

"We worked very closely with the Opposition in putting together the rules on the return to the chamber. And it was a 50-page report with literally dozens, if not 100-plus changes to the standing orders, of which there was agreement on all but the one item," Harrison said.

"We have a very high degree of comfort that what we are doing is safe, appropriate and in line with public health orders."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a Master of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

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