2nd Session of the 42nd Legislature – Limited Resumption of Sittings
In the last submission, it was advised that the Second Session of the 42nd Legislature resumed on March 4, 2020, sat until March 19, when the House agreed unanimously to suspend its sittings indefinitely after the end of that sitting day. The agreement on March 19 reflected that the Speaker would call the House back upon the request of the Government House Leader, or on the request of the collective group of the Government House Leader, the Opposition House Leader and the Member for River Heights (acting as representative of Independent Members). The first special sitting occurred on April 15, 2020, with special COVID-19 precautions implemented. Subsequently, the Government House Leader announced that the House would resume for four consecutive Wednesdays in May, commencing May 6, 2020. The House adjourned on the same terms on May 27 and is not expected to resume sitting until October 7, 2020.
The Assembly’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic included the following measures implemented from March through May, 2020:
- Closing the Public Galleries, with video broadcasting expanded from Routine Proceedings to gavel-to-gavel.
- The establishment of an Assembly Pandemic Leadership Team, made up of the Speaker and senior Managers.
- Closing the Golden Boy gift shop
- Developing Guidelines for staff to manage physical distancing in the Assembly work spaces.
- Setting up VPN access to allow a majority of staff to work from home.
- Establishing a team to develop plans for virtual sittings of the Assembly and committees.
- Establishing physical distancing measures for meetings of the House and committees, including:
- An alternate House seating plan to provide physical distancing in the House for MLAs.
- Agreement to facilitate House sittings with one third of MLAs present
- Considering some Bills in the Committee of the Whole rather than Standing Committees.
- Supplying cotton masks to be used by House staff who wished to wear them during sittings; and
- Reconfiguring the Committee rooms to facilitate better physical distancing, as well as an agreement to reduce the Committee membership from 11 MLAs to six.
During the four May sitting days, May 6, 13, 20, and 27 respectively, the House adopted similar measures to that of the previous April 15 sitting. The House Leaders agreed that only one third of all parties’ Members would be sitting in the Chamber, several seats apart to respect physical distancing. Rather than all 57 MLAs being present, 12 Members from the Government, six from the Official Opposition and one Independent Member were present in the Chamber although Members did alternate individual MLAs within their caucuses throughout the sitting days. Desks and chairs were wiped down and sanitized between use by different MLAs.
The parties also agreed by leave for the May sittings that:
- All recorded divisions would respect the party breakdown of twelve Government MLAs, six Opposition MLAs and one Independent Liberal MLA.
- No quorum counts would be permitted.
- MLAs would be allowed to speak in debate from a seat in the Chamber other than their own; and
- Independent Liberals would be allowed to move motions without a seconder.
Manitoba Day – 150th anniversary of the Province – 100th anniversary of the building
Although the Legislature did not sit on Manitoba Day (May 12), on May 13 the Speaker shared a number of interesting historical milestones to honour the 150th anniversary of the province and 100th anniversary of the Legislative building. Excerpts from her statement are included below:
Since March 1871, our Assembly has met during 169 Legislative sessions, for a total of 8,280 sitting days, including today. Fourteen Clerks of the House, along with many Deputy Clerks and Clerk Assistants, expertly managed each of these sessions. Twenty Sergeants-at-Arms have carried one of our Maces into the five different rooms which have served as the Chamber for the Manitoba Assembly. Further, in the last century 851 citizens, including only 65 women and one non-binary person, have served in this room as Members of the Legislative Assembly. Of those 851 MLAs, 30 have served as Speaker of the House and 22 as Premier.
Since the last submission, the intersessional period from the end of May to July 2019 was a busy period for the Committees Branch, especially the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations which met on three occasions within a two-week period. On May 28 the Committee met to consider annual reports of the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation. On June 4, the Committee met to consider annual reports and financial statements of the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation. Finally, on June 11, the Committee met to consider the annual reports of the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board. It should also be noted that the Committee respected social distancing protocols at all of these meetings. As agreed to by the House on May 27, 2020, Rule 83(2) was waived, reducing the membership for the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations from 11 to six Members (4 Government and 2 Official Opposition).
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts met on two occasions in June to consider several Auditor General’s Reports covering issues relating to the departments of Infrastructure and Conservation and Climate. The May 27 agreement reducing membership of committees did not apply to the Public Accounts, however social distancing was achieved by holding the meetings in the Chamber for the very first time. Seats were allocated in the first and third rows such that a desk was left unoccupied between allocated desks, and no MLAs sat in the second row to provide the desired separation.
On July 15, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts will be holding an in camera orientation training session for primarily its Members but will be open to all MLAs. The purpose of the session is to familiarize Members with the Public Accounts Financial Statements and the AG’s Report titled “Understanding our Audit Opinion” in preparation for a future Committee Meeting.
On June 16, the Standing Committee on Human Resources met to complete clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 43 – The Civil Service Superannuation Amendment Act. The Clerk’s Office has received numerous calls from the public regarding this Bill as it amends some provisions related to the Civil Service pensions and will potentially affect the amount of money that some pensioners could receive upon retirement. Social distancing was also in effect for this meeting.
It is worth noting that the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs is scheduled to meet on July 21 in order to complete the hiring process of a new Auditor General. The Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs first met on January 14, 2020, to undertake the hiring process. During that meeting, a motion was passed to strike a sub-committee to manage the process, including calling their own meetings and meeting in camera. The sub-committee, which subsequently met on multiple occasions, consisted of four Government Members, two Official Opposition Members, and one Independent Liberal Party Member.
Further to the previous submission, on May 27, the Speaker gave a statement expressing sincere thanks to two dear departing colleagues. Clerk Patricia Chaychuk provided Clerk Assistant and Committee Clerk Andrea Signorelli with the honour of leading the parade on the last day of the Spring Session and serving as the head Clerk at the Table. Mr. Signorelli will be off to pursue his new career in law, and will be sorely missed by the Speaker, MLAs and Assembly staff and is wished nothing but the best.
In addition, Journals Clerk Claude Michaud retired at the end of June. Many people in the Assembly are sad to lose a valued colleague, but also very happy for him achieving this milestone. Mr. Michaud was hard at work at his post when the Speaker read his statement, extremely dedicated and diligent to the last. Links to the statement in both Hansard and Video broadcast form are included below:
Current Party Standings:
The current party standings in the Manitoba Legislature are: Progressive Conservatives 36, New Democratic Party 18, and three Independent Liberal Members.
The House is currently suspended and is not expected to be called back until October 7, 2020. There had been some preliminary discussion and arrangements to allow the House to meet virtually, but currently no decision has been made to formally initiate virtual sittings.
Research Officer/Clerk Assistant
2nd Session of the 30th
The Second Session of the 30th Legislature opened on February 25, 2020. The Assembly sat according to a regular schedule, as established in the sessional calendar, until mid-March 2020. On March 16, 2020, the regular business of the Assembly was set aside to permit an emergency debate regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, notice was given for Government Motion 10, which was passed the following day and which provided for temporary exceptions to the Standing Orders, particularly with regard to adjournments and reconvening of the Assembly, in order to permit greater scheduling flexibility throughout the pandemic. The Assembly met periodically until May 27, 2020, when it returned to a regular sitting schedule that included morning, afternoon and evening sessions. Social distancing and other safety measures continue to be observed in the Chamber. The public galleries in the Chamber re-opened on June 15 and Members may register invited guests to attend a sitting. Gallery seating is allotted to reflect caucus proportions and available on a first come, first served basis to a maximum of 60 seats in order to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Public tours and special events, including Canada Day celebrations, remain suspended. A new sessional calendar has been published and the current session is scheduled to continue until July 23, 2020.
At the time of writing, since the beginning of the spring sitting the Government has introduced 34 bills. Some of these bills, such as Bill 10, Public Health (Emergency Powers) Amendment Act, 2020, have addressed urgent matters facing the province as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many bills focus on other aspects of the Government’s mandate, including the following bills which have all received Royal Assent:
- Bill 1, Critical Infrastructure Defence Act defines essential infrastructure such as railways, telecommunications equipment, and pipelines, and creates offences for damaging or obstructing essential infrastructure, and provides for related penalties.
- Bill 15, Choice in Education Act supports the creation of new Charter schools and specifically permits vocation-based schools, recognizes the role of private schools, and provides for unsupervised home education programs.
- Bill 18, Corrections (Alberta Parole Board) Amendment Act, 2020, provides for the establishment of an Alberta Parole Board, which is responsible for determining parole eligibility and conditions for provincial offenders; and
- Bill 19, Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Amendment Act, 2020, increases restrictions on purchasing and advertising vaping products, aligns vaping restrictions with tobacco restrictions, and expands locations where both vaping and tobacco product use is prohibited.
Other Government bills still before the Assembly include:
- Bill 21, Provincial Administrative Penalties Act, proposes changes to impaired driving penalties including fines, vehicle seizures, mandatory education and ignition interlocks; it also proposes an online ticket dispute system to remove traffic tickets from the court system and provide options for online payment arrangements.
- Bill 22, Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, an omnibus Bill that proposes amendments to 14 pieces of legislation, which would lead to a number of changes to landowner compensation pertaining to energy activities and surface leases, reducing steps in the oil sands project approval process, opening of the sale of public land to all Canadians and the dissolution of Energy Efficiency Alberta.
- Bill 28, Vital Statistics (Protecting Albertans from Convicted Sex Offenders) Amendment Act, 2020, which has just received Third Reading, prohibits individuals convicted of sexual offences from legally changing their name in Alberta; and
- Several bills pertaining to election legislation have also been put forward, including Bill 26, Constitutional Referendum Amendment Act, 2020, Bill 27, Alberta Senate Election Amendment Act, 2020, and Bill 29, Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, 2020.
New Lieutenant Governor
On June 30, 2020, the Prime Minister announced the appointment of Salma Lakhani as the new Lieutenant Governor of Alberta and thanked outgoing Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell for her dedication and service to the people of Alberta. A successful business owner, Ms. Lakhani has lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. She was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her community service and advocacy in areas including health care and human rights. She will be the first Muslim Lieutenant Governor in Canadian history. Ms. Lakhani will assume office upon her installation.
Committees of the Assembly have modified how their business is conducted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislative Assembly Act permits participation in committee meetings by “telephone or other communication facilities”, and Members have participated in committee meetings by teleconference for many years. However, on April 27, 2020, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts conducted its first hybrid committee meeting using Skype for Business videoconferencing. Building on the success of this meeting, the other committees of the Assembly have followed suit. Most meeting participants are given the option to attend the meeting in person, via teleconference, or through videoconferencing. Officials from government ministries, Officers of the Legislature, and other presenters also now have the option of participating in meetings remotely using teleconferencing and videoconferencing. Meetings continue to be televised and streamed online. The regular cameras are used to broadcast onsite participants and still photos with names are displayed when teleconference participants are speaking, following the existing practice. For video conference participants, the broadcast displays the feed of whomever is speaking.
On June 15, 2020, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act was referred to the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship for consideration. The Act requires a committee of the Legislative Assembly to conduct a comprehensive review of this legislation every five years. The Committee must submit its report to the Assembly, including any recommendations for amendments to the Act, within one year after commencing its review.
Two select special committees have been established by the Assembly to conduct reviews over the summer. The Select Special Public Health Act Review Committee has been given a mandate to select sections of the Act for review and report its recommendations to the Assembly within four months of its first meeting. The Committee held its first meeting on July 24, 2020, during which it struck a Subcommittee on Committee Business, which is mandated to recommend focus issues for the review. In addition, it has been directed to compile a list of stakeholders and report back to the Committee by July 15, 2020.
The Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee has also been given four months to submit its report pertaining to questions posed by the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General relating to proposed legislation providing for the recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly and citizen initiatives, and six months to complete a review of the Election Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.
Both committees have been granted special leave, through an order of the Assembly, to meet during the hours that the Assembly is sitting.
As noted in the Spring 2020 Issue, following a special sitting on March 23, 2020 to consider urgent budgetary and legislative measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislative Assembly adjourned until further notice. The adjournment motion adopted on March 23 allowed the location and means of conducting sittings of the House to be altered, if required, due to an emergency situation or public health measures, by agreement of the Speaker and the House Leaders of each recognized caucus.
In the weeks that followed, the Speaker and House Leaders of each recognized caucus met with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to consider procedural adaptations to ensure continuity of legislative operations and business. On June 17, 2020, they signed an agreement that provides for the use of Zoom videoconferencing technology, “to enable all Members to be present in the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly through remote participation, counting toward quorum, while other Members continue to be present physically in the Legislative Chamber, thereby enabling hybrid proceedings of the House.” The agreement also provides for adaptations designed to enable stand-alone meetings of the Committee of Supply, Section A and Section C, to take place exclusively by videoconferencing technology.
The agreement was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on June 22, 2020, and two Sessional Orders were adopted. The first Sessional Order outlines the rules and procedures to enable, as much as possible, equal treatment between Members participating through videoconferencing technology and Members participating in person in the Legislative Chamber. Some of the provisions include:
- Sitting Schedule: the House shall meet on mornings and afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays and afternoons on Wednesdays the weeks of June 22, July 6, 13, 20 and 27 as well as on mornings and afternoons of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and on Wednesday afternoon in the week of August 10.
- Quorum and Attendance: Members participating via videoconferencing technology are required to have audio and video functions enabled with their face clearly visible in order to be counted towards quorum, to participate in debate, and to vote.
- Voting and Divisions: divisions requested during House sittings are deferred to the end of the sitting day during which the division is requested, with the exception of divisions requested when there are less than 30 minutes remaining in an afternoon sitting, in which case divisions stand deferred to the end of the sitting of the next day; and
- The Speaker is empowered to exercise discretion, in consultation with the House Leaders or Whips, in the interpretation of the Standing Orders or Sessional Order that may require leniency or alteration in order to allow all Members to be able to fully exercise their duties and rights in the proceedings of the House conducted in a hybrid manner.
In consultation with the Provincial Health Officer, a Legislative Assembly Chamber Safety Protocol was developed which permits a minimal number of Members and staff in attendance on the floor of the Chamber at any one time – up to 12 Members on each side of the Chamber in addition to the Speaker. The purpose of the safety protocol is to ensure that physical distancing is respected and that enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures as well as physical barriers are in place to support all Members and staff working within the Chamber during hybrid proceedings.
Prior to the commencement of the summer sitting period, numerous simulations of hybrid proceedings were held involving Legislative Assembly staff, Members and caucus staff. These preparations were a key component to support technical and procedural adaptations, including clarifications with respect to voting procedures and guidance on how Members may signal an interest in speaking.
The second Sessional Order authorizes the Committee of Supply to sit in three Sections, designated Section A, Section B, and Section C. It also authorizes the Committee of Supply, Section A and Section C, to conduct its proceedings virtually by way of videoconferencing technology and to sit on Thursdays and Fridays in the weeks of June 22, July 6, 13, 20 and 27. As noted above, Members must have the audio and video functions enabled with their face clearly visible in order to be counted towards quorum, to participate in debate, and to vote. Membership in the Committee of Supply was set out in the Sessional Order, with substitutions permitted where advance notice was provided to the Office of the Clerk by the respective Whip at least one hour prior to the scheduled meeting time. The Committee of Supply sittings will enable the completion of the process for the examination of the 2020-21 Main Estimates, which was interrupted by COVID-19.
Two bills before the House at the time of writing propose changes to budget and estimates processes.
- Bill 4, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2020, changes the date of the presentation of the provincial budget and the tabling of the Main Estimates from the third to the fourth Tuesday in February, except for the year following a provincial general election when the date would be by the fourth Tuesday in March. The Bill would also preclude the usual budget consultation process undertaken by the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in an anticipated provincial general election year.
- Bill 18, Economic Stabilization (COVID-19) Act, proposes tax measures to help businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Bill would allow: budget deficits to be forecast in the Main Estimates for the next three fiscal years; Supplementary Estimates to be presented where there is a forecast of a direct operating deficit; and issuance of a Special Warrant if a matter arises for which an expenditure is required during or after a state of emergency or if a disaster or emergency occurs or is anticipated.
Parliamentary Committee Activity
The Legislative Assembly moved to fully remote proceedings for parliamentary committee meetings using Zoom videoconferencing technology.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services conducted remote meetings for its spring review of financial and operational updates respecting B.C.’s nine independent statutory offices. On June 15, 2020, the Committee released its interim report on the financial and operational position of statutory offices, and their adaptation of work processes with new, innovative ways to serve Members of the Legislative Assembly and all British Columbians in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth issued an annual report summarizing its 2019/20 activities in reviewing reports of the Representative for Children and Youth and working on a special project on children and youth with neurodiverse special needs. On April 29, 2020, the Committee also issued a statement on the impact of COVID-19 on children, youth, families and caregivers, which encouraged those requiring support to reach out to the Ministry for Children and Family Development and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth.
Legislative Assembly Administration
The Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) approved the Legislative Assembly Accountability Report 2017-18 and 2018-19, which was released on May 7. The report summarizes the activities of Assembly departments and includes the opinion of the Auditor General of British Columbia that the Assembly’s 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial statements are presented accurately. The statements had been initially delayed pending further information regarding the circumstances relating to the Assembly’s November 20, 2018 decision to place the former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and Sergeant-at-Arms on paid administrative leave.
At its October 8, 2019 meeting, LAMC accepted the findings of a September 2019 report by the Auditor General on the administration of the Offices of the Speaker, Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms. At that meeting, LAMC agreed to an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations for addressing administrative and policy weaknesses. LAMC was advised by Legislative Assembly Administration on June 16, 2020 that all of the action plan commitments had been implemented, and a detailed policy development work plan outlining further planned administrative reforms was presented.
On January 21, 2019, LAMC directed the then Acting Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to develop a framework for a workplace review to address a recommendation in the January 2019 report of the Speaker concerning allegations of misconduct by senior Assembly officers. On July 2, 2020, LAMC considered the Legislative Assembly Workplace Review Final Report prepared by the independent contractor, ADR Education. Through facilitated confidential interviews with former and current staff, ADR Education prepared workplace culture narratives. The report describes the resilience of Assembly employees in recovering and moving through challenges following the Assembly’s November 2018 decision to place the former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the Sergeant-at-Arms on administrative leave. The report makes nine principal recommendations for an action plan by the Legislative Assembly including: creating a governance gap analysis; developing a participatory strategic planning process; implementing training on conflict resolution and leadership development; and ensuring a follow-up review process within 9-12 months on the action plan’s implementation.
The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly announced in April 2020 that she is implementing administrative changes to strengthen executive capacity and renew organizational development. A Clerk’s Leadership Group will develop and oversee organizational priorities and strategic objectives and build a more respectful, positive and diverse workplace environment. The Leadership Group includes three new positions – the Clerk Assistant, Parliamentary Services; the Chief Human Resources Officer; and the Chief Information Officer – as well as the existing Executive Financial Officer and Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel positions.
On April 30, 2020, S. Suzie Seo was confirmed in the position of Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. Ms. Seo was seconded from the Ministry of Attorney General in February 2019 to the Legislative Assembly as Parliamentary Counsel, and previously served as Assistant Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and as a Table Officer at the Senate of Canada.
Artour Sogomonian was appointed to the position of Clerk Assistant, Parliamentary Services on May 15, 2020. He joined the Legislative Assembly in 2016, after working at the Senate of Canada from 2009 to 2016.
Loredana Catalli Sonier, former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, returned to her home province at the end of May, having served since 2015 as Sessional Law Clerk and more recently as Associate Law Clerk. Her service to the Legislative Assembly was greatly appreciated.
Following 27 years in Hansard, Rob Sutherland retired as Director of Hansard Services on June 30, 2020, a position he had held for the last 12 years. During his tenure, he oversaw the modernization of Hansard operations, including digital reporting and broadcasting. He is succeeded by D’Arcy McPherson, former Editor-in-Chief and Manager of Debates and Publications at the Senate of Canada.
Manager, Committee Research Services
The Third Session of the 59th Legislature adjourned on March 13 following the outbreak of Covid-19. The House conducted two brief sittings with only a quorum present on March 17 and April 17 to pass legislation before resuming from May 26 to June 18. For precautionary reasons, the House did not sit the first week of June after an outbreak of the virus occurred in a northern region of the province.
Various physical and web-based options were considered prior to the resumption of the session on May 26. Ultimately, the Legislative Administration Committee agreed that the House continue sitting with all Members present in the Chamber, a decision that was ratified by unanimous consent of the House. The House also adopted a sessional calendar stipulating that the House only sit three days per week, for a maximum of four hours each day.
Alterations were required in order to provide 2-metre distancing in the Chamber. The number of desks were reduced from 49 to 28. Desks were now assigned to the parties and not to individual Members, although the independent Member retained a desk. The Members not assigned a desk on a specific sitting day were seated in the gallery where they also maintained the 2-metre distancing. These Members were permitted to vote from the gallery and participate in debate using one of two stationary microphones.
The Clerks table was reconfigured to permit only two of the three Clerks to be seated at the table.
Proceedings were essentially paperless. Prior to a Bill being introduced, the Executive Council Office provided an electronic copy of the Bill to the Clerk’s Office, who then forwarded the Bill to Members and staff upon introduction. Paper copies of petitions and Notices of Motions were no longer delivered by Pages to the Speaker. The documents remained on the Member’s desk and were collected after the sitting. Pages were no longer permitted in the Chamber.
The use of electronic devices by Members in the Chamber was permitted during proceedings, provided they did not create a disturbance. Clerks and Members were connected to the Speaker electronically via a chat function on their devices. During committee work, Ministers consulted with their staff using video chat or cellular phones. Framed transparent dividers were also installed in the Chamber, if it was necessary for the Minister and staff to speak directly.
The building remained closed to the public and press. Media scrums were held in an adjacent building and conformed with social distancing requirements.
The main estimates, which were adopted by unanimous consent of the House on March 13, had not received prior committee consideration. As such, in the interest of transparency and accountability, the subject matter of the estimates was referred to the Standing Committee on Estimates and Fiscal Policy. The Committee, chaired by Glen Savoie, the Minister responsible for La Francophonie, held three meetings in June to discuss the estimates of certain departments. The Standing Committee on Economic Policy, chaired by Gary Crossman, reviewed several Bills from May to July.
Bill 11, An Act Respecting Proof of Immunization, introduced by Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy, would remove non-medical exemptions from the mandatory immunization requirements for public school and licensed early learning and child care admissions. The Bill was first introduced during the previous session. The Bill was re-introduced with the addition of a notwithstanding clause, which was removed by an opposition amendment during committee consideration. The Bill was narrowly defeated at third reading following a free vote in the House.
Bill 43, An Act to Amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act, introduced by Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder, allows for monetary penalties to be levied as an alternative to prosecutions for lesser offenses and for repeated noncompliance within the legislation. Monies collected would be added to the Accident Fund under the existing Act.
Bill 45, An Act to Amend the Early Childhood Services Act, introduced by Mr. Cardy, would increase the safety of children receiving services at licensed early learning and child-care facilities by clarifying licensing requirements, including regarding the suitability of employees and the requirement for criminal record checks; giving the minister authority to immediately revoke a licence; and ensuring operational safeguards for relicensing to avoid processing delays.
Bill 50, An Act to Amend the Elections Act, introduced by Official Opposition House Leader Guy Arseneault, would require the issuing of a writ of election within six months from the date of a seat becoming vacant in the Legislature.
Bill 55, An Act to Amend the Education Act, introduced by Green Party House Leader Megan Mitton, would expand on a 2017 amendment by Green Party Leader David Coon, which ensured indigenous history and culture were included in the public education curriculum. The Bill would add “language” to the curriculum.
On June 18, Bruce Northrup, the Member for Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, announced that he would be retiring from politics in the fall. The timing coincides with two by-elections expected to be held in the fall. Mr. Northrup was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2006. Over his four terms he has served as Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and Whip for the Government and Official Opposition.
Adjournment and Standings
The House stands adjourned until September 15, 2020. The standings in the House are 20 Progressive Conservatives, 20 Liberals, three Greens, three People’s Alliance, two vacancies, and one Independent Member.
Clerk Assistant and Committee Clerk
Newfoundland and Labrador
The House met on May 5 to pass five Bills, expedited by leave, mostly related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Bill 34, An Act To Amend The Liquor Control Act And The Liquor Corporation Act relating to sale and delivery of alcoholic beverages by certain licensees in the current circumstances.
- Bill 35, An Act Respecting The Witnessing Of Documents Through The Use Of Audio Visual Technology which would permit the virtual witnessing of certain documents for the duration of the pandemic.
- Bill 36, An Act To Amend The Temporary Variation Of Statutory Deadlines Act which would extend the application of these measures enacted on March 26 to the end of the Interim Supply period as the original measure expired “at the end of the next sitting of the house”.
- Bill 37, An Act To Amend The Pharmacy Act which would permit pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to be registered more expeditiously than would normally be the case; and
- Bill 38, An Act To Amend The Public Health Promotion And Protection Act which would facilitate the enforcement of public health measures imposed during the pandemic in particular with respect to travellers entering the Province.
As on March 26 there were 10 Members in the House, three Table Officers and the Sergeant-at-Arms.
The House also struck a select committee, during this one-day sitting, tasked with determining how Members might meet virtually should it become necessary. The Select Committee of Rules and Procedures Governing Virtual Proceedings of the House of Assembly itself met virtually seven times and reported on June 30. The Committee recommended that if it became necessary to meet virtually the proceedings would be carried out using the hybrid model with at least 10 Members in the House, the remainder participating virtually.
The ability to meet virtually would apply to committees of the House and to the House of Assembly Management Commission.
The Audit Committee, a committee of the Management Commission, has met twice virtually. It has always had the ability to do this, but it had not been done before the COVID outbreak.
The House convened on June 6 subject to COVID restrictions. On this occasion, however, all 40 Members were present in the Chamber, appropriately distanced. In addition to the 14 desks on each side of the Chamber, there were four Members seated in the Speaker’s Gallery, one Member in the public galley and six desks in the middle of the floor. All Members had their own microphone and all could be seen on the Broadcast.
On Private Members’ Day, June 17 the House debated and passed unanimously a resolution urging Government to debate and vote on the 2020/21 budget prior to a general election. The impetus for the Resolution related to the requirement, under S. 3.1 of the House of Assembly Act, that where the leader of the governing party resigns before the end of the third year of a mandate the new Premier must call an election within 12 months of taking office. The current premier, Dwight Ball, is stepping down as premier on August 3, 2020 when the governing Liberal party elects a new leader.
Spring 2020 House Sitting
The Legislature’s Spring 2020 sitting lasted 13 days from February 20 to March 10, 2020. Twenty bills received Royal Assent on March 10, 2020 – 17 Government Bills, 2 Private Member Bills and 1 Private and Local Bill.
The budget was delivered by the Minister of Finance on February 26 and, in accordance with the Rules and Forms of Procedure, five Estimates were considered in the Committee of the Whole on Supply, for a total of 40 hours. Concurrently the Subcommittee on Supply considered the remaining Estimates. The Rules and Forms of Procedure limit the total consideration time to 80 hours with no more than four hours per day per committee. The budget passed on the last sitting day, March 10, 2020.
When the House rose on March 10, 2020 the motion passed was the regular end of sitting motion providing for the House to meet again at the call of the Speaker. Since March 22, 2020, the Province of Nova Scotia has declared a state of emergency to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and the Legislature has not sat during the state of emergency. In accordance with the House of Assembly Act, each calendar year there must be at least one sitting of the House during the six-month period beginning the first day of January and one sitting of the House during the four-month period ending the 31st day of December.
Standings in the Legislature
A few days after the beginning of the Spring 2020 sitting, the Member for Chester-St. Margaret’s resigned as a Liberal caucus member and sat as an Independent member. At that time, the standings in the Legislature were 26 Liberals, 17 Progressive Conservatives, four New Democrats, two Independents, and two vacant seats. On March 10, 2020, the last day of the spring sitting, two by-elections were held. Kendra Coombes was elected as the NDP member for the constituency of Cape Breton Centre and Dave Ritcey was elected as the PC member for the constituency of Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River. As a result of these by-elections, the standings are: 26 Liberals, 18 Progressive Conservatives, 5 New Democrats and two Independents.
The Oath of Allegiance must be taken before a Member can take a seat in the House of Assembly or sit on any Committee of the House. In all other respects the Member can assume their responsibilities and duties as a Member. At the swearing-in ceremony the Member takes the Oath, signs the roll, and receives the MLA pin.
On May 14, 2020, for the first time in the Assembly’s history, a Member was sworn-in virtually using Zoom. Ms. Coombes, Member for Cape Breton Centre took the Oath of Office from her home and although a few additional procedural steps were required the ceremony went well and the video recording can be viewed on the Legislature’s website.
On June 24, 2020, Mr. Ritcey, Member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River was sworn-in in-person, in the Veterans Room at Province House with his family and four guests present. The reduced number of attendees was required to comply with the public health social distancing requirements. The video recording of Mr. Ritcey’s swearing-in can be viewed on the Legislature’s website as well.
Former Chief Clerk
On February 1, 2020, Neil R. Ferguson retired as the Chief Clerk of the House of Assembly after serving in the position since January 2011. Annette M. Boucher, Assistant Clerk and Legislative Counsel was appointed Acting Chief Clerk effective February 2020.
Annette M. Boucher
Acting Chief Clerk
In the House
As noted in the previous issue, on March 17, 2020, pursuant to section 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, an emergency was declared by Order in Council in the province of Ontario. This period of emergency was extended by OIC on March 30, 2020 for a further period of 14 days. Further extensions require a resolution by the Assembly and can be for periods of no more than 28 days.
Following its adjournment on March 25, 2020, the House reconvened on the afternoon of April 14, 2020, and began the day by passing a motion allowing Members to speak and vote from any desk in the Chamber for the balance of the day. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, then introduced Bill 189, An Act to amend various Acts to address the coronavirus (COVID-19). The Bill sought to make changes to the Education Act, the Planning Act, the Development Charges Act, the Police Services Act and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act in direct response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the unanimous consent of the House, the Bill was allowed to pass all three readings in the same day, following 80 minutes allotted to debate on the motion for second reading of the bill. Per that same unanimous consent agreement, following passage of Bill 190, the House then passed a motion without debate to extend the period of emergency in the province for a further 28 days.
The House next met on the morning of May 12, 2020, 28 days after its previous meeting. In light of the ongoing pandemic and the physical distancing recommendations of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the House provided unanimous consent to allow Members to sit and vote from any Member’s desk in the Chamber for the remainder of the spring meeting period. The House once again adopted a motion to extend the period of emergency in the province by 28 days after 100 minutes of debate on the motion.
These previous meetings of the House included only the Afternoon Routine and Orders of the Day, meaning that Question Period was not being held. May 12, 2020 marked the first day in two months that the House reconvened in the morning and held Question Period. The House also passed a motion that set out its schedule for the remainder of the month, specifying that it would meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until June 3, 2020.
On June 2, 2020, a motion was passed with unanimous consent to permit Members to vote from the public galleries during recorded divisions, to allow for appropriate social distancing. The House held a recorded division on a closure motion later that day, which marked the first time in Ontario’s history that Members were recognized to vote in the public galleries.
The House passed a motion to establish the schedule for an extension of the spring meeting period, with the House meeting on Tuesdays and Wednesdays over the weeks of June 15 and June 22, 2020, and Mondays to Wednesdays for the weeks of July 6, 13 and 20, 2020. The motion also contained provisional changes to the Standing Orders for the duration of the extended spring schedule dates outlined. For one, the “Introduction of Visitors” proceeding would be suspended, as the building was not open to visitors or members of the public. A second measure allowed Members to speak and vote from any Member’s desk in the Chamber in order to observe recommended physical distancing.
Another significant provisional change to the Standing Orders revolved around recorded divisions to allow for appropriate physical distancing. Rather than having Members stand one at a time in the Chamber (or public galleries) to be counted, Members now proceed to the Members’ Lobbies adjacent to the Chamber to register their votes. The ayes are recorded in the East Members’ Lobby; the nays recorded in the West Members’ Lobby, with the Whips of the recognized parties or their designates being allowed to attend the lobbies to observe. Thirty minutes are allotted to conduct each recorded vote in this manner.
Another motion to extend the period of emergency in the province of Ontario for 28 days was introduced and debated later that same day.
On June 23, 2020, a motion was moved to extend the period of emergency in the province once again for a further 15 days beyond the original set deadline of June 30, 2020. That motion was debated and eventually agreed to on June 24, 2020.
Other Changes at Queen’s Park
Ontario’s Legislative Page Program, which is attended by students in grades 7 and 8, has been suspended for the time being. The Legislative Ushers (university students) in the Chamber have been tasked with performing the duties of the Legislative Pages, in addition to their own regular duties.
Members have each been provided with a reusable metal water bottle labelled with their name for use in the Chamber. Members are encouraged to fill the bottles prior to entry into the Chamber, however, the Legislative Ushers are on hand to assist with refilling bottles if needed.
The Legislature cafeteria remains open on days that the House sits, with prepackaged food made available for purchase to Members and staff. Tables in the eating area have been reconfigured to allow for social distancing, with only one chair at either end of each table.
The Legislature continued with its construction of the new visitor’s entrance in the southwest courtyard through the month of March. Construction was suspended from April 4 to May 5, in order to ensure the safety of the construction workers and in keeping with best practices, but has since resumed in a safe manner. Substantial completion of the structure is expected by the end of July or early August, at which time it will be turned over to the LAO to begin equipping its interior with the security equipment and furnishings required to perform its purpose.
On May 12, a motion passed in the House set out that, in accordance with the COVID-19 active screening protocol put in place by the Speaker, any person may be refused entry to the legislative precinct or any part thereof including Members of the Legislative Assembly. The motion went on to specify: “This House confers the sole and personal authority on the Speaker to refuse the entry of any member of the assembly, or any other person, to the legislative precinct, or any part thereof.” Those delegated by the Speaker are also empowered to temporarily delay the entry of any Member to the legislative precinct, pending immediate consultation with the Speaker on how to proceed.
On May 19, the Legislative Assembly implemented its new screening protocol for all people entering the Legislative Precinct. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health was consulted by the Speaker as part of its development to ensure that best practices were being implemented.
On April 14, the House passed a motion appointing Patricia Kosseim as Ontario’s new Information and Privacy Commissioner. Pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, she is appointed for a term of 5 years, beginning on July 1 of this year.
On May 12, the House passed a motion allowing legislative committees, once authorized to resume, to use electronic means of communication when meeting. The motion further specified that committee Members, witnesses and/or staff are not required to all be in one physical place. This allows for remote committee participation by Members and staff without the need to be physically present in a committee room at Queen’s Park, which is unprecedented at the Assembly. Committee meetings are still anchored in a committee room in the Legislative Building, with the Chair (or Acting Chair) and Committee Clerk required to be physically present. The Chair is required to verify the identity and location within the province of Ontario of Members participating remotely in order for them to be considered present and part of quorum.
Zoom was selected as the hosting platform for these virtual/in-person hybrid committee meetings. Assembly staff from several different branches were involved in its exhaustive testing in preparation for the change. Guideline documents outlining new processes were developed for Members, staff and witnesses in order to ease the transition to the new format.
In keeping with physical distancing best practices, Members and staff present in the committee rooms in person are encouraged to sit apart from one another. Furthermore, committees which have been permitted to meet in this new hybrid format to date have all agreed that Members of the public attending as witnesses should appear virtually or by teleconference.
The aforementioned motion also established special terms of reference for the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, making it the first Committee authorized to resume meeting since the Order of the House dated March 19, 2020 adjourned all Standing Committees until otherwise directed by the Government House Leader.
The Committee was tasked with examining the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the following sectors of the economy and consider measures which will contribute to their recovery:
- Culture and Heritage
- Municipalities, Construction and Building
- Small and Medium Enterprises
- Other economic sectors as selected by the Committee
For the duration of the review, the Membership of the Committee is increased from a typical 9 Members to 19 (with 7 of those being non-voting Members,) composed of Members from both recognized parties and Independent Members. In the case of technical issues with a member participating remotely, a non-voting Member of the same party is permitted to cast a vote in their absence. The sub-committee on committee business was also expanded from three Members (one from each recognized party, plus the Chair as chair) up to five (two Government Members, one Member from the Official Opposition, one Independent Member and the Chair as chair.)
The Committee may present interim reports in the House as it sees fit. If the House is not sitting, the Committee may release its reports by depositing them with the Clerk of the House, with a copy provided to the Chair of the Ontario Jobs and Economic Recovery Cabinet Committee.
The new hybrid committee meeting process was first employed by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs at its June 1 meeting. Since then, five of the nine Standing Committees have been authorized to meet and have employed the new system; a testament to the Assembly’s quick ability to adapt to a new normal as events necessitate. The other four committees were authorized to consider legislation. There were six bills considered in total, with the Standing Committee on General Government being the first Committee to conduct clause-by-clause consideration of a bill with remote participation.
Prince Edward Island
Continuation of 1st Session, 66th General Assembly
On May 26, 2020, the House resumed sitting in continuation of the 1st session of the 66th General Assembly. The House had previously been scheduled to reconvene on April 7, but on March 18, Speaker Colin LaVie announced that the Assembly would not reconvene as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island permit the Speaker, in urgent or extraordinary circumstances, to waive the requirement that the House open for a spring sitting during the first week of April and that 60 days’ notice of the opening be provided by the Speaker or Executive Council. On May 15, following a request from Premier Dennis King, Leader of the Opposition Peter Bevan-Baker and Leader of the Third Party Sonny Gallant, the Speaker announced that the sitting would resume on May 26.
Prior to the resumption, the operations of the Legislative Assembly were reviewed in consultation with the PEI Chief Public Health Office, in order to ensure that physical distancing and other safety protocols are observed. The Legislative Chamber was reconfigured to allow Members to observe the recommended six-foot separation. In order to achieve this, the public gallery and media gallery, which are normally located at floor-level in the Chamber, were removed. The Hon. George Coles Building was closed to the public and continues to be as of this writing. A media tent was erected on the grounds of the Coles Building. Proceedings continue to be broadcast on Eastlink TV, and live-streamed on the Legislative Assembly’s website and Facebook page.
The House met according to its regular weekly sitting schedule throughout the month of June, and continues to do so as of this writing. PEI was in a state of emergency from April 16 to June 28; a state of public health emergency was declared on March 16, and is ongoing.
Provincial COVID-19 Response
On May 26, Darlene Compton, Minister of Finance, tabled “COVID-19 Response,” a report providing an overview of the province’s health and economic response to COVID-19. The report was added to the Orders of the Day and referred to Committee of the Whole House to give Members ample opportunity to review and discuss actions in response to the pandemic. Members debated the report in Committee of the Whole House over several days early in the sitting.
Legislation to Date
Since the session resumed on May 26, 26 bills have been introduced in the House; 17 of these are Government bills, eight are Private Members’ Bills, and one is a Private Bill.
Several bills relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bill 36, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, empowers Government to detain persons who refuse to self-isolate, and expands the Chief Public Health Officer’s authority to appoint officials, to limit travel, and to impose penalties for contraventions of the Public Health Act. The bill originally proposed to provide the Lieutenant Governor in Council with the power to suspend or vary the application of an enactment during a public health emergency, but the relevant clause in the bill was defeated during Committee of the Whole House review. The bill received Royal Assent on June 23.
Bill 38, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No. 3) provides an unpaid leave of absence to an employee who is unable to work due to declared states of emergency or public health emergency under federal or provincial legislation, or due to circumstances in which an employee must care for a family member directly subject of an emergency declaration or order of the Chief Public Health Officer. The bill received Royal Assent on June 18.
Bill 37, An Act to Amend the Emergency Measures Act, provides the Lieutenant Governor in Council with the power, during declared states of emergency, to suspend or vary the application or operation of an enactment. The bill was reviewed in Committee of the Whole House over several days, and amendments were put forward. On motion of the Leader of the Opposition and resolution of the House, the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development for consultation, review and recommendation. Standing committee review of bills is uncommon in the PEI legislature; debate and amendment of most bills occur in Committee of the Whole House alone. The Health and Social Development committee tabled its report on June 30, and it was adopted on July 2. This is further discussed below. To date, Bill 37 has not progressed further.
Of the eight Private Members’ Bills, two have passed all stages so far and stand ready for Royal Assent. Bill 114, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No. 4) provides whistleblower protections for workers in the private sector. Bill 113, An Act to Amend the Audit Act, empowers the Auditor General to audit organizations that receive government funding or deliver services on behalf of government. Other Private Members’ Bills currently on the Order Paper propose such changes as empowering the Legislative Assembly to disallow the declaration or renewal of a state of emergency (Bill 111); making proof of immunization mandatory for access to schools operated by education authorities (Bill 109); establishing the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images as a tort that is actionable without proof of damages (Bill 118); and clarifying that the Prince Edward Island Lands Protection Act or its regulations shall prevail in cases of conflict with the provisions of another enactment (Bill 106).
The Minister of Finance introduced the 2020-21 operating budget for the province on June 17. In the budget address, the Minister indicated that the previous fiscal year had been one of the unpredicted events with major impacts, including Hurricane Dorian, rail blockades that disrupted supply lines, and a malware attack on government IT infrastructure. Yet in early 2020, Government was projecting a budget with a small surplus. The COVID-19 pandemic changed this dramatically, and in response Government has provided nearly $200 million in direct and indirect supports to individuals, families and businesses, and to healthcare.
As a result, the 2020-21 budget includes a deficit of $172.7 million, which is believed to be the largest deficit in the province’s history. This reflects Government’s decision to respond to the pandemic, but also to continue to focus on its core priorities of health, education, environment and Islanders’ social and economic needs. Almost every line department’s expenditures are increased in comparison to 2019-20, with sizeable increases in areas such as Health PEI ($46.8 million); Education and Lifelong Learning ($22.2 million); and the General Government section of Finance, which includes $38.6 million in COVID-19 response and recovery Contingency funding.
Health and Social Development Committee Report on Bill 37
On June 16 the House passed Motion 75, which referred Bill 37, An Act to Amend the Emergency Measures Act, to the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development, as the committee with justice and public safety within its mandate. The motion called upon the committee to seek testimony from representatives of every government department on how the circumstances of COVID-19 have affected the department and how the powers proposed by Bill 37 would affect the department or the circumstances in which the department might request the use of those powers. The committee was also directed to seek and consider input from the public, and to consider any proposed or potential amendments to Bill 37. Finally, the committee was directed to report to the House its findings and recommendations within 14 calendar days.
Upon passage of the motion, the committee embarked upon a busy schedule of meetings over the June 18-30 period, primarily to hear from government departments. Written public input was requested through news media, social media and the Legislative Assembly’s website. By the deadline of June 25, the committee received 35 written submissions, the majority of which were in opposition to Bill 37.
On June 30, Chair Gordon McNeilly tabled the committee’s report, which contained three recommendations. First, the committee did not recommend Bill 37, An Act to Amend the Emergency Measures Act. Second, the committee recommended that the Legislative Assembly should first exhaust all efforts to allow for in-person or alternate proceedings before considering any powers to vary or suspend legislation as provided to the Lieutenant Governor in Council by Bill 37. The committee noted that Bill 37 “seeks to overcome … the perceived difficulty and unpredictability of conducting legislative sittings during a pandemic, especially as the pandemic and any associated health restrictions might limit the ability or willingness of members to meet.” Yet, the House has directed another committee to investigate the possibility of virtual sittings, and within its rules the House has the ability to meet at any time, without notice, if there are urgent or extraordinary circumstances. For these reasons, and the fact that additional measures can be put in place to facilitate meetings during emergencies, the committee recommended against the House granting any power to vary or suspend enactments without its oversight, at least until it can be shown that circumstances could occur where it would be impossible for the Legislative Assembly to convene. Finally, the committee recommended that Government consider additional resources for departments to support policy and legislative reviews, as several departments indicated in their meetings with the committee that the statutes for which they are responsible could be updated in various places.
The House adopted the committee’s report on July 2. Bill 37 has not progressed further as of this writing.
Changes to Sitting Hours and Calendar
On June 3, the Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges tabled a report proposing changes to sitting hours and the parliamentary calendar as specified in the Rules of the Legislative Assembly. The report was a continuation of the committee’s review of the Rules which began in 2019. The committee put forward two recommendations. Regarding the sitting hours, the committee recommended a new schedule that would see the House sit from 1 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10 am to 2 pm on Fridays. This would eliminate the Tuesday and Thursday evening (7 pm to 9 pm) hours that are part of the current schedule, but retain the same total weekly sitting hours by adding one hour to each day during the afternoon. Regarding the parliamentary calendar, the committee recommended that the House continue to hold two sittings per year, but change them to one beginning on the fourth Tuesday of February, and the other on the third Tuesday of October. The current calendar calls for the House to begin sitting during the first week of April, and the first sitting day following Remembrance Day. The committee also recommended that, during sitting periods, the House not meet for the week of the spring mid-term break prescribed by the School Calendar Regulations under the Education Act, nor during “legislative planning” weeks, which would be held every fourth week.
The committee called for these recommendations to take effect on January 1, 2021. The report was debated in the House over several days, with members focusing mainly on whether or not to eliminate the evening sitting hours that have long been a part of the House schedule. Indeed, the practice of sitting in the evening has been the subject of committee reports and motions in past General Assemblies, yet it has persisted. In this case, however, the House ultimately voted to adopt the committee’s report on June 10, and thus its recommended rule changes will take effect in the New Year.
During the current sitting of the House, Speaker LaVie ruled on several matters relating to rules, procedure and decorum.
On June 5, during debate on the motion to adopt the report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges (see above), Speaker LaVie ruled an amendment to an amendment out of order, as it brought up matters foreign to the amendment and should therefore be proposed as a new, separate amendment. On June 11, the Speaker ruled on a point of order raised on June 10 by Hannah Bell, the Member for Charlottetown-Belvedere, in objection to another member characterizing the same committee’s report as being a report of the committee Chair or the Opposition, not of the entire committee. The Speaker found it not to be a proper point of order because it related to statements made, not the contravention of any particular rule or practice.
On June 30, the Speaker issued a ruling on a point of order raised on June 25 by Ms. Bell to indicate that Minister of Fisheries and Communities Jamie Fox had referred to in-camera proceedings of a committee during his speech on a motion before the House. The Speaker cautioned members to be mindful of the confidential nature of in-camera proceedings, but declined to become further involved in the matter given that there was no report from the relevant committee regarding any potential breach of privilege.
On July 7, the Speaker ruled on a point of order raised on July 2 by Mr. McNeilly, the Member for Charlottetown-West Royalty, objecting to the Premier’s use of the term “gaslighting” in reference to remarks made by the Member for Charlottetown-West Royalty. The Speaker found the term and the way it was used to be unparliamentary and directed the Premier to withdraw the term and apologize to the House. The Premier did so.
New Independent Officers
In recent months the Legislative Assembly appointed several new persons to independent officer roles. Several of these appointments took place on May 26.
By resolution of the House following recommendation of the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, Denise Doiron was appointed Information and Privacy Commissioner under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, effective June 23. Ms. Doiron was previously legal counsel for the provincial government for more than two decades. She replaced former Commissioner Karen Rose, who had decided not to re-offer at the end of her term.
By resolution of the House following recommendation of the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, Marvin Bernstein was appointed Child and Youth Advocate under the Child and Youth Advocate Act, effective July 15. Mr. Bernstein previously served as the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth. He is the first person to be appointed to this independent officer position.
By resolution of the House following the motion of the Minister of Finance, Darren Noonan was endorsed for the position of Auditor General of Prince Edward Island under the Audit Act. He was subsequently appointed to the position by Order in Council, effective May 27. Mr. Noonan’s career has included public accounting practice and partnership in private business; he has also served as the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of PEI. Mr. Noonan replaces former Auditor General B. Jane MacAdam, who had retired.
Also, on November 22, 2019, by resolution of the House following recommendation of the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, Judy Burke was appointed Conflict of Interest Commissioner under the Conflict of Interest Act, effective January 1, 2020.Ms. Burke had a career in law in Alberta prior to recently moving to PEI. She replaced former Commissioner John McQuaid, who had retired.
Clerk Assistant – Research and Committees
Proceedings of the National Assembly
Extension of adjournment and resumption of proceedings
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in order to comply with public health directives, in particular regarding physical distancing, parliamentarians agreed on March 17, 2020, to suspend proceedings until April 21, 2020, with the possibility of an extension. Acting on the request of the Government House Leader, and given the changing situation, the House leaders agreed to extend the adjournment a first time until May 5, and then a second time until May 13. However, the National Assembly remained closed to visitors.
Terms of resumption of Assembly sittings
On May 13, the Members adopted a special order establishing the terms applicable to the National Assembly sittings until the end of the sessional period on June 12. Various measures were adopted to ensure a safe environment for all.
In order to comply with the physical distancing measures recommended by public health authorities, the Assembly, normally composed of 125 Members, sat with a reduced number according to the following distribution, for a total of 36 Members excluding the Chair:
- no more than 20 Members from the parliamentary group forming the Government;
- no more than eight Members from the parliamentary group forming the Official Opposition;
- no more than three Members from the Second Opposition Group;
- no more than three Members from the Third Opposition Group; and
- no more than two independent Members.
The above distribution was modified during Oral Questions and Answers periods, the number of Government Members being reduced to 16 in order to make room for two additional Members from the group forming the Official Opposition, for a total of 10, as well as one additional Member from each of the Second and Third Opposition Groups, for a total of four Members from each group. During such periods, a Member of the Second Opposition Group filled in for a first absent independent Member and a Government Member filled in for a second absent independent Member.
Again, to ensure compliance with physical distancing directives, the desks in the National Assembly Chamber had to be moved, and several removed. Accordingly, it was established that a Member could take the floor without being in the place usually assigned to him or her. In addition, the presence of pages and other staff members in the Chamber was reduced to a minimum.
Parliamentarians also agreed that, until June 12, all questions would be put in accordance with a procedure for recorded divisions under which the vote of the House Leader or Deputy House Leader of a parliamentary group or, where applicable, of another Member identified beforehand by the latter, would be valid for all Members of his or her group and that, where applicable, the names of those Members would appear in the Votes and Proceedings of the sitting. Furthermore, for the purpose of putting the question on bills mentioned in the special order, it was agreed that the Government House Leader could cast the votes of the independent Members in their absence in accordance with the instructions received from those Members. Last, it was decided that several stages in the consideration of those bills could be carried out during the same sitting.
Exceptionally, the May 13 sitting was limited to Orders of the Day, during which the Assembly adopted and approved the agreements reached between the parliamentary groups and the independent Members during the adjournment of proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and adopted the special order providing a framework for the remainder of the sessional period. The Assembly then proceeded with two successive 45-minute Oral Questions and Answers periods, with a rotation of Members and ministers between the periods.
Adoption of the 2020–2021 budget estimates
At the May 26 sitting, in accordance with the special order adopted on May 13, Bill 62, Appropriation Act No. 2, 2020–2021 (estimates for the period from July 1 to September 30) and Bill 63, Appropriation Act No. 3, 2020–2021 (remainder of the annual estimates), were introduced and passed, with all other stages being deemed completed. Despite the passage of the annual appropriation bill, and also in accordance with the special order, the Assembly mandated the parliamentary committees to examine the 2020–2021 estimates for a period of 100 hours allocated to the Opposition Members. In addition, the Assembly held a limited debate on the 2020–2021 estimates at the May 27 sitting. The National Assembly’s estimates were examined at the June 4 sitting.
After April 1, 2020, the National Assembly passed nine bills, including six government public bills and three private bills. All except Bill 55 were passed in accordance with the special order adopted on May 13. Following are some of the bills passed:
- Bill 15, An Act respecting the Société de développement et de mise en valeur du Parc olympique;
- Bill 18, An Act to amend the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Public Curator Act and various provisions as regards the protection of persons;
- Bill 32, An Act mainly to promote the efficiency of penal justice and to establish the terms governing the intervention of the Court of Québec with respect to applications for appeal;
- Bill 55, An Act to amend the Civil Code, in particular to make civil actions for sexual aggression, violence suffered during childhood and spousal violence imprescriptible;
- Bill 62, Appropriation Act No. 2, 2020–2021; and
- Bill 63, Appropriation Act No. 3, 2020–2021.
At the end of the Quebec Liberal Party leadership race on May 11, 2020, Dominique Anglade, Member for Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne, officially became Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. She took over from Pierre Arcand, who had been the interim party leader since October 5, 2018.
On June 16, 2020, André Fortin succeeded Marc Tanguay as Official Opposition House Leader. Filomena Rotiroti was appointed Chief Official Opposition Whip, and Hélène David was appointed Caucus Chair of the same parliamentary group.
Tabling of a parliamentary reform proposal by the President of the National Assembly
On May 26, 2020, National Assembly President François Paradis tabled a document entitled Une Assemblée nationale dynamique, modern et à l’écoute – proposition de réforme parlementaire du president de l’Assemblée nationale (A National Assembly that is Dynamic, Modern and in Touch with Quebecers – proposal for parliamentary reform by the President of the National Assembly). The proposal’s four main objectives are to establish better oversight and accountability processes, improve the organization and planning of parliamentary business, continue to integrate the use of technologies in parliamentary business, and promote greater citizen participation in parliamentary work and proceedings.
Confined Youth Tournament virtual quizzes and How Does Parliament Work? virtual workshop
On April 28 and May 12, 2020, the National Assembly hosted its first virtual Confined Youth Tournament quizzes live on its Facebook page. Two Assembly employees tested participants’ knowledge of subjects such as democracy, parliamentarism, and Québec and Canadian history. On May 4, 2020, the How Does Parliament Work? free public workshops on various aspects of the National Assembly also went virtual on the Assembly’s Facebook page. Four National Assembly lawyers explained the legislative drafting process and all the steps leading up to royal assent.
Shift to electronic tabling in the House
The National Assembly reconvened on May 26, 2020 with a new procedure for tabling documents electronically. Documents are now tabled in the House on a digital platform where MNAs and their staff can access them in secure directories. This reduces paper handling to a minimum, optimizes the tabling process, and minimizes the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The only paper documents still tabled in the Assembly are those required by law to be tabled for archival and legal deposit purposes.
Telework rollout for political and administrative staff
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a telework rollout strategy was implemented in mid-March 2020. These measures, already planned as part of the National Assembly’s digital strategy, had to be taken more quickly and on a large scale. To ensure the effectiveness of telework, employees are provided with a secure connection to the National Assembly network, and they can now use the Microsoft Office 365 suite on their work laptops.
Below are some of the highlights of the parliamentary committee proceedings held between April and June 2020.
Virtual committee meetings
During the adjournment of Assembly proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Members agreed to hold virtual sectorial committee meetings to allow ministers to be heard. The virtual meetings, which were broadcast live and lasted one to two hours, allowed Opposition Members to question different ministers on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several changes to the regular rules of procedure were made for the meetings. At least 24 hours before each meeting, the House Leader of each parliamentary group and the independent Members were required to submit the names of the members who would be taking part and the subjects to be discussed. The members taking part in the meetings virtually were considered as Members in attendance for the purposes of the quorum required under the Standing Orders. No vote could be taken during the meetings and no question could be put in committee or before the Assembly as a result of the debates held.
For these parliamentary committee meetings, only the Chair and administrative staff were present. They met in one of the committee meeting rooms and all participants were connected through Microsoft Teams. Six sectorial committees held a total of 12 virtual meetings between April 24 and May 22, 2020.
Resumption of committee proceedings at the Parliament Building
Following the agreement concerning the resumption of parliamentary proceedings, approved by the Assembly on May 13, 2020, the layout of the parliamentary committee rooms were modified in order to comply with physical distancing measures. Depending on the room, furniture had to be removed, moved or added to make it easier for the Members to move around and enable more of them to take part in the meetings. The presence of political and administrative staff had to be restricted in certain cases. Under the agreement between the parliamentary groups, all votes at the meetings were to be taken by recorded division. Furthermore, a vote cast by a Member of the parliamentary group forming the Government or by a Member of a parliamentary group forming the Official Opposition, designated by their respective House leaders, would be valid for all the Members of their parliamentary group who sit on the committee.
In order to comply with the health measures in force, the procedure for distributing documents such as amendments during meetings were completely revised. The printing of documents was reserved exclusively for official archiving purposes and all documents were made available for consultation by Members via Greffier, the electronic document sharing platform normally used for other purposes by parliamentary committees.
At the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 44, An Act mainly to ensure effective governance of the fight against climate change and to promote electrification, continued during the two weeks of extended hours of meeting at the beginning of June. The bill entrusts the Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change with, among other responsibilities, the coordination of government and ministerial measures regarding the fight against climate change and the governance of the Electrification and Climate Change Fund, thereby replacing the Green Fund and abolishing its management board. Contrary to usual practice, clause-by-clause consideration continued beyond June 12, 2020, the end date for extended hours of meeting.
During the sessional period’s last week of extended hours of meeting, two committees carried out special consultations on bills introduced the previous week.
The Committee on Public Finance held special consultations on Bill 61, An Act to restart Québec’s economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on 13 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main purpose of this bill is to facilitate the carrying out of several public infrastructure projects through measures to reduce the conditions usually imposed on them. The measures include modifications, by regulation, to environmental assessment processes, the possibility for the Government to determine conditions for the awarding of contracts by public bodies and streamlined expropriation procedures. The bill also provides for the extension of the public health emergency until the Government terminates it and grants immunity from prosecution to the Government and public bodies in the implementation of its provisions. The special consultations on this bill provided an opportunity to hear 29 groups during public hearings.
The National Assembly also mandated the Committee on Institutions to hold special consultations on Bill 55, An Act to amend the Civil Code, in particular to make civil actions for sexual aggression, violence suffered during childhood and spousal violence imprescriptible. The purpose of this bill is to abolish the 30-year prescriptive period for instituting a civil action for sexual aggression, violence suffered during childhood and spousal violence. Persons whose civil actions have been dismissed due to the expiry of the prescriptive period may reinstitute such actions before a court within three years after the coming into force of the Act. The special consultations on this bill provided an opportunity to hear five individuals and groups during public hearings. The Committee then completed its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, which was adopted by the Assembly on June 12, 2020.
Typically, the budget cycle gives rise, in the spring, to two weeks of intensive consideration of the main estimates in the committees. This year, under an agreement approved by the Assembly on May 13, 2020, the estimates were adopted before being considered in committee, which will take place during the week of August 17, 2020. The exercise, which will be spread over 100 hours rather than the usual 200 hours, will allow the Opposition Members to hear the ministers with respect to the finances of their departments.
On June 18, 2020, changes were made to the chairships of a number of parliamentary committees. At the Committee on Institutions, Nicole Ménard (Laporte) became Vice-Chair, replacing Ms. Anglade (Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne), who has been Leader of the Official Opposition since May 11, 2020. Mr. Tanguay (Lafontaine) became Chair of the Committee on Planning and the Public Domain, replacing Francine Charbonneau (Mille-Îles). The Member for Mille-Îles replaced Ms. David (Marguerite-Bourgeoys) as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Health and Social Services. Isabelle Melançon (Verdun) became Vice-Chair of the Committee on Public Finance, replacing Mr. Fortin, who was appointed Official Opposition House Leader.
Sittings and Parliamentary Procedure Directorate
Parliamentary Committees Directorate
The second Session of the 19th Legislative Assembly resumed on May 26, 2020, as scheduled, after the Winter sitting was adjourned early on March 16, 2020 ,due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Assembly sat until June 12, 2020, and is adjourned until October 15, 2020.
The main item of business was the resumption of review of the 2020-2021 Main Estimates in Committee of the Whole. Before adjourning early in March 2020, the Assembly passed an Interim Appropriation Act, prior to completing its review of the Main Estimates.
The Assembly resumed with all 19 Members in attendance, in a modified chamber, which included extra rows of seats added to the Chamber, and directional flow control. At the beginning of each sitting day, Members would assemble in the Great Hall and then be led into the Chamber in the order of their seats to avoid Members having to pass in front of or behind each other. The Assembly operated with two table officers, rather than three, and had a third table officer monitoring from their office. House documents were distributed electronically.
During the session, the review of the full main estimates for 2020-2021 was completed, and Members approved an Appropriation Act. Members passed two other supplementary appropriation acts, as well as amendments to the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act.
Members also passed Motion 11-19(2), calling on the Government of the Northwest Territories to create a Seniors and Elders’ Strategy.
- During the May-June Sitting, the Assembly considered and passed the following acts:
- Bill 6, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act;
- Bill 7, Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures) 2020-2021;
- Bill 8, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 2, 2020-2021;
- Bill 9, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 1, 2020-2021; and
- Bill 10, Interim Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2020-2021.
Bill 6 amended the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act to allow the Assembly to conduct all, or a portion, of a session by teleconference or videoconference, and to permit members to participate in a session by way of teleconference or videoconference at the discretion of the Speaker. Should exceptional circumstances arise, the Assembly can sit remotely, allowing parliamentary accountability to continue.
Bill 10 authorizes the Commissioner in Executive Council to make orders that result in the temporary variation of a date, deadline or time period found in legislation. The bill authorized the orders to have a retroactive effect as far as March 24, 2020, the day on which the state of emergency was declared in the Northwest Territories. Any temporary variation of a statute would only remain in effect for a maximum of six months from the date that Bill 10 was given assent. The bill also provided that advance notice of any variation must be given to the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight. No variation is permitted for those deadlines found in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Health Information Act and the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act.
For the first time in recent memory, the Commissioner of the NWT provided Assent outside of the Chamber. The Commissioner, who resides a three-hour drive from Yellowknife, provided written assent to the bills passed during this sitting.
Standing Committees remained unusually active following the adjournment in March, through to the end of the May-June sitting. Meeting remotely by video and teleconference, Committees held public hearings and in-camera business meetings. For more than a month, the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight held weekly public briefings on COVID-19 pandemic measures taken by the Government. Committees met in-person and virtually during the sitting to receive briefings on other matters.
During the May-June sitting, the Standing Committees on Economic Development and Environment; Government Operations; and Social Development each issued a report entitled “Report on Long-Term Post-Pandemic Recovery: Recommendations to the GNWT”. These reports examined temporary relief measures taken by the Government during the early response to the pandemic, and made recommendations on measures to be continued. All recommendations were adopted by way of motions in the Assembly.
Deputy Clerk, House Procedure and Committees
The Senate was adjourned for much of this quarter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was recalled on three occasions to sit on April 11, May 1 and May 15. On each occasion, a bill relating to the government’s COVID-19 response was passed and received Royal Assent by written declaration.
On April 11, the Senate resolved into a Committee of the Whole for consideration of the subject matter of Bill C-14, A second Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19, in advance of the bill coming before the Senate, and heard from the Minister of Finance. Following the Committee of the Whole, Bill C-14 was read a first time, adopted at second and third reading stages, without being referred to committee, and received Royal Assent by written declaration. On May 1, Bill C-15, An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits (coronavirus disease 2019), was read a first time, adopted at second and third reading stages, without being referred to committee, and received Royal Assent by written declaration. Prior to the second reading stage, the Senate resolved into a Committee of the Whole in order to hear from the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion on the subject matter of the bill. On May 15, the Senate dealt with Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act, in the same manner as the other bills mentioned above, with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food participating in the Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of the bill.
On May 29, the Speaker announced via memorandum that the adjournment of the Senate was being extended from June 2 to June 16. The Senate sat on June 16 and met seven times over the next two weeks, during which time two supply bills were passed and received Royal Assent by written declaration. The Senate was resolved into a Committee of the Whole on June 23 in order to consider the expenditures set out in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021, and in the Supplementary Estimates (A) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021, and received the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board. Bill C-18, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021 (Appropriation Act No. 2, 2020-21), was read a third time on June 25, and Bill C-19, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021 (Appropriation Act No. 3, 2020-21), was a read a third time on June 26. Both bills received Royal Assent by written declaration on June 26, at which point the Senate adjourned until September 22.
Chamber, Procedure and Speaker’s Rulings
On May 21, the Progressive Senators Group (PSG) was re-established as a recognized parliamentary group in the Senate, after reaching the threshold of nine members required for such status pursuant to the Rules of the Senate. The PSG had previously had recognized parliamentary group status briefly from November 14 to 18, 2019.
A motion permitting senators to speak and vote from a seat other than their own was passed at the start of the sittings on April 11, May 1 and May 15, to allow for physical distancing. On June 16, a similar motion was adopted to permit these physical distancing measures until the end of the month. For all sittings, attendance was coordinated by the recognized parties and parliamentary groups to ensure balanced representation while allowing senators to follow the advice of public health authorities with respect to travel and distancing. The sittings took place with the minimum number of employees required to work on-site to support the sitting. On numerous occasions, senators asked questions and delivered speeches on behalf of colleagues who were unable to attend the sittings.
The Senate adopted a motion on May 1 to allow documents to be tabled electronically with the Clerk of the Senate, including responses to written questions and oral questions, until the end of 2020 or the current session. The same day, the Senate adopted a separate motion to recognize senators who are not present at a sitting of the Senate as being presumed to be on public business. Both motions were in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 1, Senator Donald Plett raised a question of privilege regarding a meeting of the Committee of Selection held earlier that day. The Speaker reserved his decision and announced on May 15 that he would allow further arguments on the question of privilege at the next sitting of the Senate, which was held on June 16. The Speaker has not yet ruled on this issue.
On June 16, Senator Pamela Wallin raised a question of privilege concerning senators’ ability to participate in sittings. The Speaker reserved his decision and ruled on June 18 that while the question of privilege was raised under rule 13-4, which is an exception to the normally written notice requirement, it did not meet the conditions required under that rule and, therefore, could not be considered.
The Senate was resolved into a Committee of the Whole on May 15 in order to hear from Karen Hogan respecting her appointment to the position of Auditor General of Canada. The Senate adopted a motion approving her nomination later that day.
The Senate held an emergency debate on June 18 on the rise in reports of acts of racism against Afro-Canadians, Indigenous Canadians and Asian Canadians. The request was initiated by Senator Rosemary Moodie. The Speaker ruled that the emergency debate could proceed and, pursuant to the provisions of the Rules of the Senate, it took place at 8 p.m.
The Senate resolved into a Committee of the Whole on June 25 to consider the Government of Canada’s role in addressing anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and ending systemic racism. The committee received the ministers of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, of Families, Children and Social Development, and of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
On April 11, the Senate adopted a motion naming senators to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Both the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology were authorized to examine and report on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The motion also gave all three committees the authority to meet via videoconference or teleconference. The first committee meeting held via videoconference took place a few days later on April 14. On May 1, the Senate adopted another motion to authorize the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators to meet via videoconference or teleconference. As of July 3, 28 virtual committee meetings were held between the four committees.
The Senate adopted a separate motion on April 11 to appoint a Special Senate Committee on the Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic and Future Preparedness. The committee will hold its organization meeting no earlier than October 2020. The committee’s mandate is to assess the various impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Canada, as well as the initiatives that have been undertaken to address the crisis, to carry out a broad consultation of Canadians to determine the challenges and specific needs of various regions and communities, and to identify lessons learned to prepare for future pandemics.
The first and second reports of the Committee of Selection, on the nomination of a Speaker pro tempore and the nomination of senators to serve on committees, were presented in the Senate on May 1. Neither report had been moved for adoption when the Senate adjourned for the summer recess.
The second report of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators, entitled Consideration of an inquiry report of the Senate Ethics Officer, was presented in the Senate on June 18. The committee’s third report, entitled Developments and actions in relation to the committee’s fifth report regarding Senator Beyak, was presented in the Senate on June 22. Neither report had been adopted prior to the summer recess.
The third report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance on the Supplementary Estimates (A), 2020-21, was tabled in the Senate on June 22 and adopted on June 23.
Senator Thomas J. McInnis retired from the Senate on April 8. He was appointed to the Senate on September 6, 2012 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and represented the province of Nova Scotia as member of the Conservative Party of Canada. Senator McInnis served on numerous Senate committees, including as chair and vice-chair of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization. Prior to his appointment to the Senate, he was an elected member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1978-1993, representing the riding of Halifax-Eastern Shore as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. He also served in provincial cabinet as Minister of Transportation and Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Senator Grant Mitchell resigned from the Senate effective April 24. Senator Mitchell was appointed to the Senate on the advice of Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005. He served on numerous Senate committees over the years, including as vice-chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. He represented the Liberal Party of Canada in the Senate until 2016, at which point he became a non-affiliated senator until his resignation. He served as the Government Liaison (Government Whip) from 2016-2019. Prior to his appointment in the Senate, he was a member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly representing the riding of Edmonton-McClung from 1986 to 1998, and was Leader of the Liberal Party and leader of the opposition from 1994-1998.
Spring sitting of the fourth session of the twenty-eighth legislature
As previously reported, on March 18, 2020, the planned budget presentation was cancelled and the Assembly adjourned to the call of the Chair due to COVID-19.
On May 26, 2020, House leadership agreed to a June 15, 2020, resumption of the legislative session on a modified schedule with a July 3, 2020 completion date.
On June 15, 2020, the Standing Committee on House Services met to consider and adopt a report which identified and developed temporary modifications to the processes, practices, and standing orders in order to facilitate the safe resumption of the session in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement included:
- a 14-day sitting period including a budget address on June 15, 2020;
- 60 hours’ consideration of budgetary estimates in standing committees including three hours’ scrutiny of Premier’s estimates;
- routine proceedings, including Question Period, to be held each sitting day;
- a private members’ day was designated for June 19, 2020.
It was agreed that 15 members (10 government and five opposition members) plus the Speaker, would participate in proceedings. This provision required an amendment to The Legislative Assembly Act, 2007 to define quorum to be no less than 10 members for the period of June 15 to July 3, 2020. A motion was moved on July 3, 2020, to allow 25 members to participate in the Chamber for the final sitting day prior to the election scheduled for October 26, 2020.
Changes were required to how recorded divisions were conducted. In Saskatchewan, when a recorded division is requested, members are summoned to their seats where they are called on individually to cast their vote. This practice was temporarily suspended. In its place, whips were permitted to register the votes of members not present in the Chamber on a tally sheet and report their names to the Speaker. Also, members were permitted to vote by proxy during recorded divisions in both Assembly and committee proceedings if they are unable to be present in person. Proxy voting was used on several occasions in the Assembly and once in the Standing Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs and Justice during the clause-by-clause consideration of a bill.
During the spring sitting, Government bills proceeded through the legislative process and the budget was presented on June 15. Visitor access to the Legislative Building remained suspended during the spring sitting so no public was in attendance for the budget presentation. The Government presented a budget stating that the deficit was a result of the pandemic and not a structural deficit. The Opposition stated that the budget did not have adequate transparency, including long-term projections beyond March 31, 2021. On July 3, the final sitting day, Royal Assent was given to 21 bills including an appropriation bill to enable the Government to defray the expenses of the public service.
Also, on the final sitting day, the Premier moved a motion thanking the retiring members of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for their service and dedication to the people of their constituencies and the province. The Leader of the Opposition and retiring members were afforded the opportunity to respond to the motion and give their farewell speeches.
2020 Spring Sitting
Due to coronavirus concerns, the 2020 Spring Sitting, which began on March 5 and had been expected to last 30 sitting days, concluded on March 19 after nine sitting days. Further information pertaining to this Sitting of the Third Session of the 34th Legislative Assembly is detailed in Yukon’s preceding legislative report.
Speaker’s news release
On April 21, Speaker Nils Clarke issued a news release (“Proceedings during COVID-19 Pandemic”) on the Legislative Assembly Office’s efforts to continue to support MLAs during the pandemic. The release noted that the Assembly’s committee meeting room is equipped with videoconference and teleconference equipment to facilitate members’ remote participation in committee meetings. It also observed that that face-to-face committee meetings and public hearings can be held in the Chamber, as “seating arrangements will allow for over two metres’ distance between individuals”. As well, the news release stated that pursuant to the special adjournment Order adopted by the House on March 19, the Assembly is scheduled to reconvene on October 1. The news release noted that measures to ensure Members’ and others’ safety, such as increasing the physical distance between MLAs and closing the public gallery, would continue as needed in the 2020 Fall Sitting, and that further safety measures would be taken as appropriate.
Virtual committee meetings
In light of COVID-19, committees can now meet virtually, with the respective Chair of a committee chairing meetings from the committee meeting room, and the other members of the committee participating remotely.
On April 30, a tweet by the Yukon Legislative Assembly noted that the Standing Committee on Appointments to Major Government Boards and Committees had that day “met by videoconference and teleconference in the first virtual meeting of a Yukon Legislative Assembly committee. Committees are using technology to continue their work.” The committee, which is chaired by Ted Adel (Copperbelt North), subsequently met virtually on June 24.
On May 6, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, chaired by Stacey Hassard, Leader of the Official Opposition, met by videoconference.
Public Accounts Committee update
On May 7, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (PAC) issued an update announcing the release of the committee’s Fifth Report and Sixth Report. PAC’s Fifth Report dealt with Yukon’s 2018-19 Public Accounts. The subject of the committee’s Sixth Report was the Auditor General’s 2019 report on kindergarten through grade 12 education in Yukon.
The May 7 news release also provided an update about certain decisions taken the preceding day at the committee’s virtual meeting. Although committees of the Yukon Legislative Assembly meet in camera and minutes of committee meetings are confidential, the news release noted that PAC had adopted a motion that from May 6, 2020, forward, PAC’s meeting minutes would be made public once the committee had approved the minutes.
The news release also noted that PAC had “determined that looking at current government spending and the government response to COVID-19 is not within the committee’s mandate. Pursuant to Standing Order 45(3), the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is responsible for reviewing the Public Accounts and all reports of the Auditor General.”
New Yukon Party Leader
Former MLA and Minister Currie Dixon was elected as the new Leader of the Yukon Party at the party’s May 23, 2020, leadership convention. Over the course of the preceding Legislative Assembly, Mr. Dixon, then-MLA for Copperbelt North, held Cabinet portfolios including Economic Development, Environment, Community Services, and the Public Service Commission. Mr. Dixon did not stand for re-election in Yukon’s 2016 general election.
The Yukon Party had been without a permanent leader since former Premier Darrell Pasloski lost his seat in the November 2016 general election that saw Yukon Liberal Party leader Sandy Silver become the new Premier. Stacey Hassard, the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, had been serving as the Acting Leader of the Yukon Party, and as the Leader of the Official Opposition in the House. On July 6, in a Yukon Party news release announcing updated critic roles, Mr. Dixon noted that Mr. Hassard would be continuing as the Leader of the Official Opposition in the House.