Legislative Reports: Nova Scotia

Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Legislative Reports: Nova Scotia


The Nova Scotia House of Assembly prorogued on March 22, 2001 and a new Session opened on that day with the Speech from the Throne. As is the custom in Nova Scotia, the main order of business of this Spring's sitting was the budget. However, nineteen bills were passed. The most controversial Government Bills were the Financial Measures Act and the Government Restructuring Act, sparking long debates and several dilatory motions. There was also a local bill introduced by a Government member who was not a member of the Cabinet, which proved to be very controversial and, indeed, was the subject of a hoist motion.

Almost all Private and Local Bills attract very little public attention, however this Bill, that was introduced not as a Government measure but by a private member upon the request of a rural municipality, permits the municipality to make grants in order to attract doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals to locate in that municipality. Although it passed second reading without any debate it was debated for several days in the Committee of the Whole House and on Third Reading. The Liberal caucus opposed the Bill vigorously on the grounds that it would encourage bidding wars among municipalities with respect to topping off salaries of healthcare professionals. All Government members voted for the Bill and it is now law.

During the 2001 Spring sitting Speaker Murray Scott made several rulings which included the raising of questions of privilege. On several occasions, members rose on points of privilege which turned out to be nothing more than disagreements with other members on some question. In the rulings the Speaker emphasized that a true point of privilege is a very serious matter and arises rarely.

The House recessed on June 1, but the break was short-lived with the House reconvening for a marathon sitting beginning on June 14 and ending on June 27, consisting of 120 hours of debate on Bill 68, An Act to Continue Healthcare Services in Nova Scotia. All kinds of procedural devices were used by the Opposition to delay passage of the Bill and by the Government to speed passage. The following is an account of the events that led up to this extraordinary sitting and an account of the sitting itself.

Bill C-68

Last Spring negotiations between healthcare workers and the Government for a new collective agreement broke down. By mid-June it became apparent that the several groups of healthcare workers involved would soon be in a position to go on strike legally (the first group to be in a strike position on June 27). Accordingly, on June 13, the government announced that the House would be recalled to meet on the following day to consider legislation designed to prevent the strike before it started. The announcement was, however, vague on just what shape the legislation would take.

Just before the House met, the Bill was released to the public. It prohibited a strike and provided for penalties to be imposed for all those who went on strike or who authorized a strike; it also enabled the Governor-in-Council to unilaterally impose a new collective agreement containing such terms as "the Governor-in-Council thinks fit". The Government argued that because of its precarious financial condition it could not take the chance of becoming liable to pay any large salary increases that that could be imposed by arbitration.

When the House met, passions were running high. The Government with 31 of 52 members was doing everything it could to put the legislation through before the strike occurred and both opposition parties (NDP and Liberal) with a combined strength of 20 members, (one Liberal member being absent through illness) were doing everything they could to delay its passage for as long as possible. This tug of war, with no quarter to be given or taken, would be fought under a set of rules that does not provide for any kind of closure or time allocation (except in Committee of the Whole House) and that prohibits the House from sitting on a Saturday or a Sunday without unanimous consent, but that, at the same time, enables every member to speak once for up to one hour on any motion, guaranteeing 19 to 20 hours of debate on every motion (except a motion to adjourn). …

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