Alberta legislature temporarily suspends spring session as COVID-19 cases surge

The Alberta government has suspended the spring sitting of the legislature for two weeks, citing the surging numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province.

“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” said Jason Nixon, the government House leader, in a news release issued Sunday.

“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”

The spring sitting will remain paused until May 17.

An amendment passed earlier in this session allows for the option to adjourn the assembly in response to “public safety concerns,” stated the news release. 

The release added that the suspension is not due to any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among MLAs or legislature staff but to “prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

Cabinet will continue to meet virtually, and legislative committees will also continue their work with remote participation of members. 

Alberta experienced three consecutive days this week with more than 2,000 new cases, topping out on Saturday with 2,433, the single-highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic along with a positivity rate of 12.1 per cent.

Health restrictions in the province are currently at Step 1, which allows for no indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings with no more than 10 people. Restaurants, bars and retail are still allowed to operate with restrictions.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney added some additional restrictions to a targeted list of “hot spots” — that is, regions with at least 350 cases per 100,000 people and 250 active cases.

The additional restrictions, including online learning for all junior and senior high schools and no indoor fitness activities, affect Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Strathcona County, Edmonton and St. Albert.

The Alberta NDP on Sunday said the decision to suspend the spring session was cowardly and leaves some important work unfinished.

“Alberta workers need paid sick leave, families need a Learn From Home Fund to support students online, our variant testing system needs immediate improvement, and our existing public health measures must be enforced,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley in a news release.

“All this work is being left undone because Jason Kenney is afraid of public scrutiny.”

A little more than one year ago, the Alberta Legislature was embroiled in a similar debate, except the government was determined to continue daily sittings while the NDP worried that being in the legislature, even with precautions, would be risky.

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis,” Kenney said last April. “The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London.”

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