EDMONTON — The government of Alberta has suspended the spring session of the Legislative Assembly for at least two weeks.
Jason Nixon, government house leader, said in a news release Sunday that there is a need to pause the spring sitting because case counts of COVID-19 are increasing.
“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,” Nixon said.
“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase,” he added. “We continue to strongly encourage all Albertans to follow their local health guidelines and get vaccinated when it’s their turn. We all have to do our part to get through to the other side of this pandemic.”
Alberta shattered records for most active cases and most COVID-19 infections reported in one day Saturday.
According to the press release, cabinet and legislative committees will continue to meet virtually.
The province amended standing orders earlier in the spring session to allow for adjournment of a legislative session in response to public safety concerns.
The suspension is to prevent further COVID-19 spread and not because any MLAs or staff have confirmed infections, the government said.
In a statement to media, the Alberta NDP said they “adamantly oppose” the decision to halt legislature proceedings, as outstanding bills, such as paid sick leave, remain to be discussed.
“The single most important measure we can take to keep sick people at home is to provide paid sick leave,” NDP House Leader and Labour Critic Christina Gray said in a statement.
“It’s a gross dereliction of duty for Kenney to run away from the legislature without having provided this,” she said.
Rachel Notley said in a statement that now is not the time to pause the proceedings of the legislature.
“Alberta needs real leadership at this moment of crisis, but instead Jason Kenney is abandoning his post,” Notley said. “I can’t help but remember his boastful rhetoric this time last year, invoking the memories of the British parliament remaining in session through the Blitz.”
“The suggestion that the legislature cannot sit while servers are still working on patios and people are still crowding into malls is absurd. Now more than ever, Jason Kenney needs to show up to work.”
CTV News Edmonton reached out to the premier’s office for comment.
“This is to avoid accountability over the next two weeks,” said Mount Royal Political Science Professor Duane Bratt. “We have to look at the context, the rising cases… as well as some outright defiance… that the UCP has been silent about.”
Jason Kenney did post a statement condemning a large gathering of 2,000 people over the weekend in southern Alberta.
SHUTTING LEGISLATURE DOWN IS AN ‘ABUSE OF AUTHORITY’: OFFICIAL OPPOSITION
In a media availability Sunday, Notley said her caucus was ready to meet Monday to discuss issues facing Albertans and the need for a stronger response to COVID-19 as cases rise.
“We were fully prepared to go into the legislature tomorrow. We had questions planned for question period on the triage protocol, on school safety, on how exactly restaurant staff are expected to enforce this premier’s bogus rules about dining only with people from your household.”
Notley added that the opposition wanted to propose an emergency debate Monday at the legislature to discuss the COVID-19 restrictions and the province’s response to the pandemic.
“Instead, the UCP is shutting down the building,” she said. “This premier has locked the people out of their own legislature at a time when they are likely looking more than ever to that very building and the people running the government inside of it for leadership.”
For Notley, pausing the spring sitting of the legislature due to rising COVID-19 cases is hypocritical.
“People are still being forced to sell ice creams in crowded malls, servers are weaving their way between maskless tables of customers who they’re now in charge of policing on crowded patios, and teachers will be wiping runny noses in overcrowded kindergarten classrooms come Monday morning.”
The leader of the opposition said that if the premier was concerned about MLAs travelling back to Edmonton, there could be “flexible” and “creative” solutions made to ensure the legislature could still safely meet and function.
“We would be happy to work collaboratively around doing that,” she added. “They didn’t come to us asking about how to do that. They came to us advising that they were going to shut down the house.”
Notley said shutting down the legislature as Alberta case counts of COVID-19 continue to shatter records amounts to an “abuse of authority” by the premier.
“(Shutting down) is solely about running away from responsibility, being scared of his own caucus and being unwilling to be held accountable for the multiple inconsistencies with respect to his actions as premier.”
GOVERNMENT LEADER DEFENDS TEMPORARY SHUTDOWN
Nixon told CTV News Edmonton in an interview that there were concerns returning MLAs from constituency week returning to the legislature could pose risks for COVID-19 spread.
He added that MLAs staying in their localities would send a signal to Albertans to remain close to home and follow public health restrictions.
“It doesn’t make much sense for us to bring 87 members from every corner of the province back to Edmonton and then have them drive back to their communities at the very moment that the Chief Medical Officer and health officials are asking us to stay close to our communities,” Nixon explained.
“It’s unfortunate that the NDP don’t agree with that decision but it’s clearly in the best interest of the staff and service in Edmonton, as well as the community of Edmonton… as well as our home communities we would be returning to,” he added.
According to Nixon, the entire spring session agenda will not be compromised by the delay in proceedings.
He added that now is the time for the province to “dig deep” and abide by provincial restrictions to curtail the upward trend of COVID-19 cases.
“We are seeing unprecedented numbers,” Nixon said. “We need to as a province dig deep and do what we gotta go to get through the next few weeks so we can finally put COVID-19 past us.
“And that is what we are trying to do as far as (Legislative) Assembly management.”