The Alberta government has suspended the spring sitting of the legislature for 2 weeks, noting the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the region.
“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 press release on Sunday.
“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”
The spring sitting will remain paused till May 17.
The press release added that the suspension is not because any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among legislature staff or MLAs but to
“prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
The government says it is leading by example by suspending the spring sitting as the disease cases surge.
‘Work being left undone’
Critics say the Alberta government is ducking public accountability.
“I think it’s because of a series of these events that Premier Kenney did not want to walk into the legislature on Monday and face a bunch of really tough questions from the NDP about what the government is doing, but more importantly what the government is not doing,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.
The province’s NDP leader Rachel Notley said the decision leaves work undone for those still going out to their jobs, from paid sick leave to support for online classes.
“It is incredibly cowardly and hypocritical for Jason Kenney to claim it is not safe for him to come to work, when all of these folks, none of whom or very few of whom have sick leave, unlike the Premier and his House leader have to go to work,” Notley said at a press conference Sunday.
“Alberta workers need to be 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,” Notley said.
“All this work is being left undone because Jason Kenney is afraid of public scrutiny.”
A change passed earlier in this sitting permits for the option to adjourn the assembly in response to “public safety concerns,” as per the release.
Cabinet will continue to meet virtually, and legislative committees will additionally go on with their work with remote participation of members.
Alberta experienced three successive days this week with over 2,000 new cases, topping out on Saturday with 2,433, the single-highest daily case count since the beginning of the pandemic along with a positivity rate of 12.1%.
Health restrictions in Alberta are currently at Step 1, which permits for no indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings with a maximum of 10 persons. Bars, restaurants, and retail are still permitted to operate with restrictions.
This past week, Premier Jason Kenney reinforced restrictions to a targeted list of “hot spots”, that is, areas with at least 350 cases per 100,000 people and 250 active cases.
The additional restrictions include online learning for all junior and senior high schools and no indoor fitness activities. They will affect Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County.
Just over a year ago, the Alberta Legislature was embroiled in a similar debate, except the government was determined to continue daily sessions whereas the BDP 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.”