Alberta legislature break extended a week while Speaker sets up remote voting

·2 min read
Speaker Nathan Cooper is looking at a new virtual voting system for MLAs.  (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Speaker Nathan Cooper is looking at a new virtual voting system for MLAs. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The suspension of the Alberta legislature spring session has been extended another week until after the May long weekend.

The extension was announced Wednesday after a meeting held by Speaker Nathan Cooper, Government House leader Jason Nixon and NDP Opposition house leader Christina Gray.

In a memo sent to legislature and caucus staff, Cooper said his office is setting up a remote voting system.

"My office in conjunction with the Legislative Assembly Office has been working on a number of ways to increase the ability for members to participate in the Assembly remotely," Cooper wrote.

"The opportunity for members to vote virtually may be possible upon the resumption of the Spring Sitting the week of May 25th. To facilitate this, I will be hosting a number of training sessions next week."

Kenney trying to escape accountability, NDP says

Nixon suggested the assembly may be looking at a hybrid system used by the House of Commons where some members are in the chamber and others are connected via video link.

"The non-partisan Legislative Assembly Office is testing a secure, remote voting option that will be trialled in advance by members next week," he said in a written statement.

"Once this remote voting system is validated, this will allow the number of MLAs physically in the Assembly to be kept at a minimum.

"The resumption of proceedings will ensure that all the business currently before the Assembly will be given due consideration and completed this spring."

Nixon cited surging COVID-19 cases when suspending the spring session for two weeks on May 2.

MLAs have not met since April 22. The spring sitting was supposed to resume on May 3 following a previously scheduled constituency break.

Gray said Premier Jason Kenney is trying to escape accountability for having the highest COVID-19 infection rate in Canada and the United States.

"This closure of the legislature has never been about health," Gray said. "It's about Jason Kenney's cowardice."

Cooper's office is still working on its plans for remote meeting with more details expected on Friday.

MLAs in committee meetings have been able to participate remotely either by phone or video link. However, the legislature did not extend that option to sittings inside the House.

Instead, MLAs are using physical distancing, masking and lower capacity numbers to limit spread of the virus.

Gray is not opposed to meeting remotely but said the legislature should be in session now. She said her caucus wants the government to pass legislation like paid sick leave for workers forced into quarantine due to COVID-19 infection or exposure.

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