MLAs will return to the Legislative Assembly on May 26 with several measures in place to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Those measures include daily temperature checks and a new seating arrangement among others.
Members will also receive gloves and masks to be used in case they can’t keep two metres apart.
The public gallery will be closed and pages will not be present, however media can attend upon receiving accreditation.
“Interpretation services will be provided for Tłı̨chǫ, Chipewyan and French languages during Session,” reads the exposure control plan for the upcoming sitting. “Public Affairs are currently exploring virtual interpretation services. If this is not possible, Interpreters who will be onsite will be required to complete a ‘Risk Assessment’ to determine the appropriate mitigation measures they will be required to adhere to while in the building.”
Yellowknife North MLA and Caucus Chair Rylund Johnson said the three languages were chosen because, in addition to English, they are the three spoken by some MLAs.
Johnson said the decision to keep other interpreters off-site was to minimize staff in the building and travel to communities.
“The Legislative Assembly will work with our other interpreters remotely to get key information out in the other official languages,” he said in an email.
Legislation change needed for virtual sessions
Under the territorial government’s Emerging Wisely plan, now in phase one, indoor gatherings like sittings at the Legislative Assembly would only be allowed in the second relaxation phase. Johnson explained that Legislative Assembly sessions fall under parliamentary privilege and are not subject to the ongoing public health orders.
“However we are confident we are in compliance with the most recent orders of the chief public health office,” he said. “In regards to resuming any functions of the legislature that would not be essential business, such as opening the building to the public, we will revisit those aspects in phase two. The key purpose of this sitting and the reason it is essential at this time, is that we must pass a budget in order to give the government money to operate.”
MLAs agreed to cut the first session short on March 16, after approving an interim budget, to allow the GNWT to focus on responding to COVID-19. That budget is approved until June 30.
And if you’re wondering why MLAs don’t just hold a videoconference, well that’s because it would be illegal. The GNWT needs to change its legislation to hold virtual sessions, something Johnson says will come up in the next sitting.