On November 27, the New Brunswick Legislature discussed adopting a virtual system to ensure public health after three zones returned to the Orange phase. This lasted two weeks, as the full set of MLA’s met in person on December 8.
David Coon, Fredericton South MLA, was shocked when the full legislature resumed on December 8. He explained that the virtual hybrid system had gone very well, and that he believed that the smooth operation was a good solution for maintaining public health and safety.
“I assumed that the hybrid system would be there for members who were in the Orange zone still,” Coon said. “It should be a permanent feature of the Legislative Assembly from here on out. We’re not over the pandemic; the pandemic is ongoing so it needs to be there.”
Coon explained that the hybrid system, which allows some members to be in person while others attend online, is a system that should be in place even after the pandemic. This would be useful for members who may come down with an illness, need to work from their constituency, or have a family emergency where they need to stay home.
“There clearly was some opposition on the government benches,” Coon said. “What would have been required is a motion to enable us to have members participate virtually in the system.”
This motion would have to be passed unanimously which, considering Dominic Cardy’s intense opposition to a virtual system, would not be the case.
“Humans being face to face, working together, is part of what makes the legislature so important,” said Education Minister Dominic Cardy, as reported by CBC, indicating that he would not support a virtual hybrid system.
Coon explained that, while the current set up is operating smoothly, the social distancing guidelines at the legislature can make it difficult for operations to be carried out.
“It’s not that easy for people to participate who are members who are having to sit up in the public gallery because we can’t see them, they can’t see us,” he said, further explaining that some caucus members struggle to participate in discussions in the ante-rooms. “If you have a small caucus, like mine, there is sufficient room. Even then, we can only have one person in the ante-room.”