The summer sitting of the BC legislature starts today in a much different format than the usual face-to-face political debates.
The pandemic requirements of physical distancing mean the normally crowded 87-member chamber will be limited to 24 politicians.
Media interviews will also shift online and be held virtually through the videoconferencing app Zoom.
Various members have referred to the new format as bringing about historic and unique change to the system.
Tomorrow we return to the legislative chamber. We will be socially distanced. We will conduct the business of BC in a safe way. We will be in person & on monitors. We will come together while staying apart. New normal begins for the Legislative Assembly of 2020. #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/jpoAhlrsLg
— Lana Popham MLA (@lanapopham) June 22, 2020
Lana Popham, the MLA for Saanich South, referred to Monday’s sitting as the “new normal” for the Legislative Assembly.
Interim Green Leader Adam Olsen says the sitting will be historic and he marvels at what a unique time it is to be a member of the legislature.
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth says talks with the opposition parties, the Speaker and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has resulted in a safe and functional plan for the legislature.
“People will be impressed by what’s in place,” he said. “It’s going to allow every member to participate either in the chamber or by Zoom, by virtual. There will be question period. There will be debates on legislation.”
Politicians who are not in the chamber will participate virtually in debates, while some committee meetings and interviews will be done from locations around the legislature building such as offices, while others will conduct their business from their ridings, added Farnworth.
Farnworth said the pandemic plan will serve as a model in case of a natural disaster or another catastrophic event in the future.
Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said his party has supported Henry’s public health measures, but now the focus is on the economic recovery.
“We’ve been writing letters to the premier for the last month with dozens of suggestions about how we can get B.C. rolling again, including things like a three-month suspension of the provincial sales tax so that people can get the confidence to go out and involve themselves in the economy again,” he said.
The government plans to introduce legislation and pass the budget it tabled in February before the pandemic forced the shutdown.
The session is expected to sit through to August 12th.
With files to Canadian Press.