Liberals flex majority muscle at inaugural health committee meeting

It started with optimistic talk about members working across party lines for the betterment of health care in the province.

But it quickly devolved into disagreements between government and opposition MLAs during the inaugural meeting of the legislature’s standing committee on health on Tuesday.

The government agreed to the new committee in September after limiting the topics that could be brought before the public accounts committee.

A committee dedicated to health, it was suggested, would be a way for everyone to come together regardless of party affiliation to discuss matters related to a subject that consumes 40 per cent of the provincial budget.

But opposition members felt little of that goodwill as the meeting got underway.

The Liberals used their majority to vote down a motion that would see the committee meet twice a month. They argued it made more sense to meet monthly because it’s a new committee and it is in keeping with the way other standing committees operate.

They also had concerns about bringing in Health Department and health authority officials too frequently.

Tory MLA Karla MacFarlane said she’s holding out hope Liberal MLAs might agree in the future to holding more meetings. (CBC)

That reasoning didn’t carry much weight with opposition MLAs, who argued the significance of the subject warrants more consideration than a standard committee.

“Our mandate is to make health care in Nova Scotia better,” said Tory MLA Karla MacFarlane, who said her initial preference was for the committee to meet weekly.

“I think that we really have to look at this committee as being a poster committee to show … all Nova Scotians that we are going to think outside the box with this committee, that we are going to give them the time that they deserve.”

New Democrat MLA Tammy Martin didn’t try to hide her frustration with the resistance of government members to meeting as often as possible.

“What are we doing here if we cannot commit to meeting bi-weekly to discuss the current health-care crisis?” she said.

“This is disgraceful.”

NDP MLA Tammy Martin said the committee should be meeting twice a month, given the size of the health portfolio. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The committee will meet on the second Tuesday of every month, year round, meaning 12 meetings a year. Unlike other committees, it will not break for summer months.

Liberal MLA Keith Irving said his caucus came to the meeting thinking the committee would only meet six or seven times a year, so he believes they reached a compromise on the issue.

Irving said the intent is for all parties to work collaboratively and he expects that will be the case now that procedural matters have been settled. Those matters include how topics will be submitted, something else the Liberals used their majority to define.

Typically, committees select six subjects at a time for their next six meetings, with the majority party getting three choices, the official opposition getting two and the third-place party getting one.

The Liberals defeated an opposition motion that would have seen each party get two selections.

A meeting to set an agenda will be scheduled for later this month with the committee’s first meeting with a witness planned for Feb. 12.

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