Q14. Does the legislature ever go into private session?

All meetings of the legislature are open to the public

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A14. No, never.

A private session (known as an in-camera meeting) is when members of the public are asked to leave a meeting. Only elected officials can stay. They are not permitted to discuss publicly what happened during the in-camera part of the meeting.

Municipal councils are allowed to go in-camera sometimes. For example, if they are discussing the negotiation of a contract, or something private to do with an employee, they can meet in-camera.  Some people believe municipal councils go in-camera too often, and I tend to agree.

Fortunately, the Nova Scotia legislature never goes in-camera. It’s simply not allowed. All proceedings of the legislature are broadcast on television, and there is a verbatim transcript (Hansard) available. Any member of the public can go to Province House and watch proceedings from the public gallery.

Members of the public can be kicked out of the public gallery for misbehaviour, but that is not the same as going in-camera.  Even if the gallery is cleared, the public can still watch proceedings on television, and there is still a public transcript.

It is sometimes permissible for a committee of the legislature to go in-camera. I sat on the Public Accounts Committee for seven years, and it went in-camera a couple of times. I was never happy about it, but sometimes it was the only way I could get a document or get a witness to answer a question.

With that small exception, all proceedings of the Nova Scotia legislature are open to the public, and that’s the way it should be.

Author: Graham Steele

A former MLA in Nova Scotia, currently Professor of Business Law in the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University

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