Q24. What is the seating plan in the legislature?

There is a lot of hidden meaning in where people sit


A24. The House of Assembly meets in Province House, a beautiful old building in downtown Halifax.  The legislative chamber is at the north end of the second floor. The legislative chamber is a horseshoe shape, and is two storeys tall.

Members of the public may observe the House of Assembly from the public gallery, which is accessed from the third floor.

In the chamber itself, there are 51 seats for the 51 MLAs. There is a lot of significance to where exactly the MLAs sit. A PDF of the seating plan is available on the legislature’s website.

The most prominent feature of the chamber is the raised platform where the Speaker sits, along the middle of the north wall. The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House. In other words, the Speaker is the referee.

Other than the Speaker, MLAs sit at desks arranged in rows. I sat at one of those desks for twelve years and I can tell you that they’re narrow and not very comfortable.

Government MLAs always sit on the Speaker’s right.

Cabinet ministers sit in the front row of the government side. There isn’t enough room for all the Cabinet ministers in the front row, so a few have to sit in the second row. MLAs on the government side who are not ministers are called “backbenchers”. Nova Scotia currently has a Liberal government. There are 27 Liberal MLAs, including the Speaker.

The premier sits roughly in the middle of the front row. He is on the aisle that runs down the middle of the government side. The closer a minister sits to the premier, the more prestigious it is.

Opposition MLAs always sit on the Speaker’s left. The largest opposition party is sometimes called the Official Opposition. The Official Opposition is currently the Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus, which has 16 MLAs.

The smaller opposition party sits furthest away from the Speaker. That’s currently where the New Democratic Party (NDP) MLAs sit. If you look closely you will see an aisle between the PC seats and the NDP seats.

Nova Scotia currently does not have any independent MLAs. If there is one (or more), they will sit on whichever side of the House has more room. Their desks are always slightly separated from the desks of MLAs who are members of a caucus.

Occasionally, the government caucus may have too many members to squeeze into one side. That happened, for example, after the 1993 election and after the 2013 election. When that happens, some government MLAs will sit on the opposition side of the House. Of course they’re still members of the government caucus.

Directly in front of the Speaker’s dais is a large wooden table. That is where the clerks sit. They are lawyers. They provide legal and procedural advice to the Speaker. They also keep all of the House of Assembly’s records.

There is one other seat in the chamber. Near the main door, there is a green chair sitting by itself, in front of the NDP caucus. That is the chair of the Sergeant at Arms. He is the chief security officer for Province House. That chair is usually empty, because the Sergeant at Arms has lots to do elsewhere in the building. He is only needed in the chamber for ceremonial purposes, or if MLAs got really rowdy and somebody has to physically remove them. (Although it’s theoretically possible, that never happens. The bad behaviour has always—so far—stopped short of requiring physical restraint.)


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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