Q27. Who is allowed in the legislative chamber?

Entry is tightly controlled; only a handful of non-MLAs are allowed in

A27. Apart from the 51 MLAs, very few people are allowed to enter the legislative chamber in Province House when the legislature is in session.

Of course any member of the public is permitted to watch proceedings from the public gallery, but I’m talking about who is allowed “on the floor”.

Entry is tightly controlled in order to maintain the integrity of legislative proceedings.

In addition to the 51 MLAs, only the following people are permitted to enter the chamber:

  1. The clerks of the House. They are the lawyers who sit at the table directly in front of the Speaker. Sometimes there is one, but usually there are two.
  2. The Sergeant at Arms. He is in charge of security at Province House. A chair is reserved for him near the main door of the chamber. He rarely attends because he usually has other things to do around Province House.
  3. The pages. These are the young people—almost always university students—dressed in black uniforms who act as messengers and assist in helping the House run smoothly. The uniforms look sharp, but they are made of polyester and are hot and uncomfortable.
  4. The House operations staff. They look after all the details that help the House run smoothly. They are, for example, in charge of the pages. Occasionally you will see one of them enter the chamber. For example, if something ceremonial needs to be done and the Sergeant at Arms is not available, the operations staff will often step in.
  5. During the debate on departmental budgets, which takes place in the spring sitting, the minister who is being questioned is permitted to bring two staff members into the chamber to assist him or her. Those staff members are not permitted to participate directly in the debate. They whisper advice to the minister.

Apart from the people listed above, anyone entering the chamber is called a “stranger” and would be immediately ejected by the Sergeant at Arms, if necessary by force.

The rules are more relaxed during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). That is the only legislative committee that meets in the legislative chamber. (Other committees meet in the Committee Room across the street.)

During a PAC meeting, there are nine MLAs in the chamber.  They may be assisted by caucus staff. In addition, the Auditor General attends with any staff he wishes to bring. Finally, there are the witnesses being questioned that day by the PAC members.

The rules are also more relaxed during the ceremonial opening and closing of a session of the House. Even then, no-one is permitted onto the floor except by invitation.

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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