A28. Everybody in Nova Scotia lives in a constituency, and so everybody has an MLA. There are many ways to communicate effectively with your MLA.
In rare cases, your MLA may be unavailable due to illness or other cause, or there may be a vacancy because your MLA resigns or dies. Even so, there’s usually someone you can turn to for help.
Let’s deal with illness first.
How long can an MLA be off work? Indefinitely. An MLA does not have a job or an employer in the traditional sense. In legal terms, an MLA is an “office-holder”. So there is no boss, no fixed vacation, no sick days, and no employment insurance. The MLA holds the position until the MLA retires, resigns, dies, or is defeated in an election.
Every MLA has a constituency office and a constituency assistant (CA). Even if the MLA is unavailable, the office continues to operate. The CAs are often very experienced and knowledgeable—sometimes more than the MLA! Just about the only thing a CA cannot do is actually attend the House of Assembly in the MLA’s place.
So your best bet, even if the MLA is off sick, is to continue to work with that MLA’s constituency assistant.
The situation is a little different if an MLA resigns or dies.
In these cases, the constituency office has to start shutting down. They may choose not to take on any new cases. There has to be a by-election to fill the vacancy, but it can take over six months for a by-election to be held.
Often the party of the former MLA will try very hard to continue to offer constituency services. One way of doing so is for a nearby MLA to cover the former MLA’s constituency as well as their own. Another way is to offer constituency services out of the caucus office.
In fact, a citizen may contact any MLA for assistance, at any time. Most people will start by contacting their own MLA, but there is no requirement that they do so. It is up to each MLA to decide whether, and to what extent, they will serve residents of other constituencies.
When I was an MLA, I would sometimes get calls from people outside my constituency. They would say things like “I can’t get an answer from my MLA”or “I heard about you and I like you” or “I’d prefer that someone from your party help me”. Whatever the reason, I’d usually encourage them to work with their own MLA. I was usually plenty busy with my own constituents. But sometimes I would say yes. Every MLA is different that way.