A38. A caucus is the group of MLAs who belong to the same political party.
In Nova Scotia we have three caucuses: the Liberal caucus, the Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) caucus. The Liberal caucus is sometimes referred to as the government caucus.
An MLA does not have to join a caucus. An MLA who does not sit in a caucus in called an independent. There is currently no independent member. In the last House, there was one (Andrew Younger, Dartmouth East).
An MLA can also switch caucuses. Even if they are elected under the banner of one party, they can decide to join a different caucus. For example, in 2009 Karen Casey was elected for the PC party in Colchester North, but later joined the Liberal caucus. She was re-elected as a Liberal in 2013 and 2017. Chuck Porter (Hants West) left the PC caucus in 2014 to sit as an independent, and later joined the Liberal caucus. He was re-elected as a Liberal in 2017. Joining another caucus is sometimes referred to as “crossing the floor” because the MLA will sit in a different place.
MLAs join a caucus because they believe they can accomplish more as a team. That is why the members of a caucus almost always vote the same way.
Caucuses meet regularly. Usually they meet weekly. When the House is in session, they will meet every day. The purpose of a caucus meeting is to discuss the political issues of the day and develop a strategy. When the House is sitting, the caucus will usually discuss whatever business is being done that day, practice for Question Period, and generally make sure everybody in the caucus knows what they’re supposed to do in the House.
Caucus meetings are always held in private. Reporters are not allowed in, nor is the general public. MLAs believe that they are likely to have better, more frank discussions if the discussions are held in private. Once the discussion is over and a strategy has been decided, all caucus members are expected to follow the strategy.
There is a convention that MLAs will not talk publicly about what goes on in a caucus meeting. This is not a law or a rule, but an MLA who breaks caucus confidentiality runs the risk of being punished by their leader.
Each caucus is allocated money from the House of Assembly budget to hire staff. These staff members work in the “caucus office” and assist caucus MLAs to do their work in the House of Assembly. That is different from the “party office”, which is established by each political party to advance the work of the party. It is also different from the “constituency office”, which is established by each MLA to assist their work in that specific constituency. Citizens often get confused between caucus office, party office and constituency office. Each has a different function.
If you see something happening in politics or the legislature that you don’t like, and you want to contact someone, it’s often best to start with the caucus office.