Onset of COVID-19 has changed the way politicians are doing business.
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons has been adapting to new ways of carrying out democracy, mandated by regulations required to cope with the pandemic.
Simons said he is going to be attending the legislature next week for the first time in what is being called a hybrid session. He said this means some people are in Victoria and others are functioning in their communities via videoconferencing.
“It’s very busy and there are a lot of issues that are related directly to the pandemic that I assist with when I can,” said Simons. “There continue to be issues for me relative to other sectors, including, of course, ferries, forestry and other ongoing interests.”
Simons said up until now, every day the legislature sits, he has been going onto Zoom and participating in the debate. He said if he is rostered to be doing his chamber duty in the legislature, such as next week, he simply attends in Victoria, where the number of MLAs has been substantially reduced due to physical distancing and maximum assembly numbers.
He said one significant change in legislative business has been the voting schedule. Rather than votes taking place during the day, they all get lined up and voted on at the end of the day, negating the need for everyone to be at their computer constantly from 10 am to 6:30 pm. The system, for the most part, has been working well, although there is the occasional glitch, said Simons.
There was one situation where the MLA who was voting remotely could not be heard, and so the clerk at the table phoned the member and got confirmation regarding the member’s vote.
Simons said those running and coordinating the hybrid system have done an “amazing job.” There are four screens in the legislative chamber and those in that setting can see members participating from their constituencies.
Simons said this is the first time a hybrid form of parliament has been conducted, so once again, BC is leading the way.
He said Question Period has taken on a new dimension because the chamber is not packed with close-together bodies “stuffed like sardines.” He said the opposition still has the opportunity to ask questions and the government has the chance to explain its actions on issues.
“It’s important for democracy,” said Simons.
When asked if British Columbians were being well served by the new system, Simons said: “I hope so. We’re making every effort to adjust the needs of our communities. There are challenges that everybody is facing.
“What we have to continue to do is figure out how government can best help our communities, our businesses, our industries and get to the challenges that are lying before us.”
Simons said with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the incredible focus by health minister Adrian Dix, and his dedication to the issue, has served the province well. He added that Dr. Bonnie Henry, as provincial health officer, has all of the necessary abilities to give confidence to the public.
“In this kind of situation, when you have dedicated people, incredible changes have been made to our health system,” said Simons. “We were prepared for the worst and we managed to relay good medical advice and the vast majority of people adhered to the recommendations and continue to do so.
“The message is as important today as it has always been. I’m completely confident that our government and our health officer have done their absolute best and the statistics indicate that we have been an outlier in our success.”
The new normal in the legislature has no horizon. Simons said the impact of COVID-19 will be present for a while.
“We are doing what we need to do,” he added, “and everybody recognizes that British Columbia can continue to stay strong.”