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Nova Scotia law change would force MLAs to resign if they run for another office

Hants West MLA Chuck Porter announced the provincial government is contributing $462,000 towards water and sewer infrastructure upgrades in Hantsport.
Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter introduced amendments to Nova Scotia's Municipal Elections Act on Thursday that would require MLAs to resign after becoming a federal candidate or if they run for any other level of government. - Carole Morris-Underhill / File
HALIFAX, N.S. —

MLAs will soon no longer have the option of keeping their seat if they choose to run federally.

Legislation introduced Thursday that would amend the House of Assembly Act requires MLAs to resign after becoming a federal candidate or if they run for any other level of government.

But other proposed amendments to the Municipal Government Act and the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter also include measures to address the perceived conflict of a councillor or mayor running in a provincial election, but the province is leaving it up to the municipalities to come up with their own policies. 

Though the province has the authority to impose the same rules for councillors and mayors, Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter said municipalities are autonomous governments and should be given the opportunity to come up with their own rules in this case.

Other amendments require municipalities to decide whether a councillor or mayor running for provincial office resigns, takes a leave of absence with or without pay or outlines the duties in which they can participate. 

The issue has been a hot topic debate of late with the premier taking heat for independent MLA Lenore Zann's choice to run federally. Zann is a Liberal candidate in the Cumberland-Colchester riding. She resigned her provincial seat last month.

Three Conservative MLAs also resigned in recent months to run federally. Former councillor Steve Craig won the Sackville-Cobequid  byelection in June but was accused of inappropriately using municipal money to bolster his provincial election campaign. An Elections Nova Scotia investigation into the matter found that he was not in violation of the Elections Act.

But Elections Nova Scotia did call for changes that would require politicians to take a leave of absence while running for other elected positions.

Porter said in many cases the pay and job description of councillors versus MLAs vary greatly, making it difficult to expect them to adhere to the same rules. 

No deadline for municipalities

Municipal elections are scheduled for Oct 17, 2020, but the legislation does not impose a deadline on municipalities to comply with the Act. Porter said he hopes that municipalities will come up with policies sooner than later. 

Waye Mason, president of Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities and a Halifax councillor, said he supports the legislation, arguing that it gives municipal councils the tools to make decisions tailored to each particular local situation. He couldn’t say what type of policy he’d support for Halifax Regional Municipality but the former deputy mayor pledged to consult with his colleagues on council and with the Federation of Municipalities.

“There’s a huge difference between taking a leave of absence or leaving council in a town like Annapolis Royal with a couple hundred people, versus HRM with councillors represent 24,000 people,” said Mason. “So I think what this legislation gives us is the ability to kind of calibrate the response based on the needs of the local community.”
He’s confident municipalities are eager to act on the new directive.

“I expect the larger municipalities that pay a bigger honouraria, or consider their councillors to be full time, will be looking at stronger rules and that the smaller municipalities that are very much part time for both mayor and council will have more lenient ones.” 

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