REGINA -- The spring session of the Saskatchewan legislature is scheduled to start next month with the tabling of the budget, but the Opposition NDP is calling for a sooner start as the province ranks last for sitting days among Western provinces.

The MLA parking lot in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building would normally be full at this time of year. But now, it sits vacant with the spring sitting delayed until April 6. According to NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon, that’s too late.

“[It’s a] real shame for Saskatchewan people that we’re in last place as a legislature for sitting days and what this represents is just no accountability from the Sask Party government,” said Wotherspoon.

The number of sitting days at the legislature has been significantly reduced because of COVID-19, but more so in Saskatchewan than other Western provinces.

Research from the University of Regina shows the Saskatchewan legislature has met only 22 days since the pandemic started last March. That compares to 44 days in British Columbia, 45 in and Manitoba and 79 in Alberta.

Jim Farney, director of the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, is taking note.

“The economy has continued to evolve. There are still needs in other parts of public policy and those should be addressed in the legislature,” said Farney. “So to have such a big gap, you can’t justify it on just COVID alone. You can justify some of it and we had an election, then a very short fall sitting but it’s not as if there isn’t other stuff to talk about.”

The spring sitting of the legislature is not only starting late, it will also be a few days shorter. MLAs will have two months to get their work done, which the government believes will allow for full budget debate.

“The budget will be subject to full legislative scrutiny, and we are returning to the assembly under the standing rules agreed to by the opposition,” said the province, in a statement.