21st February 2024

For political nerds in Nova Scotia, Tuesday was the equivalent of the Stanley Cup of law revisions, but unlike the hyped playoff final, this event took place in an almost empty committee room and lasted just over 11 minutes.

That’s how long it took for Nova Scotia’s law amendments committee to approve the tidying up of 573 laws. The six-and-a-half year effort by lawyers in the legislative counsel’s office was laid out in 18 volumes, on a table usually reserved for committee witnesses, near Province House in Halifax.

The Chief Legislative Counsel Gordon Hebb, in his role as the consolidation and revision officer, presented his team’s work to the committee for their approbation.

“This is the eleventh [revision] in 173 years,” Hebb informed the committee. “There were five in the 19th century, there were five revisions in the 20th century and this is the first in the 21st century.”

The last consolidation of Nova Scotia’s statutes, as they’re called, happened 35 years ago in 1989. Previous revisions occurred in 1967, 1954, 1923 and 1900.

There’s no set timetable to clean up laws that are on the books. Hebb took part in the last revision but this was his first time leading the effort.

Cannot change intent of legislation  

Whatever revisions are made cannot change the intent of legislation. That’s the job of elected members of the legislature.

“What I want to emphasize is there is no change in the law,” Hebb twice reminded the committee.

He said the revisions “modernized the language” by editing sections to make them clearer, more concise and easier to understand. They also updated department names, removed unnecessary punctuation, renumbered sections and replaced gender-specific pronouns with neutral ones.

For example, the Woodmen’s Lien Act has been renamed the Wood Workers’ Lien Act.

The Volunteer Protection Act was also renamed the Volunteers in Non-profit Organizations Act to better distinguish it from the Volunteer Services Act. According to Hebb, having two similarly titled acts created confusion.

Asked what triggered this latest revision, Hebb said he couldn’t recall.

Cabinet approval needed 

“I have changed the drafting style over those years and I guess I maybe wanted to spread it through more statutes … but I don’t remember the specific inspiration,” Hebb told the committee. 

After the committee approved the revisions, so did the lieutenant-governor. Cabinet also needs to accept them, after which the 18 volumes will be handed to the chief clerk so they can be officially recognized. 

Not exactly Lord Stanley’s Cup, but staff of the legislative counsel’s office will retain their title as drafters of these revised statutes for much longer than just one season.