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PCs reject opposition demands on constituency assistant safety, but strike compromise

PC members of an all-party committee react to opposition criticism at a meeting about the safety of constituency assistants.  (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
PC members of an all-party committee react to opposition criticism at a meeting about the safety of constituency assistants. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

A second Nova Scotia legislature committee meeting to discuss the safety of constituency assistants was both acrimonious and conciliatory.

In the end, all three parties represented at the House of Assembly's management commission agreed to what appeared to be a compromise position — that the legislature look at hiving off security costs from MLA budgets.

But getting to that middle ground wasn't easy.

The issue was before the commission, the body that oversees the budgets of MLAs and sets House rules, in response to the fact the constituency assistant of Liberal Brendan Maguire was violently attacked in December.

Wednesday's meeting began with Liberal and New Democrat MLAs chastising Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Allan MacMaster for comments he made after the committee's last meeting.

"The opposition wanted bigger constituency office budgets before this event happened.... This event happens and suddenly they have a good reason to ask for more staff," MacMaster told CBC News following that meeting.

Kelly Gomes at her desk in the constituency office of Brendan Maguire the MLA for Halifax Atlantic.
Kelly Gomes at her desk in the constituency office of Brendan Maguire the MLA for Halifax Atlantic.

Kelly Gomes at her desk in the constituency office of Brendan Maguire the MLA for Halifax Atlantic. (Codie Dionne)

On December 14, a frequent visitor to Maguire's office charged at Kelly Gomes, grabbing her and pinning her to a wall by her throat.

A student, who happened to be doing a work term in the office that day, came to her rescue. That allowed both of them to break free and barricade themselves in a back office, while the man took out his anger and frustration on the office.

Police have charged a 47-year-old man with assault and property damage.

"To suggest that this was a cash grab by opposition parties is, in my view, not worthy of the honourable member, who I know is a thoughtful person," chided Liberal MLA Kelly Regan.

New Democrat MLA Susan Leblanc was more pointed.

"To suggest that this issue is a partisan issue or merely a cash grab on behalf of the opposition is reprehensible," said the NDP house leader.

Susan Leblanc, NDP house leader, said the calls for two constituency assistants is not   a cash grab or partisan issue.
Susan Leblanc, NDP house leader, said the calls for two constituency assistants is not a cash grab or partisan issue.

NDP House Leader Susan Leblanc says the calls for two constituency assistants is not a cash grab. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

MacMaster did not address the criticism. Instead, he acted as a sort of mediator between his PC colleagues, who stuck to the PC party line that MLA budgets were ample enough to hire extra help or to pay to beef up security at their offices.

"We have enough money in our budget to do it," PC MLA Danielle Barkhouse told opposition members. "We need to choose to do it.

"So if you do not choose to do it then that's on you."

Her colleague Nolan Young suggested having two constituency assistants would only put two people in jeopardy if someone got violent in an MLAs office.

But after defeating the Liberal motion to double the number of constituency assistants paid for by the province, outside MLA budgets, and then trying to water down a second motion from the official opposition, MacMaster suddenly softened his party's hard line.

He said a Liberal call for the House to examine whether security costs should be removed from those budgets was a reasonable one.

Adding security measures 

"I think the intent here is good," said MacMaster. "To ensure that (MLAs) have right away the ability to have some security measures put in place, in amongst all the other start up costs."

MLAs are currently allowed up to $2,550 dollars to pay for all the incidentals necessary to start up an office, including security features such as panic buttons, cameras and automatic door locks. Legislature staff will now look at the possibility of having those costs assumed by the House rather than come out of MLA budgets.

A report from the chief clerk at the last management committee meeting noted a majority of the province's 55 MLAs had constituency offices with some form of protection.

  • 32 constituency offices have an alarm system.

  • 30 offices have a panic button.

  • 24 offices have a camera system.

  • 13 offices have a means of controlling door access.

  • 10 offices reported having all four of those measures in place.

Although neither the Liberals nor the NDP were happy with the outcome of Wednesday's meeting, they left with a possible compromise, rather than empty handed.

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