N.B. MLA suspended 3 days for rude gesture

Saint John Liberal MLA Abel LeBlanc has been suspended for three days after making an obscene hand gesture in the legislative assembly.

Saint John Liberal MLA Abel LeBlanc has been suspended for three days for his obscene hand gesture in the legislative assembly on Thursday.

The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives moved a motion on Friday morning that LeBlanc would be suspended for a period determined by Speaker Roy Boudreau.

Boudreau said he reviewed similar incidents in other jurisdictions and determined LeBlanc would be prohibited from returning to the legislative assembly for three sitting days, including Friday.

He will lose his pay for the three days he is suspended from the legislature.

LeBlanc was removed from the legislature on Thursday after he refused to apologize for both his hand gestures and his unparliamentary language.

LeBlanc extended his middle finger at the Opposition Progressive Conservatives on Thursday after question period.

He accused Rothesay Tory MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney of telling lies about Saint John-Fundy MLA Stuart Jamieson.

LeBlanc did not elaborate on the alleged lies before extending his middle finger again at another Tory MLA and shaking his fist.

"I'm gonna tell you, Dale [Graham, Tory MLA for Carleton], I'll walk outside with any one of yas here," LeBlanc said. "Don't ever laugh at me. Yes, I gave you that. And I'll give you that again. And I'll give you this if you want to go outside. You're a punk!"

Premier Shawn Graham said on Thursday that LeBlanc's actions were "totally unacceptable."

But the premier wouldn't say whether the Liberal caucus would take any action against LeBlanc for his behaviour.

Blaney, who was the target of the outburst, didn't have much to say about it on Friday. "It was a very uncomfortable time and I would describe it as awful," she told reporters.

"I think New Brunswickers, those who know what happened, will make up their own minds about what happened and I really want to talk about the issues, I do. I don't want to comment any further on it."

Asked about the suspension, she said: "I think the Speaker made a prudent decision. I think it was a good decision.

"I think what happened yesterday in the legislature reflected certainly on Abel LeBlanc, but I think it reflected on all of us in the house in the sense that it takes away from the good work that we do in the legislature. So I think it's important we get back to focusing on the issues that are important to New Brunswickers."

LeBlanc, who kept a low profile on Friday, refusing interviews, can return to the legislature on Thursday without having to apologize. The three-day suspension is the penalty, regardless of what he does. But both the Speaker and the Liberals have said they plan to talk to LeBlanc about the incident.

Mixed reactions in riding

Reaction to the LeBlanc's suspension is mixed in his Saint John-Lancaster riding. Some voters are embarrassed by his behaviour, but others say he's a fighter who momentarily lost his cool.

"When the Liberal voters of Saint John-Lancaster lost their minds, I don't know, but I hope they get them back before the next election," said constituent Anne Baker, suggesting LeBlanc should never have been elected.

Baker called in to the local CBC morning show after hearing about the incident. Another caller, however, referred to LeBlanc as "feisty" and said that's sometimes what's needed in government.

Leblanc, who was elected in 2003 and re-elected three years later, is known as an MLA who marches to his own beat. Many people like his style, said Pat Riley, who has known LeBlanc for more than 40 years, having worked with him as a longshoreman.

Riley said Thursday's incident was unfortunate. LeBlanc was just trying to defend fellow MLA Jamieson from Opposition attacks, he said.

"He will not regret defending a friend, he's been doing that all his life — defending underdogs of society," said Riley.

"But I'm sure he will at some point regret the manner in which he did so. And I'm sure he will apologize for the mistake he made that all of us can make in stressful situations."

Riley also said he believes people who know LeBlanc well will continue to support him.