New Brunswick

Speaker Chris Collins won't reoffer for Liberals, plans to sue premier for libel

New Brunswick Speaker and Moncton Centre MLA Chris Collins says he won't reoffer for the Liberals in the upcoming provincial election and plans to sue Premier Brian Gallant for libel and slander for the way he handled the allegations of harassment against him.

Describes Premier Brian Gallant's handling of allegations of harassment against him as 'atrocious'

Chris Collins, who was suspended from the Liberal caucus on April 5, pending an investigation of allegations of harassment, said he will finish his term as an independent. (CBC)

Legislature Speaker Chris Collins has delivered an extraordinary attack on Premier Brian Gallant over Gallant's handling of harassment allegations against Collins.

Collins, the Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre, also announced Thursday that he won't run for the party in this September's election and will instead file a libel lawsuit against Gallant.

He said he will sit as an independent member of the legislature until it is officially dissolved for the campaign in August.

I could never place my name or reputation in support of this 'Leader' again.- Chris Collins

That reduces the Liberals to a minority government, but it's a symbolic change given the House will not sit again before the election Sept. 24.

The lengthy email statement by Collins is his first public comment since Gallant made the harassment allegations public April 5 in an evening conference call with journalists.

Collins gave up his administrative functions as Speaker four days later, just as an all-party committee of MLAs was to vote on stripping him of those powers.In the statement, Collins said he learned of the allegations "simultaneously" to Gallant's call to reporters, in "a surprising and intimidating meeting" with two retiring Liberal MLAs and someone from Gallant's office.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said they "proceeded in the fairest way possible" in handling the allegations. (CBC)

"I was placed upon the [altar] of public consumption then and there for reasons not yet completely clear," Collins wrote.

"I could never place my name or reputation in support of this 'Leader' again."

Reached by telephone by CBC Information Morning Moncton, Collins said he was not doing interviews and the news release was clear.

'Fairest way possible'

Gallant issued his own statement Thursday night responding to Collins. He said ensuring a harassment-free workplace was paramount and "we proceeded in the fairest way possible to respect the rights of all concerned."

He also praised Collins as a "passionate representative" of his riding and said the Liberals would now seek a new candidate for Moncton Centre.

Chris Collins will fight the harassment allegations against him, according to his lawyer. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

Collins was first elected in a 2007 by-election in Moncton East. He was charged with assault after an incident in a Fredericton bar later that year between him and a Progressive Conservative staffer.

Elected Speaker after 2014 vote

The incident took place mere months after Collins's son Sean died of cancer at the age of 13. The Crown later withdrew the charge after Collins agreed to perform volunteer work as part of an alternate-measures program.

Collins was re-elected in 2010 and in the new riding of Moncton Centre in 2014. He was elected Speaker when the new legislature convened.

Little is known about the allegations, including whether the alleged harassment was sexual and whether it involved a man or a woman.

Gallant said last month that his office had been aware of "personality conflicts" between Collins and a legislature employee "previously." He said in February his office found out a complaint might be coming, but it was only officially made in April.

Rejects harassment claim

The committee of MLAs that oversees the legislature approved the hiring of an independent investigator to look into the complaint.

Collins's lawyer, T.J. Burke, a former Liberal minister and colleague, said last month Collins would defend himself in that investigation because the harassment "did not occur."

T.J. Burke, the lawyer representing Chris Collins, told media members the allegations against his client did not occur. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

Burke said he wanted to cross-examine the complainant.

Burke also suggested the allegation was politically motivated to create "political turmoil" for Collins so that Gallant would have a rationale to have another candidate run for the Liberals in Moncton Centre.

Felt rights were violated

In his Thursday email statement, Collins did not repeat that accusation, but he said Gallant had ignored due process and prejudiced the investigation against him.

"A citizen's rights should be protected, not violated, on national television," Collins wrote. "Who has ever handled [a human resources] file in this manner?"

Collins also said the actions by Gallant and his staff "have not created a safe place for complainants to come forward with a complaint or a concern.

"They have made it an intimidating process where the right to privacy is questioned through the politicizing of a process itself."

Even so, Collins said he's looking forward to the investigation process.

Political plans unclear

In his statement, Collins thanked several friends and supporters, including the Moncton Centre Liberal riding association that is on the record supporting his right to defend himself against the allegations before a nominating convention is scheduled.

Collins also thanked former Liberal cabinet minister Mike Murphy, whom Collins supported in the 2012 Liberal leadership race that Gallant won.

During that race, Collins discussed the possibility Gallant would recruit a rival candidate for the Moncton East Liberal nomination.

In an email mistakenly copied to fellow MLAs and made public, Collins threatened, if blocked by Gallant from running as a Liberal, to compete as an independent to spoil the party's chances in the riding.

But the day Gallant was elected leader, Collins declared he would support Gallant.

"In politics, a lot of things are taken out of your hands," he said at the time. "The membership of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick have thrown their support behind Brian Gallant. That decision I have to respect, and I will."

Murphy's wife, Moira Murphy, is now the PC candidate in Moncton South. Collins said in his statement that Mike Murphy has offered him "solid advice" since the allegations became public last month.

Murphy declined to comment Thursday night.

While Collins said he won't run again as a Liberal, he said he still has "many decisions to make about my political and professional future," leaving open the possibility he may run for another party or as an independent candidate.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.