Nova Scotia

Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon missed half of fall sitting

The MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond missed 10 of 21 days of the fall sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature and no one seems to know why. Alana Paon has not responded to multiple attempts by CBC News to contact her for an explanation.

Speaker Kevin Murphy wants rule changed to force MLAs to explain absences

The Nova Scotia Legislature seat of Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon is shown empty on Oct. 25. She missed the last 10 days of the fall sitting without explanation. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Nova Scotia's only Independent MLA, Alana Paon, missed almost half of the fall sitting at the legislature, and no one seems to know why she was present for the first 11 days but absent the last 10.

The MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond and one-time PC caucus member did notify Speaker Kevin Murphy she would not be there, as required, but did not give any reason for her absences.

"At the minimum standard, she is meeting the current rules that we have," Murphy said in an interview at Province House on Wednesday, the last day of the fall sitting.

"It's nice that members are required to notify the House that they're going to be absent. We do not have a mechanism to ask for a reason why."

CBC News requested an explanation from Paon, but emails and phone messages were not returned.

In June, she was kicked out of the Tory caucus for what PC Leader Tim Houston called "mean-spirited" comments about the legislature's management commission, along with an unspecified "pattern of behaviour" related to her taxpayer-funded apartment expenses.

Paon's been embroiled in recent months in a dispute with the commission, which temporarily stopped covering the bills of her St. Peter's constituency office when she refused to pave a portion of its parking area.

Paon in the public gallery at the House of Assembly management commission meeting in September. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Murphy said Wednesday some MLAs do provide a reason when they notify him they won't be taking their seats in the House, but others don't. He said he would seek the approval of a standing committee to change those rules to ensure greater accountability.

"I'll be making a suggestion to the assembly matters committee that we amend those rules to require members to provide a reason for their absence that's acceptable to the Speaker."

Premier Stephen McNeil said he didn't know why Paon was absent but felt MLAs should be present during sittings.

"When the House is sitting, I believe all MLAs should be here unless they have a reason," he said.

McNeil said it was up to Paon to provide her constituents an explanation.

"That'll be up to them, whenever they get an opportunity, to pass judgment."

NDP MLA Tammy Martin used Paon's chair for storage earlier this week. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Houston said it was "concerning" an MLA would miss half a sitting.

"The legislature sits twice a year," he said. "They're not particularly long sittings and they're important sittings, so members should be in their chairs representing their constituents."

Asked if he would ever welcome Paon back into the PC caucus, Houston was unequivocal. 

"Everything that has transpired since she was removed from caucus has confirmed my decision."

Members of the legislative assembly are expected to show up for sittings, but can be absent with the Speaker's permission. Without one, an MLA "may be subject to the censure of the House and shall also forfeit such monetary amount per day as is determined by the House of Assembly Management Commission," according to the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly.

Wide latitude

The commission is same body that voted to stop paying the rent on Paon's constituency office because she refused to abide by the committee's definition of accessibility. Her landlord subsequently locked her out of the office, until she was able to convince the Speaker to reinstate the allowance.

While an elected representative could lose their seat for not showing up for sittings, there is wide latitude. The rules of the House of Assembly state the seat of any member absent for "two sessions consecutively shall be vacated."

Sessions, however, can run months or stretch on for years. When the PCs were last in government, one session lasted from Sept. 4, 2003, to May 4, 2006.