Andrew Younger's cabinet exclusion still a mystery
Premier Stephen McNeil has never explained why he sidelined his energy minister
The MLA for Dartmouth East is doing what many of us do this time of year — he's taking a holiday with his family.
Andrew Younger likely needs a break because it's been a stressful time for him and his family.
He has been receiving death threats and he's at the centre of an unusual court case. Police have charged a former liberal staffer, Tara Gault, and accused her of attacking Younger on the day the Liberals were sworn into office on Oct. 22, 2013.
What's even more unusual is the fact the premier has excused Younger from his cabinet duties.
He did so on Dec. 23 — but Premier Stephen McNeil has never explained why he sidelined his energy minister. McNeil says Younger asked for time off to deal with "personal matters that require his full attention."
Younger has not spoken publicly about the matter, but he has resumed normal office hours at his constituency and he's attending events regularly, just like every other sitting MLA.
But unless the premier has a change of heart, when the legislature resumes on March 26, Younger will take his seat as a minister without a portfolio. His cabinet colleague Michel Samson, who is acting energy minister, will be fielding questions on his behalf.
Following Thursday's regular cabinet meeting, the premier was asked, once again, if there was any news on Younger's status.
McNeil's response was terse: "No, nothing has changed."
Asked why, the premier responded that Younger was away on vacation and the two men "have not had an opportunity to talk," despite being in the same caucus meeting and the length of time — three months — that has passed since Younger was first excluded from cabinet.
"That's not that odd for two very busy people," McNeil said.
What is odd is that Nova Scotians don't really know why Younger no longer sits at the cabinet table, and what needs to happen before he'll be allowed to take his seat again.
"We have to have a chat to see how things are going but, as you know, everyone sits in cabinet at the discretion of the premier," said McNeil. "Those members who sit in there this week are in the same boat."
So is Younger welcome to come back to cabinet?
The premier remains non-committal.
"He's been an extremely effective cabinet minister," said Mcneil. "He's worked very hard on behalf of the people of the province, just like I have a number of members who have never been in cabinet I believe have the capacity to run a portfolio."
Some Nova Scotians have taken to writing the premier directly to lobby to have Younger reinstated. Others have been more public in championing his return.
They have two main concerns:
- Most are worried that the energy portfolio is too important to be handled part-time. Samson remains responsible for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, as well as Acadian Affairs, along with his temporary re-assignment to Energy.
- Others claim important work is not moving ahead as planned. They point to the fact fracking regulations, promised this winter, have still not been released.
McNeil, however, brushed aside those concerns.
"We're continuing to move forward. All of the things that we had laid out in place are continuing to move forward," he said.