N.S. premier fires political staffer for comments about Liberal MLA
Angela Simmonds says she deserves to feel safe at Province House
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston fired a political staffer on Thursday after learning they made racist comments about Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds in a social media exchange.
Houston had a meeting with Simmonds and Liberal Leader Iain Rankin to inform them about it shortly after it was brought to his attention by his own staff.
"The premier wanted to let me know that there was some racist, inappropriate, derogatory comments made about me on social media by one of his staffers," Simmonds said in an interview.
The messages were exchanged between the staffer, who worked with the Justice department, and a friend. In Snapchat exchanges the staffer said Simmonds didn't know what she was talking about and was quick to "play the race card."
Simmonds said the premier made clear the staffer's actions weren't acceptable and wouldn't be tolerated within government. She's hopeful something positive can come from it.
"That something is going to be that you cannot treat people this way or say things about people without having consequences for your actions, in particular when we serve the public," she said.
"I can't come into a legislature as a Black woman, doing my job in a space that it doesn't feel safe and every time I raise issues of importance it then becomes about a Black woman who doesn't know what she's talking about or playing a race card or those sort of behaviours."
Simmonds said it was particularly troubling because she'd been in meetings with the staffer in her capacity as the Liberal justice critic.
Zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour: premier
The premier said he was "taken aback" upon learning what happened. He said he wanted Simmonds to hear about it from him and to know he'd be taking action.
"There is zero tolerance for any type of inappropriate behaviour," Houston said in an interview.
The attention of his government is focused on "making sure that people know there's no room for racism in our society," he said. There will always be work to do on the issue and Houston said he's committed to doing it.
"I haven't walked in the shoes. I'm always trying to learn and to listen and to be respectful."
The Liberals have a bill before the House aimed at creating a multi-year strategy and action plan to eliminate racism and hate from government departments, Crown corporations and arm's-length organizations. It includes definitions for what constitutes racism and hate.
Simmonds said passing that legislation would send the message that "we were heard, and we matter."
"Change is about progression and that's what this bill would mean, is that we are moving forward. We're defining things that have never been defined before … And it raises the bar of how we need to treat people."
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