Nova Scotia

N.S. changing law to force MLAs to resign if they run for another office

The Nova Scotia government is changing a poorly worded law to force provincial representatives to give up their seats sooner if they choose to run in another province, or in a municipal or federal election.

Premier Stephen McNeil has been critical of 4 MLAs running in current federal election

Justice Minister Mark Furey, left, and Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter discuss the proposed changes on Oct. 10, 2019. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Nova Scotia MLAs hoping to jump to municipal politics or win a seat in Parliament or another provincial legislature will have to resign their seats sooner, once a bill introduced Thursday by the McNeil government becomes law.

Premier Stephen McNeil has been critical of four former MLAs who were nominated to run in the current federal election, but kept their seats while they campaigned for their chosen parties.

"When you seek another job, you should do the right thing: step down," Stephen McNeil told reporters in June.

Conservative Party of Canada candidates Eddie Orrell, Alfie MacLeod and Chris d'Entremont, and Liberal Party of Canada candidate Lenore Zann all resigned, but not immediately after being selected to run by their respective parties.

According to the current provision in the House of Assembly Act, an MLA must vacate their seat if that member "causes, suffers or permits himself" to be nominated as a federal candidate.

Chris d'Entremont, Eddie Orrell and Alfie MacLeod are three of the four candidates in the federal election who didn't immediately step down as Nova Scotia MLAs once they became federal candidates. (Robert Short/CBC/Pat Callaghan/CBC/CBC)

Because the law was vague and outdated, it allowed MLAs to remain on the job, as long as 21 days before election day.

The amendments introduced Thursday will force members of the House of Assembly to resign as soon as they are:

  • Nominated to run for a federal party.
  • Nominated as a candidate by a party in another province.
  • Nominated under the Municipal Elections Act.

Justice Minister Mark Furey denied the change was motivated by a desire to cut off the pay of MLAs campaigning for another job.

"There's been confusion around that timeline," said Furey. "It's about ending your commitment to one elected office in pursuit of another elected office."

Although the McNeil government is ready to change the rules for MLAs, municipal governments will draft their own rules for municipal representatives or officials who want to run for another office.

Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter introduced a bill to give municipal councils that power.

"They will have the ability and the responsibility to be clear on what the rules are around candidacy for councillors and those rules will also be clear for the general public," he said.

Municipal councils to make their own rules

Porter said although the province would like a single set of rules for all municipalities, he's leaving room for individual municipal governments to come up with rules that make the most sense for them.

Waye Mason, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, applauded this approach.

He said most municipal councillors are not full-time representatives, nor are they paid that way, and forcing them to resign if they seek higher office may end up costing municipal taxpayers unnecessarily.

"You're talking about places that are only a couple of hundred people," said Mason. "If they have to do a byelection because you forced them to resign or leave the position, there's really a chance they might run for office again when the byelection happens if they don't get elected.

"It's just a waste of energy and money, so you might want to see how it pans out."

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