Nova Scotia

N.S. government confirms it's considering ousting Speaker of the House

The Progressive Conservative caucus had a meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the possible removal of their colleague, Keith Bain, as Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Opposition members say Speaker Keith Bain is fair and non-partisan

Progressive Conservative MLA Keith Bain was elected Speaker of the House last year following the Tories' election win in 2021. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

The Progressive Conservative caucus had a meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the possible removal of their colleague, Keith Bain, as Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Eastern Shore MLA Kent Smith confirmed to reporters at Province House on Wednesday there was "a brief phone call to discuss a bunch of things that were going on in the province."

According to Smith, one of those things was Bain's future as Speaker.

"Not removing, just succession planning," Smith said before excusing himself to attend another meeting.

Tory MLA Kent Smith, who represents the district of Eastern Shore, speaks to reporters at Province House on Wednesday. (CBC)

AllNovaScotia.com first reported the Tories are looking to convince Bain, a veteran MLA who represents Victoria-The Lakes, to step aside ahead of MLAs returning to the legislature next week for the fall sitting. The Speaker of the House presides over debates in the chamber and also enforces the rules of the legislature. They are elected by all MLAs and the position is independent from government.

Bain was tapped by Premier Tim Houston as his Speaker following the Tories' majority win in the 2021 provincial election.

In a brief interview Wednesday with CBC News, Bain declined to get into specifics about the situation.

"I have a job to do," he said.

"I respect democracy and have been chosen by the chamber and will continue to do that job until the House or I have decided to do otherwise."

A statement from Houston's office said the government is "always planning for the future."

"One year into the mandate is the right time for change, and we're currently contemplating a number of changes. The Speaker's office is not immune. We have strong caucus MLAs and we want to provide them opportunities to showcase their skills and grow their roles."

The previous Liberal government used the same Speaker for eight years. Each of the three Speakers before that served two years in the chair. That last Speaker in Nova Scotia to be removed against their will was in 1875.

'Fair and down the middle'

Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire, who has been thrown out of the chamber by Bain, said the current Speaker has done "an incredible job."

"I think he's very fair and down the middle," Maguire told reporters at Province House.

"Keith was put there because of the quality of his character."

Maguire said it's inappropriate for the premier's office or anyone else to try to oust the Speaker unless Bain wants to go. He suggested the effort by the Tories could be motivated by partisanship.

"You have a member who is highly respected on all sides, who everybody gets along with and has made some really fair decisions."

Past clashes with premier

Some of those decisions have ruffled the feathers of the premier.

Houston openly disagreed with the way Bain handled public health protocols at the legislature last spring when he reduced access to the building amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

The premier was also unhappy about Bain's decision to call for an independent review of MLA compensation, something the Speaker is required to do following a general election. MLAs were recalled last summer to pass legislation blocking the pay raise recommended by the binding review.

Maguire said he's heard the Tories want to install Smith as Speaker, a move he said would be "extremely partisan."

Smith told reporters he's had no conversations about becoming Speaker.

Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage Minister Pat Dunn speaks to a member of the premier's office staff on Wednesday. Dunn says Keith Bain has been "OK, I guess" as Speaker. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

New Democrat MLA Susan Leblanc, who has worked with Bain in her capacity as House leader, called him fair, honest and "a really great Speaker."

"It's really shocking and disappointing," she said.

"The members of the legislature elect the Speaker and if there is a move afoot to remove the speaker then that decision should come back to the legislature and be debated."

Leblanc said Bain has a long history of dedicated public service and if he wants to remain Speaker, he should remain in the chair.

"He deserves the job."

'OK, I guess'

Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage Minister Pat Dunn offered less effusive praise for Bain when asked for an assessment by a reporter on Wednesday.

"How's he doing? As far as I know, OK, I guess."

Dunn stuck to a similar script as Smith and the premier's office and offered no comment on whether he thought Bain should be replaced.

"We are now one year into government. Typically, in my experience, Year 1 going into Year 2, there's some changes in roles within the government circles. Whether there's going to be one or not, I don't know."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche

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