Nova Scotia

MLA Alana Paon gets the keys back to her constituency office

Independent MLA Alana Paon has regained access to her Cape Breton constituency office.

Speaker of the House authorizes payment of back rent and future bills

Independent MLA Alana Paon has regained access to her St. Peters constituency office, at least for this month. (CBC)

Independent MLA Alana Paon has regained access to her constituency office.

The Cape Breton-Richmond MLA was evicted from her St. Peters office last month and her landlord changed the locks after going several months without receiving rent.

In the summer, the Nova Scotia Legislature's management commission voted to stop covering the bills when Paon refused to pave a portion of the office's parking area.

But Paon, who was kicked out of the Tory caucus over the matter, maintained that because the lease is not in her name and she was previously told by government officials the parking area was fine as it is, it wasn't within the commission's ability to hold back the rent.

A lawyer's letter sent on her behalf last week to Speaker Kevin Murphy reaffirmed as much. A day later, on Friday, in a letter to Paon's lawyer, counsel for the legislature wrote on behalf of Murphy to say rent up to and including the month of October would be paid as of that day.

'We were legally obligated to pay'

Murphy told reporters at Province House that after receiving the letter from Paon's lawyer informing him she'd been evicted, the legal advice he received was that the legal relationship was between his office and the landlord.

"We were legally obligated to pay the rent and that's what we did," he said.

Murphy said the rent would continue to be paid, unless something changes. While it would seem legislative staff made clear to members of the commission during meetings that they could not withhold Paon's rent, Murphy said ultimately the commission was within its right to pass a motion.

Ironically, members passed the motion despite Murphy, who uses a wheelchair, stating that he was fine with the condition of Paon's driveway.

"My recommendation to the commission last spring was that I was OK with the condition of the parking lot as a technical variance," he said.

"The commission saw fit after much debate to overrule the recommendation by me as the Speaker and that's well within the power of the commission to do so and here we are."

Speaker of the House Kevin Murphy would like to see changes made to the House of Assembly Act regarding MLAs' legal obligations for constituency offices. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

What remains an "open question" is what to do about the driveway, said Murphy. It's something the members of the commission must discuss. Although they aren't scheduled to meet again until sometime in November or December, Murphy said any member could call for a meeting sooner.

"It may be something that I decide to do myself."

Paon was able to get back into the office and access her files on Saturday. In an interview on Monday, she was critical of the uncertainty surrounding the paving issue.

"There has been no communication with regard to how the matter is going to be dealt with moving forward with the landlord and the leasehold improvements that they're asking me to do with regard to the parking lot," she said.

Murphy said he would like to see changes made in the House of Assembly Act to make clear the legal relationship between MLAs and their constituency office landlords should be between them, as opposed to between the landlord and the Speaker's office. He said he'd be making that recommendation to Premier Stephen McNeil after the matter with Paon is resolved.

Lots of attempts to talk

He doesn't think Paon has been hard done by in this situation because his office tried multiple times through the course of multiple months to contact her to discuss the matter and she did not respond.

"The Speaker's office has been readily accessible to the member," said Murphy.

"We can only do what we can do and in the absence of information, we kind of have to make decisions as that information becomes available to us."

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

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