Nova Scotia

MLA threatens to resign over Nova Scotia premier's office hire

Hants East MLA Margaret Miller said in an email and she and other female Liberal MLAs have been treated with disrespect by someone recently hired to work in Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin's office.

Premier Iain Rankin says he doesn't know anything about the allegations

Hants East MLA Margaret Miller recently expressed concern to Premier Iain Rankin's chief of staff about a new hire in the premier's office. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin says he has no evidence of improper behaviour by a member of his staff toward any MLAs in his caucus.

Hants East MLA Margaret Miller told the premier's chief of staff this week that she planned to resign from the Liberal Party caucus following a new hire by Rankin's office.

In an email on Tuesday to Joanne Macrae, obtained by CBC News, Miller writes that she is "beyond disappointed" and sees no other way to express her feelings.

"After hearing the news about Stephen Tobin receiving such a plum job after his atrocious behaviour, not only to me but most of the women of our caucus, I feel I have no recourse but to resign my seat effective June 1," Miller writes.

"Stephen has treated me with repeated disrespect, and I've witnessed his behaviour with my female colleagues. To reward such behaviour is something I cannot condone and I can't even fathom the thought process that allowed this misogynistic behaviour to happen."

AllNovaScotia.com first reported on the email.

Rankin says he's not read email

Last week, Tobin started working in the premier's office as director of strategic initiatives. Previously, he had been employed by the Liberal caucus office as director of strategic communications during the tenure of former premier Stephen McNeil.

Rankin told reporters on Thursday that he was aware of Miller's email but has not read it. He did not answer when asked if he'd discussed the email with her.

"I have zero tolerance for people that don't respect one another. I don't have any claims to suggest that any of the staff that I have don't treat people with respect."

Rankin said since becoming premier no issues have been brought directly to him related to Tobin's behaviour at caucus meetings. He said it would be up to Miller to respond any further.

In an email on Wednesday, Miller told CBC News she has not resigned and intends to fulfill her term, although she's focusing more on her husband's health, which has not been good in recent years, and less on being an MLA. She has previously announced she will not be reoffering in the next election.

"My support of the Liberal party and my hard-working colleagues has not wavered. I will be supporting them all in reelection and will make sure that our local candidate Michael Blois wins in the next election."

'That's absurd'

Miller declined any further comment.

The premier's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Wednesday.

Reached Tuesday evening by CBC News, Tobin denied the allegations and said it was the first he was hearing of them.

"I can't respond to that," he said. "That's absurd."

Stephen Tobin was recently hired as the director of strategic initiatives for Premier Iain Rankin's office. He previously worked for the Liberal caucus under former premier Stephen McNeil. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Tobin said he has no idea what Miller is referring to in her email or anything about his time working for the caucus office that would have caused her to form that impression. CBC News read Miller's email to Tobin.

"This is unfounded and I can't comment any further on that," he said. "This is very much not the case. Very much not the case."

Rankin's response 'immature and naive'

Tory MLA Karla MacFarlane called Rankin's response on Thursday nonchalant and dismissive of concerns brought forward by a colleague.

"I would go as far as saying the premier is very immature and naive on this issue," she told reporters.

Miller might have followed proper channels by going to the chief of staff, but MacFarlane said the premier, as soon as he found out, should have called his colleague.

"For him to find out and not pick up the phone and reach out to a member, an MLA who was a minister of a number of different portfolios, is really, really disheartening and I think it speaks volumes to the other female colleagues in his party and as well as those that are probably considering or have been nominated to run and represent the Liberal Party under his leadership. It's very disappointing."

MacFarlane has specific experience with such situations, having been thrust into the role of interim leader of her party when an investigation was launched into the conduct of former leader Jamie Baillie due to allegations he faced. MacFarlane said there is no excuse for the premier not to immediately look into the matter and that Tobin should take a leave from his job while that process unfolds.

Doesn't meet the standard of truthfulness

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Rankin's response, suggesting he's not aware of allegations, "doesn't meet the standard of truthfulness that we would expect from a premier."

Burill told reporters that for Rankin to suggest he's received no allegation, when he knows one was sent to his chief of staff, misses the mark.

"Rule 1 in the world of a leader's office is that when you're talking to the chief of staff, you're talking to the leader," he said.

If an accusation of misogynistic behaviour by staff were brought to his chief of staff, Burrill said that matter would be given "an immediate, urgent, top priority and would be seen to above all else."

CBC News attempted to contact multiple women in the Liberal caucus, none of whom responded to requests for comment.

Miller was first elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. During her political career she has served as the environment minister and natural resources minister.

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