Nova Scotia

Parking lot fight 'final straw' as MLA Alana Paon kicked out of PC caucus

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston has kicked Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon out of caucus, saying her clash with an all-party committee demanding she pave part of her constituency driveway was the 'final straw.'

Leader Tim Houston calls comments surrounding committee's accessibility demand 'mean-spirited'

Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon was kicked out of the Tory caucus on Monday. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston has kicked Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon out of the PC caucus.

Houston made the announcement Monday citing "unfounded and mean-spirited comments" by Paon aimed at the Speaker's office and members of the all-party House of Assembly Management Commission.

Paon has been embroiled in a spat over the parking lot at her constituency office in St. Peter's, N.S. She had been ordered by the commission to have part of the gravel lot paved in order to comply with accessibility rules. 

On Friday, she suggested in an interview with CBC News she would fight the move and that she felt bullied and harassed. 

On Monday, Houston said her public comments to CBC News were the "last straw."

"The comments ... alluding to harassment from the committee members or people in the Speaker's office being unreasonable, those are the ones that I took particular offence to," said Houston during a brief conference call with reporters from his constituency of Pictou East.

'It's not a one-off'

Houston also complained about "a pattern of behaviour" related to her taxpayer-funded apartment expenses that were problematic.

He refused to be specific, calling it a human resources issue. But he said he had talked to her repeatedly about the need to improve things, including showing up more frequently at her constituency office.

Houston said at least a dozen of her constituents have complained to him about Paon not being at her office.

"It's not a one-off," said Houston. "It's not that one person said it to me.

"Different people have been saying it to me over probably the last four months."

He said he has told her to be in the office "as much as possible."

Paon "puzzled and in shock"

Last week, Paon threatened legal action and complained of being bullied after the legislature committee ruled unanimously that she either had to pave part of the parking lot or no longer receive funding for her office rent. As of Friday, her office rent is no longer an allowable expense.

An accessible parking spot is located next to the ramp leading to MLA Alana Paon's constituency office. (Submitted)

In a response on social media Monday evening, Paon said Houston's decision to boot her from caucus left her "puzzled and in shock."

"I filed paperwork with the Speaker's Office in May 2018 reporting that my office complied with barrier-free workplace requirements," the statement read. "I was elected to be the voice of constituents in Cape Breton-Richmond. I will have more to say more about my future plans in the coming days."

Paon's statement made no reference to expenses or to her attendance at the St. Peter's constituency office.

The parking lot at Paon's St. Peter's office is gravel. She was told by the House of Assembly management commission that part of the parking lot needed to be either paved or covered with a concrete slab.

While Paon initially said she planned to bring the office into compliance, on Friday she reversed course and said her legislative colleagues were being unreasonable and many upgrades had already been made by her landlord at the office.

"I am vehemently opposed to having to pay for a private business owner's parking lot out of a constituency budget," she told CBC News on Friday. "I just think that's absolutely ridiculous."

A call for patience

Paon went on to suggest her office should get a non-compliance exemption like the one given to Health Minister Randy Delorey. The Antigonish MLA has an exemption because one of the doors in his constituency office is eight millimetres thinner than the accessibility rules require.

Paon is the only MLA whose office is not considered barrier-free by standards adopted by the legislature in 2013 and which came into force following the 2013 provincial election. Paon was elected in 2017, defeating Liberal cabinet minister Michel Samson.

Houston's decision to remove the rookie MLA from caucus means the composition at Province House is now 27 Liberal MLAs, 17 Tories, five NDP members and two Independents.

Houston called on the constituency for patience as the party works with the local electoral district association to find a candidate for the next provincial election, which will likely come in 2021.