Independent MLA Alana Paon hires lawyer for rent dispute with Speaker's office
Speaker Kevin Murphy says the situation is unfortunate and unprecedented
Independent MLA Alana Paon has hired a lawyer to try to settle her dispute with the Speaker's office over unpaid rent for a constituency office from which she was recently evicted.
In a letter to Speaker Kevin Murphy dated Sept. 30, lawyer Dennis James says the House of Assembly management commission "had no express authority to impose" conditions on Paon saying that if she did not pave part of the gravel driveway at her office in St. Peter's, N.S., she would no longer receive rent.
It notes the Crown, not Paon, is the leasee, and as such "there is no legal excuse for the Speaker's office not to pay rent under the lease." The landlord changed the locks on Paon's constituency office after going unpaid for three months. Her work files are still in the office.
"For me to have to hire a private solicitor to help me with this matter is absurd," Paon said in an interview at Province House.
Approval or not?
The crux of the lawyer's argument is that although the driveway at the office was not paved, Transportation Department officials who reviewed the site before the lease was signed determined compacted gravel could meet the barrier-free requirements and recommended she apply for a waiver on the need to have it paved.
The letter notes that Paon and the landlord were provided a list of items that needed to be addressed to bring the office into barrier-free compliance and paving the driveway was not on that list.
"Ms. Paon has been unfairly made out to be resistant to achieving barrier free access," James writes. "Nothing could be further from the truth. She has met her obligations and she feels that her rights and privileges as Member of the Legislative Assembly have been violated."
The letter refers to a June 2018 meeting of the management commission where Murphy, who chairs the meetings, indicated he was fine with the variance. However, at the prompting of Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis, the commission asked Paon to look at doing some paving within 12 months.
Legislature counsel noted during the meeting that the request would not be binding. A year later when paving hadn't happened, the commission indicated the province would stop paying the rent and Paon was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus by Leader Tim Houson.
In an interview, Murphy confirmed he received the letter, although declined to discuss its contents.
"I'll keep that confidential between me and [Paon]," he said.
Murphy called the situation unfortunate and unprecedented. The goal is to resolve the issue as soon as possible, he said, but there is a lot of information to gather and review to determine what happens next.
Part of the challenge has been getting a hold of Paon to discuss the matter, said Murphy.
"When the Speaker's office reaches out to an MLA, usually we get a fairly prompt response and in this case we've had many, many documented attempts to outreach to this particular MLA that have gone unreplied to," he said.
Paon wants an apology
Paon didn't directly answer whether she'd avoided attempts from the Speaker's office to contact her.
"I cannot answer questions that they are asking me with regard to leasehold improvements and anything to do with the lease because I have no authority on that," she said.
Other than media reports, Murphy said his office has yet to receive official word from the landlord that Paon has been evicted. Part of the efforts by his office right now include reviewing policies so they "ensure that we don't encounter this again," said Murphy.
The Speaker said his understanding of the waiver Paon received was that it would be for 12 months, and that she had a directive to investigate options to get into compliance with rules for barrier-free status. Murphy said emails from Paon seemed to indicate that's what was happening until the 12 months expired.
Paon, who received a quote of $16,141.40 to have a concrete ramp installed and a 640 square-foot portion of the lot paved to be accessible, said she could not justify spending that much of her constituency budget for something she does not believe she was ever actually required to do.
She said she believes she's owed "a huge apology."
"I have been given erroneous information for over a year now," said Paon.
"I've been led to believe that I needed to pursue paving the parking lot at my constituency office and that is not the case at all."