McNeil forced to defend top campaign official with domestic assault conviction

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is defending Kyley Harris, a top campaign official who struck a woman in the face three years ago when he was the premier's spokesperson.

Liberal leader defends staffer with assault conviction and has run-in with angry citizen

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil defended campaign staffer Kyley Harris, saying he deserved a second chance after a conviction for assaulting a woman. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is defending a top campaign official who struck a woman in the face three years ago when he was the premier's spokesperson.

The story was given juice by federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, who said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that Kyley Harris's appointment as Liberal campaign communications director "sends a terrible" message.

On Thursday, McNeil said Harris deserved a "second chance."

Harris was given a conditional discharge for the assault in March 2015McNeil fired Harris for waiting to tell him about the incident, but Harris was rehired in 2015 as a Liberal caucus researcher.

Harris is now the communications director on McNeil's re-election campaign.

How Kyley Harris became an election story

Harris was present at the Liberal campaign kickoff the day the election was called. His appointment as communications director was first reported by The Coast, a weekly Halifax newspaper.

However, the story got traction when Ambrose's Facebook post put the issue on the campaign trail where McNeil and his opponents were talking about it.

PC Leader Jamie Baillie repeated the Ambrose line.

"When the premier chooses to re-employ a person who has pled guilty to a domestic assault, I have to question his judgment," he said.

McNeil said Harris had taken ownership for the assault, atoned for it and rebuilt his life.

"I don't think there is anyone standing in this room who doesn't deserve a second chance," McNeil said Thursday.

At the same time, he put distance between himself and Harris.

"He's not in our government and he's not in my inner circle, to be perfectly frank. But Kyley has been working in employment in the caucus office. He is part of this campaign team continuing to go forward," said McNeil.

McNeil defended his government's record on domestic violence and supports for women and children.

Family doctor promise 

The Liberal campaign wanted the day's focus to be on a commitment to spend $78 million over the next four years to expand and create more than 70 collaborative care teams across Nova Scotia.

McNeil also promised another $5 million per year to pay for construction and renovation of collaborative-care clinics and to add 50 new doctors a year.

Dr. Margaret Casey (right) at a campaign event with McNeil (left). (CBC)

The campaign event took place inside the Gladstone Professional Centre in Halifax. McNeil's proposal was endorsed by Dr. Margaret Casey, a legendary family physician, educator and community advocate who helped open the North End Community Health Centre.

In her remarks, Casey gently suggested McNeil collaborate more with Doctors Nova Scotia, the lobby group for physicians.

Reg Andrews staked out Thursday's Liberal press conference and then had harsh words for McNeil. (CBC)

Reg Andrews was also on hand. The 70-year old retired carpenter staked out the event to vent his frustration with a health-care system that left his 68-year-old wife without a doctor for two years.

Andrews, who has publicly complained about the situation before, handed McNeil a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the premier walked into an elevator.

"I gave it to him and told him how else he could screw us, the people of Nova Scotia," said Andrews.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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