Nova Scotia

Former NDP cabinet minister alleges Zach Churchill 'berated' and 'pushed' her

A former NDP cabinet minister and another Dexter-era colleague have both written the Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislature to describe what they claim was aggressive behaviour by Education Minister Zach Churchill.

Ramona Jennex is one of two former NDP members to write to Speaker about Churchill's behaviour

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill in Halifax on Nov. 8, 2018. (Robert Short/CBC)

Former Education Minister Ramona Jennex remembers the exact date of the "altercation" — April 13, 2012. 

In an email to Speaker Kevin Murphy, which she shared with CBC after a reporter requested it, the former New Democratic Party MLA for Kings South claims Zach Churchill, the Liberal MLA for Yarmouth, confronted her outside the chamber after he questioned her about her department's spending.

"Following an exchange in budget estimates, Mr. Churchill approached me when I exited the chamber and, using profane language, berated me verbally."

"Mr. Churchill poked me in the shoulder pushing me backwards while threatening me with his face very close to mine," she wrote.

"I reported the incident to the appropriate people in my caucus, and the decision was made to inform the leader of Mr. Churchill's party, the current Premier, and allow him to deal with the matter."

Jennex alleges 'pattern of behaviour'

Jennex told CBC she sent the letter to let the Speaker know about "this pattern of behavior" from Churchill.

"I believe Province House should be a safe and harassment free workplace," she wrote in her email.

Jennex said she was motivated to contact the Speaker after hearing about a similar confrontation between Churchill, the current education minister, and PC Leader Tim Houston.

Murphy has confirmed he received the email from Jennex on Monday evening, as well as an email from another former MLA.

"I received two correspondence from two former members indicating or alleging a similar event in the past," Murphy said.

The Liberal MLA for Eastern Shore would not discuss the details contained in those emails, nor would he identify who sent the second email.

"If those members want to provide their information to you, as a media, that'll be up to them," he said. "But I won't be doing that."

The former politicians passed on the information to all three party leaders. 

Ramona Jennex, shown in 2013, claims to have had an altercation with Zach Churchill in 2012. She is one of two former NDP members to claim Churchill acted aggressively toward them. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The House of Assembly is governed by an anti-harassment policy that covers MLAs, staff and legislature employees, but does not include former politicians.

Murphy closes the book

For Murphy, that meant a halt to the matter.

"If there's any further action on the matter it will be up to the two parties involved and as you're aware it came to the floor of the House and it was voted not to proceed to the Committee on Internal Affairs to take a look at it," he said.

"So as far as the Speaker is concerned the book is closed on the matter." 

Houston suggested the information shed new light on allegations he made against Churchill.

"I think they demonstrate a pattern of behavior and it's certainly behavior that is, in my eyes, not acceptable in any place of employment and not acceptable in this place of employment," he said.

"Did the premier know that these types of behaviours had happened before? When the premier was dismissive of what happened last week did he know?"

Churchill issues statement via premier's office

Churchill, who is in Yarmouth helping tend to a baby girl, was unavailable for comment. The premier's office issued a statement on his behalf.

"I have been made aware of letters to the Speaker, with allegations against me," it stated. "I do not recall either of the incidents in question.

"What I can say is I would never touch another Member of the Legislative Assembly in the manner suggested."

The statement concluded: "I have always believed the Legislature to be a place to debate policy but it seems of late some members of the opposition are more interested in coordinated personal attacks."