MLA back in constituency office after hiring lawyer over dispute

Last spring, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon was ordered to partially pave the parking lot at her constituency office in St. Peter's (pictured).

TRURO: Independent MLA Alana Paon has regained access to her constituency office and has hired Truro lawyer Dennis James to assist her on the issue of funding for her office and to respond to allegations that she has not achieved barrier-free compliance.

On October 4, a press release from the Cape Breton-Richmond MLA said Gordon Hebb, Chief Legislative Counsel and Statute Revision Officer, from the Office of the Legislative Counsel, sent James a letter that back rent was being paid by the province to the end of October.

On Monday, Paon announced that she now has access to the office in St. Peter’s after being locked out for almost three weeks.

“This file has been abominably mismanaged,” Paon said in the press release. “I have been stating that I have been compliant since 2018 throughout this entire debacle and yet it is me who has been provincially and nationally villainized, while others walk away unscathed.”

In a nine-page letter addressed to Speaker Kevin Murphy dated September 30, James says there is no legal excuse for the Speaker’s Office not to pay rent under the lease.

“Regardless of the views of the House of Assembly Management Commission [HAMC], any default of an MLA in meeting commission directions does not excuse the Speaker’s Office from meeting obligations that it legally contracted to fulfill,” James said. “There is no language in the lease with Janova that permits the Speaker’s Office to discontinue rent payments should an MLA act or not act in contravention of a commission decision.”

The essence of their argument is despite the driveway not being paved, Sid Rahey, a property officer for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal – who investigated the proposed office prior to the Speaker’s Office signing the lease – explained to Paon that compacted gravel could meet the requirements of the building code regulations for barrier-free access. Rahey recommended Paon apply for a variance to the barrier-free regulations as this amounted to a technical non-compliance.

The letter states Paon and the landlord, Janova Incorporated, were given advice on what renovations were required of the office to meet the barrier-free access regulations, Janova met each of the required structural improvements and was not required to pave the parking lot.

The letter also says Paon understood a waiver was given by the HAMC at its meeting of June 12, 2018, under the advice of the Legislative Counsel.

“The language of the regulations make it clear that once the waiver was granted and Ms. Paon was compliant with her obligations as a member, the commission had no express authority to impose further conditions,” James said. “This is the essence of the advice from Legislative Counsel when the commission was told it was ‘unenforceable.’”

In a letter from Murphy to Paon dated June 21, 2018, the speaker confirms that she is in compliance as NSTIR advised this non-compliance was merely technical in nature, and on that basis, the commission granted the requested waiver.

Even though Paon had been deemed compliant, she explored the possibility of paving and received quotes for a concrete pad and ramp for $16,141.40, which represents 19.5 per cent of the constituency budget for Cape Breton-Richmond. Paon said she could not and cannot justify taking that amount from her constituency budget to address what was deemed a non-issue.

“Ms. Paon has been unfairly made out to be resistant to achieving barrier-free access. Nothing could be further from the truth,” James said. “She has met her obligations and she feels that her rights and privileges as Member of the Legislative Assembly have been violated. This situation has to be remedied by the Speaker’s office immediately so Ms. Paon can reclaim her office space and continue to do her work as MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond.”