ST. PETER’S: The MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond says she shouldn’t have to choose between paying the mortgage on her home or having to pay the provincial government’s portion of the rent for her constituency office.
Progressive Conservative MLA Alana Paon has been ordered by the House of Assembly Management Commission (HAMC) that the gravel driveway at her constituency office needs to be at least partially paved or have a concrete pad installed to make it compliant with the House’s accessibility rules.
She has until tomorrow to comply or else start paying the rent herself, out-of-pocket.
“The timeline is not fair. In the truth of the matter, there was early $20,000 in improvements done around accessibility in this building during the first year of my tenancy,” Paon told The Reporter Monday morning. “Including accessible ramp, making entry doorway larger, brand new accessible washroom installed, extraordinary amount of work, to bring this historical building up to accessible standards, as agreed upon by the speaker’s office.”
She’s not sure what more they could have done than having her landlord agree to a barrier-free compliance plan that she put together and received approval from the speaker’s office.
“After discussions with the speaker, who himself is a paraplegic, he recommended I have [transportation department] staff do an assessment of the property,” Paon indicated. “They made a recommendation to the speaker’s office, to grant a waiver, so I wouldn’t have to ask the landlord to incur costs again to pave the parking lot.”
As of May 27, 2018, all the upgrades agreed upon in her barrier free compliance plan were complete. The office was deemed barrier free by the speaker’s office as of May 27, 2018 with a waiver granted that it was not necessary for the parking lot to be paved, by Speaker Kevin Murphy.
This waiver was requested after an onsite review by and as per recommendation from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, since it is the lead for buildings, infrastructure and public spaces.
“Looking to the NS Accessibility Plan, it does say they will be conducting reviews of already occupied spaces to determine an action plan by 2030,” Paon said. “When I see other government departments being asked to achieve compliance by 2030, and I’m a brand new MLA being asked to achieve this within the first year of office, that’s a lot.”
Two weeks after she completed accessibility upgrades, HAMC had a meeting on June 12, 2018 and decided to pass a motion asking Paon to pave the driveway leading to her constituency office – in an e-mail the following day from the speaker’s office, it detailed the proviso on having the parking lot changed.
“Which is it? Do they want me to pave the parking lot or pave the driveway? Because the official motion is different from their request,” she said. “I’m being asked to pay out of my own constituency budget, which is taxpayer money, to pay for getting the parking lot paved on a private business. I personally think that is completely inappropriate.”
Paon explained she’s cognizant of accessibility issues, as her constituency has a high number of seniors, and her own brother is a paraplegic. She said she made it a priority that anyone who comes into her office feels comfortable.
“I know my landlord is wanting to do whatever he can to assist in this matter, but I believe this is a heavy-handed approach,” she said about the commission’s decision. “It is quite a slap in the face to both myself and my landlord whom has done an extraordinary job in making the space, not only accessible, but an asset to the community.”
Paon said she is very disappointed that the members who sit on the HAMC put her in harm’s way financially. She can’t believe she’s being told she has to pay the rent for a provincial constituency office out-of-pocket, simply because she can’t adhere to an arbitrary June 20 deadline date.
“I’m not an ‘or else’ kind of person, I have been speaking with my landlord to see about the possibility of having contractors come out for Thursday, but the possibility of having something done is slim,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen on Thursday but I will not be bullied and harassed in this manner which I really, truly feel that’s happening here.”