MLA points to privacy when asked to explain 10-day absence from legislature

ST. PETER’S: Nova Scotia’s only Independent MLA has responded to questions about her absence for nearly half of the fall sitting of the legislature.

Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon was present for the first 11-days of the Nova Scotia Legislature but absent the last 10. She did notify Speaker of the House Kevin Murphy on a daily basis requesting permission to be absent in advance of each sitting, as required, but didn’t provide a reason for her absences.

“We have a right to hold public officials accountable,” Paon told The Reporter in a short written statement. “But at the same time, we should not demand that they share every aspect of their personal lives.”

Despite following the rules under the standing orders of the House of Assembly, Murphy said Paon was only doing so at the “bare minimum” by only requesting permission to be absent and choosing not to provide a reason.

In order to ensure greater accountability for all MLAs, the speaker will seek approval under the jurisdiction of the Assembly Matters Committee to change the rule, to add further provisions requiring an MLA to provide a reason for their absence that the speaker then has discretion to deem acceptable or not.

“She’s not the first member to be absent for a day or two, or even for a quasi-extended period, but it has been the practice of members in the past to indicate to the speaker some reason why they’re going to be absent,” Murphy said. “The house only sits twice a year, it’s incumbent on the members to make every effort to be present when the house sits during that concentrated period of time.”

In her brief explanation, Paon didn’t provide the reason for her 10-day absence, but maintained that she followed proper political procedure.

She added that she welcomes the debate on the rule change.

“I have met the requirements for reporting my absence to the House of Assembly speaker,” she said. “I welcome a public dialogue about finding a common-sense balance between public accountability and our personal privacy rights as Canadian citizens.”