PICTOU: Speaking via telephone to media across the province this afternoon, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston confirmed he’s removed Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon from his caucus.
He phoned Paon earlier in the day, he said, and let her know his decision.
“That’s not an easy conversation for anyone to have,” he said. “This was not a decision taken lightly, but we’re committed to ensuring that people around the PC caucus table are committed to doing their best for their constituents, so the situation with the accessibility of the office was the final straw,” Houston said.
Paon was ordered by the House of Assembly Management Commission (HAMC) to make the gravel driveway at her constituency office at least partially paved or have a concrete pad installed to make it compliant with the house’s accessibility rules.
She had until June 20 to comply or she was going to be forced to start paying the rent out-of-pocket.
Calling the deadline “unfair,” Paon told The Reporter that nearly $20,000 in improvements were done around her constituency office during her first year as a tenant, including an accessible ramp, expanding the entrance and installing an accessible washroom.
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 the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
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. An e-mail the following day from the speaker’s office detailed the provision on having the parking lot changed.
In discussing the matter with The Reporter last week, Paon said she is very disappointed that the members who sit on the HAMC – including Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster and two other opposition MLAs – put her in harm’s way financially.
Houston said Paon had made “unfounded and mean-spirited” comments publicly when arguing against the need to make her office more accessible, and “that’s not behaviour I’m willing to accept as leader of the PC Caucus.”
“The PC Caucus members are committed to making our constituency offices totally accessible to our constituents,” he said. “It’s particularly unfortunate that the Speaker and the House Assembly Management Commission were subjected to unfair accusations.”
When asked what Houston meant by “last straw,” the PC leader confirmed the accessibility issue wasn’t the only thing he saw as a problem.
“There’s been a pattern of behaviour that’s shown very poor judgement,” he said, adding that he is limited to what he can say, as this is a human resources issue. “But I will say there have been a number of issues around the management of her constituency office and her attendance in the constituency, and there’ve been issues with her apartment [in Halifax].
“I’ve met with her on a number of occasions to discuss these issues, and we weren’t seeing any progress or respect for the position of being an MLA.”
Houston said he’s heard from approximately a dozen constituents about Paon not being present in the community. He added that’s not something he’s heard about in relation to any other MLA.
Houston said he and the party will now look for a new candidate to keep the seat PC in the next election.
Shortly after the telephone call to Houston, The Reporter reached out to Paon’s constituency office for comment. A message was left, but it wasn’t responded to at press time.