2 female MLAs allege premier's conduct intimidating, seek ruling from Speaker

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Independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin has asked Speaker Keith Bain to rule on whether Premier Tim Houston's behaviour was meant to intimidate her. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
Independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin has asked Speaker Keith Bain to rule on whether Premier Tim Houston's behaviour was meant to intimidate her. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

Two MLAs are accusing Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston of abusive behaviour meant to intimidate opposition members, particularly women.

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who has sat as an Independent since being tossed from the PC caucus for participating in a blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway last summer, has asked Speaker Keith Bain to rule on whether her former leader's behaviour was meant to intimidate her.

She said after she complained about what she considered the premier's attempt to influence the chair of a committee during debate, Houston lobbed an insult her way "loud enough for everyone in the chamber to hear".

"He made a derogatory comment meant to intimidate and meant to embarrass me," said Smith-McCrossin. "It was very upsetting."

"It makes me feel uncomfortable to even come in this chamber to know that there are things being said and done to purposely intimidate me, which I do feel affects my ability to work effectively and confidently to represent the people of Cumberland North."

Houston won't say what he said

According to former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Regan, Houston shouted, "Why don't you block another highway?" Smith-McCrossin confirmed that's what she heard too.

But as MLAs filed out of the chamber after the sitting officially ended late Friday, Houston flatly denied that's what he said.

"No, I did not," he said. "Listen, look, tensions are always high in the House, particularly at the end of the sessions."

"Session's over. It was a productive session. Lots of legislation passed and budget passed. We're going to leave on a high note."

Asked what he did say to Smith-McCrossin, Houston responded, "Look, things happen in the chamber and things get said back and forth," he said.

"We closed the session and it's a good day and we're going home and back to our constituencies."

Incident involving cabinet minister

In a separate but related incident, Regan has officially complained to the Speaker about the way a PC cabinet minister treated her and others.

Smith-McCrossin left the chamber after the disagreement with Houston. Regan joined her with another Liberal, Patricia Arab.

The three were speaking when Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek walked by and called the women a "coven," or gathering of witches.

Apology from cabinet minister

The cabinet minister admitted doing that and publicly apologized for the remark yesterday.

"I take full responsibility for my actions," said Corkum-Greek. "My greatest disappointment is in myself to have allowed myself to be caught up in the moment here.

"I know that I did not conduct myself as my best self in the person I wish to be and for that I am very apologetic."

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

Regan acknowledged that apology, but also put the blame for what happened on Houston.

"I do accept her apology, but what I don't accept is what led up to that because I do feel that by the continuous actions of the premier in doing things like directing chairs in their duty or by doing things like yelling things at a member with whom he has a [personal] beef, he is trying to intimidate members of this House," Regan said on the floor of the chamber.

Premier says he's 'focused on Nova Scotians'

Houston brushed off the accusations and the appeal to the Speaker.

"There's lots of points of order during the session," he said. "It's just the way of the legislature. People see opportunities, they try to take them but I'm just very focused on Nova Scotians."

Last fall, after a similarly raucous sitting, Houston pledged to improve decorum at Province House.

"Everyone's getting a little bit cranky, I would say. I made a commitment on the floor of the House and I'll make that anywhere else that, as premier, I have a responsibility to set the standard and I'll do better to raise the decorum in the House, as well," said Houston last October.

During that sitting Houston also apologized after suggesting minimum wage jobs aren't "real jobs."

Previous apology

The premier and Corkum-Greek were not the only MLAs whose conduct was called into question during this spring's sitting.

Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire apologized to Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane following comments he made directed at her during budget debate.

Since the spring sitting has come to an end, Speaker Keith Bain's ruling on the complaints against Houston and Corkum-Greek won't come until the fall sitting.

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