Suspension of Elections N.L. CEO was overdue, says Paul Lane, who wants Speaker's office investigated

·3 min read
Paul Lane, Independent MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands, says Bruce Chaulk, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer, should have been suspended earlier.  (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Paul Lane, Independent MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands, says Bruce Chaulk, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer, should have been suspended earlier. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

Paul Lane says he's not surprised by the suspension of Bruce Chaulk, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer — he just thinks it should have happened sooner.

Independent MHA Lane was among the first to demand the provincial government release a report detailing allegations of bullying and harassment at Elections N.L.

On Wednesday, Chaulk was suspended on the recommendation of the House of Assembly Management Commission over the allegations. Chaulk's suspension is in effect until an independent review is completed.

"Where I'm really frustrated and disappointed is the fact that these actions arguably should have been taken three months ago once that whistleblower report was provided to the Speaker's office by the citizens' representative," Lane said Thursday.

"For some unknown reason that report just sat there in the Speaker's office for three months and we cannot seem to get any real clarification from the Speaker and justifications as to why that happened."

In May, Lane told reporters a report accusing an officer of the House of workplace bullying and harassment had been submitted to the Office of the Citizens' Representative two months earlier.

Lane accused speaker Derek Bennett of hiding the alleged whistleblower report regarding a senior official and toxic workplace culture at Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

Lane said Bennett is the only person who can explain why the report wasn't released, but added Bennett has yet to provide any answer. That's why, Lane said, he's calling on the House of Assembly Management Commission to investigate the Speakers' office.

"It's not just the report itself but the actions of the Speakers' office in withholding it for so long," Lane said. "He has to be held accountable as well."

No timelines

Lane said he's also called for a review of the House of Assembly Accountability and Transparency Act.

He said the way the act is written leaves itself open to being abused.

Paul Daly/The Canadian Press
Paul Daly/The Canadian Press

"I've asked for that legislation to be reviewed to make it more rigid, more prescriptive so that there's no wiggle room so that there's a set process that has to be followed in these situations with strict timelines," said Lane.

"Right now in the legislation, while it does talk about a series of steps that would be taken, there's no specific time frames listed for any of them."

Given there's no strict timelines, Lane said, the report could have sat on the Speaker's desk for two years with no obligation to do anything with it.

Investigating the election

It's also been over a year since the member for Mount Pearl-Southlands tabled a resolution demanding an investigation by the House of Assembly into the most recent provincial election itself.

The election call was criticized for coming in the winter, well into the COVID-19 pandemic and less than two years after the previous provincial election. A couple of weeks after the election call, case counts started to tick upward and then spiked in the days leading up to voting day, prompting Elections N.L. to move voting to a mail-in system that dragged on for weeks.

Lane said his motion still sits on the order paper in the House.

"I'm very disappointed that the government would not call that and would have no part of an independent investigation into the election," he said.

"I think given the revelations now that are occurring, one could certainly see why they wouldn't want to do that perhaps. Knowing what we know now I think this reinforces the need for an independent investigation."

When the House returns in the fall, Lane said, he plans to renew his call for an investigation but added he suspects the provincial government will continue to ignore it.

"I'm certainly not giving up on this," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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