Speaker of the House Kevin Murphy said he believes independent MLA Alana Paon’s constituency driveway is adequately accessible and had advised against refusing her rent money.
Murphy, who uses a wheelchair, chairs the House of Assembly Management Commission that decided in the summer to withhold rent payment to the Cape Breton-Richmond MLA after Paon refused to pave her St. Peter's office driveway. The commission determined that the driveway needed to be paved to meet accessibility rules. Murphy said his opinion was overruled by the committee and now the province is forced to pay back rent for the office up to and including October.
“My recommendation to the commission last spring was that I was OK with the condition of the parking lot as a technical variance,” said Murphy. “The commission saw fit after much debate to overrule the recommendation as the Speaker and that’s well within the power of the commission to do so, and here we are.”
Paon issued a news release Monday, with attachments, including a copy of a letter confirming the payment of the rent from Gordon Hebb, chief legislative counsel and statute revision officer. It confirmed that the back rent was being paid by the province to the end of October.
Paon had been locked out of the St. Peter’s office by her landlord on Sept. 15 over the unpaid rent.
In June, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston removed Paon from the PC caucus over issues including the accessibility of her constituency office. Paon is the only MLA with an office that is not considered barrier-free by the provincial standards in place since the 2013 election.
Attorney Dennis James sent a letter on Paon’s behalf to Murphy on Sept. 30 saying the province had broken its contractual obligations to pay rent on the office.
Murphy said the legal advice he received was that the matter was ultimately between his office and the MLA’s landlord. Murphy said he will recommend to Premier Stephen McNeil that the House of Assembly Act be changed so that the legal relationship exists directly between MLAs and their constituency office landlords.
James also wrote in his letter to Murphy that Paon achieved a barrier-free constituency office according to Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the Speaker’s office and the House of Assembly Management Commission.
Murphy said that the commission is scheduled to reconvene in late November or early December when it will attempt to resolve the matter.