“I’m uncomfortable with it. That was the legal advice that was received, but to me it doesn’t add up.” -David Coon
Article by: JACQUES POITRAS
Photo by: CBC
Speaker Chris Collins will fight the harassment allegations against him, according to his lawyer. On Monday, it was announced Collins has given up his administrative duties at the legislature. New Brunswick Speaker Chris Collins intends to fight the harassment allegations against him “tooth and nail” but has given up his administrative duties over the legislature, his lawyer announced Monday.
T.J. Burke, a former Liberal colleague of Collins, said the Moncton MLA still hasn’t been told who is making the allegations against him.But Burke said Collins will defend himself and wants to be able to cross-examine the complainant.”You can rest assured he’s going to defend himself against every single allegation because it did not occur,” Burke told reporters.Collins will retain his position, title and the additional salary the Speaker gets.
T.J. Burke, the lawyer representing Speaker Chris Collins, told media members Monday the allegations against his client did not occur.Burke’s comments came just hours before the legislature administration committee, known as LAC, unanimously agreed that the clerk of the legislature will recruit an independent investigator to examine the allegations.
Burke said Collins would co-operate with any investigation.Burke also made the sensational allegation that the complaint was timed to come to light now, less than five months before the start of the provincial election campaign, so that Collins could be replaced as the Liberal candidate in his Moncton Centre riding.
Burke said while Collins has not been given any information about the allegation, the only situation that might have led to a complaint involved someone who hasn’t worked for him for more than two years.”I don’t have to be Inspector Clouseau to figure that part out,” he said. “My political hat suggests to me that this is politically driven by whoever the person is who is bringing forward the allegations at this time.
“If you’re in political turmoil, or there is an allegation against you, the premier won’t sign your nomination papers. That means it frees up the position for somebody to run in that riding.”Moncton Centre Liberal MLA Chris Collins pictured at the New Brunswick legislature.
Collins hasn’t been nominated yet as the Liberal candidate for the riding he now represents, and Premier Brian Gallant says he won’t approve the nomination of anyone suspended from the Liberal caucus.Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau, part of the LAC meeting that approved the investigation Monday, wouldn’t comment on Burke’s allegation.”I’m not going to speak for other people or try to interpret what other people are saying,” he said.
Premier Brian Gallant revealed the allegation against Collins last Thursday.Gallant said his office had been “previously” aware of “personality conflicts” between Collins and an employee and arranged to have the employee transferred to another job.I think the Speaker’s being railroaded, period.- Dan Bussières , former sergeant-at-arms
This February, he said, his office became aware there might be a complaint, but it was only last week that the former employee officially made the complaint.Gallant expelled Collins from the Liberal caucus and asked the all-party legislature administration committee to suspend him from his administrative functions as Speaker.Mario Levesque, assoc. prof. at Mt. Allison University, talks about the political future of Moncton Centre MLA Chris Collins in the wake of allegations he harassed a former employee of the legislature. 9:22
He also asked the committee to “partner” with the government to hire an independent third-party investigator to look into the complaint.
But Monday’s LAC decision was that the legislature’s clerk will “lead” the process of finding that investigator.PC MLA Stewart Fairgrieve said that was the result of his party’s insistence.
“This allegation came from an employee or a former employee … of the legislative branch, and it was our feeling that the legislative branch, through the [committee], should lead this.”PC MLA Stewart Fairgrieve said the Opposition would be satisfied with the legislature’s clerk overseeing the selection of an investigator.
The Tories also compromised. They had demanded a public inquiry into the allegations, but MLA Stewart Fairgrieve said they were satisfied that having the clerk oversee the selection of the investigator would ensure no political interference.He said that was a separate issue from PC concerns that Gallant was aware of possible harassment before last week and did not act on it earlier.
Gallant said his office couldn’t act until the official complaint was filed April 5, but Fairgrieve handed out copies of a government harassment policy that says senior officials must take action about harassment “whether or not a complaint is filed.”Boudreau said it wasn’t clear how long the investigation would take, and he wouldn’t comment on how that would affect Collins’s possible candidacy in the election.
Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau says it’s unclear how the long the investigation into the allegations against Speaker Chris Collins would take.
“I certainly can’t speculate on how long the investigator will take,” he said. “We simply asked that it be done as quickly as possible in the interest of both parties involved in this.”He said it wasn’t his place to discuss whether the Liberal party should hold off on setting a nominating meeting in Moncton Centre until after the investigation is finished.
Green Party Leader David Coon said he agreed to the process despite his concerns that the complaint went not to the legislature but to the executive council office, the central government office under Gallant’s authority.
He said he was also disappointed that he and other members of the legislative administration committee weren’t told the substance of the complaint.Green Party Leader David Coon says he wants to see the results of the investigation made public. “I’m uncomfortable with it,” he said. “That was the legal advice that was received, but to me it doesn’t add up.”He said he hopes the conclusions of the investigation are made public.A former sergeant-at-arms of the legislature, Dan Bussières, injected himself into the issue Monday by appearing at the legislature to argue that the committee meeting was “illegitimate.” The house rules say only the Speaker can chair a LAC meeting.
“If I was Speaker Collins, I would have walked into that meeting and said, ‘No, I did not call this meeting, I am the chair of this meeting and I’m recalling the house,'” he said. “I think the Speaker’s being railroaded, period.”Bussières called Collins “a true gentleman” and said he had never seen him act in a way that could be considered harassment.
Dan Bussières, former sergeant-at-arms of the legislature, called the LAC meeting on Monday illegitimate’ because only the Speaker can chair such a meeting. Boudreau brushed off Bussières’s comments about the legitimacy of the meeting.”I’m not sure what that’s about, but we were well within our responsibilities today as per the clerk of the legislature.”
Burke said Monday that Collins would co-operate with the investigation.Collins was elected on March 5, 2007, in a byelection held to fill a vacancy in the constituency of Moncton East.He had previously served three years as a Moncton city councillor.In 2010, Collins served briefly as the minister of local government under former Liberal premier Shawn Graham.He was re-elected in 2014 to represent the newly created riding of Moncton Centre and was elected Speaker.