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N.S. premier refuses to discuss future of Speaker ahead of new legislature session

Keith Bain’s future remains clouded
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston fields a question at a COVID-19 briefing in Halifax on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Houston has refused to speak to reporters who were seeking clarification on the status of the Speaker of the provincial legislature ahead of the start of the fall sitting on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — A day before the start of the Nova Scotia legislature’s fall sitting, Premier Tim Houston refused to say Wednesday whether his government would attempt to replace the Speaker.

Keith Bain’s future is uncertain — Progressive Conservative government members and Houston’s office confirmed last week that there had been discussions around “succession planning” in regards to the Speaker.

News website first reported that the Tories were trying to convince Bain to step down.

However, following a health-care announcement Wednesday, Houston accused reporters of trying to manufacture a story about alleged plans to oust Bain, although the premier didn’t elaborate.

As the premier left the news conference, he was followed by reporters who attempted to press him further. In response, he would only say that there is plenty of time to discuss many issues once the legislature convenes on Thursday, and he added that Bain is a “wonderful person and great caucus colleague.”

In a Facebook post to his constituents last week, Bain confirmed that he had decided “not to resign as requested.”

“I feel it is my duty as Speaker to continue until such time as the House declares I shouldn’t,” Bain wrote.

A majority vote is needed in the legislature to remove Bain, a veteran member of the Progressive Conservative caucus who was elected Speaker shortly after the Tories came to power in August 2021.

The Speaker is the presiding officer of Nova Scotia's House of Assembly; among the Speaker’s responsibilities are to maintain order and decorum, and to ensure all viewpoints are heard.

Both the Opposition Liberals and the NDP have voiced support for Bain, describing him as fair and highly respected.

Lori Turnbull, a political scientist at Dalhousie University, says she is puzzled why the government is creating an issue about a Speaker who hasn’t been tainted by scandal or a major gaffe. “It seems an unforced error for Houston,” Turnbull said. “Why start the fall sitting with something like this?”

She said if a vote to oust Bain moves ahead in the legislature, it would draw negative attention to the government at a time when people are dealing with the rising cost of living, housing shortages and the widespread damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona.

“I think it’s going to be a bad look for the government to the extent that they are spending time on an internal management issue with respect to the Speaker, as opposed to things that people really want to talk about,” Turnbull said.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said Wednesday his party is urging the premier to “stand down” when it comes to Bain.

“That position (Speaker) should not be politicized in a partisan way,” Churchill said. “It is meant to be impartial. We support him (Bain) in the role; he’s been very good.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said any attempt to remove the Speaker would be “practically unprecedented” and dangerous from a democratic point of view.

“It is the only role in the legislative assembly that is by definition neutral,” Chender said. “Many Speakers — and Keith Bain is no exception — have really done their best to uphold the responsibilities of that office.”

Under the previous Liberal government, Speaker Kevin Murphy served for eight years from 2013 to 2021.

The only time a Speaker of the Nova Scotia legislature was forced to resign was in 1875.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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