Nova Scotia legislators are scrambling to figure out how to dock the pay of former Cape Breton Liberal Manning MacDonald, who spent a month vacationing in Florida during the spring session. Critics say this is the second year he has done so.
To complicate matters, the 20-year political veteran resigned his seat this week, just the day before an all-party legislative committee was poised to fine him one day’s pay for each of the 21 days he was missing.
But the seven-member committee discovered it had no control over his salary because he is no longer an MLA.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for the committee that has asked its legislative counsel to figure out a rule change to enable it to collect from Mr. MacDonald or “any other member who resigns before consideration can be given to a question of unexcused absence from the House of Assembly during a legislative session.”
NDP Deputy Premier Frank Corbett says this situation “just shouldn’t do.”
“If you don’t go to work there should be an ability for us to get some retribution or some forfeiture on your side,” he said. “It’s basic common sense that people going to Walmart today would understand.”
Mr. MacDonald couldn’t be reached for comment.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil sees the latest imbroglio as an attempt by the government to change the channel on the controversial Muskrat Falls power deal that is now being debated in the province.
He also believes the government is focusing on Mr. MacDonald as a way to get at him.
With his party leading in the polls and an election call imminent, Mr. McNeil says the NDP has been “unable to attack me personally” so is now “tarnishing” his Liberal members.
Sure, he says, he told Mr. MacDonald he could go on a holiday when he asked him last December. Mr. MacDonald had announced that he would not seek re-election. As they believed a spring election was about to be called, Mr. McNeil figured it wasn’t necessary for Mr. MacDonald to immediately resign.
“We thought there would be an election, wrongly, but we did think that. There was nothing more [to it] than that,” he says.
However, he has a harder time explaining the timing of Mr. MacDonald’s resignation, just hours before the committee meeting. “The 25th of this month [May] was the 20th anniversary of his being elected. And he just quite frankly had enough. Time to retire,” said Mr. McNeil.
He offered to pay the equivalent of his fine to two Cape Breton charities, though critics said it wasn’t acceptable because he would receive a tax benefit. The fine is estimated to be about $7,000 – an MLA earns $87,000 a year.
Mr. McNeil said Friday that Mr. MacDonald is willing to send the cheque to whomever. “If they don’t want to give to those two charities, who do they want him to give it to?” he said.
In addition, the Liberals have offered to pro-rate the amount – $43,405.95 – that is given per member to the party caucuses on an annual basis.
Government MLAs alleged that Mr. McNeil had wanted Mr. MacDonald to stay in the legislature so that the Liberals would not lose the per-member amount.
In his letter of resignation, Mr. MacDonald says “it has been an honour and privilege to have served with you, regardless of party affiliation.”