The Speaker of the New Brunswick legislature has been suspended from the Liberal caucus pending an investigation into allegations of harassment.
Premier Brian Gallant announced Chris Collins’ suspension Thursday during a hastily arranged teleconference call with reporters, saying the allegations against the 55-year-old Speaker were made by a former employee of the legislative assembly.
“It is crucial that we ensure that workplaces are safe and respectable for all people, in all situations,” the premier said.
“Any workplace harassment is unacceptable and government will take prompt and appropriate action in this situation and whenever such allegations are brought forward.”
As well, Gallant said his majority government will ask the legislative administration committee to suspend Collins from his position pending an independent, third-party investigation.
Gallant did not release details about the nature of the allegations or the name of the complainant.
Collins could not be reached for comment.
He was first elected to the provincial legislature in a 2007 by-election, after serving three years as a Moncton city councillor. He was briefly minister of local government under former Liberal premier Shawn Graham and was elected Speaker after the Liberals returned to power in September 2014 under Gallant.
According to his official biography, the Saint John, N.B., native studied political science and philosophy at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and spent two decades as a salesman and account representative for Clairol, L’Oreal, Alberto-Culver and General Mills Canada.
The former minor soccer coach lost his son Sean in 2007 to a cancer-related illness, and is a board member of Advocacy for Canadian Childhood Oncology Research Network.
The premier said when staff in his office learned of “personality conflicts” between the Speaker and the former employee, the employee was moved to another job, but Gallant did not make it clear when that happened.
On Feb. 17, the premier’s office was told of potential allegations of harassment involving the Speaker, but the employee chose not to bring forward the allegations at that time, Gallant said.
The premier said the employee asked for time to consider their options.
“That request was respected,” Gallant said. “Yesterday, it was confirmed that the former employee in question is making allegations of harassment.”
When asked if police were involved, Gallant said he was unaware of any other investigations.
The next general election in New Brunswick is slated for Sept. 24.
Gallant said the nomination process for Collins’ riding, Moncton Centre, has yet to happen.
“It would be premature to comment on what this would mean for his political career, and what it would mean in terms of any type of consequences,” he said.