01/07/2015 10:46 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia premier suspends cabinet minister's pay, extends leave

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's energy minister was stripped of a portion of his pay Wednesday and had a temporary leave extended indefinitely amid allegations that he was accosted by a former Liberal staffer who is facing a charge of assault.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he decided to suspend the ministerial salary for Andrew Younger because it became clear that personal matters he's facing will not be resolved in the coming days.

McNeil also extended Younger's leave, though he said the length of the extension hasn't been determined.

Younger, the member of the legislature for Dartmouth East, requested a temporary leave from his ministerial duties on Dec. 23, citing unspecified personal matters.

At the time, McNeil granted the leave but said it wasn't clear how much time Younger would need away.

"We really did not know the extent of time," McNeil said. "It's become obvious that that will be an extended period of time, so we made it clear to him that it would be an indefinite leave and it will be without pay."

McNeil said he met with Younger Wednesday and decided to suspend the $49,000 he receives a year for serving in cabinet until the issue is resolved. He said he didn't think it was "appropriate" for Younger to receive the executive council benefit that goes along with being a cabinet minister.

McNeil said he doesn't know all the details of the personal matters that have sidelined Younger, adding that is private.

Progressive Leader Jamie Baillie said McNeil should be demanding answers from Younger about the matter.

"I don't think this case, as difficult as it is, that it's OK to say, 'I don't know and I didn't ask,'" Baillie said.

"When the premier has reason to believe that he has a minister who is not able to fulfil his job ... then he needs to take that minister out of cabinet."

Michel Samson, the economic development and tourism minister, has assumed Younger's cabinet portfolios but isn't receiving additional pay.

NDP energy critic Frank Corbett said it was "irresponsible" for McNeil not to appoint someone as a full-time energy minister.

Media reports citing unnamed sources said Tuesday that Younger was assaulted by a Liberal staffer in October 2013 and that she now faces an assault charge. Halifax police would not confirm the reports and Younger's office said he would not comment on the matter.

Younger issued a statement after McNeil's announcement saying he met with the premier and chief of staff earlier Wednesday to discuss the matter.

"I understand the issue of pay has become a distraction for the premier and our government," Younger said.

He also took issue with the media reports about the alleged assault.

"A significant portion of the information reported as fact in the news and social media about the incident police allege to have occurred against me has been inaccurate and speculative, which is unfair to all those involved in this matter and those close to them," he said.

Younger didn't offer specifics about the inaccuracies and said he doesn't plan to comment further.

A legislature member makes a base salary of about $89,000 a year, plus additional pay for cabinet responsibilities.

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