HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia cabinet minister who was recently booted from his portfolio and the Liberal party caucus is fighting back as his case dominated the first two days of the fall session of the legislature this week.
Questions about Andrew Younger's dismissal as environment minister took up nearly all of the 50 minutes allotted to question period on Friday as the opposition parties pressed for answers from Premier Stephen McNeil about a legal case involving Younger and whether his office had any role in giving advice on how to handle it.
Younger failed to appear in provincial court last week in the case of a former Liberal staff member who was accused of assaulting him. A judge in Halifax dropped the assault charge in the case after Younger didn't show up in court.
McNeil said he fired Younger because he didn't provide accurate information on when he knew about a parliamentary privilege he invoked to avoid appearing at the trial.
The opposition raised questions on Friday after a tape that Younger reportedly secretly recorded at a Feb. 12 meeting with Kirby McVicar, the premier's chief of staff, was obtained by the CBC. Younger was on a leave of absence at the time.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the recording appears to show McVicar was paving the way for Younger to return to cabinet.
"It certainly appears that the meeting was arranged so the premier's chief of staff could offer a return to cabinet at a future date to the member," he said in the legislature. "Did the premier ask his chief of staff to have that meeting?"
McNeil didn't answer the question but said Younger told him last December he was dealing with health problems and had also received death threats, which police were investigating.
McNeil said he recommended that Younger opt for a leave or he would impose one.
"He was brought back into cabinet long before the proceedings before the court had been dealt with," McNeil said.
"In no way at any time would I ever ... think about involving myself in any criminal matter or anyone else's personal matters."
Outside the legislature, Baillie said questions remain about what was said to Younger.
"Did the premier's chief of staff really use the offer of a cabinet position to get Mr. Younger to either shut up or do whatever it took to make that trial go away," said Baillie.
McNeil later told reporters that he didn't ask McVicar to speak to Younger and he dismissed the content of the short recording, saying it was only a portion of a conversation that McVicar told him was about 20 minutes in length.
"I put very little weight in the content of what (Younger's) providing," he added.
Younger wasn't in the legislature Friday but on Thursday he issued a news release with his wife detailing what the couple say was their mistreatment by the premier's office.
The now Independent member also asked questions in the legislature about the rules regarding the government's handling and storing of data taken from personal emails, texts and smartphone accounts.
He later told reporters his government smartphone was wiped clean after his dismissal from cabinet.
"I'm not here to attack the government," Younger said when he was asked about the intent behind his questions.
"As an Independent member putting in a freedom of information request, I guess I now have the question as to whether those records are there."
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press