FREDERICTON – The speaker of the New Brunswick legislature is leaving the Liberal ranks to sit as an Independent, and is launching a case of libel and slander against the government.
Chris Collins issued a lengthy statement Thursday, criticizing Premier Brian Gallant’s actions after an allegation of harassment was made against Collins last month.
At the time, Collins’s lawyer, T.J. Burke, said his client had been given no information about the nature of the allegation but would fight it “tooth and nail.”
Gallant announced in early April that Collins was being suspended from caucus, saying he had been made aware of potential allegations of harassment in February but the individual only recently made the complaint.
Collins said a teleconference Gallant had with media on April 5 was done without any concern for his rights or those of the complainant.
“I was placed upon the alter of public consumption then and there, for reasons not yet completely clear,” Collins wrote. “The handling of this file by the premier has been nothing less than atrocious.”
Collins said he has never seen a human resources matter handled in this matter, and the actions have damaged his political opportunities in the provincial election set for Sept. 24.
“Because of the above noted actions of Mr. Gallant, I have instructed my counsel to initiate notice under the The Proceedings Against the Crown Act, for a cause of libel and slander,” he wrote.
Premier Brian Gallant issued a statement Thursday evening, saying Collins has always been a passionate representative for his constituents.
“Ensuring a harassment-free workplace is of paramount importance and therefore we take any allegations very seriously. In this matter of public interest we proceeded in the fairest way possible to respect the rights of all concerned. Because this matter may be subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Gallant wrote.
He said the party looks forward to finding a strong Liberal candidate for Collins’ riding of Moncton Centre.
Collins said he has asked the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to move his seat to the opposition side, and he will finish his term as an Independent member of the legislature. He will not re-offer for the Liberal Party in the upcoming election.
Collins was first elected to the provincial legislature in a 2007 byelection, 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.