HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s premier says he was never told about old allegations of verbal and physical confrontations involving current Education Minister Zach Churchill.
Former NDP education minister Ramona Jennex sent an email Monday to legislature Speaker Kevin Murphy, alleging Churchill confronted her following an exchange over budget estimates on April 13, 2012.
Jennex said Churchill used profane language and poked her in the shoulder, pushing her backwards. She said she reported the incident to NDP officials, who decided to inform McNeil so he could deal with the matter.
She says she came forward now after an incident last week in which Tory Leader Tim Houston said Churchill assaulted him during a heated argument over the Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry.
“I was disturbed to learn of the alleged altercation that took place last week between two members of the legislature,” Jennex wrote. “As a former MLA and teacher, I believe Province House should be a safe and harassment-free workplace.”
Churchill has denied assaulting Houston, but admitted to a heated argument that he said the Tory leader initiated.
Murphy confirmed he received emails from two former house members, but did not release further details.
Premier Stephen McNeil said that “at no time” did the NDP inform him about a physical altercation involving a member of his caucus.
“I can assure you I would clearly remember that and that member would know what my thoughts would be on that issue,” he said Wednesday.
McNeil said people have spoken to him about “the enthusiasm of our members” and he has reminded his caucus about the need to keep the proper tone in the legislature.
“I often will tell our people stop heckling in the house,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for me.”
Churchill said he doesn’t recall the specific interactions talked about in the emails and doesn’t recall anything being brought to McNeil’s attention.
“It’s not uncommon in a moment of weakness for opponents to express their opinion on it,” he said. “If the premier had been made aware of that kind of allegation … he would have taken immediate action and I would not be a member of his caucus today if he believed that I had put my hands on anybody in the chamber. I can say that with a certainty.”
He was asked about the second email, from former NDP member Denise Peterson-Rafuse.
“That does surprise me and I feel like it is something that she would have addressed with me if it happened.”
The Nova Scotia legislature has an anti-harassment policy for MLAs, party staff and legislature employees, but it does not include former politicians.