Tagged: Moe Smith

A human right that’s inconvenient for MLAs

A committee meeting at Province House this week has the potential to correct a logstanding injustice in the way Nova Scotia is governed.

At the behest of the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights organization, the House of Assembly Management Commission will consider requiring constituency offices to be fully accessible before MLAs can claim reimbursement of office expenses.

Gosse-250You might expect this to go without saying in 2013, but it doesn’t. Many MLAs’ offices are only partly, if at all, accessible. They may have a level entry or a satisfactory wheelchair ramp, but lack a paved parking lot or an accessible washroom. They may have a wide enough door to admit a wheelchair, but no automatic door opener to let wheelchair users come and go unassisted.

People with unrestricted mobility sometimes miss the significance of that last distinction. Wheelchairs users value their autonomy as much as anyone else. They  want to participate without having to ask for help.

The House Management Commission doesn’t have to guess about what constitutes an accessible office. The standards are clearly set forth in Section C of the Nova Scotia Building Code, which all new commercial construction must meet.

It’s not clear that any of the constituency offices now in use fully comply with this standard. This effectively bars Nova Scotia’s 28,000 wheelchair users from full participation in the political process. It puts constituency office jobs beyond reach of applicants with disabilities.

MLAs know this is unacceptable. The gentle explanation for why it wasn’t fixed a generation ago is inertia. In many parts of the province, it’s hard to find good office space. Many MLAs enjoy a close relationship with their landlords, which they aren’t anxious to disturb. No one likes the hassle of moving to new quarters.

That’s why the summer of 2013 offers a unique opportunity to correct this injustice. The election that’s expected this fall will produce an unusually large crop of new MLAs, all of whom will be seeking office space. The Commission could require any new constituency offices to comply with Section C in order to qualify for reimbursement. It could establish a firm timetable—certainly no more than the five-year term of a typical commercial lease—by which existing constituency offices  must be brought into compliance. The first election after 2013 could serve as a final deadline for existing offices.

Leasehold improvements are a standard feature of office leases. The landlord carries out the work, builds the cost into the rent, and ends up with a more desirable, barrier-free property at the termination of the lease.

Fixing this problem will undoubtedly cause some inconvenience for MLAs. In a letter to the Commission, the society put that burden in perspective:

The challenges MLAs will face meeting this requirement are real, but they must be weighed against the perpetuation of second-class citizenship for 28,000 Nova Scotians. One is a matter of inconvenience; the other a human right.

Speaker Gordie Gosse chairs the Management Commission, whose members include MLAs Frank Corbett, Becky Kent, Pam Birdsall, Moe Smith, Michel Samson, Chris d’Entremont, Andrew Younger, and House of Assembly Chief Clerk Neil Ferguson. The Commission meets Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Red Chamber.

If it fails to act before the upcoming election, we’ll have to find a strong word than “inertia.”

Robo Ian or Principal Bert?

Today’s Antigonish by-election is a foregone conclusion. N-dip Moe Smith came within 275 votes of knocking off popular Tando MacIsaac in June’s general election. Tando having abandoned the seat so abruptly, and the NDP firmly ensconced in Province House, Smith will take the riding in a walk.Allan-MacMaster-c

Inverness is a different matter. The riding is festooned with election signs in roughly equal numbers. Although then-Premier Rodney MacDonald out-polled his nearest rival by 3,431  votes in June, would-be Tory successor Allan MacMaster is widely expected to place third today. The premier’s abandonment of the riding, like Tando’s of neighboring Antigonish, will hurt MacMaster, as will the traditional Liberal stronghold’s penchant for snuggling up to the government side of the House.

ianmcneil-cLiberal Ian McNeil, a former CBC Radio host (and—disclosure—a friend of Contrarian’s),  was widely regarded as the man to beat at the outset of the campaign. While hosting CBC-Cape Breton’s Information Morning program, McNeil endured a grueling three-hour daily commute to maintain his East Lake Ainslie home in the riding. A man with strong rural sensibilities, McNeil created the CBC’s Party Line feature, and he has hosted musical events and community forums in every fire hall and church basement in the county.

Bert_LewisCBC-Cape Breton’s signal does not reach the southern end of the constituency, however. So McNeil is not as well known in riding’s largest population center, the town of Port Hawkesbury, where NDP candidate Bert Lewis is recently retired as principal of the Nova Scotia Community College campus. You have to wonder whether the 11th-hour NSCC strike settlement, details of which are conveniently unavailable, will help Lewis.

A much weaker NDP candidate placed second in June, a first for the party, albeit with only 20.5 percent of the vote. But it’s a government-prone riding, and this time, voters know which party is in government.

If McNeil loses, I suspect it will be because of a misstep. More than the other two candidates, he has blanketed the riding with robo-calls, and these aren’t sitting well with voters I’ve heard from.