HALIFAX – Liberal MLAs blocked a hearing-impaired man from speaking to the Law Amendments Committee about the government’s wage legislation Wednesday.
Robert Tupper arrived at committee just after the chair, Terry Farrell, said he would no longer wait for him. However, with roughly 20 minutes left in committee time, opposition MLAs asked the chair to reconsider. He refused, and Bill 148 was referred back to the house without the committee hearing from Tupper.
“I feel very upset, and the reason being that there was no respect paid to me,” Tupper said after the committee. “From the Liberal caucus there was no respect whatsoever. They don’t care, they obviously don’t care.”
Tupper is a member of the NSGEU and formerly worked with the government in client services. The act he wanted to speak to would impose a two-year wage freeze followed by a three per cent wage increase over the subsequent two years. If it’s proclaimed, it will apply to 75,000 public sector workers including civil servants, teachers, nurses and doctors.
Farrell said Tupper was not allowed to speak because of timing.
“Mr. Tupper had last evening and all day today to get here, we were prepared for him at two o’clock today,” he said.
However, NDP MLA Lenore Zann said Tupper was only alerted that he could speak to the committee through an interpreter on Wednesday afternoon and it took him some time to get to the legislature.
“The gentleman arrived and he came all the way across town,” Zann said. “He should have been allowed to speak.”
WATCH: Terry Farrell says he didn’t allow Robert Tupper to speak at committee because he arrived too late in the proceedings. The NDP say Tupper arrived as soon as he could after he was notified the government had secured a sign language interpreter.
The committee’s time was limited to 5 p.m. by government members.
Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston tabled a motion asking the committee to extend the time so Tupper could speak. The four Liberal MLAs on the committee abstained from voting on the motion but Farrell did. When the opposition pointed out that the motion had passed, Farrell called for a re-vote, at which point the Liberals on committee voted against extending the committee time and allowing Tupper to speak.
“The members didn’t speak up clearly with their vote and I was just encouraging them to speak up and give their vote,” Farrell said. “I didn’t tell them what to vote.”
Premier Stephen McNeil said Tupper should have been allowed to speak to the committee. The government recessed the legislature an hour later to allow Tupper to speak, however, he had already left Province House.
“I’m not trying to defend what happened, the man should have had an opportunity to speak,” McNeil said.
A special session of the Law Amendments Committee will sit on Thursday morning to allow Tupper to speak. However, the committee already sent the bill back to the House so the legislative process will move on before Tupper speaks. McNeil said Tupper’s comments could still lead to amendments in either committee of the whole debate or third reading.
Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie condemned the government’s actions.
“This is a mean-spirited government that is thin-skinned and they showed it in living colours tonight,” he said. “What happened here was wrong, it was undemocratic and I just think it’s beyond the pale.”