Rona Ambrose jumps into N.S. election, criticizes Liberals for re-hiring staffer after assault

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is defending his decision to reinstate his communications director who pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman in 2014.

At a campaign stop in Halifax Thursday, McNeil said Kyley Harris deserved “a second chance” after being handed a conditional discharge for striking a woman in the face during a domestic argument on May 9, 2014.

Harris was a spokesman for McNeil at the time, but was fired for waiting four days to tell the government he was facing an assault charge.

READ MORE: Premier’s communications director placed on leave over domestic matter

Harris was hired back in 2015 to do research in the Liberal caucus office and is now listed as director of communications for the central campaign in the runup to the May 30 provincial vote.

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The matter resurfaced after federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose posted on social media Wednesday saying his re-hiring sends a “terrible message,” and that Liberal leaders “need to walk the talk on violence against women.”

A screenshot of the Rona Ambrose Facebook post
A screenshot of the Rona Ambrose Facebook post. Rona Ambrose/Facebook

When asked about it Thursday, Nova Scotia Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said McNeil had exercised poor judgment in putting Harris back into his inner circle.

“When the premier chooses to re-employ a person who pled guilty to a domestic assault I have to question his judgment. I think it shows poor judgment,” Baillie said. “It sends a terrible message to victims of domestic assault, men and women, who feel the system of government isn’t there for them.”

READ MORE: All our Nova Scotia Election 2017 coverage

In response, McNeil said he was proud of his party’s record on supporting victims of domestic violence, but that people shouldn’t be held back because of their past actions.

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“People deserve a second chance and Mr. Harris is one of those Nova Scotians,” he said, while dismissing Ambrose’s remarks. “As far as the national leader’s comments, that’s her comment.”

After pleading guilty, Harris was sentenced to nine months’ probation and 30 hours of community service. In court Harris read a statement, saying his actions were “inexcusable and disgraceful.”

“I made an unforgivable mistake and I am sorry,” he said at the time.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill pointed out the Harris controversy comes days after the premier drew fire for comments about running women in ridings that were “winnable.”

“Mr. Harris’s appointment raises honest questions for people, particularly women around the province, and these are questions that it would be reasonable for us to expect Mr. McNeil to answer,” he said.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia Election: Liberals field the most men, Tories the most white candidates

McNeil was questioned Monday about why only 12 of the party’s 51 candidates for the May 30 election are women, but the Liberal leader insisted his party “has stood beside women to have them elected in meaningful ridings.”

Burrill pointed out 24 of his party’s 51 candidates are women, while Baillie stood Monday with 12 female candidates and demanded McNeil apologize for his “thoughtless and dismissive comments.”

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