As Nova Scotia’s political parties prepare for an election call, two of the province’s Independent MLAs are reflecting on their time at Province House.
Both Chester-St. Margaret’s representative Hugh MacKay and Cape Breton-Richmond’s Alana Paon say they’re proud of their achievements in the past four years, despite some of the challenges tied to working without caucus support.
“I’m proud of the work we were able to bring forward and have government’s attention paid to, particularly the Peggy’s Cove infrastructure improvements,” said MacKay, who confirmed earlier this week, he won’t reoffer.
“That was something I campaigned on — I felt that Peggy’s Cove was sinking under the weight of three quarters of a million visitors every year.”
Paon declined to confirm her political future on Wednesday, citing the need to continue discussions with her family. There are “more pros and cons” to the job, however, she told Global News, adding that she’s working hard on behalf of her constituents and for the moment, doesn’t “have any plans not to be doing that.”
Paon cited her open-minded attitude with residents of all political stripes as a source of pride during her time in office to date. She also pointed to legislation she’s introduced as an Independent, such as the Patient’s Rights Act and Member Equity Act.
“Within a partisan structure, you have to ask permission before you’re permitted to put forward pieces of legislation or ask questions on behalf of your constituents,” she said.
“I think we need to do a deep dive within our own system before moving forward too much further, because there’s a lot of discrimination and a lot of inequities within our current political system.”
MacKay was elected as the Liberal MLA for Chester-St. Margaret’s in 2017, but resigned to sit as an Independent after being charged for impaired driving a second time. He pleaded guilty to one charge in November 2019, and in March 2020, pleaded not guilty to the other charge, which stems from an incident in Upper Tantallon, N.S. in November 2018.
His next court date is in January.
“I recognize that I had made some very serious errors — misjudgments — and am prepared to accept the consequences of that,” said MacKay, adding that it wouldn’t be “appropriate” to run for his seat again.
“I’ve got reasonably broad shoulders but it was tough on my family and friends, so I didn’t want that to be a lasting legacy.”
Paon was elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in Cape Breton-Richmond in 2017, but was kicked out of the Tory caucus in June 2019. At the time, party leader Tim Houston cited a series of concerns with her behaviour, including attendance in her constituency, the management of the constituency office, and the management of her apartment in Halifax.
Paon has decried her treatment by the party leader and caucus, and disclosed that the entire experience was “shocking” and “terrifying.” She would, however, like to see more Independent MLAs at Province House after the next provincial election, which could be called any day.
“There’s freedoms that come with regard to being able to — really in a much more purely democratic form — represent your constituents,” she explained.
MacKay said the benefit of sitting as an Independent and a backbencher is the ability to focus time and effort on individual constituents and their concerns, although he missed “working on the larger political platforms.”
“When you’re an Independent it’s pretty lonely,” he confessed.
Nova Scotia has a third Independent MLA — Cumberland North’s Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin. She was booted from the NS PC caucus last week after participating in a protest at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border that blocked traffic on Highway 104 for more than five hours.
The protest took place as a result of travel restrictions placed on New Brunswickers by Premier Iain Rankin, shortly after New Brunswick announced it would open its borders to all Canadians who have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Smith-McCrossin has said she didn’t organize the protests, but she did promote the initial blockade to her nearly 10,000 followers on Facebook. She ended up asking the protesters to disperse on Tuesday night.
She declined an interview for this story after Global News refused to accommodate her editorial demand to air footage shot on June 22, in which “she was interviewed after shutting down the protest and asking everyone to go home.” The interview condition was expressed in a June 29 email written by one of her staffers on her behalf.