HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s environment minister was shown the door on Thursday amid revelations that he didn’t show up to testify at a trial for a woman who was accused of assaulting him.
Premier Stephen McNeil announced in a late night news conference that Andrew Younger was relieved of his cabinet duties and was also kicked out of the governing Liberal caucus.
Tara Gault, former Liberal staffer charged with assaulting MLA Andrew Younger, has case dismissed
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McNeil says Younger did not provide accurate information surrounding his decision to not testify at the trial because of a law that states sitting members of the legislature cannot be called to testify in civil and criminal matters without being asked to waive the exemption.
“There’s a level of trust, if your employer was asking questions, they would expect you to give forthright (answers),” McNeil told the hastily called Thursday evening news conference.
“Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
McNeil said he didn’t personally speak to Younger about his dismissal, saying the news came from staff.
“It was staff who spoke to him, it was a short conversation,” McNeil said.
READ MORE: Opposition parties call for Younger to step down after the minister failed to appear in court
Younger spent almost 50 minutes earlier in the day answering reporters’ questions about his failure to appear in provincial court Wednesday for the matter involving Tara Gault, who is a former Liberal staff member.
He insisted he was not trying to avoid testifying in the case, which the judge dismissed after denying the prosecution’s request for an adjournment to address the issue of the exemption.
“It’s just not factual to suggest that I was using some provision as a way to get out of this,” he said.
Younger said he was notified of the privilege by his lawyer on Monday. The following day, he said the prosecution indicated they would seek an adjournment and that his wife and lawyer should be in court.
Gault pleaded not guilty to the charge stemming from an alleged assault on or about Oct. 22, 2013, the day the Liberal government assumed power after the last provincial election.
Younger refused to discuss the nature of his relationship with Gault, saying only that he had a personal relationship with her that has ended and that he and his wife have moved on.
He would also not reveal anything about the alleged event that resulted in the assault charge.
Earlier in the day McNeil expressed disappointment that Younger didn’t show up this week for the trial and intended to ask the justice minister to review the law.
“I’m disappointed, I believe there should not be two sets of rules for Nova Scotians,” he said.
Younger sent a statement to media following news of his firing. He said the reason for his dismissal was “a result of what [the premier’s office] felt were inconsistencies in my statements to the press.”
During his press conference, Younger repeatedly said he learned of his parliamentary privilege on Monday.
“In fact, I learned about this subject on Friday, October 30th, and I was able to confirm this for the premier’s office,” he said. “That error was mine and unintentional. During the press briefing I answered questions to the best of my recollection. This misstatement of the date was unintentional and had no impact on court proceedings. I was fully prepared to correct this with media.”
Younger said his prepared statement to media was “written by and on the instruction of the premier’s office.”
“Given that I have followed the direction of the premier’s office throughout on this matter, I am disappointed and surprised by the Premier’s decision,” he said.
On Friday morning, McNeil responded to Younger’s statement and disputed his assertion the premier’s office wrote his speech to the media.
“He asked for help – it was all under Mr. Younger’s direction and the information that Mr. Younger gave us,” McNeil said. “It was very clearly those were his words, those were his actions.”
McNeil adds he considers the matter closed and wished Younger well.
“Each of us have a responsibility at the end of the day to be responsible for what we say and what we do. Mr Younger needs to take responsibility for what he said and what he’s done.”
Younger has said that he and his wife will have more comment on the matter at a later date.
–with files from Julia Wong and Rebecca Lau