Mark: Hey Sandra.
Sandra: Hi Mark.
Mark: What’s happening this week on Off Script?
Sandra: Well, this week… Oh wait a second! I forgot to mention something to you, sorry.
Sandra: I have a joke, and I’ve been working really hard on the wording and the timing, and it applies to what we’re talking about this week. So the joke is…
Mark: Let’s hear it.
Sandra: And a fair amount of research went into it also… The founding fathers of Nova Scotia had a better title in mind for Province House, but ‘White House’ was already taken!
Mark: Was it taken at that time though?
Sandra: It was, yeah. I had to look into that. Yeah.
Mark: That’s the fair amount of research?
Sandra: Yeah, that was the research.
Sandra: I had to just double check that it was there first.
Mark: OK. Can you explain your shirt?
Sandra: So this shirt is something that I got a lot of flack for on social media. It says ‘Lord give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ And some people think that’s racist. (laughs)
Mark: Are you talking about anybody in particular?
Sandra: Uhm, Greg.
Mark: That was not what I was expecting.
Sandra: No, I just made that up. But yeah, this shirt got a lot of flack on social media because ‘give me the confidence of a mediocre white man’ seems like it’s saying white men are mediocre, but I think that it’s more about having the very normal, average, reasonable amount of confidence that a lot of other people have - which was an issue for some of the MLA’s that we spoke with. We spoke with the three MLAs who each were the only black MLA in the legislature when they were there.
Mark: At their time...
Mark: OK! Why don’t we start the episode?
(Theme Music Starts)
Percy Paris: “There were a couple incidents.”
Wayne Adams: “I try to forget most of them but some of them flash back in my mind.”
Yvonne Atwell: “I was standing in line to get my lunch so I picked up a banana and he goes "Oh, you like bananas do you?’”
[News Clip] Female Reporter: “Systemic racism continues to have a major impact on African Nova Scotians. A new report says many feel like second class citizens and are reluctant to engage with government agencies.”
Percy: “I had a feeling that I was probably the first candidate that had knocked on his door that he refused to shake hands. It was just one of those things where you go ‘Hi, my name is Percy Paris,' I stuck my hand out and he put his hands behind his back.”
[News Clip] Male Reporter: “In 2006 the Black Loyalist Heritage Society was torched. And in 2007 the Black Cultural Center for Nova Scotia was firebombed and painted with racist graffiti.”
Yvonne: “I think politically it’s totally entrenched.”
Wayne: “You may have read or heard that there were descriptions of Nova Scotia as being the Alabama of the North. True in very many ways, and sometimes you get a little excited because you realise it hasn't changed a whole lot, even in this 21st century.”
(Theme Music Ends, Piano Music Starts)
Sandra: You're listening to “On the Record, Off Script”. And I’m your host, Sandra Hannebohm.
Off Script is a journey through the career of Nova Scotia MLAs as told through the eyes of former lawmakers themselves.
In this episode, we explore some of the remarks and behaviour that made three African Nova Scotian MLAs who each served as the only Black MLA in the legislature, feel unwelcome.
Yvonne: “I was a surprise to the legislature, because first black woman, in Atlantic Canada really, to hold a seat as an MLA. Sometimes they would make underhanded racist remarks, right?”
Sandra: Yvonne Atwell served from 1998 to 1999. She worked in community development before running for the NDP, but what she found in the legislature wasn’t her idea of community.
Yvonne: "People across the aisle would try to stare you down. People, when you got up to speak, didn't really listen, right? You know, they wouldn't hassle me a lot openly but you could see that they were talking to each other. And you know, they did that with all of us basically but… I just found it, you know that the staring at me, I didn't know what that was about.
It was hard because in opposition when you're out to various things, there's usually no people of colour, usually all men. Sometimes those things were hard and I hated shaking hands.
So it was little things like that, you know I mean, it was a place where, you know, a place of performance - the House is a place of performance. That is not where the work gets done.
And then sometimes it's caught in caucus, ‘You know, you've got to be careful, you can't say too much…’ issues around the indigenous black and Mi'kmaq program… ‘So maybe you shouldn't ask this question, maybe somebody else should ask it.’
And then there was no black folks there so, I said well, "It'd be nice to have a researcher from the community." So I got a researcher, he was a young guy, he was a lawyer. They hired him as a researcher and there was a girl in communication, that I knew. I said "you've got to hire some people." So they hired her.
The media would say, "this is only a one-term MLA" because I was dealing probably too much with community issues, right? … And I was very open about it. I was open about the fact that we should have had more space for regional representation of the African Nova Scotian community if we wanted to get anything done.
I mean you can't have those real conversations that says, you know, for example: this is the African-Nova Scotian males who drop out of school, if you look at the research, by the time they're in grade ten they're missing, they're gone. Where are they gone? They don't move away, it's because they quit school in grade 9, grade 8, right? They can't find employment, they get involved in crime and all those things. Government has opportunity to fix that…Every African Nova Scotian should be working at something, either working or at school or have a business, every one of them.”
Sandra: There’s a weird winding noise that happens through parts of Yvonne’s interview but it was not a dying animal. There was some construction happening outside of the office where we recorded the interview.
Yvonne: "I thought those things would change in the NDP government, I mean that's what I put out there in my community and it didn't change and now it's worse. And now it's worse."
Sandra: Let’s go back a little bit, to when Yvonne said...
Yvonne: “I was a surprise to the legislature,”
Sandra: She was surprise to the legislature, and she was surprised by how overtly racist some of her colleagues could be. Even lunchtime was tough.
Yvonne: “I was standing in line to get my lunch so I picked up a banana and he goes ‘Oh, you like bananas do you? Wayne Adams liked bananas too.’ And I thought that was a very insulting remark, but I wasn't prepared for that. To me, I thought that people were above that sort of thing because these are people who somebody voted for. But they weren't above that, that's for sure. No, yeah, stuff like that, so you could feel it.”
Sandra: Yvonne remembered that comment as racist.
She and Wayne Adams won their seats despite being a minority in the Preston riding, where the majority of the population was white. The area of the Preston riding is a little bit tricky to understand.
The community is in a riding, but it’s not the whole riding. Preston residents are represented by the same person who represents residents in Lake Echo and Porter’s Lake.
The reason why we bring it up is because Yvonne said that she struggled with that, so a lot of people don’t realize that if you are an MLA for an area called Preston, Preston residents are not the majority of your constituents.
Yvonne: “You have to remember that the black community is small, we only represent about a quarter of the population up there … But’s it’s really quite interesting because I don’t think you can represent an African community in a collective way, like Porter's Lake and Lake Echo that are medium and upper income levels in terms of economics, and then the Prestons who have lower economic position.”
Sandra: In a previous episode in this series, on 'Roads', Mark shared Yvonne’s story about how she struggled to balance the interests of her middle and upper income constituents with that of her low income,Preston constituents.
Yvonne: "I used to have a hard time with people calling me from those areas and they had potholes in front of their door. In front of the road, you know, they'd have a boat in the backyard or a small plane in their shed or whatever up around Porter's Lake, and they would have a pot hole and they would call you because your want your pothole fixed. And then some people in Preston who were looking for a turkey for Christmas dinner, it's very hard to even try to bring some equality, because both people had an issue that was important to them, so you deal with it the best way you know how to deal with it, right? That was the most difficult for me, that was one that was very difficult for me being a politician.
Sandra: As a politician, she also struggled to understand the mentality of the voters in the area.
Yvonne: “I think, you know, sometimes I think when people vote in people, that they don't traditionally vote in, for example for me, sometimes I think, ‘Well, is this a vote for the NDP and Yvonne Atwell or was this a slap against Wayne Adams, the Liberal because he didn't do what he was supposed to do.’
Sometimes I think that's what happens, so you get a lot of people who get one term in politics. I mean, I was told that by a constituency member in Porter's Lake who said ‘You know what? We gave the Liberals a chance and then the NDP a chance, now it's time for a conservative,’ and that's when they voted in David Hendsbee, right. So it's like ‘Ok, you just go down the list and…’’"
(Playful Piano Music Starts)
Sandra: First on that list was Wayne Adams.
Wayne Adams: "Yeah, there's a lot of different perceptions, some people were saying that the riding was gerrymandered so that blacks could be guaranteed a win. And that's so far from the fact, you know. If every black person, their dog and cat voted you can't win - 23 % - Don’t know how that method ever worked, but anyway. Yeah, 75% of my riding was white.
Sandra: That’s Wayne Adams talking to Mark. Wayne represented the Preston area before Yvonne Atwell.
Mark: “When you were running, did you experience any racism during the campaign?”
Wayne Adams: [laughs] “Absolutely, absolutely, real degrees, even for county council. Oh yeah, ‘Why in the name of God am I going to vote for you? I vote for you today and you'll rob me tomorrow, bang.’ ‘Good, have a good day!’ “
Mark: “And you would get these types of responses even up until the provincial campaign?"
Wayne: “Oh, yes, the provincial campaign, they're more blatant…
Yeah, it was always interesting to have a white door knocker with you.”
Sandra: Back to the podcast in a moment…
(Donor Pitch Music Starts)
Sandra: Off Script is made possible by the listeners who pay for the content we produce with their donations. If you’re a regular listener, and you get something out of it, we hope you’ll make a contribution over at OffScript.ca/Donate.
One of the listeners who recently made a donation is Monica from Sydney River, Cape Breton.
Monica: “I have been involved in politics in various ways - as a campaign worker, an activist, a candidate, and I am a long-time supporter of Springtide Collective’s work. I have been listening to the podcast recently. I have really appreciated here politicians and those connected to politics in various ways tell their stories. I’m feeling that the podcast has given me a better understanding of politics in Nova Scotia as well as across the country, because the laws are probably applicable. And there are lessons about how we can make our democracy better at a local, provincial and national level. So thank you, Springtide, for the work you’re doing on this.”
Sandra: Thank you Monica. You can be like her, by going to OffScript.ca/Donate and choosing to give three, five or eight bucks a month.
Okay. Back to the podcast.
(Donor Pitch Music Stops)
Wayne: “It was always interesting to have a white door knocker with you.”
Mark: “Does that change things?”
Wayne: “Well, they'd come to the door until I showed up and then they'd say ‘Oh, I'm not interested,’ and close the door on the white guy."
Sandra: Wayne credits his win, in part, due to the name-recognition he had in the community from working as a journalist.
Wayne: “Oh yeah, we did pretty well. That’s basically from exposure… So people could recognize that they’re not dealing with a total stranger, or somebody that’s really off-the-wall, even though that’s what some people thought I was.
Like I can remember one guy who looked at me and says ‘Now, why would I want to vote for a black panther?’ (laughs) I said, ‘I've no idea, I don’t know if I would myself.’ (laughs) Of course, he completely slammed the door.
I try to forget most of them but some of them flash back in my mind. Then there's a case where a kid comes to the door and his eyes are like that when he looks at me and I said ‘Are your mother and father home?’ and he paralyses and goes ‘Mummy’ and he runs away from the door, and I hear him yell and he goes ‘Mummy,’ ‘Who's that dear?’
'It's Bill Cosby!’ [laughs] It's one of the highlights!
… It wouldn’t be now, mind you."
Mark (Interview Tape): “You seem to have a pretty… You seem to take it all in your stride and it doesn't seem to... “
Wayne: “That's for survival. That's the survival method of my people I think for the most part.”
Mark: “I'm curious about... to mention the racism you experienced in the campaign… in the Legislature and as a minister, did that continue?”
Wayne: “Yeah, I felt some of it in the Legislature.”
Mark: “How would it show up there?”
Wayne: “Body language, for the most part, some of your own colleagues very disappointed when you scored a point. [They] wouldn't say it but the body language was very evident.
… if I was speaking on something that was a winning argument with all sides of the House, or if I answered a question the other side was satisfied with, you'd get the [grumble], you know. The body language was pretty clear, ‘Oh, he's right.’ You know?
You might get a limp handshake or you might get no handshake, or a totally ignorant or ignored and other times you'd ask a colleague to help you get something in your community that was under his ministry and he'd agree with you but nothing would ever happen. So you had to go through his bureaucrats or his deputy to get it done.
The others, not a whole lot but there was certainly two or three people who did that on a regular basis.
… mostly within the party. I remember being told by a former MLA ‘When you get elected Adams, you'll notice that all your enemies are with you. ' They're not all across the House, but I grew to realise it's true.
Mark: “You ran as Liberal. Why did you run with the Liberal party?”
Wayne: “I talked to a lot of senior folks, some who were near death. When I was making that decision, I asked them ‘I'm thinking about running provincially, should it be NDP, Tory or Liberal?’ And inadvertently, unanimously, with no exceptions, I was told ‘You better run Liberal, take care of your people - because no one else will.’ ”
Mark: “And so it sounds like you had the option to run for the other parties as well?”
Wayne: “Oh, there was no question, I was courted heavily by both parties, all three parties I should say. Yeah.”
Mark: “What drove you to put your name in the hat?”
Wayne: “Mainly the people that surrounded where I lived - friends and neighbors.”
Mark: “They encouraged you?”
Wayne: “Yeah, for about 10 years and I finally gave in. I had a lot of pressure for a long time to run. And I kept resisting it because there wasn't a lot of glamour in politicians - still isn't! But I got a closer look at it, it wasn't that bad at all. They were still human beings who had an ability to think and talk and some wanted to make a difference.
(Piano Music Starts)
Percy Paris: “My workers came in with some stories that they ran into somebody that questioned him how he could work for a nigger. Using pretty strong language like that. So that happened more than once… They would tell me this and I would call the guy. I remember one conversation I had with the guy and I asked him if that’s what he said. He said ‘probably’ and hung up the phone.
What really drew me into politics was the conservatives had a representative here in the riding, that, my interpretation was that he wasn't a very nice person. Especially for women and for minority groups. So, somebody said 'Well why don't you run against him?’ So, the rest is history...
(Playful Piano Music Starts)
There's something about politics that just grabs a hold of you. And it's very very fast initially. Very very fascinating, very challenging, but you stop to think about it 'Well these are a group of individuals that make up a party that are going to shape the future of what Nova Scotia is gonna look like'. And you say 'Well, gee' you want to be a part of that. Here I was, an African Nova Scotian, running in a white riding. And so the question was 'Can I win? Can a black man win in a white riding?' And someone said to me 'Well, YOU can.' "
Sandra: Percy Paris would go on to run for the NDP and become the MLA for Waverley-Fall River- Beaverbank - a seat he held from 2006 to 2013.
Percy: “Well, then we started off I was the minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, the minister of Tourism, the minister for Economic and Rural Development, the minister responsible for the World Trade Convention Centre, the minister responsible for Waterfront Development Corporation, that's five ... what else, what am I missing... Oh! The minister for Culture and Heritage. Well there’s six...
I’m no expert on Tourism. African Nova Scotian Affairs, well that’s gonna be a piece of cake. I know that inside out. Economic, why, well because I own a business, does that make me an expert? There’s more to Economic and Rural Development than just owning a business. So I said, ‘I got some work to do’. So everywhere I went they were giving me manuals.
It’s like you’re cramming for an exam, but you’re happy about it? [laughs] And all I could think of is ‘My father and my mother aren’t alive to see this’. My Dad had just passed away, and to think that this little black kid from Currys Corner in Nova Scotia, that teacher’s said wasn’t gonna amount to anything, is now a minister of the Crown. They said I’d never go to university. The public school system.
Before I went to DAL I owned a newspaper and I always thought that media never express things from the black perspective. And so I want to give another flavour.”
Sandra: “Based on Percy's stories about his time in the legislature, not many people liked his flavour of the black perspective, and he didn’t much like the flavour of politics in Province House either.”
Percy: “I hated the tone of the House. When you go in there, that's the atmosphere - very hostile. And just the way that the House is designed; the government on the one side and you got the two Opposition - you got the Opposition and the third party - on the opposite side, looking at one another. So it's designed to be confrontational. And the way you ask a question, well it's confrontational in itself. 'YOU, you minister, you said on such and such a date that you would not blah blah blah blah. And what did you do, you went and done it!' …
I just found the way it was set up wasn't healthy. Here I was, the only African Nova Scotian in the House and I'd be asking questions to the minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, who was white, who I was disappointed in - not as a person - but I was disappointed that he didn't come over and congratulate me on winning the seat. Whether it be beating out somebody from his party or not..."
Sandra: So there are a few things you need to know to understand the rest of this story.
The incident he just described happened when Percy and the NDP were in opposition, and was at the beginning of Percy’s career.
By the end of his career, Percy will have become the Minister of African Nova Scotian affairs in the NDP government, but he would be facing white critics of that portfolio in the opposition party.
This was a source of understandable frustration for Percy - as the only African Nova Scotian in Province House for the length of his career. More on that in a few minutes.
Percy: “We offered a workshop to every MLA in the House of Assembly. Before I went into a workshop I would have the participants fill out a questionnaire. A question would be ‘If you had the choice, would you rather be treated equally or fairly?’ At the end of the two days or three days, they all answered differently. ...treating everybody equally is not the same as treating everybody fairly. Would you say ‘I’ll treat you as I want to be treated’?
Mark (Interview Tape): “Right. The golden rule.”
Percy: “Yeah. Well, you’ll learn with three days with me that’s not the right approach.”
Mark: “What is the right approach?”
Percy: “Well, treat me as I want to be treated, not as you want to be treated.”
Sandra: Being the only Black representative in the legislature was pretty tense for Percy. He told us that the adversarial design of legislative politics kept other MLAs from collaborating with him on bills involving the African Nova Scotian community.
Percy: “PCs introduce a bill around Viola Desmond Day. And here again, they don’t understand how insulting that is.”
Sandra: The two sides of the aisle are measured to the length of two swords and one inch. I often heard the idiom “cut and thrust” to refer to adversarial politics: ‘Oh, it’s the cut and thrust of the legislature.’ A pretty violent characterization, considering that “cut and thrust” is a fencing technique for defeating an opponent with your sword.
With that characterization in Percy’s mind, it’s not surprising that he was troubled by the attitudes around legislation that involved the Black community.
Percy: “I’m just across the way. It’s not about the bill itself. Come over and say ‘well you’re the minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, we’re thinking about introducing a’ - I’m not gonna steal the bill! You know, give us some input. We want to work with you. But here again, it was added to ‘Well we’re gonna do this for our black community of Nova Scotia ‘cuz we’re proud of our black community. And I’m sitting there and how insulting is that? I mean, I’m not a possession. You don’t own me. Those days are gone.
What I always used to say to students - and to adults - when I was teaching at DAL and the corporate community would hire me to come in and give them lessons on racism. Sometimes, you can say something and it’s unintentional. But this is how it’s been interpreted.
So, what I don’t want to hear - and what I would hear in the House - ‘Well, I’ve talked like that for the last 60 years and I’m gonna continue to talk like that’ - that’s wrong! I’m giving you some suggestions how you can stop insulting me and insulting other people…"
Sandra: Percy explained this in reference to one specific incident. The incident began in the legislative chamber during question period, but it ended in the Men’s washroom.
Haligonia: “So I’m here with Rocky Jones down at Province House. So just tell us what’s going on down here today.”
Rocky: “Well we came here to show support for Percy Paris, who resigned after some sort of an altercation here at Province House. We just know that he had reached the end of his rope, and something happened.”
Chronicle Herald: “What do you think Nova Scotians are taking from this, two 65 year old men fighting in a bathroom?”
Darrel Dexter: “I can’t really speak to that... In any event those matters are before the courts and I don't intend to comment on it”.
Percy: “There was a heated discussion going on all during question period with the Nova Scotia Home.”
Sandra: He means the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children.
Percy: “Persons of African descent were up in the gallery, and the language that I was hearing from the opposite sides of the House was racist in nature. And I was getting very upset. Keith Colwell got up and spoke at length and he was using possessive terms when he talked about the black community.”
“The honourable member for Preston.”
“Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, I asked the premier a simple question on behalf of all women in Preston around the mobile press screening unit. You’re gonna have to explain to the people of my community, a Black community, that’s not gonna get the service this year because it was left off the list of the government sight. So I’d ask the premiere to again apologize to the people of my community for not including them this year…”
Percy: “‘These are my people’ and you know... Things that he wouldn’t use when he was talking about the white community.
So after question period I just wanted to get out of there. I go in the bathroom and I’m in there and Keith Colwell comes in. He’s standing there and I’m doing my business and I’m saying ‘I can’t believe, you of all people, using language like that’. And his response is ‘I’ve always used that language’ and I said ‘Oh, here we go’. I said, ‘You of all people, you have in your riding - a large membership in your riding are African Nova Scotians and you talk about us as if we’re property.
He would yell something back and I’m washing my hands, he’s just standing there not using the bathroom. And saying things that he was X number of years old and that’s the way he’s always talked about the black community and that’s the way he’s going to continue talking about the black community.
It makes me even madder to think ‘Here’s a chance to improve upon yourself because it’s coming from someone of African descent. You’re just going to ignore it because you can get away with it?’ I said to Keith, I said ‘Oh, I should slap you’. And, in the black community, we say that all the time ‘Oh I should slap you’. But it’s not meant that you’re gonna [do it]. If I was gonna slap someone I’m gonna tell you ‘You’re gonna get it’.
So he’s still not using the bathroom - so people said he just went in there to aggravate me, because it was pretty obvious that I was upset. So, when i wipe my hands and I’m going out, he’s coming out with me, still nattering in my ear! … repeating the same things.
I didn’t grab him, I didn’t push him. He went to raise his arms. And when he raised his arms, I put both my hands on his hands. It’s a bit of a macho thing. Because if you’re so tough, you lift your hands while I’m holding them down. I don’t have a hold of them. I’m putting pressure on them from… I just wanted to prove that ‘I’m stronger than you’.
So, did I touch him? I did. And I’ve said that. Did I have his permission to touch him? Well, no I didn’t. I didn’t ask for his permission. I did lay my hands on him, I didn’t grab him by the scruff of the neck, I didn’t push him. But I did touch him. And for that, they laid charges.”
(Background Music Starts)
Sandra: We’ve already heard from Ramona Jennex, Percy’s NDP colleague, who told us about being assaulted by a Liberal MLA in a hallway at Province House during her time as Education Minister.
In that case, Ramona’s assault was handled internally, and charges weren’t laid. You wouldn’t have heard about it in the news.
Keith and Percy’s altercation was reported as the first assault between MLAs in the legislature since 1973. In that case, Paul MacEwan was punched point-blank in the face in front of everyone, right in the chamber, and charges still weren’t laid.
MLAs sometimes “lose their cool”, as Percy said. And there are plenty of reasons to believe that they lose their cool more often than any published account can capture. In past and future episodes of Off Script, as well as in articles published at LocalXPress.ca, XMLAs share some of those reasons.
But in the case that happened decades before Keith and Percy’s altercation, Paul MacEwan was punched point-blank in the face in front of everyone, right in the chamber, and charges still weren’t laid.
Jeremy Akerman: “The fights that took place on the floor were never carried outside of the chamber. With one exception, and that was Dr. Laughin, who punched my colleague in the House and tried to strangle me in the lobby once. We just said, ‘Oh, you know, that’s Mike.’ “
Sandra: That’s Jeremy Akerman. He was one of the XMLAs we interviewed for this project, and he’s also the president of the XMLA association. He’s also an actor and writer. So when the altercation between Percy Paris and Keith Colwell hit newspapers, Jeremy wrote an article recalling the 1973 assault between former MLAs Paul MacEwan and Mike Laffin. He says he was there that day, sitting next to Paul as Mike approached.
A big part of me thinks this article was tempting the public to compare the situation to Percy Paris and Keith Colwell. Mark will ll read a short excerpt:
“Laffin was an extremely popular member with all parties. He was affable, gregarious, well liked in his riding and had an exemplary war record. He sometimes did exhibit irascibility and lose his temper.However, allowances were made for these occasional lapses because Laffin had been badly abused as a prisoner of war. MacEwan, on the other hand, was the most unpopular member in the House (according to Jeremy). The loud, hectoring tone he employed in the early years of his long political career did not go down well with other MLAs.
At that time, he was also ill at ease in the legislature, seeing it as a bastion of wealth and privilege, so others saw him as cold, edgy and stand-offish.
In later years, MacEwan changed considerably in many respects but in those days he was very much the lone maverick. Most important, MacEwan was contemptuous of the media, so it was only natural that they, in return, heartily loathed him.
Not for one second did either MacEwan or I entertain the notion of involving the police. It was a House matter and the House was handling it.
As I have outlined elsewhere, in later years Laffin and I became friends. Laffin and MacEwan also became good friends. MacEwan often told me of the great times they had when Laffin took him up in his light aircraft and explained the finer points of harness racing." (Though I’m guessing these things probably didn’t happen at the same time.)
"Such reconciliations could never have been possible had charges been laid.”
Sandra: Several months following the incident between Percy Paris and Keith Colwell, the charges against percy were dismissed by the Crown, following the October 2013 election. The court referred him to an adult diversion program for people who don’t have criminal records.
I’m not saying we should go back and charge Laffin for what he did, but in researching the story, it became pretty clear that his respected background helped him out of a tight spot. He had, and was able to form new relationships with allies, and those relationships gave him protection him when he lost hiscool. The guy who was punched on the other hand, Paul?
Paul was labelled a troublemaker long before getting punched. He used what Jeremy Akerman called a “loud, hectoring tone” to address what he saw as “a bastion of wealth and privilege”. That’s the reason Jeremy Akerman says Paul was “ill at ease in the legislature”, and why others saw him as “cold, edgy and stand-offish”. He also suggests that Paul’s unpopularity was the reason why he was depicted in political cartoons and commentary as being responsible for his own assault.
The question of whether Percy “hit” or “touched” Keith Colwell is hardly the most important question here. A more important question would be ‘Why wasn’t Mike Laffin or the MLA who assaulted Ramona Jennex ever charged, but Percy was charged?
And if you were an MLA and you lost your cool, would you be protected like Mike, blamed like Paul, or charged like Percy?”
Off Script is produced by Springtide, a registered charity working to make democracy better here in Nova Scotia.
I have a quick correction from last week’s episode on women in politics: We told a story about Maxine Cochrane, who was the fourth female MLA to sit in the Nova Scotia legislature, not the second as we said in the show.
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