Premier Stephen McNeil was right to fire Andrew Younger. He was wrong to wait until the situation had degenerated into a soap-opera, he-said-he-did embarrassment.
On Wednesday, Younger, the province’s environment minister, abused his parliamentary privilege to avoid testifying at the trial of a woman accused of assaulting him on Oct. 22, 2013, the day the Liberals were sworn into office.
We don’t know much about the specifics of the incident because the crown dropped the charge when Younger refused to appear. We do know he and the woman — a former Liberal staffer named Tara Gault — had a four-year “personal relationship,” even though Younger was married. Police described the incident as a “domestic assault.” Younger, the supposed victim, didn’t file a complaint — the incident only came to light as part of a separate investigation — and has insisted all along that it should never have been a matter for the courts.
It sounds like a messy human situation, and you can understand why Younger — who says his relationship with Gault is over, and he and his wife have moved on — would prefer not to rehash it in public.
But Younger crossed a fat red, firing-offence line when he invoked parliamentary privilege to make the matter go away.
According to the Canadian Parliamentary Review, parliamentary privilege is the end result of “centuries of struggle between King and Commons in England, culminating in the Bill of Rights of 1689.”
It is, as Stephen McNeil claims, an old law. But it is far from “obscure.” Its purpose is to allow legislators to speak frankly in the legislature without fear of being sued or hauled into court for their work.
Privilege was never intended to protect a minister from personal embarrassment. Andrew Younger invoked it anyway.
That afternoon, McNeil said Younger continued to have his confidence.
He said it again Thursday, after Younger defended himself in a 48-minute press conference designed more to obscure than clarify. “I did not receive a request to waive [privilege]. Had I received such a request, I would have had to consider it… I did not write the law. I followed it.” And blah blah.
Twelve hours later — and only after reporters caught Younger in a mis-statement about when he’d learned about his get-out-of-testifying privilege card — McNeil finally fired Younger from cabinet and the Liberal caucus.
The end result was the right one. The lead-up to that result — and its ongoing aftermath — says little good about either Younger or McNeil.