Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the Independent MLA for Cumberland North, is back in the headlines.
Smith-McCrossin was the target of a rare motion introduced by Progressive Conservative minister Karla MacFarlane yesterday that calls upon Smith-McCrossin to be expelled from the House of Assembly unless she takes back and apologizes for comments she made last Wednesday, March 29.
Smith-McCrossin told reporters she does not intend to apologize for those comments, saying “I spoke the truth.”
The comments in question were made during debate in the legislature on a bill that would ban the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in situations where victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment are paid to keep silent about what happened.
Smith-McCrossin (who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2018) said she recently found a NDA document in her constituency office that she believes belonged to her former constituency assistant, 33-year-old Kaitlin Saxton.
After working as a page at the legislature and graduating from Dalhousie University with a degree in political science, Saxton worked for seven years as a researcher for the Progressive Conservative caucus before her job ended early in 2018.
Her departure coincided with a unanimous vote by the PC Caucus in January 2018 to force PC leader Jamie Baillie to resign following a third party investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment, in the workplace.
Saxton died suddenly last June of a brain hemorrhage.
Smith-McCrossin stated that Saxton “was coerced into signing an NDA with the Progressive Conservative Caucus.”
Karla MacFarlane was the chair of the PC Caucus at the time of the scandal and Smith-McCrossin was also a member of that caucus. Both women have said they had no knowledge of any NDA during this time.
Smith-McCrossin was re-elected as an Independent after being thrown out of the PC caucus by Premier Tim Houston for supporting a blockade at the NS-NB border in 2021.
The woman with whom Jamie Baillie was alleged to have mis-behaved was not publicly identified in 2018 and HRM police said they received no complaint.
Smith-McCrossin says the document she found recently in her office is titled “Non Disclosure Agreement” and begins with the sentence “Certain events have caused Kaitlin Saxton to terminate her employment with the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Caucus on a mutually agreed basis.”
The document was tabled with the clerk of the legislature and appears to be a blurry copy of a photograph. The document is undated and unsigned, although there are three empty blanks waiting for names to be entered, one of which was Saxton’s. The purported NDA says if Saxton were to break this agreement, “it would be harmful to her both personally and legally.”
Speaking in the legislature last Wednesday, Smith-McCrossin said:
Kait was not given a chance to receive the support that she deserved as a victim and the support she needed. When she spoke to me of this, she used the words, quote, ‘under the veil of darkness,’ end quote. She was coerced to sign an NDA, she was not given the opportunity to have a lawyer by her side.
Smith-McCrossin said she had the consent of Kaitlin Saxton’s parents to raise the NDA issue.
This morning, reporters from allnovascotia and CBC News quote from a statement received from Mike and Kathy Saxton, Kaitlin’s parents. The statement says their daughter signed an NDA but not with whom. It continues, saying their daughter was “abandoned” by her former friends at the PC Caucus office.
“Her career she dearly loved was over and she was treated like a pariah,” reads the statement. “She was just beginning to live again when she went to work for Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin. Her light was being re-kindled. She was doing what she loved.”
PCs fire back against Smith-McCrossin
MacFarlane has repeatedly denied she had any knowledge of any non-disclosure agreements signed by the PC caucus or the PC party while she served as interim leader after Baillie’s ouster, and said she could not speak for Baillie.
Last week, Chronicle Herald reporter John McPhee reached Baillie by telephone and Baillie reportedly denied having seen the document produced by Smith-McCrossin.
Today, the Examiner had this email exchange with Baillie:
Jennifer Henderson: Did you ever sign any type of non-disclosure agreement with Kait Saxton? And I’m not talking about the unsigned, undated document Ms. Smith-McCrossin produced. I’m talking about whether YOU signed any non-disclosure agreement with Kait.
Jamie Baillie: I do not make a habit of commenting on matters before the House and will not start now.
Yesterday, MacFarlane asked for an immediate debate on her motion that calls upon Smith-McCrossin to retract her statement because she “misled the House of Assembly” by introducing an unsigned NDA “that was not a document prepared for, nor was it entered into by the PC Party, PC caucus, the PC interim leader or current leader.”
MacFarlane needed unanimous consent from all MLAs for an immediate debate but that didn’t happen.
NDP members remained silent during the verbal vote while several Liberal MLAs, including leader Zach Churchill, voted “nay.”
“I’m very sad to see that members of the Liberal caucus clearly sided against me,” said MacFarlane, who is the minister responsible for the Status of Women as well as Community Services. “I’m really hurt by that. But we will persevere, we will move on. And I will stand by every word that I say.”
Because the vote was not unanimous, MacFarlane’s motion to censure Smith-McCrossin will be debated at a later date. Reporters asked Churchill why he is supporting Smith-McCrossin.
“We don’t think it’s right for the government to try and silence a member who has been advocating for this piece of legislation in the house,” replied Churchill. “It’s the same thing NDAs are used for, to keep someone quiet and to stop them from talking…I think she is being targeted unfairly. This is a government that is very litigious. They do threaten people when they don’t like what they are saying.”
Churchill reminded reporters that a couple of years ago, Smith-McCrossin received an email from the Justice Department warning her not to support constituents who intended to gather at the border to protest COVID restrictions .
Smith-McCrossin has not repeated her NDA allegations outside the legislature, where her remarks are not protected by privilege and she could be sued for slander or defamation.
NDP leader Claudia Chender has questioned why the PC government which was initially supportive of the bill the NDP put forward a year ago appears to have hit the pause button.
Lost amid the political infighting over whether the PCs intended or actually signed an NDA with a staffer who appears to have been a victim of sexual harassment is the legislation itself.
Two bills, one introduced by the NDP a year ago and another introduced by Smith-McCrossin “in honour of Kaitlin Saxton,” would make it illegal in Nova Scotia to pay people to keep silent about allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.
It’s difficult to understand why members of all political parties can’t simply agree to ban certain types of NDAs as politicians have done on Prince Edward Island.
Jennifer, has Tara Miller had anything to say? As a lawyer and PC President when Baille was forced out, she may be the author of the NDA.
As President & lawyer, perhaps client confidential is breached