Premier Iain Rankin says the first he heard of claims about inappropriate behaviour by someone in his office was last week, contradicting recent statements by one of his caucus colleagues.
Hants East MLA Margaret Miller told AllNovaScotia.com earlier this week that she first brought concerns about Stephen Tobin's behaviour to Rankin shortly after he won the Liberal Party leadership in February.
In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Rankin said that conversation did not happen.
"She has never brought any mention of inappropriate behaviour to me," he said.
"To be clear: I spoke with her right after the leadership and that's when she told me that she hoped that I was not going to wait until the fall for an election because she's ready to retire."
'No mention of inappropriate behaviour'
Rankin said he spoke with Miller again at the end of April, at which time she told him that if an election wasn't called by June, she'd be retiring to focus on family matters.
"She did not mention any other reason," said Rankin. "I have a lot of respect for Margaret and the work she's doing and has done for Hants East, but there was no mention of inappropriate behaviour in my conversations with her."
Miller, who did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment, previously said she needed to reduce the time she spends on her MLA duties to focus on the health of her ailing husband. The former cabinet minister announced in 2018 she would not seek re-election.
The dispute first became public when an email Miller sent last week to Rankin's chief of staff was leaked.
In it, Miller expressed her disappointment to Joanne Macrae that Tobin, a former caucus office staffer, had been recently hired by the premier's office despite his "atrocious behaviour" toward her and other female members of caucus.
Miller went on to call Tobin's behaviour misogynistic, and said he repeatedly treated her and others with disrespect.
Tobin denied those allegations in an interview with CBC News last week.
Miller, who said in the email to Macrae that she would resign in June out of protest, made good on that statement last Friday.
When the premier read the email
On Wednesday, Rankin said the email to Macrae was the first time he knew of anyone raising concerns about Tobin's behaviour. The premier also attempted to clear up discrepancies in statements he made regarding when he first read the email.
He told reporters on May 6, two days after the email had been sent, that he had not seen it. On May 7 — the day Miller announced her resignation — Rankin said he read the email the day Macrae received it.
The premier told CBC News while he did see the four-sentence email the day Miller sent it to his chief, he did not actually read it.
"Keep in mind, this is while we were dealing with the pandemic and hundreds of [new COVID] cases, but I didn't have the time, frankly, to review the contents of that email at that time," he said.
"I knew that there were strong words used that were not consistent with any conversation I had in the past. So I saw the email Tuesday [May 4] on the phone — it was shown to me. I did not have the time to review it."
Rankin couldn't recall when he read the full contents of the email, but said it occurred after it was published by media outlets. He said he's talked with all of his female colleagues and he's not heard of "any specific mention of any inappropriate behaviour."
"But I am continuously having discussions with my chief of staff and the executive director, who I appointed since I've been the leader, to ensure we have a healthy environment to work in," he said.
Formal complaint process
Rankin has said there is an official process people can follow if they decide to file a complaint about someone's behaviour. He said he is not aware if anyone has filed a formal complaint about Tobin.
"Nor should I be, as that is a process that is available to people and keeps their own privacy," said Rankin. "If they choose to talk about that, that's up to them. But I take any allegation of inappropriate behaviour very seriously."
Tobin continues to work for the premier's office as director of strategic initiatives.
Other than Miller, the only other female member of the Liberal caucus to comment publicly about the situation has been Colchester North MLA Karen Casey.
Casey, who first hired Tobin when she was interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives, told CBC News last week she holds him in high regard and has never witnessed inappropriate behaviour by him.
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