OTTAWA—Just as the weather was turning warmer and MPs could see the light at the end of the tunnel, the Hill was buzzing over the investigation into the alleged misconduct of NDP MP Erin Weir, parts of which were leaked. To compound matters, a military veteran from Saskatchewan, Weir’s home province, also emerged to claim that he had been inappropriately pursued and harassed by NDP MP Christine Moore. Moore is one of the MPs who has put into question Weir’s behaviour.
At the end of the week, both Weir and Moore were out of caucus, and the NDP had launched a new investigation into Moore’s behaviour.
While it has no doubt been a bumpy ride for the NDP caucus and leader Jagmeet Singh, the investigations themselves, and commitment to due process are on point. The party’s approach to respecting the confidentiality of the results of the investigation into Weir also make sense in this context.
Processes to ensure a fair and impartial hearing for both alleged victims and perpetrators of harassment are crucial to existing Hill harassment policies, as well as the newly tabled federal legislation under Bill C-65.
The federal Department of Labour is currently providing technical briefings and opportunities for input to stakeholders on the regulations to accompany Bill C-65 which will apply to the federal political arena. The selection of a ‘credible person’ to conduct an investigation and confidentiality of the findings of the investigations are among the core principles.
A lawyer by trade, Singh is not naive as to what a good process looks like. Just has been the case for Weir, Singh has said that the investigation of Moore would be undertaken upon the selection of a qualified investigator, who can proceed in a timely manner.
He stated: “I trust both parties will participate with the investigator in good faith. My responsibility is to ensure there is a fair and independent process in place and therefore I will not comment on the specific claims from any one person or on the investigation until it is complete.”
As may be obvious, leaving these matters to be resolved in the court of public opinion is rarely productive, even when it is your only recourse.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, where recent allegations of bullying and harassment have emerged on the part of several female elected officials (including a current and former provincial cabinet minister), the public realm has been a tough domain for this conversation. This is particularly true when you are confronting members of your party, and challenging the very high expectations for party loyalty and discipline at all times.
Ultimately, however, it has been both the absence of a harassment policy and an accompanying process to investigate behaviour at the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has exacerbated the experience for elected women, as well as recent efforts to deal with it.
As Equal Voice has endeavoured to examine harassment policies in each jurisdiction across the country, we have been struck by the lack of familiarity with existing policies among elected officials in some legislatures, and the non-existence of policies that apply to elected officials in others. Clearly, this must change. Policies must also always be sensitive to the gendered dimension of harassment, not just sexual harassment, and recognize how power is deployed in often cut throat, “winner takes all” environments.
Until very recently, political institutions have been loath to regulate personal behaviour unless it directly impacted the party or government’s ability to fulfill its primary functions, or negatively affected its reputation. There is no doubt that the reputational liabilities for parties of not being seen to promptly deal with harassment and bulling from within are increasing, especially as politics becomes more diverse. The onus of responsibility has intensified.
By extension, then, the policies and procedures to address alleged harassment and violence in the workplace must be prompt, fair, robust and clear. Otherwise, parties risk paying the price with their caucuses and in the polls. To that end, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu’s commitment to ensuring the federal political arena is covered by Bill C65 shows real leadership.
Nancy Peckford is national spokesperson for Equal Voice, which advocates for more women to get elected in public office.
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