Liberal MP Kent Hehr has resigned from the federal cabinet over sexual harassment allegations but will continue to sit in the party caucus.
In a statement issued late Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he takes the allegations made against Hehr by an Alberta public servant seriously and has handed over his duties to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan while an investigation takes place.
LISTEN: Political scientist Duane Bratt on 630 CHED’s the Ryan Jespersen Show
“Harassment of any kind is unacceptable and Canadians have a right to live and work in environments free from harassment. As a government we take any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, and we believe that it is important to support women who come forward with allegations and that is exactly what our government will do,” said Trudeau.
“Today, I accepted the Honourable Kent Hehr’s resignation from cabinet pending the outcome of the investigation. During his leave of absence, his ministerial duties will be performed by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan who will serve as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, in addition to being Minister of Science.”
In a statement issued immediately after, Hehr said he will be stating on as a member of parliament for Calgary Centre and said the conversation around harassment taking place now is important.
“Throughout my career I have always tried to conduct myself with respect towards others, and I understand the most important thing is how each individual feels,” he said.
“I have been informed that an investigation into these allegations has begun and I welcome and respect this process. While this is ongoing, I have resigned from Cabinet pending the outcome of the investigation. I do not want to be a distraction to all the good work being done by our government.”
Hehr had abruptly cancelled a press conference scheduled for Thursday morning after a question posed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Global News prompted him to say that he would be speaking with Hehr shortly regarding allegations that were levelled against him late Wednesday by a provincial political staffer.
Watch below: Liberal MP Kent Hehr says he will continue to represent his constituents after resigning from his cabinet post after being accused of sexual harassment by an Alberta public servant. Gary Bobrovitz reports.
Kristin Raworth, an Alberta public servant, posted a thread on Twitter late Wednesday night following a stunning press conference in which former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown preemptively denied allegations of sexual misconduct that would minutes later be revealed in a CTV News report.
Brown resigned several hours later.
In her tweets following the publication of those allegations, Raworth said she wanted to add her own story of sexual harassment to the growing avalanche of voices in the #MeToo movement and described inappropriate comments she alleges Hehr made to women, including herself, in elevators in the Alberta legislature.
After the announcement of Hehr’s resignation from Cabinet, Raworth took to social media once again to offer what she said would be her final public comment on the matter.
She reiterated that many other women had gone through similar experiences and that more work needed to be done to support women in her situation.
“Mr. Hehr resigned today, but this can’t be the end of the conversation. Because this isn’t about him. Or me,” she wrote on Facebook.
“We need to continue to support survivors and we need to continue to make politics a place for women.”
She also said that party politics aren’t part of the situation: “I am not a conservative. I am not a liberal. I am a survivor.”
“In closing, let me just say I love politics because it has the power to do such good. I fell in love with politics and democracy when I was 18. But loving something doesn’t mean you’re blind to its faults. Politics needs to change,” she wrote.
Over the course of the day, pressure had been mounting on the government to take action in light of the allegations against Hehr.
While Trudeau said in a press conference from Davos, Switzerland, Thursday morning that it was important to believe women who come forward and that he would be speaking to Hehr about the allegations, it was not immediately clear what action might be taken.
Politicians have weighed in from across the country and while none explicitly called for Hehr to resign, all stressed the need to take clear action in order to stem sexual harassment and send the message that the kind of behaviour Hehr is accused of is never alright.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called on governments to act and implement to prevent sexual harassment, noting that the stories coming out now have been the realities of women across the country for far too long.
“Owing to the bravery and resolve of women speaking out, we are finally facing a reality that unfolds daily in the lives of countless women. Generations of people have worked to get us to this point and no longer will they be sidelined and dismissed,” Notley said in a statement.
“It matters how we treat one another. The changes we make today have to last. Governments at all levels have a duty to lead: with better resources and supports to protect victims, laws that create healthier workplaces, and safe avenues for people to speak out. Enough already. We can change. Let’s change together.”
Meanwhile, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said little when asked about the allegations against Hehr but said it was positive to see the support more broadly that individuals feel that they can come forward to share their stories.
“I don’t know anything about it so I can’t say much about it,” he said. “I think that it is great that we live in a community and a time in history where people are feeling comfortable coming forward, because everyone deserves to be safe in their workplace, in their homes, in the community. And I think that’s something that everyone in public life shares.”
WATCH: Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi responds to Kent Hehr misconduct allegations.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters from his caucus retreat in Victoria, B.C., that while he has not had to deal with any allegations on such a level since taking over the party, he said all such reports must be treated seriously.
“Serious allegations were raised there, and I do believe it’s incumbent on each member of Parliament to take these allegations seriously and for political parties to make sure that when these types of accusations come forward, that they are handled in a way that treats them with the gravity that they so rightly deserve,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in, saying the party had discussed the need to support women and help make it easier for them to come forward during their caucus retreat in Ottawa over the past two days.
“We need to believe survivors. That’s a starting point,” he said. “We also need to acknowledge the courage it takes to come forward.”
WATCH BELOW: ‘We need to believe survivors: Jagmeet Singh on Kent Hehr allegations
In December, Hehr was accused by a group of thalidomide survivors of making “degrading” comments to them during meetings.
He denied making one of the statements the victims accused him of and said two others they had flagged were misinterpreted.
Shortly after that accusation, he came under fire again for comments he was alleged to have made to two activists in Calgary and Nova Scotia who came to him seeking assistance while he was minister for veterans affairs.
He apologized to the woman in Calgary, but denied the accusation from the woman in Halifax.
WATCH: Kent Hehr’s constituents have mixed reactions to resignation, sexual harassment allegations.
The accusation is the latest against Canadian politicians.
On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was forced to resign following an investigation into “allegations of inappropriate behaviour.”
Prior to that, Liberal MP Sherry Romanado accused Conservative MP and defence critic James Bezan of making “inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted comments” to her at a public event in the spring of 2017, which prompted him to apologize.
Claude-Éric Gagné, the deputy director of operations in the Prime Minister’s Office, was also put on leave last month following allegations of inappropriate behaviour that prompted a third-party investigation, which remains underway.
Liberal MP Darshan Kang is also on leave — though his is medical — after allegations surfaced in August 2017 that he had sexually harassed a young female staffer and then offered her money to stay quiet.
Kang has denied those allegations and was not immediately kicked out of the Liberal caucus despite calls from critics who say Trudeau should give him the boot, as he did to two MPs in 2014.
He ultimately resigned from caucus at the end of August.
Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti and Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews were removed from caucus by Trudeau swiftly following allegations made by two female NDP colleagues, and some have used those examples to question why Trudeau has not kicked out King or Hehr from caucus over their respective allegations.
Hehr holds one of the three Liberal seats in Alberta.
Hehr’s win in 2015 was a major breakthrough for the party in downtown Calgary.