Amid the allegations of sexual misconduct against several high-profile Canadians politicians, there are growing calls for stronger sexual harassment policies in legislatures across the country.
Canada’s political landscape was shaken this week as Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, Liberal MP Kent Hehr and Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Baillie resigned or stepped down from their high-profile positions following accusations of inappropriate behaviour.
It all happened in less than 24 hours.
Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, a national group that encourages more women to run for office at all levels of government, is calling on legislatures in every province to adopt clearer sexual harassment policies that provide recourse for anyone working in politics in an elected or non-elected capacity.
Peckford said it is “crucial” to have more robust sexual harassment policies to create a positive workspace for women working at all levels of government.
“If they’re not having a positive experience, the chances of them encouraging other women to get involved is far less likely,” she said. “Party leaders and party cultures need to have a zero-tolerance policy on these matters.”
On Wednesday, Jamie Baillie resigned as Nova Scotia PC leader and MLA following an allegation of inappropriate behaviour, with the party declaring it does not “tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Then, late Wednesday night, Brown gave a hastily prepared news conference at Queen’s Park just minutes before CTV News aired a report alleging sexual misconduct involving two young women. Brown – who denied the allegations – was forced to resign as Ontario PC leader at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, but said he would stay on as an MPP in Barrie and defend his reputation.
By Thursday afternoon, Kent Hehr, the minister for Sports and Persons with Disabilities, had resigned from cabinet pending an investigation into accusations he made sexually inappropriate comments to women while working in the Alberta legislature. Hehr said he will stay on as a Calgary MP.
“Mr. Hehr resigned today, but this can’t be the end of the conversation. Because this isn’t about him. Or me. We need to continue to support survivors and we need to continue to make politics a place for women,” said Kristin Raworth, an Alberta civil servant, who posted concerns on Twitter Wednesday about the conduct of Hehr.
Political leaders were quick to respond amid the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in from Davos, where he said sexual harassment and assault is unacceptable and applauded the women who came forward.
“We take these allegations extremely seriously whenever they come up,” Trudeau said Thursday at a news conference wrapping up his visit to the World Economic Forum. “My thoughts turn immediately to the women who came forward knowing how difficult it can be, to salute them for their courage, and their leadership.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer echoed that sentiment.
“Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct have no place in Canadian society, especially in our political system,” Scheer said. “We understand how difficult it is for women to come forward under these circumstances and the courage that is required to make these incidents known.”
For many women in politics, being a target of sexual misconduct is an all too familiar story. A voluntary survey conducted by The Canadian Press found 58 per cent of female MPs said they have been subjected to one or more forms of sexual misconduct while in office, including inappropriate or unwanted remarks, gestures or text messages of a sexual nature.
And as Parliament resumes Monday, MPs will debate a bill aimed at cracking down on harassment in federal workplaces, including Parliament Hill.
Bill C-65 would give workers in federally regulated industries, such as banking, broadcasting and working on Parliament Hill, stronger recourse when dealing with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
Currently, Parliament Hill staff, both Commons and Senate employees, and political staffers working for individual MPs and senators, undergo a separate complaint process that is not under the Canada Labour Code. That would change under Bill C-65.
*With a file from the Canadian Press