The former deputy leader of the federal New Democratic Party says Jagmeet Singh has had to choose his words very carefully over the past several weeks as accusations of sexual harassment have swirled around two members of his caucus.
“I think it’s a really tough situation for any leader,” said ex-MP Libby Davies, who served in the House of Commons from 1997 to 2015 and also acted as the party’s House leader.
“When (accusations of harassment) become public, it’s very public. And suddenly the spotlight is on, and words become very important and how you follow up, what kind of process there is.”
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The process in place for investigating complaints within the NDP needs to be robust and well-established, she said, and right now, all federal parties seem to be handling situations differently. Davies called it a “muddled environment,” adding that Parliament’s Board of Internal Economy may have a leadership role to play in coming up with procedures that apply to everyone on the Hill.
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The board “really needs to pay much greater attention to this, overall,” she said.
“We’re in this time of a massive shift in society, generally. The #MeToo movement has been so important, and yet so many of our public institutions … we’re so far behind in terms of how we respond to it.”
Singh had barely finished handling a series of complaints against Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir (who was booted from caucus after the complaints were declared founded), when another story surfaced involving Quebec MP Christine Moore.
Moore, who is suspended temporarily from her caucus duties, stands accused of inappropriate behaviour after a sexual encounter with an injured veteran who had appeared before a Commons committee in 2013.
“I do think that there’s more of an automatic response that we all have when the complainant is a woman,” Davies said of that case. “When it’s the other way around, you have to kind of adjust.”
Davies also addressed Singh’s apparent choice not to run for a federal seat before the next election in 2019. The NDP leader has, at times, appeared disconnected from — or unaware of — established caucus positions.
“Jack (Layton) didn’t have a seat for while,” Davies noted.
“I think it’s tremendously important to establish that solidarity and working relationship with the caucus. Jagmeet’s a new leader, he’s out on the road a lot which is fantastic, but obviously, the relationship he has with his caucus is very, very important. That’s kind of the foundation.”