Allegations of misogyny in premier’s office could impact recruitment of female candidates

Click to play video: 'N.S. cabinet minister resignation and impact on attracting female candidates'
N.S. cabinet minister resignation and impact on attracting female candidates
WATCH: The resignation of a former cabinet minister now puts the Liberal Party in Nova Scotia in a minority situation. The impact of that all depends on if the legislature is recalled before an election is held. But the resignation, which comes after allegations of misogyny in the premier’s office, could impact the ability to attract female candidates. Alicia Draus reports. – May 10, 2021

The recent resignation of a former cabinet minster puts the Nova Scotia Liberals in a minority situation, with just 24 seats in the 51-seat legislature.

Margaret Miller submitted her resignation effective June 3 on Friday.

“I think ultimately the political implications are more symbolic than they are mathematical,” said Dalhousie political scientist Lori Turnbull.

“I don’t know if [the premier] will meet the legislature again before he heads to an election, but that would be a clear issue.
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Nova Scotia is the only province that does not have fixed election dates, but with the Liberal party’s fourth term coming to an end soon, an election call has been widely anticipated.

While Miller’s resignation may not impact the parties voting power in the end, Turnbull notes the resignation does raise some issues for the premier’s office.

“I think we knew she wasn’t planning to reoffer anyway, but the fact that she didn’t just go on until whenever the writ drops but instead is making a point to leave early to say she is quite upset over the hire of this person who she says has been engaged in misogynistic behaviour, that’s quite a serious thing to say,” said Turnbull.

Miller resigned just days after an email first reported by CBC and All Nova Scotia showed her threatening to resign over what she called “misogynistic” and “atrocious” behavior by a recent hire in the premier’s office.

The staff member accused has denied the allegations, and Miller herself has not spoken publicly about the accusation.

“If this was ordinary times in politics this would be quite a very very tricky situation for the Premier’s office,” said Turnbull.

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Premier Iain Rankin has also said little about the allegations, originally saying he hadn’t read the email when first asked about the issue on Thursday.

“Frankly that’s not something you can keep saying,” said Turnbull.

“The premier has to take it seriously.”

On Friday, the premier said there were policies in place to address issues in the workplace and that he had been assured there were no official complaints ever made about this staff member. He also said that he hadn’t hired anyone and that his staff had been “inherited.”

Turnbull says his comments show he is not willing to take any kind of accountability.

“Every minister, every premier, you chose your own staff. We’ve seen the premier do that. He’s got his own chief of staff, he’s got his own director of communications and he made a big show of that,” said Turnbull.

The premier’s office has not responded to detailed questions about the allegations from Global News, including when he learned of them, what specifically he is doing to address them and if he has spoken to either Miller directly, or the individual accused.

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Click to play video: 'On Their Shoulders: Women in NS Politics'
On Their Shoulders: Women in NS Politics

Turnbull says while this would normally by a big issue, he is likely not being held as accountable as he normally would due to the pandemic and the recent rise in COVID-19 case numbers however she does say this could impact his party’s ability to recruit strong female candidates for the upcoming election when it happens.

“How is he going to earn the trust of candidates the trust  of Nova Scotians on the diversity file,” she said.

“So this is something he will have to account for on the campaign trail if not sooner.”

Diversity among candidates and recruitment of more women in politics has been something all parties in Nova Scotia have said they plan to focus on for the next election, a task that isn’t easy.

“In terms of elected women, we all know the misogynistic stuff in social media that goes on,” said former Liberal MLA Joanne Bernard.

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Bernard says too often women are told they need a “thicker skin” if they want to enter politics and Bernard says that sends the wrong message.

“You’re basically telling them it’s okay to normalize the violence against you.”

Bernard says while she often dealt with misogyny and homophobia during her time as an elected official, it was largely through social media, and she says within government and the Liberal party it wasn’t something she ever experienced. However, she says it is important that anyone who is bullied or harassed in anyway anywhere, feels safe to come forward.

“It’s just really important that when you go through those experiences that you’re listened to and more importantly that you’re believed.”

It’s something she says she wished the premier had acknowledged when the premier’s office received that original email.

“I wish he had said I believe Margaret because I’ve worked with her for seven years and we need to believe women when they come forward,” said Bernard.

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