Manitoba

Sensitivity training for PC candidate who breached workplace policy not enough, advocate says

A Manitoba advocate says sensitivity training provided to a Progressive Conservative candidate seeking re-election doesn't go far enough to address an investigator's finding he breached respectful workplace policy multiple times with a former assistant.

Internal investigation found PC candidate Rick Wowchuk broke respectful workplace policy 5 times

Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk said he apologized to his former assistant and deeply regretted his actions. (CBC)

A Manitoba advocate says sensitivity training provided to a Progressive Conservative candidate seeking re-election doesn't go far enough to address an investigator's finding he breached respectful workplace policy multiple times with a former assistant.

"People need to be held accountable for their actions," said Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator at Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters.

"A message needs to be sent to all of the politicians that they are supposed to be responsible people. We look up to them, and expect them to behave in a manner that is appropriate."

An internal investigation found Rick Wowchuk, currently running as the incumbent candidate in Swan River, had violated Manitoba Legislative Assembly policy in interactions with a former constituency assistant, including showing her a picture of naked women on his cellphone in 2016.

The woman, who CBC has agreed not to identify, left her position with the constituency office in April 2019 following a year-long medical leave. She told CBC she didn't want to leave her job, but the work environment became toxic.

In a comment sent to CBC, Wowchuk apologized and said he deeply regretted his actions.

Following the report, he participated in respectful and workplace sensitivity training, "which I found extremely valuable," he wrote.

Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk (Ian Froese/CBC)

"It's a good start," Brock said. "I don't believe it's enough."

Brock said she doesn't think the Progressive Conservative Party needs to expel Wowchuk from the caucus, but wants to see the party and any provincial government do more to discourage bad behaviour and support victims.

"I would hope that there is … some kind of reprimand on his file, for sure," she said. "I don't want to be in a position to say, 'Oh, somebody should lose their job over it.' But the bottom line is, he's working and she is not. And that's wrong."

Provincial approach needs follow-up with victims: advocate

PC Leader Brian Pallister announced in February 2018 that his government would implement a "no wrong door policy" with respect to reporting harassment, intended to include political staff and employees of Crown corporations.

On Thursday, the leader said he couldn't speak to the specifics of this case.

"I can't speak to the individual circumstance, and I will have to keep repeating that to protect the process we have, because I want to encourage others to come forward," he said.

Brock said she supports the intent of the policy, but it needs more teeth.

"I keep hearing stories," she said. "If it's made a difference, it's maybe not filtering down to everybody at this point."

She added any actions taken as a result of investigations should include follow-up with complainants. In Wowchuk's assistant's case, the woman said she wasn't informed the politician had taken sensitivity training.

"It's great that the Premier is saying that he wants the open door policy and wants people to speak up, but it's that next step," Brock said. "It almost seems like they're left hanging."

She said she wants to see Wowchuk apologize to his former assistant, and to voters in his constituency.

'Nothing is done': Liberal leader

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he wants to see an independent — not internal — group in charge of investigating complaints against politicians and provincial employees.

"The premier has made a lot of noise about how there's [a] no wrong door policy. Yet nothing ever happens until these stories hit the media," Lamont said.

"We've heard over and over again that there's inappropriate behaviour and nothing is done."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Thursday he's been dedicated to building a culture of consent and respect in his party.

"I've also been very clear, as a leader, as to what my expectations are of everybody who works on my team, and especially of our candidates and future MLAs," he said. "I do think there are legitimate questions that the Progressive Conservatives need to answer."

With files from Kristin Annable, Marjorie Dowhos and CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon