New Brunswick

Details of Chris Collins allegations should stay private, says political scientist

A political scientist says the provincial government is doing the correct thing by not releasing the details of the harassment allegations against Speaker Chris Collins.

Keeping report on workplace harassment investigation out of public eye protects people involved

Speaker Chris Collins accepted responsibility for the behaviour an investigator said violated a workplace harassment policy. (CBC)

A political scientist says the provincial government is doing the correct thing by not releasing the details of the harassment allegations against Speaker Chris Collins. 

Mario Levesque, who teaches in the politics and international relations department at Mount Allison University in Sackville, said he wasn't surprised that Collins, the MLA for Moncton Centre, was only found "in part" to have violated the provincial policy against workplace harassment. 

But he also added it was the right decision not to make the investigator's report public, despite the vague meaning of "in part," the lack of any information that would give substantial meaning to the finding, and concerns expressed about the secrecy.

"I don't think the report should be released either, to protect both the interests of the person that made the allegation and Mr. Collins as well." 

Through his lawyer, T.J. Burke, Collins said he accepted full responsibility for the behaviour an investigator says violated a provincial policy against workplace harassment. 

An all-party legislative committee said earlier this week that a summary of the investigation concluded a harassment complaint was "founded in part."

There was no elaboration, and committee members didn't see the investigator's full report.

The committee could not agree what should be done as a result of the investigator's finding and will meet again on Friday to decide. 

The probe was launched after Premier Brian Gallant held a sudden conference call with reporters April 5 to announce he had learned about allegations of harassment made by a former employee of the legislature.

Collins was suspended from the Liberal caucus, which is consistent with a policy of sending someone home with pay pending an investigation.

He also gave up his Speaker responsibilities. He will keep the title until a new Speaker is chosen at the opening of the first session of the legislature after the September election.

'Broad terms'

Levesque said it's not unusual for details of investigators' reports to be withheld from the public, even when politicians are involved.

"It's reported to the public in broad terms," he said.

Levesque agreed an argument could be made for releasing some details, since the Collins case involved someone holding a public office, but said it doesn't serve the interests of those involved. 

"They have to have some type of modicum of privacy in their own space as well," he said. 

Asked about a potential lawsuit, Levesque said Burke's statements seemed to indicate there was still a combative nature about Collins. 

Speaker Chris Collins stepped down from his duties as Speaker but will keep the title until the next legislature opens after the September election. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

Burke didn't suggest the Speaker was contrite, Levesque said.

"There was no apology. Instead what it was, it was an acknowledgement."

Burke did say Collins was apologetic and distraught about the investigator's finding.

But Levesque said it appeared to him that Burke was signalling to the government that if they came down too hard on Collins, they could face a potential lawsuit. 

Levesque added he's sure Collins is thinking about his future, whether he'll run again for political office or work for the private sector. 

"I'm sure he's thinking about this, speaking to friends and family, what does he want to do long term." 

If Collins decides to run, Levesque said, it would be up to the voters to decide if they could accept what he did and move on from it. 

Most people are likely to remember only the last six months of a politician's career, he said.  

"But this could be a real good opportunity for Mr. Collins to come forward and through T.J. Burke say something did happen here, here's how I'm going forward with it, and here's how I'm being responsible in this process, and I'm being accountable to you, my constituents." 

Collins has already said he would not run again as a Liberal.

With files from Information Morning Moncton and Shane Magee