Committee behind MHA harassment policy recommends mandatory training — ASAP

The committee working on the first-ever workplace harassment policy for the House of Assembly is pushing for MHAs to take mandatory harassment training as soon as possible.

Committee wants confidentiality, change in administrative office, and support staff

Allegations of bullying and harassment against Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby inspired the development of the new MHA harassment policy. (CBC)

The committee working on the first-ever workplace harassment policy for internal issues with Members of the House of Assembly has released an interim report, and is pushing for MHAs to take mandatory harassment training as soon as possible.

The Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections was tasked with making legislature-specific recommendations after the bullying scandal at the House of Assembly last spring.

The five-person, all-party committee likely won't present its final suggestions until this spring, but the group released some of its initial ideas in an interim report Wednesday. 

The report says when it comes to complaints against an MHA from staff or another MHA, the committee would like to see a standalone harassment policy, separate from the Code of Conduct.

It plans to recommend hiring someone to receive formal complaints, as well as an independent support advisor.

Liberal MHA John Finn is past of the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"This would be someone who would have a great understanding, perhaps, of the feelings that one may be going through," committee member and Liberal MHA John Finn said. "This position would be someone with a skill set that would be able to help an individual navigate what that may look like if they were to follow through with a complaint." 

The Privileges and Elections committee says the need for a support advisor position became clear during consultations with MHAs, employees of the legislature, and independent external groups.

Switching responsibility

The committee would also like the Office of the Citizens' Representative, which currently deals with whistleblower complaints, take over responsibility for any kind of internal, MHA-related harassment investigations.

Right now, that falls to Bruce Chaulk, the commissioner for legislative standards.

"All of their processes are confidential processes," NDP MHA and committee member Lorraine Michael said. "The investigations they do already, the confidentiality rule is there already, so they're very used to dealing with the issues."

Matters dealt with through the legislative standards commissioner aren't required to be kept confidential.

"Rather than look at how can you twist yourself inside out with regard to making the commissioner for legislative standards office work, go to where we already have something in place," Michael said.

Liberal MHA Pam Parsons made a harassment complaint last spring and is now helping make the new MHA harassment policy. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Liberal MHA Pam Parsons is part of the committee shaping the new policy. She made a complaint last spring and went through an investigation led by Chaulk, where matters weren't kept under wraps.

"Clearly that process that literally unfolded — 'uncrumbled,' I think, is a good word to describe it…it was the first time happening, no one had ever brought anything forward in this nature," Parsons said.

She said placing the responsibility in the hands of the citizens' representative will "be a world of difference."

Government will ultimately decide which of the committee's recommendations to follow when creating the policy. 

Harassment training 

Harassment training was made available to MHAs last spring while the scandal was ongoing, but it wasn't mandatory

Wednesday, the committee put the idea of compulsory training forward, adding that it should happen as soon as possible.

 "We just felt there was an immediate need," Finn said. "Certainly not unlike any other profession, there's always ongoing professional development training."

MUN's Gardiner Centre has proposed a training program for MHAs that will touch on supportive communication, conflict management and the difference between conflict and harassment. It's recommending all MHAs take the course together, at the same time.

The need for the training will be debated in the House of Assembly.

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