Saskatchewan

'This has damaged the NDP': Veteran politician critical of Jagmeet Singh in Weir saga

Former Saskatchewan NDP cabinet minister Pat Atkinson says NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is damaging the party in Saskatchewan and should allow Regina MP Erin Weir to appeal the harassment investigation that resulted in his dismissal from the party caucus.

Former cabinet minister Pat Atkinson part of group asking Singh for independent appeal of Erin Weir's case

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said Erin Weir will not be able to seek the party's nomination in the upcoming election. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Former Saskatchewan NDP cabinet minister Pat Atkinson says NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is damaging the party in Saskatchewan and should allow Regina MP Erin Weir to appeal the harassment investigation that resulted in his dismissal from the party caucus.

Almost exactly one year ago, the federal NDP leader announced an investigation into harassment allegations against Regina-Lewvan NDP MP Erin Weir.

Weir was removed from the federal NDP caucus in May 2018 following a third-party investigation into harassment and sexual harassment complaints. It was alleged Weir argued with a staffer excessively and stood too close when speaking to people.

"There was no due process in this whole spectacle that was created by the federal leader. I think if there had been due process this would be understandable but there wasn't," Atkinson said.

Last year, Atkinson organized a letter signed by 68 former Saskatchewan NDP MPs and MLAs asking for Weir's reinstatement. Around the same time, a petition with more than 2,600 signatures asked that Weir be given a chance to appeal.

"As we understand it the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that sexual harassment must include sexual behavior. And in this case it did not. It was just simply someone standing too close," Atkinson said.

"I am not going to change my decision because people of a position of privilege want to intimidate me," Singh said last September.

Motion to support Weir as candidate passes

On Wednesday night, the Regina-Lewvan NDP riding association passed a motion to support Weir as the NDP candidate, even though the federal party said it will not allow it.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the federal NDP responded to the Regina-Lewvan NDP motion.

"There is a process for approval of candidates. Mr. Weir would not be successful in that process. He will not be a candidate for the NDP."

Atkinson said Singh's handing of the situation shows inexperience and has implications for the party in Saskatchewan.

"I think this has damaged the NDP not only in Regina but across the province," Atkinson said.

In 2015, Weir defeated Conservative Party candidate Trent Fraser by 132 votes.

Some oppose Weir

Chris Strain, who worked for Weir in his constituency office from 2016-17, is opposed to the MP's candidacy. 

Until earlier today, Strain was chair of the political action committee of the Regina & District Labour Council.

"Our committee unanimously decided to bring our position to the Lewvan AGM to actively make it clear a potential independent Weir candidacy would not be tolerated."

Weir has not committed to run as an independent. 

Strain said he handed out a sheet on the council's position and some facts on the NDP process for nominations and rules.

Strain said he left "after several members became violent and started throwing balled up sheets at me, yelling 'this is bullshit' and snatching them out of recipients' hands."

Late Friday afternoon, the president of the Regina & District Labour Council said Strain didn't clear his written material with the council and has resigned from his position as committee chair.

"He put it upon himself to draft that document," Shobna Radons said

Radons said the council is officially neutral on the Weir controversy.

Furthermore, while the council is politically active, it doesn't want to involve itself at the riding association level, she said.

Earlier in the day, Strain said his relationship with Weir goes back to 2013. He said he worked to help elect Weir in 2015, later working with him in his Regina office.

"I found there was a pretty toxic frat boy culture there and my contract wasn't renewed."

He said Weir's "undignified comments and outbursts, at a time when labour, political parties and the USW are making a lot of effort to wipe out harassment and toxic masculinity, have shown how unsuited he is to serve the public and I would reiterate my call for him to step down."

Strain said his status as a NDP member expired at the end of 2018.

The federal NDP claim that an independent investigation found one claim of harassment and three claims of sexual harassment against MP Erin Weir. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

When asked about the criticism of some to how he responded to the situation Weir said, "I mean I think it's a bit Orwellian to suggest that any attempt to protest your innocence just proves that you're more guilty. Is it never OK for people who are accused of harassment to tell their side of the story?"

In response to Strain's comments, he said "I'm sorry to hear that he had a bad experience but I guess I'd need to have a bit more detail to be able to to respond more completely." 

Atkinson said a very very very small group of people oppose Weir as the NDP candidate. 

"I find it difficult to understand how New Democrats, really good people, don't understand that when you go through a procedure like a harassment investigation there has to be due process or the outcome is not credible. And that is the problem in this case."

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca