When #MeToo and Time's Up collide with Canadian politics
It's not often that the obvious answers are the right one. But past and former MPs and political staffers believe this week's sexual misconduct allegations against prominent male politicians just might be an exception.
Their recommendations couldn't be clearer: guidelines on what constitutes sexual harassment, training for everyone, including those people holding elected office, and a process for dealing with complaints quickly and respectfully.
And there's one more.
"Politicians should resist the urge to make this a partisan issue. It happens in every party," said former Liberal staffer Greg MacEachern who is now a senior vice-president with Environics Communications. "Put principle above party."
The federal government has already put forward a bill to update the Canada Labour Code so that it includes clear definitions of what constitutes harassment, and to expand its coverage to the House of Commons and other Parliamentary institutions.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu says the proposed legislation will be accompanied by training, education and a toll-free hotline to help employees understand their rights, and employers to put in place appropriate policies to respond to complaints.
- ANALYSIS - What happens when #MeToo comes to Parliament Hill
The goal is to correct the enormous power imbalance between politicians and their staff.
"They are precarious workers. Their job relies on their MP being re-elected," said former New Democrat MP Megan Leslie, who joined MacEachern and Conservative MP Lisa Raitt on The House to discuss what politicians and parties have to do to ensure respectful and safe work environments.
"We need to have clear, anti-harassment policies for staff and for elected officials. Clear guidelines for volunteers and interns. Because it happens to them, too."
As others have written, the #Metoo movement is encouraging more and more people to come forward with their experiences working for powerful men, people who invariably held their working lives in their hands.
Their courage in speaking up is being rewarded with action. Patrick Brown resigned as leader of the Ontario PCs - with an election just months away and his party leading in the polls - because his caucus and staff demanded it.
The same fate awaited Jamie Baillie in Nova Scotia. He was forced to step aside after his Conservative party after an investigation concluded he violated the its harassment policy.
"And I commend them for coming forward. Now it's caused an awful lot of turmoil in politics but, you know, that's OK," said Raitt, who also fully expect more cases to become public in the coming days.
Reuniting Indigenous families takes spotlight of proposed foster system reforms
Promoting the reunification of families will be a key focus of the government's strategy to improve the care of Indigenous foster children.
That message was stressed by Jane Philpott, the federal minister of Indigenous services, at this week's emergency meeting to discuss Indigenous children in foster care.
Factors like poverty, housing and addiction all combined against Indigenous children, she said — damage has already been done and it's time to fix the issue.
"It's a complex issue that has multiple factors," she told The House.
"There are multiple reasons how we got into this circumstance, now it's our job to change those factors."
Though Indigenous children represent less than eight per cent of Canadian children, they make up more than half of the children currently in foster care, according to Statistics Canada.
In the Prairies, the contrast is even more stark. About 90 per cent of foster children in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are Indigenous.
To help reduce the rates, Philpott announced a six-part plan the government will use to improve the situation of tens of thousands of children in foster care. She also promised the 2018 budget would include more money for Indigenous children.
The plan includes implementing all orders received from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, focusing on preventing children from entering the foster system, exploring options to develop policies with the provinces and territories and reuniting families.
The area Philpott said she sees a need for immediate work is family reunification.
"Should we not first look for other people who might be able to care for their child and keep them in their community and give those families the rights that they have to be able to make decisions around their children and raise them in their own culture?" she said.
Currently, organizations that coordinate care are given funding based on how many children they are responsible for. That model, according to Philpott, is outdated and dangerous.
"More money flows if more children are taken out of their homes," she continued.
"That's a crazy way to design a system"
The meeting, while beneficial, received some criticism from Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Gatherings like this are helpful, she told The House last week, but there needs to be a concrete plan in motion when the participants leave.
Looking ahead, Philpott said stories she heard from children who endured the broken system shows Indigenous foster care needs both an immediate and longer term reform.
"Those are the stories that drive us to say 'Those young people need our support now so that those who have been torn away from their families can be reunited and those that don't have to be apprehended can stay with their families,'" she concluded.
Her team will start working on the six-point plan on Monday, including provisions for shorter and longer term goals.
Parental leave needs revamp as government plans for paternity leave
While the Liberals consider rounding out their parental leave policy with paternity care, one expert thinks they should restructure the whole system first.
The federal government has reportedly been working on a possible paternity leave plan, but no cost estimates or implementation timeline have been revealed.
Consultations with social policy professionals have picked up steam since their November announcement to extend leave to 18 months failed to get the intended reaction.
Some new parents were unsettled with the idea of their spreading the same benefits over a longer period of time.
Those issues, and others, need to be addressed in the upcoming plan, Kate Bezanson, a social policy expert from Brock University, told The House.
"The broader system itself needs significant revision," she said.
Ottawa has begun to apply gender lenses to their policies, but they have yet to turn that focus on families.
"It's not clear that parental leaves in general have been subjected to this kind of analysis and I think now is a really good time to do it," Bezanson said.
By applying that scope to the issue, the government should be able to see where the gaps are, she added.
"When you have a dedicated paternity leave, there are important outcomes," she indicated, mentioning higher family income and longer careers for women.
Getting mothers back into the workforce to help boost the economy has been a stated priority for the prime minister.
"It's time to take a serious look at parental leave and childcare policies," he told the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.
"There's more to do."
Looking to Quebec's paternity policy — the only one in Canada — is a good place to start.
"Quebec has probably the best model," Bezanson said.
Almost 80 per cent of eligible fathers in Quebec took paternity leave in 2014, compared to just over 25 per cent of fathers in the rest of Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
While the government mulls over the details, Bezanson said she doesn't anticipate the cost of implementing the leave will be very high.
There is no indication of when a concrete paternity leave plan could be announced.
Government faces pushback for injecting politics into summer jobs
Political influence in summer job funding threatens the diversity that so often Canada boasts of, according to a retired pastor.
Religious and pro-life groups were left dumbstruck when the government changed its summer job funding application to add a mandatory section affirming the group and the job in question respect reproductive rights — including a woman's right to a safe a legal abortion.
Many said they couldn't ethically check that box and contradict their core beliefs.
Marianna Harris, a retired United Church pastor, used funding from the then-Conservative government to hire one student every summer to coordinate her congregation's social media accounts and plan activities like a community teddy bear picnic.
With the new announcement, she told The House she fears for other groups with similar values.
"If the job that's being done is against government policy, then maybe they don't get [funding], but it's not just [based on] what they believe. There's a difference between those two things," she said.
While many pro-choice advocates are lauding the government's stance, others across the country share Harris's unease.
"It is not just a religious issue. There are non-religious groups that see this interference as the beginning of government dictating personal ideology," Lucille Swerdelian said in an email to The House.
Pushback acknowledged, Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, is still standing firm.
"This is about the activities of the organization and the job description," Hajdu told CBC News on Tuesday. "This is not about beliefs or values."
Applying politics to religion and reproduction is the core debate of the decision, but Harris said she wishes the political side could be removed from the issue entirely.
"That's why I wanted to speak up for these people, because I think those grants need to be free of political influence," she stated.
"I'd say take those check marks off that form because it's creating too much difficulty for some faith groups."
The Insiders: Sexual misconduct and Canadian politics
At the end of an unprecedented in Canadian politics, we asked Insiders Jaime Watt, Kathleen Monk and David Herle to join us.
On what's next for the Ontario PC party:
Jaime Watt: "Someone called it a speed bump, I don't think it's a speed bump, I think it's much more serious than that when all the plans that you've got go out the window, and you've got to start over again... You've got to figure out who your leader is going to be and how you're actually going to run that campaign. But on the other hand, there is a campaign plan in place, money's been raised, candidates recruited, so leading that campaign might be attractive to somebody. Instead of spending years in the wilderness, someone could come in, take over, and have a campaign that's a bit like chicken noodle soup - just add hot water and stir, and off they go."
David Herle: "It creates a lot of uncertainty for the other parties. We don't know who the leader of the Progressive Conservatives is going to be in the election. We don't 100 per cent know if their going to stick with their platform... There were a number of items in there that were quite controversial inside the party that were Mr. Brown's personal stamp on the platform, so there's a lot of uncertainty. On the other side is frankly Brown was a weak leader, and a weak candidate, and I was looking forward to running a campaign against him, and the odds are quite high that they'll choose someone who's more effective."
Kathleen Monk: "We know that the Conservative party will be in chaos, likely for the next several weeks, if not months, and more than that the party might have been complicit in knowing about allegations of sexual harassment against their leader and not addressing them. And so, for the New Democrats, what do they have to do? They have to be the vehicle for change."
On the return of Parliament next week:
DH: "I think this spring is likely to be an awful lot about the economy, especially in the context of an attempt to abrogate NAFTA from the Trump administration. You know, from the Liberal perspective, they have worked awfully hard on building networks in the United States and managing this as well as it could be managed, but when you get into an actual intent to abrogate, you're into potential economic-crisis territory, and so, I think for the government the major challenge is going to be to be seen on top of, and managing, what could be a crisis economic situation at any point."
KM: "Jagmeet Singh really needs to get known to Canadians and out there on big issues that are important to everyday Canadians. That's what was heard coming out of his caucus, and he's going to tackle income inequality - things like wireless and cellular rates, housing affordability, and of course childcare. These are issues that matter to Canadians, but right now the NDP isn't as visible as it needs to be, and it's leader certainly isn't."
JW: "In many ways Andrew Scheer has the same challenge that Jagmeet has, that he better come up with some policy that differentiates himself and his party that appeals to his core constituency and his base, whether it's something on tax, or some other issue that he can really own as his own. At the moment just running around in a checked shirt I don't really think is going to take him from he is to where he needs to go."