The House

When #MeToo and Time's Up collide with Canadian politics

After allegations of sexual misconduct forced out two provincial party leaders — in Ontario and in Nova Scotia — and one federal cabinet minister, we ask Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, former NDP MP and WWF Canada president Megan Leslie, and former Liberal staffer Greg MacEachern about what should happen next.
Northern Ontario political organizers believe the sexual misconduct scandals that brought down PC leader Patrick Brown and others will change how parties choose their candidates. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

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.

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."

Federal Sport and Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr has resigned from cabinet pending an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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.

Lisa Raitt, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Megan Leslie, former NDP MP, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, and Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal Hill staffer, now senior vice-president of Environics Communications, discuss the aftermath what should happen after allegations of sexual misconduct forced out two provincial party leaders -- in Ontario and in Nova Scotia -- and one federal cabinet minister. 11:20

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