Tory leaders ouster shows positive shift on sexual harassment Liberals NDP

first_imgHALIFAX – Political leaders in Nova Scotia say the Opposition leader’s resignation over sexual harassment allegations suggests a positive shift from times when mistreatment of female staff was swept under the rug.Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie was forced to quit on Wednesday after an investigation found he acted inappropriately and breached the legislature’s policy on workplace harassment.Premier Stephen McNeil noted Thursday his government brought in the policy around harassment at the legislature in 2016.“It’s been an important part of my journey as premier of this province that … people feel safe in their place of work and in their home. It’s why we … brought in the policy on harassment at Province House,” he said.“We’re continuing to make it easier for people to come forward if they’re being harassed in any way.”NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Baillie’s case saddened him, but it also signals that times have changed and that such behaviours “are no longer part of the accepted landscape.”Party president Tara Miller has said the Tories launched an independent, third-party probe into Baillie’s behaviour after a sexual harassment claim was brought to the party’s attention late last month by a staff person.Caucus then backed the party’s decision to seek Baillie’s resignation — though few details have been provided to the public about what actually happened.Multiple Tory MLAs and officials did not return phone calls and emails Thursday.However, Thursday evening, a party spokesperson offered some details of how the matter came to their attention.“I can confirm that the allegations were about an incident that happened in December (2017), and the Party became aware in late December and promptly took action,” Jennifer Edge said in an email.Miller has said she is only aware of one individual who has come forward with allegations, but she would not say whether the allegations result from one incident or multiple incidents over time.The legislature’s harassment policy definition of harassment includes behaviour that the perpetrator knows “would be unwelcome and cause offence or harm,” or would “demean, belittle, intimidate, threaten, distress, humiliate or embarrass,” the employee.It may also be discrimination as defined in the province’s Human Rights Act, or would endanger a person’s job.A spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Police said the force has not received a report or complaint against Baillie.Observers of Nova Scotia politics say the handling of the Baillie case stands in contrast to past eras.Author Stephen Kimber chronicled the trial of former Liberal premier Gerald Regan, who was found not guilty on Dec. 18, 1998, of multiple counts of rape and attempted rape.In his book, “Aphrodisiac: Sex, Politics, Power and Gerald Regan,” Kimber wrote the case was an important turning point because “a group of women had come forward to hold a powerful man to account for his behaviour toward them.”Kimber says the Baillie case stands in stark contrast to an era when many with knowledge of harassment were reluctant to come forward.“It’s a 180-degree turn from Nova Scotia politics of the 1970s. … It’s important that it’s a political party that decided once it heard the allegations to take actions to find out what happened,” said the writer.Michelle Coffin, a former Nova Scotia Liberal Party aide who now teaches political science, said the person who came forward required considerable fortitude.“There’s a lot of pressure there to not rock the boat, to ensure you’re towing the line and not causing any problems for the political party,” she said in an interview.“When you make such claims you can be seen as turning your back on the party. It takes a lot of courage and for political staffers it takes even more courage.”Baillie announced last fall he was leaving politics after leading the party for almost seven years, but also said at the time he would remain the head of the party until a new leader was chosen.David Johnson, a political science professor at Cape Breton University, said the Progressive Conservative party’s rapid response to the allegations could limit the negative impact on the party.“The party has dealt with an embarrassing situation quickly — they’ve lanced a boil,” he said, noting that the party has said allegations were first brought to its attention in December.Johnson said he would expect other political parties to take a similar approach, given the growing intolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace — as illustrated in the recent wave of allegations that have rattled the entertainment industry.However, Erin Crandall, an assistant professor at Acadia University’s Department of Politics, said it may be early days to conclude the Tories have escaped unscathed.She says if fresh details emerge, it could still tarnish the image of the Opposition party.“We don’t know a lot of details yet … There’s a lot of additional information we need to know before we make a judgment on how the party conducted itself,” she said.“Was this issue well known in the party, and people were deliberately ignoring it?”In Fredericton, Progressive Conservative Leader Blain Higgs issued a statement saying the New Brunswick government should review existing legislation that deals with personal and sexual harassment in the workplace, saying the existing law is flawed.“This is a universal problem that is not peculiar to any enterprise or institution,” Higgs said. “It is the culture that needs to change. Women and girls have a right to live and work free from fear of intimidation and violence.”Higgs said the legislation must be updated because it doesn’t cover legislative and political staff, and government employees.— With files from Michael MacDonald.Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.last_img

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