Top News

Editorial: House rules

Advanced Education Minister Gerry Byrne speaks Monday in the House of Assembly.
Proceedings in the House of Assembly. — Telegram file photo

There are problems with harassment in this province’s House of Assembly, and the House’s management commission is reviewing how harassment complaints are handled.

There are problems in Manitoba as well; that province’s premier, Brian Pallister, says he expects there to be more allegations of improper conduct after asking civil servants and former civil servants to come forward with their experiences. Harassment issues have arisen in Nova Scotia politics, in Ontario politics, and in federal politics as well.

So ask yourself: what’s the common denominator?

If you answered “politicians,” you’d be half-right.

The problem is that politicians don’t just make the rules for the rest of us, they make rules for themselves as well, and their rules can be strikingly different.

The other half? Privilege — but not the kind you’re thinking of.

The problem is that politicians don’t just make the rules for the rest of us, they make rules for themselves as well, and their rules can be strikingly different.

In this province, it’s what brought us the constituency scandal that allowed some MHAs to fill their own pockets, while others simply used taxpayers’ money to essentially buy votes.

Why wasn’t that scandal caught sooner?

The legislature was policing itself. Given the opportunity to make their own rules, MHAs created them with lots of loopholes, basing their defence of their efforts on parliamentary privilege.

“When properly invoked, the effect of the privilege is to insulate the person or the institution invoking it from interference from either the executive or the courts. It becomes a matter for the legislature, and for the legislature alone, to deal with and regulate the matters that fall within the parliamentary privilege umbrella. … In a sense, parliamentary privilege, properly invoked, amounts to an exemption from the general law,” Justice J. Derek Green wrote in his report on the scandal.

In that same report, he quoted from “A Question of Ethics: Canadians Speak Out” — “But this institutional autonomy also has a dark side, in that legislatures and legislators can too easily see themselves as above the law or beyond the reach of ordinary ethical restrictions.”

And that brings us to the here and now, and to the harassment complaints now dogging many legislatures.
Within the public service, there has been a growing awareness of how to deal with harassment and on-the-job abuse. Provincial and federal laws, along with legal cases, have sharpened the application of those policies.

But the legislative branches of governments, while they may have made laws about what’s acceptable in the workplace, have by and large exempted themselves from the same basic workplace rules.

It’s meant those who work directly with politicians don’t have the same sort of job security or protections that normal civil servants do.

When you look at the mess that’s come home to roost now, you can make two clear points: there are those who harass, but there are also those who failed to govern themselves in the same way they chose to govern the rest of us. Privilege indeed.

•••

Have your say
Want to wade into the debate? Write a letter to the editor and email it to letters@thetelegram.com Be sure to include a name, address and daytime telephone number where the author can be contacted. Ideally, letters should be no more than 500 words, to a maximum of 700 words.

Recent Stories