Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady grabbed the small sign off the edge of her desk as she hurried out of her office on Friday, working to make it in time for a luncheon speech.
It was at a St. John’s hotel. Not the ballroom or the main conference room, but an around-the-corner speech to an intimate crowd of about 60 people, almost all women. They were identified community and business leaders — potential candidates for the provincial election in 2019.
She placed her sign, facing out, on the front edge of the podium and recited the inscription into the microphone: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
It’s a question she asks herself daily, she said, for motivation. It helps when handling negotiations and policy decisions required in managing her ministerial portfolios.
In response to questions from the audience, she said it was also motivation while tackling the general challenges associated with political life in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Coady made a brief acknowledgement of the two weeks of upheaval in her workplace, with allegations of harassment and bullying made by colleagues against fellow legislators, and ministers ousted from the Liberal cabinet and under investigation.
“We do have a problem in the House of Assembly,” she said, “but from a government (worker) perspective, the new workplace harassment policy is being rolled out on June 1. And that will establish timelines for formal investigations, it will increase accountability and — most importantly around this issue, I think — is raising awareness of what is, what your actions do to people.”
Opportunity to make changes
The “problem in the House” will be considered today at 5:15 p.m. by the House of Assembly Management Commission.
The commission is established through the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act and is designed to handle the financial and administrative concerns of the House. It includes members from the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, along with the Speaker and the clerk of the House (a non-voting member).
The voting members are Coady, Perry Trimper, Andrew Parsons, Keith Hutchings, Mark Browne, Paul Davis and Lorraine Michael.
The latest meeting was called by Trimper in the wake of the bullying and harassment allegations leaving two members — Dale Kirby and Eddie Joyce — stripped of their ministerial status and ousted from the Liberal caucus, left to await the outcome of separate investigations.
The agenda for the commission’s meeting includes reference to a harassment-free workplace policy for the legislature and the code of conduct for elected members (the suggestion being the commission will respond to calls to update the code).
Calls to change the status quo
Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, told The Telegram she supports any move to upgrade the code of conduct for all elected members in Newfoundland and Labrador, and further address harassment and bullying in the provincial legislature.
“Between and among elected officials, there needs to be better guidance on how people treat each other and what constitutes misconduct in a variety of forms,” Peckford said.
It needs to be clear how the followup will occur, and what complainants and the subjects of complaints can expect — akin to the policy created for the public sector.
The issue at large exists, regardless of the outcome of any investigations coming out of the recently publicized cases. Peckford said it’s something political leaders across Canada are beginning to recognize and approach formally.
“It’s certainly not true that every legislature around the country has a specific harassment policy, but many of them do or are in a process of putting them together,” she said.
"That’s really what this is about, is how people get what they want in politics." — Nancy Peckford, executive director, Equal Voice
Peckford said harassment complaints are about the deployment of power and influence, so when you talk about work within the halls of power, the risk for harassment will exist, and strong barriers need to be established.
“That’s really what this is about, is how people get what they want in politics. And some of the tactics that are used, that have been spoken about publicly in Newfoundland (and Labrador) in terms of intimidation and threats and mild gaslighting and these things, are things that are used by political actors, by elected representatives, who are single-minded in getting what they want and quite frankly don’t always appreciate when fresh people with fresh ideas — often women — bring other things to the table,” she said.
Peckford, based in Ottawa but from this province, says there’s more to be done here to establish a healthy workplace.
“Ultimately, I think Newfoundland is in desperate need of a rigorous policy, but also some reflection on political culture writ large,” she said.
The Telegram will have more in Thursday’s print and digital editions.
A bully in the workplace isn’t always obvious to everyone in that workplace.
Generally, bullying is a pattern of behaviour — one or more things creating an environment with underlying tension, anger and distraction. It can harm confidence, and have wide-ranging and negative effects. Some examples of bullying behaviour:
- Spreading malicious rumours, gossip or innuendo
- Excluding or isolating someone socially
- Intimidating a person
- Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work
- Physically abusing or threatening abuse
- Removing areas of responsibilities without cause
- Constantly changing work guidelines
- Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail
- Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information
- Making jokes that are obviously offensive by spoken word or email
- Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking
- Assigning unreasonable duties or workload that are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure)
- Underwork — creating a feeling of uselessness
- Yelling or using profanity
- Criticizing a person persistently or constantly
- Belittling a person’s opinions
- Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment
- Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion
- Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment
(Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website, on workplace bullying. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html)
‘So help me God’
Before taking their seat in the House of Assembly, all elected politicians swear an oath, or make an affirmation (that’s the oath, minus the “so help me God” part), declaring they will carry out their work to the best of their ability.
They commit to not allowing money or private interests to influence them, and to following the Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Assembly.
That code includes a dozen points. Developed in the wake of a spending scandal, it demands that members reject political corruption, for example, act lawfully and make prudent use of public resources.
It also states members are not to engage in personal conduct exploiting their positions of authority, or act in a manner bringing discredit to the House of Assembly.
It states relationships between members and government employees should be professional and based upon mutual respect.
But what it does not do is specifically mention harassment — something that has drawn criticism during weeks involving allegations of harassment, commitments to investigation and public fallout.
Critics have similarly pointed to no clear, written definition of harassment or bullying that was applied by members in their public comments.
Harassment is defined in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Code. It’s also simply described as comment or conduct known to be unwelcome, or where people reasonably ought to have understood it to be unwelcome. It can involve intimidation, or embarrassment and personal humiliation.
It’s normally a series of events, but can be just one, with lasting damage.
The Workplace Human Rights Policy for the City of St. John’s, like other anti-harassment policies, offers some examples of the potentially damaging behaviour. They include the obvious: threats, vandalism, unnecessary physical contact, and racial or ethnic slurs.
But there are more subtle examples: repeated and unwelcome taunts, patronizing behaviour, condescending behaviour and the use of authority undermining performance or threatening a career.
Advocates say the House of Assembly Management Commission needs to come forward with the clear definitions it subscribes to and a specific policy applicable to the roles of elected officials, and their dealings with each other and with the public.
Is it harassment? (from the Government of Canada)