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Lana Payne: News flash: These are not ‘the good-old days’

The Confederation Building in St. John's, Newfoundland. — file
The Confederation Building in St. John's, Newfoundland. — file - SaltWire Network

Hell hath no fury like a privileged male scorned.

Case in point: the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly.

On rare days, some things get done there, but for the most part it is so painful to watch. Dysfunctional is perhaps the best we can say about it. Toxic could also work.

I suppose the silver lining if you’re Dwight Ball is you’re not Ontario Premier Doug Ford or federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer this week, but really if that’s the best you can say, it’s not good.

Politics has always been a messy business, as it is naturally adversarial. That doesn’t mean bullying and harassment are acceptable behaviours.  Healthy debate and discourse can and should be done without either.

No doubt we are experiencing a bit of a watershed moment in politics. And it may get messier before it gets better. But the tolerance for behaviours that were long-tolerated and hidden from public view are no longer being accepted. And their exposure is shaking political foundations.

Brave women in politics are pushing back against sexism, harassment, bullying and good-old boys who think it is still the good-old days. News flash: it’s not.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh is one such woman.

She must have felt intense pressure to stop speaking out, including her remarks this week in which she noted simply that Eddie Joyce’s apology was not that apologetic.

It wasn’t an apology at all. When you say the words inside the Legislature and then basically take them back right away outside the House of Assembly, it’s not an apology. Indeed, Joyce went on to say he had nothing to apologize for.

Not once have we witnessed a reflective moment from either Joyce or Dale Kirby, the two Liberals MHAs who came under scrutiny in investigations this past year.

I keep thinking that it must have been incredibly uncomfortable and isolating for Gambin-Walsh in caucus. I suspect she experienced and may still experience isolation as this is too-often the usual response to women who refuse to shut up.

A friend of mine attended a government event within the last year in which Gambin-Walsh was also present. The details are not important. What is: she was not recognized in the room by her colleagues making the announcement. It was obvious to many.

These kinds of isolating behaviours are bullying, plain and simple.

And yet she persisted.  And we should thank her for it.

What’s also become clear through the complaints of harassment that have gripped the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature is the lack of understanding among too many elected officials about what constitutes harassment and bullying.

Joyce had said: “It’s just like Syria — someone don’t like you? Let’s leak it to somebody, get your name out there. Once your name is out there, they’ll drag you out and flog you, who cares.”

For the record, no Eddie Joyce what you have experienced is nothing like what the people in war-torn Syria are experiencing and you should be ashamed to even make such a terrible comparison.

Here’s an idea. Usually when there are workplace harassment complaints and investigations, the investigator examines the specific complaint, but also looks to see if there is a systemic problem in that workplace.

None of us need to read a report from the investigator to understand there are systemic sexist problems in the political workplace. We see it.

Therefore, anti-harassment and respectful workplace training should be mandatory for all MHAs. The Legislature should also pass an all-party resolution to have an assessment done of their workplace.

Also having a clearly understood, safe, proper complaints and investigation process is critical to maintaining a respectful workplace. We haven’t really seen that yet either.

We need our political leaders to take political leadership. The province is facing pressing problems. We need more resources for immigration to achieve more robust immigration targets. We also need a climate and a jobs plan. These things should go hand in hand.

But these big issues require meaningful, rigorous debate. They require political leadership.

And we haven’t see much of either lately.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks

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