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Pam Frampton: Shemozzle on Confederation Hill

Any day now, the N.L. legislature might unveil the newest weapon in its arsenal in the war against inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. —
Any day now, the N.L. legislature might unveil the newest weapon in its arsenal in the war against inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. — 123RF Stock Photo (pardon the pun)

N.L. could learn from N.S. when it comes to investigating complaints against politicians

“Guilt has very quick ears to an accusation.” — Henry Fielding (1707-54), British novelist

By the time you read this, the stocks might be erected on Confederation Hill in St. John’s, with the latest accused member of the House of Assembly being dragged out like a limp rag doll to be put on display.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

Perhaps some entrepreneur-types will be selling eggs by the dozen or bags of rotten tomatoes to whoever would like to lob a projectile in the direction of the person about to be pilloried.

Seriously, with all the allegations flying and the ousting and jousting going on the House over revelations that complaints have been made against some MHAs (I say some, because whatever number I insert will surely have changed by the time this is in print) — public stocks on the grounds seems like the next logical step.

Are our elected officials incapable of dealing efficiently, effectively and discreetly with workplace complaints? Is the legislature so toxic that perhaps complaints shouldn’t even be brought forward to politicians?

It seems so.

It’s worth comparing a complaint process that is becoming more bizarre and unprofessional by the day with a recent development in Nova Scotia politics.

In December 2017, someone went to the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia with an allegation of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment, against then party leader Jamie Baillie.

The person who brought the allegation forward was not the complainant, but the complainant was identified to the party and contacted.

It’s worth comparing a complaint process that is becoming more bizarre and unprofessional by the day with a recent development in Nova Scotia politics.

According to a Jan. 26 article by CBC Nova Scotia’s Michael Gorman, “When approached by the party, that person decided not to follow the process outlined by the legislature’s workplace harassment policy, which would have required them to go to the caucus whip, the legislature’s clerk or some other designated person to lodge a complaint, according to PC spokesperson Jenni Edge.”

It’s worth pointing out that, unlike in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Nova Scotia legislature’s workplace harassment policy applies to elected members of the legislature the same way it does for public service employees. There is a set procedure that is triggered when a formal complaint is made, which has discretion at its heart. It states:

“Appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the confidentiality of all inquiries, complaints and related records is respected, subject to procedural fairness or to any disclosure required by this Policy or by law. Disciplinary measures may be taken against an individual who inappropriately discloses information. No person shall disclose information related to the resolution process or any information related to any participant.”

In the case of Jamie Baillie, both he and the complainant agreed to an alternative approach, where both were provided legal representation and the complaint was investigated by an experienced third-party lawyer.

The lawyer found that the sexual harassment rules had been breached and the report was submitted to the PC party. Then, and only then, was Baillie forced to resign. The complainant was not identified.

Compare that to here, where complaints have been used as political tinder before they have even been determined to be based in fact or not.

Complainants are being identified and some of the subjects of those complaints are being summarily ousted from caucus and cabinet (where applicable) and made to take seats in the legislative no man’s land occupied by Independents until such time as they are investigated and their fate is definitively determined. (I suspect anyone exonerated by this exercise will feel like they’ve been tainted all the same).

And need it be mentioned that the person carrying out these complaint investigations is Legislative Commissioner Bruce Chaulk, a Liberal appointee? Which is not to say he can’t act fairly, but it might not offer the same reassurance to all parties that calling in a non-political-appointee third-party lawyer might.

This is not procedural fairness and transparency, it’s a feeding frenzy.

The Tories must be rubbing their hands in glee at the realization that, suddenly, nobody’s talking about Muskrat Falls.

Related column by this author:

Pam Frampton: Bullying claims unfold in public

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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