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Pam Frampton: Bullying claims unfold in public

['Sherry Gambin-Walsh.']
Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh. — SaltWire Network file photo

Complaints against Eddie Joyce will be a litmus test of government’s anti-harassment stance

The tension was thick inside the House of Assembly Thursday. Confederation Building was teeming with reporters, their phones and microphones outthrust whenever a tense-faced MHA agreed to make comment.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

The House was adjourned until Monday after an incendiary question period in which Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh said Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce had identified her publicly as the person who had made a formal complaint about his behaviour.

Talking to reporters, Joyce countered the claim of bullying against him by saying he had helped students get jobs and helped other MHAs leverage government funding, as if one had anything to do with the other.

Afterwards, Tory MHA Tracey Perry also came forward with a complaint about Joyce, and suggested there might be others, saying she’d heard stories that were far worse than her own experience with the rough-around-the-edges cabinet minister.

Premier Dwight Ball had already removed Joyce from his ministerial duties, and then he went further and expelled him from caucus, after Joyce was accused of having “outed” Gambin-Walsh as the complainant.

Joyce, of course, is innocent of the allegations unless he’s found to be otherwise. An independent investigation will be conducted, and there should be no rush to judgment, even if other complainants come forward next week.

Some commenters have observed that Joyce is old school and that might account for his political deportment. That may be true, but it isn’t an excuse. We all have to change with the times, and in politics more so than some occupations, when you’re often operating in full public glare.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that these are serious complaints of bullying behaviour in the workplace. Whether they are grounded in fact or not has yet to be determined, but they should not be fuel for political one-upmanship or seen as just the latest sideshow to the political carnival.

And that’s what’s troubling about the way these complaints came to light — any sense of due process was at least temporarily subsumed by fraught politics, with some quick to use the complaints against Joyce as political fodder.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that these are serious complaints of bullying behaviour in the workplace. Whether they are grounded in fact or not has yet to be determined, but they should not be fuel for political one-upmanship or seen as just the latest sideshow to the political carnival.

For a House of Assembly that’s just a month away from tabling new harassment-free workplace legislation, politicians seemed woefully unprepared for the complaints laid this week.

There was considerable bungling in the early stages:

  1. The initial complaint against Joyce was first not-so-subtly hinted at by Progressive Conservative Party Leader Paul Davis in the House of Assembly. While Davis seemed to think his intimations were what prompted complainants to go public, surely some people might be less likely to come forward if they felt they could wind up as fuel for political sparring.
  2. Education Dale Kirby muddled things by sending an email to Liberal MHAs, which was obtained by the CBC, trying to ferret out who “planted the harassment allegations.” It felt like a one-man witch-hunt. “There is no greater violation of trust!” Kirby exclaimed. (I’d put it to Mr. Kirby that if it MHAs are, in fact, being bullied by a legislative colleague, that’s a pretty big violation of trust right there.)
  3.  A Telegram headline on Thursday spoke volumes: “Cabinet minister accused of misconduct: Premier Dwight Ball says next steps yet to be determined.” The government is quick to tout its new workplace harassment policy but the legislature seemed confused about how to handle allegations of bad behaviour by its own members. The premier said they were navigating “uncharted waters.” There were some real deer-in-the-headlights moments.

The government needs to lead by example.

If the process is one people are expected to have confidence in, it will be transparent while respecting people’s privacy, and anyone who should be held accountable will be.

Above all else, as the government prepares to roll out “one of the most progressive workplace harassment policies in Canada,” it had better be prepared to hold its own members to the same high standards — and offer them the same due process.

Other recent columns by this author

Pam Frampton: Voyeurism case worth watching

Pam Frampton: Pushing against plastic

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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