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Vicky Mochama: As Ottawa mulls labour code update, culture change clearly needed

Bill C-65 would introduce, among other things, clear reporting processes for federally-regulated workplaces like Parliament Hill.

Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu spoke in support of Bill-65 recently in the House of Commons, saying Parliament Hill &quotis especially affected."

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu spoke in support of Bill-65 recently in the House of Commons, saying Parliament Hill "is especially affected."

#MeToo has opened the floodgates and the waters are beginning to hit the Canadian political landscape.

In politics, as in many workplaces, harassment and abuse can run rampant if unchecked. Every federal party is dealing with this.

On Thursday Jagmeet Singh announced that the NDP would investigate a complaint regarding Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir, whose responsibilities have been paused for now. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has ordered an investigation into allegations that she is a bully and had created a toxic workplace. Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny just retired suddenly, months before he is required to, after a female staffer who complained of sexual harassment in 2014 suggested the case be reopened, after he was found innocent at the time.

Asked about a 2014 assault allegation in Ottawa, former MP Rick Dykstra resigned last week as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

According to Maclean’s, senior Conservative party officials knew of the allegations for years. During the 2015 federal election, emails indicate that the party’s senior leaders — the men, especially — were more concerned with avoiding liability rather than investigating the propriety of running an alleged assaulter.

At the same time the Conservative party was deciding Dykstra’s fate, a story surfaced that he had been spotted buying drinks for underage girls (which he denied).

Yet it seems there wasn’t sufficient appetite in the party to find out more about the initial allegation or to put a serious pause on Dykstra’s candidacy.

The Harper inner circle’s focus on plausible deniability over fact-finding is why Stephen Harper can now state: “I understood that the matter had been investigated by the police and closed a year prior. Given this understanding of the situation, I did not believe that I could justify removing him as a candidate.”

The Dykstra case is particularly galling, but there are commonalities across these cases. Many of the complainants are still choosing to remain anonymous. #MeToo’s moment of reckoning has not diminished the fear of retribution.

Significantly, there is a lack of clarity about the complaint and investigations processes.

That is where Bill C-65 comes in. Introduced by Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, the bill makes essential changes to the Canada Labour Code. Notably for workers in Ottawa politics, it finally creates protections and reporting processes for parliamentary workplaces.

Clearly, safety and abuses of power are not solely partisan issues. No party can claim purity or perfection on this. The work of legislating a country and a people should be hard. But public servants shouldn’t be exempt from public accountability.

Bill C-65 has a way to go before it becomes law. While all the parties have indicated their support for changing the law, they must now decide how they will also change their cultures.

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