It’s been disappointing to see the headlines week after week on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations against political leaders in Canada and elsewhere. Patrick Brown, Jamie Baillie and Kent Hehr are the most recent public figures to see consequences for these actions; I have no doubt there will be more. Dynamics of power and influence, bullying and the influence of party loyalty can make it very difficult for women and others, particularly those in junior positions and lacking in power, to feel confident to speak up about sexual harassment, sexual assault, bullying or other abuse they are facing.
The recent #metoo movement has helped to break the silence and more people are speaking out against inappropriate behaviour when they see it or experience it. In politics, a culture that chooses to ignore harassment has persisted for too long. No more.
We have a richer political discourse when there are diverse voices participating. But until recently, women’s voices were often silenced, belittled or demeaned by sexualized comments or worse. Women visible minorities faced double-discrimination. So we lost too many smart, accomplished young women who didn’t see the value in sticking it out, in living through the sexual harassment and bullying by powerful men who until recently saw themselves as untouchable. These women “self-selected” out because there was no meaningful way to address the harassment they faced.
No matter the place on the political spectrum, every political party needs to have a respectful workplace policy that covers harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and bullying. A policy that covers elected officials, candidates, staff, volunteers and members. A policy with a strong reporting mechanism that is followed regardless of the relative power of those involved in the complaint. A policy that sends a strong deterrent message to would-be harassers and bullies that abusive behaviour is not okay and that it will have consequences.
All of us need to feel comfortable participating in politics and in political parties. Our differences make our policies and our voices stronger.
I’m running to be the next leader of the Alberta Party - a party that is going through an unprecedented time of growth and change. I call on the Alberta Party to immediately put in place a strong Respectful Workplace policy - and I call on the Government of Alberta to do the same for its elected officials and legislature staff. The Alberta Party is opening the doors wide to people with a great diversity of experience and backgrounds. But one thing we must never lose sight of as our party grows is respect for people and respect for what is right.