Canadian political scene shaken by sexual misconduct allegations
OTTAWA – Within the past 24 hours, allegations of sexual misconduct have been levelled against Ontario MPP Patrick Brown and Calgary MP Kent Hehr, while former Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Baillie has resigned amid accusations of inappropriate behaviour.
All three men have stepped back from their high-profile positions.
Brown resigned as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives after a conference call with his fellow party members, after CTV News reported the exclusive and serious allegations from two women.
Brown denied the allegations, calling them "false and defamatory" through his lawyer. He has vowed to remain an MPP and says he will return to work, though many of his senior staff have stepped aside.
The day’s newspapers, with his name and face splashed across them, were left in front of the door to the office of the official leader of the opposition Thursday.
Brown's hometown reaction
Zooming in further to Barrie, Ont., the claims did not come as a surprise to all of Brown's constituents, with two women telling CTV News about their interactions with Brown.
"Countless girls would pop up like every week and say like jokingly and kind-of nonchalantly… 'Oh I went to Patrick Brown's house,' and they would kind of just be hush-hush about it," said Victoria Delray, a woman who identified herself as a former Hooligan's employee, the resturant that now resides where The Bank nightclub used to be.
The well-known politician was often spotted in bars and dance clubs in Barrie, including The Bank, the nightclub where one of his accusers said Brown and others provided her drinks before the party moved back to Brown’s home.
"For him to continuously come up and ask me or my girlfriends if we wanted to sit with him," said Maiya Brown, speaking to CTV News in Barrie. "It would be more like he’s imposing himself," she said.
Others said the allegations were out of character and offered support for his decision to stay on as the MPP.
'It made an impact'
Brown’s former employee says she felt validated by the outpouring of support she saw from people online last night and today. The other woman said, in a text message to CTV, that she didn't expect her story would trigger Brown’s resignation, but added that "I'm glad it made an impact... I will pray for him."
Hehr -- who faced new allegations of inappropriate behaviour from a public servant in Alberta -- has resigned as minister of sport and persons with disabilities.
His departure from the federal cabinet table is pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
CTV News has interviewed another woman who shared her own alleged interaction with Hehr. She said that at the Liberal caucus Christmas party in 2015, when introduced to him, he made an inappropriate comment regarding her chest. Hehr has yet to respond to this woman’s account.
"The conversation our society is having is a very important one. I encourage all women who have felt uncomfortable or who have experienced harassment of any kind to continue to come forward," Hehr said in a statement. "It is never okay."
Bailile was asked to step down, the Canadian Press reported. He tweeted he was resigning for "personal reasons."
As these allegations -- none of which have been proven in court -- surfaced one after the other, they were met with immediate reaction from politicians on all sides.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said sexual harassment and assault is unacceptable and that he hoped the examples of the women who come forward "will resonate."
"We believe that it is important to support women who come forward with allegations and that is exactly what our government will do," said Trudeau, from Davos.
"Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct have no place in Canadian society, especially in our political system. We understand how difficult it is for women to come forward under these circumstances and the courage that is required to make these incidents known," said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
In an interview with CTV's Power Play, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh offered support to survivors.
"I think it’s incumbent on all leaders, and I take this responsibility personally, that, I have to do whatever I can to make sure that our environment, the workplace environment, the culture we create is one that’s respectful."
Ontario PCs plotting next steps
In Ontario, a province five months away from an election, the party will be deciding Friday on a new interim leader, and eventually the person who will lead the caucus into the polls.
Deputy PC leader Sylvia Jones told reporters Thursday that they have a plan in place, calling last night's political upheaval "a hiccup."
"The implications are of course big also for everybody else who is a member of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. They have candidates in the wings, they have volunteers, so it’s more than a hiccup, it could be a disaster," said Conservative strategist Michele Austin on CTV's Power Play.
Call for improved policies in Canadian legislatures
Equal Voice, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to run for office, is calling on all legislatures in Canada to bring in more robust and precise sexual harassment policies, and for political parties to foster zero-tolerance internal cultures regarding sexual harassment.
“In the face of recent developments involving multiple political actors at various levels of government, there is no time to waste,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.
At present, just the federal House of Commons, Nova Scotia legislature, and Quebec have wide-spanning harassment policies for the people who work there, whether elected or not.
A recent voluntary survey conducted by The Canadian Press of female MPs found that 58 per cent of respondents had personally been the target of sexual misconduct of some form while in office.
In the fall the Liberals introduced new legislation aimed at cracking down on harassment in federal workplaces, including Parliament Hill. Bill C-65 if passed as drafted, would give workers and their employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, exerting more pressure on companies to combat unacceptable behaviour and punish those who don't take it seriously.
The proposed rules would also enforce strict privacy rules to protect the victims of harassment or violence.
Bill C-65 is scheduled to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday, when MPs return to Ottawa for the first time this year.