OTTAWA – MPs have unanimously agreed to pass legislation aimed at cracking down on harassment in federal workplaces into committee, saying it’s time for things to change on Parliament Hill.

In her first day in the new role, NDP House Leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau sought, and received unanimous consent from her House of Commons colleagues to send Bill C-65 straight to committee, after a few hours of debate on Monday.

"We will do absolutely everything we can to change the culture here on Parliament Hill," said Brosseau in the House of Commons.

During the debate, sexual misconduct and workplace behaviour on Parliament Hill has been front and centre, as MPs discussed the bill.

In an impassioned speech, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel called out many problematic aspects of the power dynamics and culture on Parliament Hill.

"The fact that we have to legislate this behavior actually takes my voice away," she said, adding that because they are discussing this, she and other MPs are not able to discuss other pressing matters. "Because we have people that feel that it’s within their purview to act badly, to use their power imbalance to silence and demean others, is disgusting," she said.

The proposed legislation would give workers and their employers a clear course of action to deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

"What’s in place right now to protect Canadians in federally-regulated work places from harassment and violence, and to deal with it when it does happen, is simply not enough, and that we need to do better," said Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu, who introduced the bill in November.

The legislation is aimed at giving 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 changes will merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process, which could include having an outside investigator brought in to review allegations.

The proposed rules would also enforce strict privacy rules to protect the victims of harassment or violence.

Once passed, the legislation would also allow anyone unhappy with how their dispute is being handled to complain to the federal labour minister, who could step in to investigate and order sanctions for employers.

The new bill would apply to all federally regulated workplaces, such as banks, telecommunications and transport industries, representing about eight per cent of the national labour force.

The Liberals want the rules to apply to politicians, their staff and other Parliament Hill employees, warning of dire repercussions for any MP or senator who flouts the rules.

"Parliament Hill features distinct power imbalances that perpetuates a culture where people with a lot of power and prestige can and have used that power to victimize who work so hard for us," said Hajdu.

Department officials have said it could take a year or more before the rules come into effect, since regulations would have to be crafted once the bill receives parliamentary approval.

Hajdu has recognized that legislation will not be enough, but said the government can play a "critical role" in shifting culture.

"Mr. Speaker, time is up. Things need to change, and it starts with saying emphatically that it is never okay… this has to stop," she said.

During debate, NDP MP Tracey Ramsey said it was critical that all sides put partisanship aside to make sure there is zero tolerance for any inappropriate behavior. She also signaled that the NDP will be suggesting amendments to the bill, including to make sure there are clear definitions for harassment, and to install a brief paid leave for a victim of harassment.

In a statement, advocacy group Democracy Watch is calling for extended whistleblower protections as part of the reforms proposed with Bill C-65.

The debate on the bill is continuing this afternoon. Once debate ends today, the bill will be sent to the House Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities committee for further study.


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