ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature reconvened two weeks early on Tuesday for a remarkable session to address alleged bullying and harassment by two ousted members of the governing Liberals.
The scandal has enveloped the government since spring, when Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby were relieved of their cabinet portfolios and ousted from Liberal caucus. Soon after, former finance minister Cathy Bennett said a Liberal culture of intimidation had helped drive her from cabinet.
As reports on the two men were released Tuesday, Premier Dwight Ball said the government needs to be a welcoming place for women.
“We want to make sure that we can attract females, women, the future MHAs of Newfoundland and Labrador. We want to make sure that the workplace is conducive to bringing people into this, not discouraging people,” he said.
But Ball had previously come under fire for claiming he was unaware of harassment allegations, and both opposition party leaders and one complainant complained Tuesday about the haphazard handling of the complaints.
A key sticking point: One of legislative standards commissioner Bruce Chaulk’s reports was made by the public before being officially tabled Tuesday.
Last week, Kirby released one of Chaulk’s reports to the media, clearing him of most misconduct allegations from MHA Pam Parsons – except for one incident when Kirby told Parsons, “You are beautiful and I love you,” and suggested that she stop being so vocal on behalf of her constituents.
Kirby had also allegedly sent Parsons a text saying, “You’re causing a (expletive) of trouble for me today.”
The reports said Joyce faced complaints that he glared at people after a heated conversation, walked away from discussions, and dismissed questions. One complaint said: “MHA Joyce refused to shake the complainant’s hand and spoke negatively about interacting with her to her colleagues.”
The reports found that Joyce’s actions, for the most part, did not violate the code of conduct, except for one incident when he submitted a friend’s name for consideration in a management position, and followed up several times about the status of the competition.
Liberal member Sherry Gambin-Walsh, one of the complainants against Joyce, said outside the legislature she was not satisfied with the report, or with how the process has unfolded.
“It’s been very difficult on me personally, but I’ve managed to work through it, and it’s been very difficult on my family,” Gambin-Walsh said.
She said she would have preferred an independent firm handled the investigation, rather than a government commissioner with minimal experience in the area.
Gambin-Walsh is set to present her version of events later this week.
A harassment-free workplace policy for government officials came into effect in June and work is ongoing to develop a legislature-specific policy.
Tory member Tracey Perry, one of the complainants against Joyce, raised the issue of whether the handing of complaints might discourage young women from running for office.
Outside the legislature, Ball said that the process has been flawed but he hopes the lessons learned will create a more welcoming environment and make young women feel safe taking an interest in government.
“There’s no doubt ? getting from April to where we are now, there’s been a lot of flaws in this process,” Ball said outside the legislature.
Debate over Chaulk’s findings, and possible reprimand for the two MHAs, will resume on Wednesday after all members of the house have reviewed the findings.