ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A second minister in less than a week is out of Newfoundland and Labrador’s cabinet as the governing Liberals are under increasing fire for how they handled bullying complaints.
Premier Dwight Ball said Monday that Dale Kirby is out of the Liberal caucus and his role as education minister while allegations from members of the house of assembly about his behaviour are reviewed.
“This morning I received complaints from MHAs about the minister,” Ball told the legislature during question period. “We’ve addressed these promptly.”
Kirby is the second minister to step aside after similar complaints saw Eddie Joyce leave caucus and his municipal affairs and environment portfolios last week. In that case, Ball said he acted immediately after receiving formal complaints early Wednesday – two days after the Official Opposition first raised cryptic questions about potential harassment in Liberal ranks.
Joyce faces allegations of harassment by Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh along with a Progressive Conservative member.
Ball would not confirm details except to say the complaints against both ministers aren’t sexual or physical in nature.
He says the commissioner for legislative standards will investigate the allegations as part of attempts to halt bullying in provincial politics.
Former Tory premier Paul Davis, who led questioning for the Official Opposition in the legislature Monday, asked why Ball didn’t act sooner. Kirby, Davis noted, sent an email to Liberal caucus members Tuesday in an apparent attempt to smoke out those who’d leaked harassment details to the Tories.
Kirby, a former NDP member who crossed to the Liberals after a nasty bout of leadership infighting split the NDP caucus in 2013, said “there’s no greater violation” when it comes to political loyalty.
Davis noted that Democracy Watch called the email “an act of intimidation” and asked why the premier didn’t move last week to oust Kirby. Davis also alleged that Justice Minister Andrew Parsons didn’t act on an email last October from a Tory member with the subject line “Concerns with bullying.”
“No, I’m not okay with that,” Ball replied, his voice rising. “And we have encouraged people to come forward with information and file complaints if it’s deemed necessary to do so.”
NDP Leader Gerry Rogers has blasted what she described as indiscrete and ham-fisted handling of the allegations. She called Monday for a more comprehensive harassment code for those working in government.
“We need a specific policy to deal with legislators as Nova Scotia has done, as Ontario is in the process of doing and as Alberta has done.”
She also hopes the commissioner will make public the procedure he will use to do this work “so both complainants and accused will know precisely what the procedure will be.”
Ball said extra resources have been offered for the commissioner’s investigations.
NDP member Lorraine Michael said the political climate has “created a chill and could discourage others with a complaint of harassment or intimidation from coming forward.”
Ball said it’s no longer business as usual, as in past administrations, to sweep such behaviour under the rug.
“Silence is not an option.”