Sexual Politics

Standard

Let me play a thought game with you. Suppose you are the leader of a political party and you are approached by an MP from another party with a complaint of harassment by a member of your caucus. What should you do?

You have a number of options. You could ignore it and suggest it is not your problem. Go to the speaker or raise a point of privilege. Impossible? Not at all — a year or so ago an MP got up to complain that a junior Minister was looking at inappropriate pictures on his laptop. Her privilege  was under attack. It turns out he was looking at pictures of his fiancé from a holiday in Mexico. She was in her bathing suit. The Member apologized and withdrew her complaint.

So that was an option. But to do that might have lead to charges of insensitivity. Almost certainly would have in fact.

So, what else? He could take the accused aside and ask them their side of the story. They presumably would have denied any wrong doing (or maybe tearfully come clean). He would tell them to be more appropriate in the future but would/should he discipline them? And how? Take away their responsibilities or remove them from a committee? Seems too minor if the allegations are severe, too much if the situation is less serious than speculated — no details are public. (There is no question that something happened but what and how serious is always an issue and subject, if not to interpretation, at least to perspective).

If he kicks them out of caucus — what reason does he give? None and the rumours start flying. If he gives the reason as inappropriate conduct then the question arises — against whom? Their staff? Though staff willing to complain to the leader are usually willing to go to a lawyer. Once lawyers are involved, complaints do get dealt with. The House of Commons routinely makes out of court settlements with disgruntled (usually harassed) staff — who then have a privacy clause slapped on them so they can’t reveal details. In the Senate there is actually a formal third-party process so it is not left to the whims of lawyers and internal affairs committees behind closed doors. Does it make it easy to complain or prove the case? Not necessarily but it exists — for staff at least.

The final option is to suspend the MPs, make the reasons public and refer the matter to the speaker. Which, as we know in the real world is exactly what happened. Without sufficient consultation, apparently.

One has to wonder what the MPs who made the allegations thought would happen? What were they looking for? I have no idea but apparently it wasn’t a public process.

But think of this. If the party leader had done nothing, he would be politically attacked. If he did something to discipline his members behind closed doors, wouldn’t he face criticisms from his own MPs over the failure of due process? Worse, wouldn’t he worry that the floodgates would open and pretty soon his entire caucus would be under suspicion? This is Parliament. Everyone thinks of political advantage. All the time. Even when they shouldn’t.

It seems to me that maybe everyone mishandled this process.

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