OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s parliament began debate on Monday on new legislation to tighten workplace harassment rules, including those governing politicians, as allegations of sexual misconduct mounted against lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum.
The bill, introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in November, gained a new prominence after a federal cabinet minister and two provincial party leaders stepped down last week after being accused of inappropriate behaviour.
While the proposed law will govern all federal workplaces, including private businesses, the environment among political staffers in Ottawa was in focus as the #MeToo social media movement gained momentum in Canada.
“It clearly is a crisis in this workplace,” Employment Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters outside the House of Commons. “We talk a lot about getting women into politics, and if we can’t actually protect the women staffers in our own workplaces, we have a long ways to go.”
Last week, Trudeau announced that federal Cabinet Minister Kent Hehr, 48, had resigned pending an investigation into allegations that he made inappropriate comments to women.
That announcement followed the resignation of Patrick Brown and Jamie Baillie, the leaders of the Progressive Conservatives in the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia, respectively.
The president of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, Rick Dykstra, also quit Sunday after Maclean’s magazine published a story containing allegations that Dykstra had sexually assaulted a young political staff member during his time as a federal member of parliament.
“[O]ver the next couple of months we will see the party coalesce around a new Leader. As this process unfolds, I have made the decision to step aside as President and take a step back for someone else to lead us through the hard work,” Dykstra said on Twitter.
He did not respond to a Reuters request for comment Monday.
The government’s legislation would outline procedures from employers to deal with allegations of harassment and bullying, add the option of an outside investigator, and enforce privacy rules to protect victims.
Previously, if an employee had a complaint about a member of Parliament, they had to work through the party or the speaker of the House of Commons to resolve the issue.
In the United States, sexual harassment allegations have also engulfed men in politics, business and the workplace, inspired by the #MeToo social media movement supported by victims of sexual harassment or abuse.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; editing by Clive McKeef