The issue of sexual misconduct in the political realm continues to garner headlines. Last week added more fuel to the fire with Liberal MP Kent Hehr stepping down from the Trudeau cabinet after allegations of sexual misconduct, while the Ontario Progressive Conservatives saw leader Patrick Brown and party president Rick Dykstra resign for the same reasons.
The growing litany of similar complaints coming forward from female politicians and staffers at various levels of politics has made it impossible to ignore that this is a widespread problem, and one that needs to be addressed.
Federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday that sexual harassment on Parliament Hill isn’t anything new, but she added it’s time to get serious about supporting victims and preventing the abuse from happening.
“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,” said Hajdu.
Hajdu was commenting while opening debate on proposed legislation aimed at creating federal workplaces where workers can be safe from sexual misconduct as well as bullying and other forms of harassment.
The legislation would provide welcome support for victims of harassment while sending a message to potential perpetrators that such behaviour won’t be tolerated.
But the issue goes beyond the halls of Parliament and the offices of federal agencies. The people who engage in sexual misconduct, bullying or other types of harassment are bringing those unhealthy attitudes with them into their workplaces. It’s already a part of their makeup and, perhaps for various reasons, they feel it’s OK to inflict this behaviour on others.
Former B.C. premier Christy Clark, in commenting on the issue of sexual misconduct last week, noted that after 25 years in politics, she was well acquainted with what she called “frat boy behaviour.”
Such behaviour is essentially the product of a lack of respect for others, particularly women, and these attitudes likely date back to the individuals’ youth. That suggests the work to address the problem needs to go beyond the federal workplaces. It needs to start in schools and in homes to teach children proper respect for others, including women, with the hope that those healthier attitudes will be carried on into adulthood.
One should be able to expect that most men would be embarrassed to behave in a boorish way in the company of women, but the flood of allegations in recent months from various sectors of society indicate there are some men who think it’s OK to behave badly around the opposite sex.
But such behaviour is not OK and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Women should be able to feel safe and secure, especially in their workplaces, and they should feel safe to be able to report cases when they are treated in a disrespectful way. In fact, everyone should be able to feel safe in their workplaces — safe from bullying and harassment.
As Hajdu stated, we have a long way to go, and in that case, there’s no better time to start improving the situation than right now.