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From left, MHAs John Finn, Keith Hutchings, Scott Reid, Lorraine Michael and Pam Parsons outlined the Privileges and Elections Committee’s work so far on bringing forth a legislature-specific anti-harassment policy.
From left, MHAs John Finn, Keith Hutchings, Scott Reid, Lorraine Michael and Pam Parsons outlined the Privileges and Elections Committee’s work so far on bringing forth a legislature-specific anti-harassment policy. - David Maher

After two MHAs were reprimanded for bad behaviour in the workplace, a new policy will emphasize confidentiality

A new House of Assembly-specific respectful workplace policy will see an emphasis on confidentiality of any complaints.

The Privileges and Elections Committee gave an interim report of their work on the new policy on Wednesday afternoon. The committee is comprised of Liberal MHAs Scott Reid (chair), John Finn and Pam Parsons, as well as Tory MHA Keith Hutchings and NDP MHA Lorraine Michael.

After MHAs Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby were ousted from the Liberal cabinet and caucus and made to apologize to the House of Assembly, concerns over the investigative process were raised in the legislature.

Among the concerns was privacy during the process. When the complaints were made, it was immediately known who the accused MHAs were and soon thereafter it became public knowledge who the complainants were in the matter.

The first recommendation expected from the committee is to take harassment complaints away from the commissioner of legislative standards, who oversaw the Kirby and Joyce investigations, and give the investigative authority to the Office of the Citizens’ Representative.

While the legislation in place for investigations conducted by the commissioner does not have specific rules around confidentiality, the citizens’ representative does have rules ensuring any complaints between MHAs or for staff members against an MHA will remain confidential throughout the investigative process.

There is a vague recommendation for “recourse” against a breach of confidentiality, to be specified as the work of the committee continues.

Parsons, who was a complainant against Kirby, says, “Confidentiality is work that was brought up a lot. We all know that was breached multiple times.

“To come from what was a makeshift process that was unfolding recently to this, I think, will make a world of difference.”

The commissioner will continue to oversee any allegations of breaches of the MHA Code of Conduct, which deals more generally with the behaviour of MHAs and how they handle public funds.

In Nova Scotia, former PC leader Jamie Ballie went through an investigation into allegations of misconduct in 2017. That investigation was confidential, and the results were only known when wrongdoing was found and the investigation had concluded. Baillie was removed as leader of the Nova Scotia PC party as a result of that investigation.

Keith Hutchings says that while the incoming policy will be specific to this province, the Nova Scotia model is being drawn upon.

“First and foremost, they had the mechanism in place and supports in place so the people are confident in coming forward,” said Hutchings.

“Collectively, we want to get to something like (that), something that brings clarity, brings structure, and is supported by the expertise and knowledge that’s available for things like harassment in the workplace.”

The committee recommends a specific role be created which specializes in harassment complaints that MHAs or government staff members can go to for advice in advance of a formal complaint. The intent of the recommendation is for that role to be its own new position within government, and not additional responsibilities tacked on to another existing position.

MHAs or government staff will have six months after an alleged harassment incident to file a complaint.

After the initial swearing to the Code of Conduct as part of the oath of office, the committee recommends having MHAs re-sign the code every two years. In addition, MHAs will have to sign a paper acknowledging they understand the new anti-harassment policy.

While the work on the new policy continues, the committee is also tasked with investigations into allegations of breaches of confidentiality during the previous harassment investigations, by Kirby and Liberal MHA Colin Holloway. No timeline has been set for the results of those investigations.

The final report and recommendations for the new anti-harassment policy are expected in the spring sitting of the House of Assembly.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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