The suggestion by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that federal political party leaders need to send a message to party members that sexual misconduct won’t be tolerated is good advice.
It’s something one might assume shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but based on the recent Canadian Press survey indicating the high number of female MPs who have been the targets of sexual misconduct while in office, apparently the message needs to be driven home.
Ambrose noted that leadership of any organization requires letting the members know what the guidelines are regarding sexual harassment.
“Say to the men in your party, ‘Look, I know I am not speaking to all of you, but if there’s any kind of this behaviour it has to stop and if we found out there is some of it, it is going to come out and we are going to deal with it,” Ambrose said in a Canadian Press interview.
In the CP survey, 38 of the 89 women in the House of Commons participated, with 58 per cent of them reporting they have personally been on the receiving end of misconduct including inappropriate or unwanted remarks, gestures or text messages of a sexual nature.
Green party leader Elizabeth May has likened the Commons culture to that of Hollywood, which has been rocked by a series of sexual misconduct revelations involving studio executives, directors and actors. Fortunately, the movement to rid Hollywood of this environment, fuelled by women coming forward to speak out about the abuse, is spreading to other parts of society, too, including political institutions.
It’s one thing for women to speak openly about the abuse they endure. Bringing the issue into the public realm will help pave the way for change. But things will only change if those in positions of authority set an example that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and follow through by cracking down on those who refuse to adhere to appropriate conduct.
It’s valuable for female MPs to speak out about misconduct they endure or witness. But as Ambrose and May noted, those who are most vulnerable to harassment are the ones who lack political clout – the young political staffers and interns who could fear losing their jobs if they come forward with complaints.
Again, that’s where political party leaders must make it clear that misconduct and harassment are not acceptable and encourage those at all levels of the party to feel free to speak up when such incidents happen. It shouldn’t be the victims who have to pay the price. The consequences should be borne by those who carry out the abuse.
The fact that this is a hot topic of discussion is encouraging. But let’s hope it doesn’t fade into the background once it becomes old news. Let’s hope changes actually take place.