Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I am honoured to have the opportunity to talk about Bill C-65, which deals with workplace harassment and violence.
Violence against women is not new. While I would like to believe that in a predominantly rural riding like mine in eastern Ontario violence against women is an urban problem, we know that is not the case. Violence against women continues to be a fact of life in Canada and in rural Renfrew County.
Carol Culleton, Nathalie Warmerdam, and Anastasia Kuzyk were killed on September 22, 2015. Their killer was known to all of the women and to police for a long history of violence. He had been released from prison just shortly before the murders. The system failed these women.
On average in Canada, one woman is killed by her intimate partner every five days. The man arrested and accused of their murders had a long criminal history, including charges involving two of the three women. I am not prepared to let Carol, Nathalie, Anastasia and all the other women who have been murdered by their intimate partners die in vain. My memory of their senseless murders pushes me to speak out in this debate.
When I was first elected in 2000, I immediately recognized the transient and precarious nature of politics in general, and Parliament Hill in particular. For a female in a new political party with an evolving political culture, my position was even more precarious. Uncertainty after each election, and with the change in assignments in the ebb and flow of duties, was compounded by the hierarchical nature of Canadian politics and the fact that we serve at pleasure.
To quote one of my colleagues:
At any moment, everyone here weighs the opportunity cost of making a complaint or committing an non-acquiescent action with the threat of quiet dismissal, being overlooked for a promotion, being shuffled out of a spot, having a nomination candidate quietly run against us, or not having our nomination papers signed at all.
She went on to say:
To say that there is a power imbalance here is an understatement. Further, for all the talk of feminism and pursual of women's rights, there is not gender equality in the broader context of Parliament Hill. Women are still used as photo-op props, included for quotas or optics without having the authority of real decision-making automatically attached to their perceived utility. For that, women have to fight, and fight hard, and put up with being accused of not being a team player, or being an “insert choice of gender expletive here” when they do. That is only for those of us who are lucky enough to have built a platform and a profile that allows us to do that without those in the top tiers of power having to take a bit of damage in order to suppress our voices.
When this legislation was debated in the House of Commons previously, I did not have an opportunity to be part of this discussion. I was successfully defending my right to represent my party in the next federal election.
Bill C-65 is being supported by the Conservative Party. Today we are discussing amendments made by the other place, which allows for a re-examination of the legislation and the context in which it has been brought forward. At the time the legislation was previously in this chamber, it was presented by the government as partisan politics being set aside for a common purpose. All parliamentarians were prepared, or so I thought, to stand together and send a strong message to all Canadians that workplace harassment and sexual violence are unacceptable and that they will not be tolerated any longer, period.
It was that implied spirit of co-operation that encouraged my party to support Bill C-65. As a long-standing female member of Parliament, I am very cognizant of my position as a role model. I am reminded of my responsibility as a positive role model by the Daughters of the Vote program.
Young women are smart enough to spot a hypocrite when they see one. All parliamentarians have a responsibility to be a positive role model, starting with the Prime Minister.
I was hopeful that Bill C-65 would not be just another example of virtue signalling by the Liberal Party, where the Prime Minister directs his attack dog Gerald Butts to throw social media mud from the political ditch he occupies while claiming to take the high road. Subsequent events have proven me wrong.
Sexual violence and harassment in the workplace are nothing new.
I was particularly encouraged by the comments made by newly elected members of Parliament on the government side, such as the member for Oakville North—Burlington, who talked about taking a stand together. She shared her personal experience of harassment and bullying on Parliament Hill when she worked as a staffer prior to seeking elected office. She made reference to the #MeToo movement, #AfterMeToo and Time's Up and to having the courage and the strength to speak out and be a positive role model. In that context, her brave words in the House of Commons and her subsequent total capitulation to the Gerald Butts, “Kokanee grope” talking points were all the greater disappointment.
The greatest disappointment in this entire discussion has been the deafening silence from the female caucus on the government benches, who have quietly condoned the Prime Minister's behaviour with their silence. Not one female Liberal MP rose to defend the female reporter who was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance by the Prime Minister in her workplace. Not one government MP rose to demand a coherent explanation of what the Prime Minister admitted to doing when he belatedly provided an apology to the young female reporter who was the subject of his unwanted advance.
Enabling bad behaviour almost guarantees that it will continue. After all, is that not the subject of Bill C-65, which is what we are discussing here today? Silence is tacit approval.
Certainly in my career as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, spanning six elections over 18 years, I have experienced sexual harassment and bullying. It would be impossible to find a woman in politics who is not expected to put up with misogynist fools like Dan Leger or the tiresome Dick Mercer, let alone similar dinosaur attitudes in their own parties.
From the time Bill C-65 passed third reading and returned from the other place with amendments, something has changed. Canadians learned something about the leader of the Liberal Party. Canadians learned that the Prime Minister admitted to groping a young woman reporter at a music festival before he sought elected office. This is a very important discovery.
Unlike the recent events in the United States during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh about alleged events before he started his professional career, the Prime Minister has avoided a rigorous examination of his inappropriate behaviour.
South of the border, the Prime Minister has been referred to as the Bill Clinton of the great white north.
The Prime Minister had an opportunity. Rather than making up one answer, the Prime Minister chose to come up with a series of tortured explanations for the groping allegation against him. Constantly changing his story, he had an opportunity to come clean with Canadians.
In the process, the Prime Minister dodged questions about the need to call an investigation on his own conduct, the way he did with Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti in his caucus, who faced similar allegations in the past and were removed from the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister has single-handedly “terribly set back”, to quote Kathleen Finlay, founder of the Zero Now campaign to fight sexual misconduct in the workplace, progress on women's issues.
Ms. Finlay said:
He went from saying he had a good day and sort of smiling about it, and dismissing it that way...and then he went on to explain it, in a tortured explanation about different perceptions, how men and women can perceive things differently. And from where I was sitting, that just re-opened the whole “he said, she said” kind of explanation...which is something women who have suffered incidents of sexual misconduct do not want to hear.
The incident was first published in an editorial in the Creston Valley Advance, a community newspaper in British Columbia. The Prime Minister, who was in Creston to attend the Kokanee Summit festival, put on by the Columbia Brewery, admitted later to inappropriately groping the reporter while she was on assignment.
In addition to being on assignment for the Creston Valley Advance, the female reporter was also on assignment for the National Post and the Vancouver Sun. While her connection to the big city newspapers may have prompted remorse after the fact, that is a topic for a proper investigation.
The incident resurfaced online, including in a scandal magazine earlier this year. The allegation came into wider circulation the first week of June, when photos of the Creston Valley Advance editorial were widely shared on social media, and it received further comments when prominent online media outlets reported on it that same week.
The now former female reporter for the Creston Valley Advance community newspaper, the Vancouver Sun and the National Post confirmed that the Prime Minister groped her, or in his words, “inappropriately handling”, while she was on assignment at the festival.
After the incident, she wrote an unsigned editorial blasting the Prime Minister for his misconduct. The editorial did say that the Prime Minister told the female reporter that had he known the reporter was working for a national paper, he never would have been so forward.
The reporter wrote this about the Prime Minister:
...shouldn't the son of a former prime minister be aware of the rights and wrongs that go along with public socializing? Didn't he learn, through his vast experiences in public life, that groping a strange young woman isn't in the handbook of proper etiquette, regardless of who she is, what her business is or where they are?
After the incident, the female reporter, who is not in journalism anymore, held meetings with Valerie Bourne, the then publisher, and Brian Bell, the then editor of the newspaper, and communicated her displeasure about the Prime Minister's conduct. In a statement, the female reporter said she reluctantly went public to identify herself and to confirm the incident because of numerous media requests. She would not offer any comment or take part in any discussion on the subject, she said, adding that the incident happened as reported.
This is what the Prime Minister stated on CBC Radio, on January 30, 2018, before details of the groping incident were reported in the national and international media. He stated:
I've been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respectful of people's space and people's headspace as well. This is something that I'm not new to. I've been working on issues around sexual assault for over 25 years.
My first activism and engagement was at the sexual assault centre at McGill students' society where I was one of the first male facilitators in their outreach program leading conversations—sometimes very difficult ones—on the issues of consent, communications, accountability, power dynamics.
To connect the dots, it was after the Prime Minister left university in Quebec when the groping incident occurred.
The following is from the newspaper editorial following the groping incident. It states:
It’s not a rare incident to have a young reporter, especially a female who is working for a small community newspaper, be considered an underling to their ‘more predominant’ associates and blatantly disrespected because of it. But shouldn’t the son of a former prime minister be aware of the rights and wrongs that go along with public socializing? Didn’t he learn through his vast experiences in public life, that groping a strange young woman isn’t in the handbook of proper etiquette, regardless of who she is, what her business is, or where they are?
And what makes the fact that she was working for the Post of any relevance? Big stories break first in community newspapers after all.
It may not have been an earth-shattering find, but one thing could have been learned from the experience. Like father, like son?
That was from the Creston Valley Advance, Monday, August 14, 2000.
What are Canadians expected to take away from this incident of groping that took place between the Prime Minister and a young female reporter? First and foremost, this incident is about hypocrisy, saying one thing and applying a different set of rules to one's own behaviour. It is about believing women, until it happens, then it is deny and hope that the clock runs out on the media cycle.
It has been noted by the CBC that there is no dispute that this incident happened. In 2018, the excuse “I did not think I was doing anything wrong” does not pass the smell test. Worst of all, the Prime Minister has shown no ability to grow with the job and learn from his mistake. Women in Canada deserve better from a Prime Minister who claims to be a feminist.
What this incident has also taught Canadians is that they cannot trust the Prime Minister, when he tells the public he is doing one thing but legislatively does another. It was finally figured out by the temporary socialist government of Alberta that the current government has no intention of seeing any pipelines built, let alone the Trans Mountain pipeline. In response, the NDP in Alberta pulled its support for the scam carbon tax, which is all about getting the provinces to take the blame for raising taxes while using the environment as an excuse to raise taxes.
If dragging the government's feet on this issue somehow does not work, Bill C-69 will be sure to suffocate any resource project from going forward.
There are ethics rules for parliamentarians, versus the Prime Minister's trip to a tropical island. When the Ethics Commissioner rules that opposition members are in violation of the rules, charges are laid by the RCMP. Where are the charges against the Prime Minister for his breaches of the code of ethics for parliamentarians?
In public, the Prime Minister claims that his government is going to crack down on guns and gangs but it cranks out Bill C-71 instead, which cracks down on law-abiding citizens who are already obeying the law. Then there is Bill C-75, which would soften the penalties for gang violence, among other atrocities.
The biggest lie of all is the Prime Minister's betrayal of veterans. It was announced by the government that no Canadian Armed Forces personnel would be medically released until their benefits were in place, yet last week, not only was it confirmed that soldiers are being released without their pension amounts and benefits confirmed but that soldiers should be told to wait longer.
In the last election, the Prime Minister claimed that the problem was that there were not enough offices open to service veterans. The government went ahead and spent funds intended for veterans to open offices in government ridings, and it now tells veterans that it has just doubled the official wait time, if they even qualify.
How much is the political decision to direct shipbuilding contracts going to cost Canadians?
I had high hopes for Bill C-65. It now appears that Canadians will be disappointed, as they have been disappointed with everything else this Prime Minister has touched.