Disrespecting the workplace process

If the Manitoba legislature’s respectful workplace policy prevents an MLA from criticizing a politically appointed government official, it is in need of immediate revision.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2021 (704 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If the Manitoba legislature’s respectful workplace policy prevents an MLA from criticizing a politically appointed government official, it is in need of immediate revision.

Paul Beauregard, who stepped down as treasury board secretary in January, filed a harassment complaint last year against NDP MLA Adrien Sala. An excerpt of the results of that complaint was released by Mr. Beauregard in a politically charged statement last week.

Mr. Beauregard, who was hand-picked by Premier Brian Pallister in 2017 to implement government’s balanced-budget agenda, alleges he was repeatedly harassed and bullied by Mr. Sala when he made accusations about Mr. Beauregard’s role in awarding a lucrative government contract to Bell MTS.

It is a dubious claim. The role of the Opposition is to hold government accountable and to criticize decisions when it doesn’t agree with them. That scrutiny is not limited to elected officials; it applies to senior political advisers as well, many of whom wield more power than most government MLAs.

Advisers often act on behalf of senior cabinet ministers (as Mr. Beauregard, who worked as an executive for Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. prior to joining government, did in the Bell MTS affair). As such, they must be held accountable for their actions in an open and transparent way.

Holding senior political advisers accountable for their actions is not bullying or harassment; it is a normal and necessary part of the political process.

This is especially true for senior officials with ties to the party in power. Mr. Beauregard, who was appointed last month by Mr. Pallister to a new senior government position as a “technical officer,” was a regular financial contributor to the PC Party of Manitoba prior to his appointment. He donated money to Mr. Pallister’s leadership campaign in 2012. Unlike most senior bureaucrats, Mr. Beauregard did not rise through the ranks as a career civil servant.

According to the statement released by Mr. Beauregard, the investigation found Mr. Sala’s criticisms constituted “repeated humiliation and intimidation causing lasting, harmful adverse effects on his physical and psychological well-being.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Former treasury board secretary Paul Beauregard

That is an absurd claim. If Mr. Beauregard, one of the most powerful figures in the Pallister government, feels humiliated and intimidated by the criticisms of an Opposition MLA, perhaps he should rethink his career choice as a partisan appointee in the provincial government.

Even more preposterous is Mr. Pallister’s comparison this week of Mr. Beauregard’s situation to genuine workplace harassment cases, including sexual harassment, that have taken place at the Manitoba legislature in recent years.

Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers was accused by multiple women, including staff who worked for government, of inappropriate touching. He issued a written apology in 2018. Former MLA Cliff Graydon was expelled from the Tory caucus in 2018 after making inappropriate comments to female staff, including inviting some to sit on his lap or lick food off his face. He was accused of groping another woman at a PC party function.

Comparing those victimizations to a political dust-up between an MLA and a powerful government adviser undermines the severity of workplace harassment cases, especially those involving women in power-imbalance situations. It trivializes the pain and anguish they endured.

What the results of the investigation into the Sala-Beauregard affair reveal is the need for the legislative assembly to revise its workplace harassment policies. MLAs should be free to question and criticize the actions of senior officials in government. The policy should be amended to reflect that. It should not be used to advance the partisan interests of government, as it clearly was in this case.

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