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'Code of concealment over': Pallister policy opens doors for harassment complainants

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister</p>

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister

The Progressive Conservative government is making it easier for government employees to report instances of workplace harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and will mandate respectful workplace training for all cabinet ministers and political staff.

It will also listen to civil servants' workplace experiences, and hire an external consultant to review the province's policies and procedures.

"There need be no fear of reprisal (for exposing misconduct and harassment)," Premier Brian Pallister told a news conference Thursday, alongside Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, and the province's top civil servant, Fred Meier.

"In recent weeks, several courageous women have come forward to speak about harassment in the (Manitoba legislature) workplace, and they have prompted others to do the same," said Pallister. "Their decisions have made it very, very clear to me and my colleagues that we must do our utmost to change the culture that has led to their complaints in the first place."

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The Progressive Conservative government is making it easier for government employees to report instances of workplace harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and will mandate respectful workplace training for all cabinet ministers and political staff.

It will also listen to civil servants' workplace experiences, and hire an external consultant to review the province's policies and procedures.

"There need be no fear of reprisal (for exposing misconduct and harassment)," Premier Brian Pallister told a news conference Thursday, alongside Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, and the province's top civil servant, Fred Meier.

"In recent weeks, several courageous women have come forward to speak about harassment in the (Manitoba legislature) workplace, and they have prompted others to do the same," said Pallister. "Their decisions have made it very, very clear to me and my colleagues that we must do our utmost to change the culture that has led to their complaints in the first place."

Two press secretaries in the former NDP government recently went public with allegations of inappropriate touching against former cabinet minister Stan Struthers. Two female former MLAs made similar accusations against Struthers.

Last week, the Free Press also reported the Pallister government had fired deputy minister Rick Mantey after allegations of sexual harassment.

Pallister said, going forward, there will be a "no wrong door" approach, so that political staff have avenues — other than their direct supervisor or chief of staff — for reporting complaints. These will include Meier, the clerk of the executive council, and the Civil Service Commission.

The CSC and the province's status of women secretariat will consult throughout the public service to hear people's stories. "To correct the course going forward, we need to hear and to learn from... past experiences," Squires said.

The government also promised to publish statistics on harassment complaints, without jeopardizing the complainants' privacy. The stats will include the number and type of allegations raised by employees, the number of investigations conducted, the number of substantiated and unsubstantiated allegations, and the outcomes of investigations, including disciplinary measures.

Pallister said the policies will be uniform and mandatory throughout the public sector, including municipalities, school divisions and Crown corporations.

Meanwhile, under questioning by reporters, the premier also revealed more details — but not many — about a second harassment complaint the governing Progressive Conservatives have dealt with since taking office in 2016. He said the complaint was dealt with "expeditiously."

As for what action was taken against the alleged perpetrator, Pallister said: "Counselling, coaching, growing up, getting smarter, showing more respect for people. That was the action taken."

Former NDP government communications staffer Shannon VanRaes applauded Pallister’s actions Thursday.

VanRaes has alleged Struthers groped her twice, once when they were the only passengers in a small plane flying into northern Manitoba, and again in a legislature office. When she complained, word came down from then-chief of staff Michael Balagus to "suck it up," she said.

"Speaking publicly about this has opened up some very painful wounds, but knowing that real changes are being made as a result of women coming forward with their experiences goes a long way to providing closure," VanRaes said.

"By giving political staffers the option of going directly to the clerk of the executive council, the government has opened an important door for individuals fearing retaliation. I was also really pleased to see that respectful workplace training will be mandatory."

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union generally applauded the government announcement, but argued all MLAs — not just cabinet ministers — ought to receive mandatory respectful workplace training.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine called the government announcement a "positive start" in addressing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

The Opposition NDP unveiled its own draft anti-harassment policy Thursday. The policy expands the government's effort by also covering constituency assistants for MLAs and political party caucus staffers. It also offers ideas on how to create a positive workplace environment.

"We are in a different era right now, and it is an era in which women have drawn the line in what they are willing to accept. And we are not willing to accept sexual harassment. We are not willing to accept disrespectful workplaces anymore," Fontaine said.

"I think what we are seeing today is folks stepping up and taking leadership."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

Nick Martin

Nick Martin
Education Reporter

Nick Martin is the bearded guy we keep hidden away at the back of the newsroom. He is now in his fourth decade working in daily newspapers.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 5:53 PM CST: Full write through, adds fact box

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