Green Party Leader Elizabeth May asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. May says political staffers on Parliament Hill are much younger and more vulnerable to sexual harassment, noting up until recently they didn’t have access to a complaint process to flag abuse of any kind. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Young political staffers most vulnerable to sex harassment on the Hill, says May

OTTAWA — Young political staffers on Parliament Hill, who are often ambitious and desperate for a foothold in their chosen profession, can be much more vulnerable to the scourge of sexual misconduct than their older, more experienced colleagues and elected counterparts, says Green party Leader Elizabeth May.

Indeed, May — who took part in a recent Canadian Press survey of female MPs about their experiences with sexual harassment — is drawing comparisons between the career ladder in political Ottawa and the familiar Hollywood cliche of a “casting couch” mentality.

Thirty-eight of Canada’s 89 female MPs took part in the survey, with more than half of respondents — 58 per cent — reporting that they had personally been the target of one or more forms of sexual misconduct while in office, including inappropriate or unwanted remarks, gestures or text messages of a sexual nature.

Political staffers often lack job security, making them far less likely to speak up about their experiences — especially when the problem lies with someone who is in a position of authority, said May, who likened their environment at times to the “star culture” of Tinseltown.

“There are political equivalents of the casting couch, and if you want to get ahead in certain political parties, you do not want to offend people who are seen to be movers and shakers,” she said.

“It is not a normal workplace in that sense. I don’t think the culture is going to change overnight, but I do think it is important to have mechanisms for complaints that allow for confidentiality.”

Shifting the culture and fixing the power imbalance on the Hill is going to demand that male MPs speak up when they are made aware of unacceptable behaviour, she added.

“If you hear something in your caucus meetings you think is just bad form, tell your male colleagues,” said May, who expressed optimism of change now that the “floodgate” has opened in politics, sport and the entertainment industry.

“Politics and power run together, which means power and politics and sex run together, and men in positions of power are going to abuse that,” she said. “To change that culture and to really have men in politics that understand that they’re feminists … that is a big step culturally for politics.”

Three MPs who responded to the voluntary survey said they had been victims of sexual assault, while four said they experienced sexual harassment, defined in the survey as insistent and repeated sexual advances. Nearly half of respondents — 47 per cent — were subjected to inappropriate comments on social media.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent said they don’t believe the level of harassment in federal politics is any different than any other workplace.

May was full of praise for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, who told The Canadian Press that she encouraged two young female staffers to file a complaint after noticing their discomfort with someone in a position of authority. The House of Commons has not confirmed receiving the complaint.

Lebouthillier, who would not provide further details, told the staffers to add her own name to the complaint; they later told her they would not have done it without her encouragement.

“Good for her,” May said.

Just Posted

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

Olds chicken barn burns to the ground, no livestock harmed

More than 100,000 chickens were saved as fire crews prevent the blaze from spreading

Bear video meant to promote conservation: zoo owner

Discovery Wildlife Park says it will look at other ways to promote its conservation message

WATCH: Setters Place grand opening in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Setters Place officially opened to the public Saturday afternoon.… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month