MPs in a cone of silence

Almost two weeks after being suspended from the Liberal caucus over alleged misconduct against two female NDP colleagues, MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews have essentially fallen off the face of the parliamentary earth.

Almost two weeks after being suspended from the Liberal caucus over alleged misconduct against two female NDP colleagues, MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews have essentially fallen off the face of the parliamentary earth.

With their careers and their reputations on the line, neither Pacetti nor Andrews has yet added a single public line to his initial denial of wrongdoing.

As of Monday afternoon, their last Facebook posts preceded their suspensions and none of their Liberal colleagues had come forward to speak in either man’s defence.

Their Montreal, and Newfoundland and Labrador riding associations are equally mum. Since both have also been suspended as candidates in next year’s election, local Liberals will presumably have to head back to the nomination drawing board at some point.

Meanwhile, the two MPs’ parliamentary profiles have been scrubbed of references to their recent Liberal affiliation.

A thick cloud of uncertainty as to the way forward surrounds the extraordinary cone of silence within which Pacetti and Andrews have found refuge.

What is clearest is that all roads, in this instance, are likely to lead to a dead end for the two suspended MPs.

Their alleged NDP victims remain anonymous; the substance of their grievances has not been made public.

In the absence of formal complaints, it is hard to see how any body, parliamentary or independent, could come to an informed conclusion. But even if all parties agreed on a venue to air the issue, the exercise would still come down to taking the word of an MP over that of another.

In that same predicament, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose the allegations of the NDP complainants over the denials of his own MPs.

So far, few have publicly second-guessed his call.

Given that, it would be wrong to describe Pacetti and Andrews as Liberals in limbo. Their banishment from the party fold stands to be permanent.

The prerogative of leaders to oust MPs from their caucuses is without appeal, legal or otherwise. And parties are entitled to prevent would-be candidates from running under their banners.

Just last weekend, the Liberals refused to give former leadership candidate David Bertschi the nod to run for an Ottawa-area nomination. The party says one reason he can’t run is because he has failed to clear his leadership debts. Bertschi is convinced that he is being blocked to clear the way for star candidate Andrew Leslie.

The bottom line is that there is precious little he can do about the decision to exclude him for next year’s Liberal election lineup.

Instances of nominated candidates being disqualified after the fact are fewer but there are still plenty of precedents.

In the 1970s, then-Tory Leader Robert Stanfield refused to sign the nomination papers of Moncton Mayor Leonard Jones because of his opposition to the party’s bilingualism policy.

More recently, candidates have been dumped in midcampaign for out-of-line ranting on social media or for falsifying their credentials.

All of which is to say that short of the NDP approaching Trudeau to withdraw the allegations that stand against Pacetti and Andrews, their days as Liberal flag-bearers are behind them.

Those troubled either by the notion that two male MPs might have felt empowered enough to cross the line into misconduct against female colleagues and/or by the absence of due process in dealing with the issue will find little solace in the latest proposals designed to cleanse Canada’s political arena of alleged harassment.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is championing a new code of conduct and the appointment of a non-partisan officer of Parliament to hear and arbitrate complaints.

In Quebec, the president of the national assembly has tasked female MNAs with drafting a proposed set of guidelines.

Both suggestions have merits.

But at the end of the day, it will still come down to a credibility contest that few among those who are harassed or abused by workplace tormentors usually have the stomach for.

When all is said and done, the grim political fate that Pacetti and Andrews have incurred for their alleged sins will go a longer way to deter future parliamentary offenders than any after-the-fact remedy.

Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.

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