Alberta’s governing NDP is currently facing a very public firestorm over a backbench MLA who has refused to sit in the Legislature due to what she calls a bullying and toxic culture within the governing party. On Monday afternoon, Calgary East MLA Robyn Luff sent an email to the Edmonton Journal’s Emma Graney Indicating she would not be In Question Period that day as a “protest of being bullied by NDP leadership”.
Luff was removed from caucus as of Monday evening and Government House Leader, Brian Mason refuted the MLA’s claims in the Press Gallery on Tuesday. Luff, in turn, responded via news release with a further list of accusations of poor conduct.
What would normally be a brief and relatively benign interruption that, in the past, culminated in an MLA sitting quietly as an independent has instead blown up into a bizarre list of complaints about every party; except one.
While Luff stated she would not be moving to another Party, her complaints have continued about Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, the Premier, Rachel Notley, and even, the reach of the federal Green Party into its provincial equivalents.
This culture of fear and intimidation has been explained away by some observers as just a function of how party politics and representative democracy works. Others have taken the view that just because this is how it is or has been doesn’t make it right.
Former NDP MLA Karen McPherson, who also left the NDP Caucus to join the upstart Alberta Party last year leant a corroborative voice to support Luff’s experience, saying she too had similar experiences within the caucus.
While there’s a certain apparent level of naivety in terms of a party controlling messaging and backbench MLA opportunities to criticize their own government, Luff is correct that the system in which she was elected does not allow for an MLA to adequately represent the concerns of their constituents.
But most concerning in her allegations against the NDP was a comment relating to direction she allegedly received from party staff in the Premier’s office.
“For instance, we were told that if we had any information on opposition members who had behaved inappropriately towards women that it was best not to go public with it because our party wasn’t completely without fault on the matter. This statement was never explained further, which is extremely problematic.”
For a Premier’s Office/Staff – especially in a government that has proudly touted its record of support for sexual assault victims and prevention of anti-bullying and harassment – to give direction to withhold any information relevant to sexual misconduct is galling. Not least of all because their own government may have dirty hands. This viewpoint and policy, if accurate, is dangerous and counter to the stated values of the government.
No party, including the one I support, is immune to the potential for people associated with it to be involved in cases of misconduct. What we as politicians and staff can control is the way we respond and react to information that does come to light.
For a premier and her staff to be advocating for or suggesting that allegations of sexual misconduct be kept quiet is a symptom of a political system that is severely flawed. It is no wonder good people hesitate to put their names forward to run but possibly even worse is these accusations provide further reason for the general public to remain cynical about politicians and their motivations.
While Premier Notley’s team has yet to directly address these allegations, they are extremely serious. In the era of #MeToo, a progressive politician who employs such methods has little credibility or moral high ground to attack the UCP opposition for not supporting women’s rights.
Follow Robbie on twitter @RKSAlberta