A day after Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative leader resigned from office over sexual-harassment allegations, politicians, party insiders and even a former political aide who was a victim of gender-based violence said the Tories' swift and public handling of the matter is proof that a much-needed shift is under way in provincial politics.
"The Tories' approach tells us the parties are learning how to deal with issues of gender-based violence," said Michelle Coffin, a political science professor at St. Mary's University in Halifax. She is also a former Nova Scotia Liberal Party insider who outed herself last year as a victim of domestic assault at the hands of the party's then-communications director, Kyley Harris, who was her boyfriend at the time.
Mr. Harris pleaded guilty in 2014 to assaulting Prof. Coffin and was fired by Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil. But he was rehired the following year while Prof. Coffin, who kept her identity secret for three years after the assault, said she found herself ostracized by party insiders who knew the couple's story. (Mr. Harris resigned from his post last year amidst public pressure after Prof. Coffin revealed herself as his victim.)
"In my case, the party sided with the individual who punched and kicked me. But in this case, the Tories took a different approach in that they protected the victim and removed Jamie Baillie from the position," she said.
"I'd like to think that we can look at my case and this case and see the progress that has been made. Even a couple of years ago women would not think they could come forward the way they do now."
Mr. Baillie resigned his leadership and his seat in Nova Scotia's legislature Wednesday after being asked to do so by PC Party president Tara Miller. Ms. Miller later disclosed that an investigator hired by the party to look into an allegation of harassment made against Mr. Baillie last month found him to be in breach of legislature harassment policy.
Mr. Baillie has not responded to the allegations.
Halifax police said they have not received a report related to the situation.
News of the allegations has left many members of the party reeling. Mr. Baillie, who had previously announced his intentions to leave office when a new leader is chosen later this year, has a record of defending women's rights. That included supporting Prof. Coffin's story in the legislature, where he pressured Mr. McNeil to answer on it last fall.
Rob Batherson, a former PC Party president, praised Ms. Miller and interim party leader Karla MacFarlane for making the tough decision to remove Mr. Baillie.
"It sends a message that when you hold positions of public trust you need to live up to those standards constantly. There is no flexibility or tolerance for these kinds of transgressions," he said. "In this day and age you can't shuffle things aside even if it's difficult."
The PCs are scheduled to hold their annual general meeting and convention in two weeks in Halifax. While a leader will not be chosen at the meeting, registration numbers are up, Mr. Batherson said.
"It's obviously a rough patch but the fundamentals of where the party is going in the next number of months and years hasn't changed," he said. "The fact that there is such strong interest now … bodes well notwithstanding the emotion and disappointment of the last 24 hours."
Matt McGuire, an adviser to the market research firm MQO, said Nova Scotia's PCs are in better shape than in Ontario, where Patrick Brown resigned his leadership early Thursday over harassment allegations.
"They'll have to proceed with caution … but it shouldn't be as dramatic as the impact in Ontario," he said. "Sometimes making tough decisions can fortify support."