Any new harassment policy on Parliament Hill will likely deal only with future complaints and not the recent allegations that led to the suspension of two Liberal MPs, the NDP says.
The issue of harassment on Parliament Hill will be addressed behind closed doors on Tuesday by the all-party Board of Internal Economy committee, and MPs are expecting Speaker Andrew Scheer to provide guidance. Earlier this month, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti from caucus after two female NDP MPs who have not been named alleged harassment. The two men have denied the allegations, the nature of which have not been made public.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair wrote a letter last week to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau calling for a new policy to deal with harassment issues "both now and going forward."
But in an interview on Sunday, NDP Whip Nycole Turmel said that as long as the two NDP MPs who made the allegations choose not to file a formal complaint, any new process would be for "future" cases.
"We cannot force a person to present allegations. It is their decision, so that's where we are at this point," Ms. Turmel told The Globe. "I believe we are looking only at the future unless there's formal complaint from someone, these two women, or other people, other women, coming out. So at this point, we are looking at the future only."
That raises the possibility there would be no resolution to the unprecedented situation in which two MPs have been suspended from their party without a formal Parliamentary process – even one cloaked in secrecy – to determine the merits of each case.
The Liberals say there must be a process to address both current and future allegations. Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc, a member of the Board Internal Economy, pointed out that it was the NDP that brought the allegations to the Liberal Leader.
"When Mr. Trudeau received the allegations personally and directly, we wrote to the Speaker because in the absence of a structured, formal process, we believe that he was in the best position to offer the complainants an independent, professional review of the allegations," Mr. LeBlanc said. "Our letter was not to Madame Turmel, it was to the Speaker, and we look forward to hearing from the Speaker. The Speaker could offer [the NDP MPs] an ad hoc process that would be very similar to what Mr. Mulcair is suggesting in his letter. So we're in the position of waiting to hear from the Speaker."
Mr. LeBlanc said he hopes the board will hire some form of independent third party to look into the allegations and reach a conclusion.
The Senate used such a process earlier this year, having an independent investigator look into allegations of sexual harassment against Senator Colin Kenny. The final report concluded no harassment occurred.
The Prime Minister was asked about the issue during his closing news conference at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.
"What I do know is, obviously, sexual harassment is a very serious issue, and I know that in our government we have had policies on how we deal with this for some time. It's important to have those kinds of policies," he said. "I think it is incumbent upon the Board of Internal Economy, the other parties, to look at options."
The board, which also oversees all House of Commons spending, could be a challenging venue for MPs to work out such a sensitive issue. The NDP is taking legal action against the board over a ruling earlier this year that the party acted inappropriately in its accounting of regional offices.
The board has a long history of quietly dealing with legal matters faced by individual MPs – such as libel suits or claims by staff of wrongful dismissal. Its minutes dating back to June, 2011, show that legal matters were discussed at least 16 times and decisions were sometimes made to pay the legal expenses of MPs. The minutes do not include the names of the MPs, or how much was paid.
The minutes are extremely vague and are often released several months after meetings.
For instance, an entry in the minutes for a June 3, 2013, meeting simply states that "the Board approved in principle the payment of legal fees of Members in a complaint but requested that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel make a thorough review of the legal fees to be charged in this matter, and report back to the Board in the fall."
With a report from Steven Chase in Brisbane, Australia.