MeToo-era women are not the irst to challenge public servants and win. One brought down a premier in the ‘30s in a case that feels very current.
Politics and sex have long made for good bedfellows — even in staid old Canada.
But likely nothing compares to the scandal that erupted in Alberta in the 1930s when a young secretary who worked at the Legislature accused the premier of a three-year “seduction.”
Premier John Brownlee resigned in disgrace after a jury decided he was lying and the secretary, Vivian MacMillan, was telling the truth.
Given the times, the fact the jury believed her rather than him is astounding in itself.
MacMillan, 18 at the time, 30 years younger than the popular premier, testi ied that Brownlee told her that she was providing an invaluable service because his wife didn’t want to have sex anymore and without regular sex he simply wouldn’t be able to carry on as premier.
For three years Brownlee had his way with MacMillan in his o ice, his car, even in the house he shared with his wife and two children.
Eventually, MacMillan and her father brought a statement of claim against Brownlee under the Alberta Seduction Act. This law originally allowed a man to sue anybody who impregnated his female servant because the servant would then not be able to perform her usual duties. Obviously this antiquated law was about men’s rights, not women’s rights.
And indeed, when the jury decided in MacMillan’s favour, the judge, a man of course, immediately overturned the decision. Appeals were mounted but every time the judges sided with the irst judge. Until the matter came before the Supreme Court, which sided with the jury and ruled in MacMillan’s favour.
Why did it take so long for this kind of abuse to become a public issue again?
It surely wasn’t because it never happened again.
And yet it was decades later, when Patrick Brown, would-be premier of Ontario, was brought down by accusations of sexual misconduct from young women, one of whom worked in his constituency o ice. Like Brownlee, Brown at least had the good sense to resign.
In Alberta, MP Darshan Kang is still hanging on despite revelations of sexual harassment of his sta . He was kicked out of the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent after his constituency o ice assistant, who also happened to be the daughter of a long-time friend, accused him of sexual harassment which included badgering her with kisses, tricking her into going to his apartment while she was on a business trip to Ottawa, and trying to get into her hotel room when she didn’t want him to.
An investigation by the chief human resources o icer of the House of Commons concluded that Kang had indeed sexually harassed his assistant. Kang still sits as an independent MP.
A woman who was on Kang’s sta when he was a provincial MLA has also accused him of sexual harassment. But so far the provincial Liberal party has done nothing to address her concerns.
Another Calgary MP, cabinet minister Kent Hehr has also been accused of sexual harassment. He resigned from cabinet after a woman who worked in the Alberta Legislature when he was an MLA wrote on Facebook that she was afraid to get in an elevator with him and that he had once said to her “you’re yummy.”
Hehr is a quadriplegic who inds it awkward to even shake hands with someone and gets about in a motorized wheelchair. This has led many of his supporters to openly question the allegations.
The federal government has appointed an investigator and Hehr has said he supports that decision.
Women have gained a lot more control over their lives since Vivian MacMillan brought down a premier in the 1930s. And yet her story seems so current.
John E. Brownlee, left, and Vivian MacMillan.