Cru­sad­ing MLA Luff presents no-win sce­nario for Not­ley

News that MLAs were ac­cused of sex­ual mis­be­haviour is big prob­lem for NDP

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - KEITH GEREIN Com­men­tary kgerein@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/ kei­thgerein

A week ago, few peo­ple knew her name.

To­day, Robyn Luff is the talk of Al­berta pol­i­tics, par­tic­u­larly in NDP cir­cles.

To Premier Rachel Not­ley, she’s be­come some­thing else: an un­ex­pected prob­lem.

For those who haven’t been fol­low­ing along, the Cal­gary back­bench MLA who had been nearly in­vis­i­ble in her 3½ years in of­fice stepped into the spot­light this week by mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of a “cul­ture of fear and in­tim­i­da­tion” within her own party.

The out­burst was a nui­sance for the gov­ern­ment, but one they ex­pected — or hoped — would blow over in a day or two. Luff ’s NDP col­leagues swiftly kicked her out of cau­cus, dis­missed her claims, and that was sup­posed to be the end of it.

But Luff wasn’t done.

She de­cided to share more of the NDP’s dirty laun­dry, set­ting off a chain re­ac­tion of trou­ble for the gov­ern­ment and pro­vid­ing a hard les­son for Not­ley on how much dam­age an ig­nored back­bencher can do.

Some of Luff ’s be­hind-thescenes rev­e­la­tions were amus­ing, in­clud­ing that cau­cus mem­bers were or­dered not to have their pic­ture taken with fed­eral NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh.

Other claims were more se­ri­ous, es­pe­cially one that the NDP cau­cus “wasn’t com­pletely with­out fault” when it came to MLAs be­hav­ing badly to­ward women.

Jour­nal­ists started ask­ing ques­tions, and got Not­ley at the podium Thurs­day.

“Are there any al­le­ga­tions or in­ci­dents of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­haviour to­ward women among your MLAs or among the NDP?” she was asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” re­sponded Not­ley, who then talked about the sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy in place for cau­cus and staff.

Again, that seemed to put the is­sue to rest, or at least into a stale­mate.

But a cou­ple of hours later, the premier’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Ch­eryl Oates came back to jour­nal­ists with a dif­fer­ent story that largely sub­stan­ti­ated Luff ’s claim.

Com­plaints of non-crim­i­nal sex­ual mis­con­duct had, in fact, been made against two NDP MLAs. Third-party in­ves­ti­ga­tors were as­signed, who con­cluded train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion were suf­fi­cient to rec­tify the be­haviour.

Why didn’t Not­ley ac­knowl­edge those al­leged trans­gres­sions in her response?

Ac­cord­ing to Oates, it was be­cause she mis­un­der­stood the ques­tion, think­ing she was be­ing asked only about al­le­ga­tions that had orig­i­nated from within cau­cus.

The com­plaints made against the two MLAs in­volved be­haviour that oc­curred out­side the workplace.

Un­doubt­edly there will be crit­ics who do not ac­cept that ex­pla­na­tion and will feel Not­ley was cov­er­ing for her col­leagues. I’m not pre­pared to go there, in part be­cause it’s near im­pos­si­ble to know how some­one else per­ceives a ques­tion, and in part be­cause the premier’s of­fice re­sponded quickly to cor­rect the record.

None­the­less, the news that MLAs still in cau­cus were al­legedly in­volved in sex­ual mis­be­haviour is a big prob­lem for the NDP, which has worked hard to be the party of so­cial jus­tice, equal­ity and stand­ing up for women.

It’s also cast a shadow over the male mem­bers of cau­cus, with spec­u­la­tion ram­pant around who might be the sub­ject of the al­le­ga­tions.

Not­ley can only hope no more com­plaints sur­face, and that the party has han­dled each case ap­pro­pri­ately.

Luff ’s ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing con­trolled has also ig­nited an un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion about the hy­per-par­ti­san­ship with which the Cana­dian par­lia­men­tary sys­tem seems to op­er­ate.

I don’t think Luff has made her case for bul­ly­ing. Most of her com­plaints are those of a dis­grun­tled back­bencher who has tired of the con­trol mech­a­nisms most par­ties em­ploy.

How­ever, she raises le­git­i­mate ques­tions about whether democ­racy is served by script­ing ev­ery ques­tion and state­ment, and deny­ing in­di­vid­u­als the chance to break from party lines once in a while.

Luff clearly wants to keep the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing. On Fri­day, she pro­vided Post­media with an­other state­ment that called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions.

If the in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds no wrong­do­ing, Luff prom­ises to re­sign her seat — which seems an empty sac­ri­fice since she isn’t plan­ning to run for re-elec­tion any­way.

If the in­ves­ti­ga­tion backs up her claims, she wants Not­ley to re­sign.

United Con­ser­va­tive Leader Ja­son Ken­ney will have to go, too, since that party has also falsely in­sisted it doesn’t sti­fle dis­sent­ing views, she said.

Though it might be good fun, nei­ther Not­ley nor Ken­ney are go­ing to agree to Luff ’s of­fer.

But the fact she is even get­ting pub­lic­ity for it is an ex­am­ple of the co­nun­drum lead­ers face when a frus­trated subor­di­nate has reached the boil­ing point.

You can grant the MLA’s wishes and al­low them to speak as they see fit, but then that priv­i­lege would be de­manded by all mem­bers — some of whom may hurt the party.

Or you can kick out the MLA, which car­ries the risk they will spill the party’s dirty se­crets and start a cru­sade from the side­lines.

In this case, the NDP must be won­der­ing if it made the wrong choice.

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