National Column: Many questions left in Weir ousting

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by Chantal Hebert

Justice should be blind. It should also not be opaque. In the case of the ousting of Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir from the NDP caucus on Thursday, neither of those fundamental principles was respected.

But first, a recap. Earlier this year, allegations of misconduct were levelled at Weir. Those allegations were initially based on hearsay. Still, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took them seriously enough to appoint an independent investigator.

The investigation did bring to light instances of bad behaviour, albeit on a scale that falls short of what would normally constitute a firing offence. Or at least that is what the NDP leadership thought upon being appraised of the findings.

In Singh’s own words, the investigation “found that Mr. Weir failed to read non-verbal cues in social settings and that his behaviour resulted in significant negative impacts to the complainants.”

Weir claims he is labelled a sexual harasser because, in the words of a statement from his office, he “had probably sat or stood too close to people at social events and engaged them in conversation more than they wished to speak with him.”

The MP may be misrepresenting the findings but, if that is the case, the NDP is declining to set the record straight. For instance, the party has not attempted to provide a scope for the word “significant” as it applies to the negative impacts that have been endured by the complainants.

Taken strictly at face value, the words used by Singh to describe Weir’s purported transgressions could apply to any MP who has ever been guilty of cornering a person at a Parliament Hill function in the hope of either scoring a date or just a few political points. That would make for a pretty long list.

Both parties do agree that Weir never broke the rule that no means no. He backed off as of the moment it was made clear that his advances were unwelcome.

Singh said he was not ousting Weir from the NDP caucus based on the findings but rather because he questioned one of the complaints in the media. That, according to the NDP leader, showed the MP was not willing to take responsibility for his actions

Earlier this week, Weir suggested one complaint against him resulted from a run-in he had with a
member of former leader Thomas Mulcair’s staff at the 2016 NDP Saskatchewan convention. He says
she was trying to prevent him from raising questions about the impact of a federal carbon tax. The harassment charge, he argues, is payback for that policy disagreement. He adds that he only responded to the allegation after it surfaced in a CBC report and became part of the public record.

Weir is an MP from a province where opposition to a carbon tax is mainstream. He is by all indications not a big fan of the measure in a party whose policy is to support it.

But that’s hardly an uncommon situation. There are Liberal MPs who more or less privately wish the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would never see the light of day. There are also carbon tax advocates within the anti-carbon pricing Conservative caucus.

Weir’s voting record in the House of Commons does not reflect active dissent from the party’s pro-carbon pricing policy. That stands in contrast with some of his former NDP colleagues.

Last March, veteran Ontario MP David Christopherson broke ranks to vote with the Conservatives against the government’s requirement that organizations seeking funding from the federal summer’s jobs program attest they respect reproductive rights.

A few months before that, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash argued against the partyís policy of advocating that Supreme Court justices be able to hear arguments in both official languages on the grounds that it made it more difficult for Indigenous jurists to be appointed to the top court.

Both Saganash and Christopherson are still in prominent caucus positions.

Nor is the public airing of dirty NDP laundry always a punishable offence. Just last month, Singh’s former leadership rival, Charlie Angus, with support from Saganash, questioned the leaderís decision to punish Christopherson for having bucked the party line on the summer jobs program attestation

The sanction against Christopherson was promptly removed and none was imposed on Angus or
Saganash for bringing the disagreement in the public domain.

Anyone seeking guidance in their future interactions with others on and around Parliament Hill will inevitably come away from the Weir episode with more questions than answers.

One of those questions is whether Singh would have treated a more popular, more influential MP in the way he has treated Weir. Recent events suggest that is not necessarily the answer.

Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.
Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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