The politics of harassment-free workplaces – UCP House Leader Jason Nixon walks right into a trap of his own creation

Posted on December 13, 2017, 1:51 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: A steely-eyed Alberta Premier Rachel Notley meets the media in the Alberta Legislature yesterday in this screenshot of a Government of Alberta video. Below: United Conservative Party House Leader Jason Nixon and UCP Leader Jason Kenney, the subjects of her ire. Mr. Kenney faces the voters in a by-election in the Calgary-Lougheed Riding tomorrow. Bill 30 sponsor Christina Gray, Alberta’s minister of labour.

You don’t often get to see stuff hit the fan the way it did yesterday when United Conservative Party House Leader Jason Nixon’s forgetfulness caught up with him after he’d argued in the Legislature governments shouldn’t legislate workplace sexual harassment policies because private companies do it better on their own.

The flaw in his attack on Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-Being of Working Albertans? He forgot the shabby history of a company he used to run himself, which in the mid-naughts fired a single mom it employed in B.C. because she complained about being sexually harassed by a contractor.

Or maybe Mr. Nixon just blithely reckoned a normally well-mannered governing party and an inattentive media had forgotten all about the B.C. case, which was well documented at the time and remains easily available on the Internet.

At any rate, he said of workplace harassment last week, “the right way to deal with it is to get the industry to address it, to work through their safety associations.” They’ll take care of it, he promised. “They’ve already proven it.”

Alas for many victims of sexual harassment, that’s not the way things usually work when it comes to workplace complaints. According to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member who investigated the 2007 case at Nixon Safety Consulting’s Kelowna worksite, for example, the fired woman’s complaints were completely justified. The tribunal eventually awarded her $32,000 in lost wages and damages.

Unfortunately for Mr. Nixon, things in the Legislature didn’t work out the way he expected either. The irony of the situation was not lost on many Albertans. So, yesterday he walked right into the spray from the proverbial fan.

By last night, fallout from the controversy created when uncharacteristically feisty reporters reminded their readers yesterday how Nixon Safety Consulting fired the woman who complained, seemingly to protect the man who harassed her, was causing collateral damage. That is to say, some of it was also landing on Mr. Nixon’s boss, UCP Leader Jason Kenney.

This was potentially a problem for the UCP, since the vote in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election that is supposed to see Mr. Kenney smoothly elevated to the Legislature takes place tomorrow. Well, Mr. Kenney is said to have a commanding lead, but I imagine his House Leader is not in his good books today just the same.

Thanks to social media and good message management by the NDP Government yesterday, the issue turned into a major storm – illustrating for many Albertans just what’s wrong with the UCP, which under Mr. Kenney has quickly appeared to become a rebranded version of the most extreme elements of the old Wildrose Party.

Late yesterday morning at the Legislature, a steely-eyed Premier Notley, each word calmly enunciated, gave reporters a pitch-perfect response to Mr. Nixon’s arguments about Bill 30, and his self-inflicted predicament. It is worth quoting at length:

“As I’m sure will come as no surprise to all of you, in my view, this is a very, very serious issue,” Ms. Notley told the media. “We are at an important time right now, where courageous women across North America are coming forward to talk about the problem of sexual harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It’s a very difficult problem. We know it proliferates everywhere, and it’s not easy to address. What we do know, though, what’s going to keep women safe, what’s going to help deal with this problem … as a first step is assuring that they know they have the right to speak up, and that people will support them when they speak up.

“Mr. Nixon’s response when someone spoke up was to fire her. That is not the right response. Moreover, since that time, Mr. Nixon has gone into the House and fought against a bill that would have protected someone in Alberta in the very same situation as the woman that Mr. Nixon chose to fire.

“Mr. Kenney is actually the person that needs to answer questions about this now. This is his handpicked lieutenant. His hand-picked political lieutenant who is leading the caucus in this House, who fired a woman for speaking up against sexual harassment which was found to have happened, who is now fighting against a bill that would protect women in Alberta from the very same sexual harassment in the workplace.

“This is very, very serious. I think when women wake up this morning and read this article and hear more about what’s happened, they’re going to wonder where their government stands, and I want them to know that their government stands with them, and that is why we’re working so hard to get this bill through the House today.”

Social media went wild – all the more so when the UCP tried to spin Mr. Nixon’s troubles as understandable and forgivable because he was in his twenties at the time. The tone of the commentary was scathing.

Late yesterday – a day late and a dollar short, as they say – Mr. Nixon said he deeply regretted the events of 2007. “I deeply regret some of the decisions that were made by myself and my organization while handling that human resources issue.”

By mildly ironic coincidence, also yesterday, the New York Times published a major piece on workplace harassment that makes a compelling case that among the worst things a harassed employee can do is tell her employer.

Unlike Mr. Nixon’s opinions, the Times’ reporters’ conclusions are based on evidence.

Citing a 2016 study by the U.S. government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Times reporters explained that going to company officials, especially the Human Resources department, is dangerous because HR officials “while officially responsible for fielding employee complaints, also work for a company that faces potential liability – an inherent conflict of interest.”

What’s more, the article points out, HR officials who properly represent victims of workplace harassment are often at risk for their own jobs or careers.

“Even if human resources officials conclude that the accused should be disciplined or fired, they typically have no independent authority to make it happen,” the story says. As a result, “human resources personnel are more inclined to suppress allegations than get to the bottom of them.”

Talk to your boss? In the absence of legislation like Bill 30 – and even then, sometimes – it makes more sense for non-unionized employees to lawyer up and take the complaint to the authorities. If you are fortunate enough to have a union, take the problem there.

Because one thing we can be confident of, no matter what Mr. Nixon thinks, is that corporations are never going to deal properly with this kind of behaviour if there’s any danger doing so will negatively impact their bottom line.

Mr. Nixon also expressed the opinion in the Legislature that “any time we’ve made large advancements on occupational safety, it’s been driven by industry.”

This statement presumably reflects the views of the rest of the UCP Caucus, which we’re told also thinks Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rule in Chile was a big “success story” and that legalizing marijuana will turn us all into communists.

Bill 30, which is sponsored by Labour Minister Christina Gray, would also legislate the right of workers to refuse unsafe work without losing pay, protect them from retaliation, ensure workers continue to be paid if a stop-work order is issued for safety violations, and mandate joint worker-employer health and safety committees as in every other Canadian province.

14 Comments to: The politics of harassment-free workplaces – UCP House Leader Jason Nixon walks right into a trap of his own creation

  1. Sam Gunsch

    December 13th, 2017

    Nixon’s statement here claiming that industry leads the efforts in protecting workers is probably the most moronic and Trump-like propaganda among all of his RW bullshit.

    excerpt: ‘ Mr. Nixon also expressed the opinion in the Legislature that “any time we’ve made large advancements on occupational safety, it’s been driven by industry.’

    It’s an Orwellian assertion. FFS!

    Reply
  2. J.E. Molnar

    December 13th, 2017

    Any empathy the UCP probably feel for harassed women and Bill 30 can be summed up in two words: “vote no.” It was that exact same empathy exhibited for farm workers when WCB health and safety requirements were legislated last year under Bill 6.

    Jason Nixon only has Jason Nixon to blame for this current bozo-eruption. What kind of man bails on a single mom at Christmastime. Answer: An “accidental” UCP MLA.

    Reply
  3. David

    December 13th, 2017

    What world is Nixon living in? I wish it were true industry could deal with these things well, but it is becoming very apparent they can not for various reasons. The ideological, reflexive, response of being against government regulation is not serving him or his party well here.

    It is particularly bad, that he is a prime example of the poor response he seems to ignore or dismiss. I do not know how much he reflected on his own experience of firing the woman who was sexually assaulted, but if he truly learned from it I don’t think he now would be opposing the government taking steps to protect people such as her.

    In any event, at this point it is really up to the leader, Kenney to deal with this mess and it seems like Nixon he just wants to sweep it under the carpet and wants it to go away.

    Reply
  4. Lars

    December 13th, 2017

    “…HR officials who properly represent victims of workplace harassment are often at risk for their own jobs are careers.”

    A typo, I think – “are” for “or”.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 14th, 2017

      Thanks. Fixed. DJC

      Reply
  5. Farmer X

    December 13th, 2017

    A $3000.00 footnote that has yet to reported:

    “Nixon, Navigator and Con-Forte were held jointly li
    able for damages of $32,000 because all three held
    positions of authority over her. Ford, Navigator
    and Con-Forte were ordered to pay an additional
    $3,000 for improper conduct in trying to discredit
    her complaints. ”

    — Labor and Employment Law Conference 2009 – Alberta

    https://www.mccarthy.ca/pubs/Labour_and_Employment_Law_Conference_Materials_Calgary.pdf

    Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    December 14th, 2017

    The bitter irony of the BC case, was that the woman who was fired had been hired in an OH&S role, and yet she herself was not, as it turned out, safe in that workplace.

    Yes, this was 10 years ago, but workplace sexual harassment was illegal then too. This wasn’t some ancient case dredged up from the last century, but one which in terms of the pace at which our legal system drags is relatively recent in time.

    The only disappointing aspect of Premier Notley’s speech, is her unfortunately American pronunciation of the word “lieutenant” …

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 14th, 2017

      I have to say I completely agree with you on this point, Jerry. It is simply unacceptable for English-speaking Canadians to say “lootenant,” which is nothing more than evidence of the pernicious influence of American cultural imperialism. All Canadian officials have a duty to pronounce this word correctly, as well as to say coyote (which is pronounced Ky-yote, not Ky-yote-ee) in the Canadian way. But our American Cousins are right about how to spell color, labor and the like, which Britons and Canadians tacitly acknowledge by not writing “governour.” I have given up on advocating for this cause, however. I suppose the U in colour and like words, while illogical, inconsistent and unattractive, has some value as a statement of cultural independence. Still, if you ask me, insisting on spelling colour and labour this way as a proud mark of Canadianism while saying “lootenant” is akin to Conservatives encouraging their benighted followers to be anti-vaxxers while demanding all nurses be required to take a flu shot! DJC

      Reply
      • Lars

        December 14th, 2017

        So. What about cougars?

        Reply
      • Shane Leslie

        December 14th, 2017

        Climenhaga: “But our American Cousins are right about how to spell color, labor and the like, which Britons and Canadians tacitly acknowledge by not writing “governour.” This is mere ignorance, which shows you shouldn’t even be blogging.
        I suggest you study the Oxford Dictionary, which is the standard for how to spell, and WHY words are correctly spelled in the English-speaking Commonwealth of nations the way they are. It has absolutely zero to do with “Canadianism” – but good English!

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          December 15th, 2017

          “Mere ignorance,” you say? Dear, dear! Well, here is a small part of what Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933), the renowned English grammarian and lexicographer, had to say on this topic: “The American abolition of -our in such words as honour and favour has probably retarded rather than quickened English progress in the same direction. … Most of us, therefore, do not come to the question with an open mind. Those who are willing to put national prejudice aside and examine the facts soon realize, first, that the British -our words are much fewer in proportion to the -or words than they supposed, and, secondly that there seems to be no discoverable line between the two sets so based on principle as to serve any useful purpose. By the side of favour there is horror, beside ardour pallor, beside odour tremor, and so forth. … (F)ailing general reform, we shall see word after word in -our go the way of governour.” This is from the Second Edition of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, as revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, published in 1983 by Oxford University Press. I commend it to you, Shane Leslie. I would hazard a guess that Fowler knew more of this topic than you. Thus endeth the lesson. DJC

          Reply
          • CovKid

            December 15th, 2017

            Excellent retort, our Grammarian Hector!

      • SHane Leslie

        December 14th, 2017

        Climenhaga: “This statement presumably reflects the views of the rest of the UCP Caucus, which we’re told also thinks Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rule in Chile was a big “success story.”
        You should be sued for slander: The comment allegedly about Pinochet wasn’t even about Pinochet. It was a success story that the speaker at the time was able to get out of Chile, and he agreed with the UCP speaker. I checked the Hansard, which YOU should have done. The subject was the speaker being able to escape from a country that had no civil rights – that he was enabled to do so “was a success story.” Its clear from the context and the reply of the speaker, who knew very well he had spoken a kindness. You should publish a retraction and an apology!

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          December 15th, 2017

          For your further reading on the topic of defamation, I would recommend Gatley on Libel and Slander.

          Reply

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