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Harassment on the Hill

From Chantel Hebert in the Toronto Star

Among the women who currently toil on or around the Hill, there are few whose institutional memory of the ways of Parliament Hill goes back as far as mine does.
I first came to Ottawa to report on federal politics in 1977 as a very junior twenty-something Radio-Canada reporter.

It was a brief sojourn.

Within a few months, I came to the conclusion that the then-male bastion of Parliament was not the best working environment for a young female journalist to spend her formative professional years in.

A few days before I headed back to Toronto and a freelance journalism gig my colleagues invited me to tag along to a Quebec MP’s annual Christmas office party.

There were a few other women attending the party but they had been hired for the occasion and each had settled on a male guest’s lap by the time we arrived.

It was a decade before I returned to the Hill. There were more women in Parliament the second time around but its boys’ club mentality seemed fundamentally unchanged.
Over the years that followed, I remember counselling a younger colleague who wondered if she was cut out for political coverage after a failed attempt to connect with the Liberal leadership team she had been assigned to.

A dinner with one of the candidate’s organizers had ended abruptly when her guest called for the bill and chided her for not having understood that she was meant to be dessert. I suggested sticking to lunches in the future.

On the constitutional road show a few years later, I remember how women staffers and reporters all knew better than to risk being cornered in a seat by a certain MP on the committee’s bus.

On two occasions, people associated with the parliamentary page program casually dropped hints that their protégés sometimes had to interact with MPs or senators whose hands tended to travel.

Over time the number of women in the press gallery reached a critical mass.

A more egalitarian generation of politicians found its way to the Hill. It includes a significant contingent of women.

A washroom off the lobby of the House of Commons was even made accessible to them!

But it apparently takes longer to change attitudes than it does to relocate a washroom.

The allegations that have surfaced this week suggest that some old habits die hard — including that of sweeping harassment issues under the rug.
Few are more vulnerable to allegations of personal misconduct than elected politicians and there has long been an implicit gentlemen’s agreement (pun intended) between the parties to deal with such matters under the radar.

Until now …

Sadly I think that agreement to brush things under the rug was far more persuasive then Parliament Hill and the CBC.

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