Alberta NDP considering hiring third party to oversee internal harassment complaints

EDMONTON –

Alberta’s Opposition leader says her NDP is looking at hiring an independent third party to oversee future harassment complaints from staff and volunteers.

The announcement comes a day after Rachel Notley acknowledged to party members in an email that they are dealing with problems around the treatment of staff and volunteers.

Notley told reporters in Calgary Thursday that she and the rest of the party executive are recommending “we find a different independent body with expertise in investigating, mediating, and adjudicating respect and harassment complaints in organizations.”

She said the goal is “to provide a safer place for people to raise concerns about experiences that they are having as they engage within our party.”

Notley said the idea will be discussed and voted on by party higher-ups this weekend.

She said the change is a response to an internal letter leaked to media last week that was written three months ago by 15 NDP constituency presidents and regional vice-presidents to Notley and the party executive.

The letter writers called for an independent third-party review of what they termed a pattern of mistreatment of volunteers. They said it was important to determine what had happened in order to make recommendations to fix the problem. They called it “essential for rebuilding trust.”

Asked why the proposed third-party harassment overseer will look forward but not back – as asked for in the letter – Notley said: “I don’t recall a request that there be a retroactive review of any of the complaints that had happened before.

“But I will say that if there were any complaints that happened before that people wanted to be reconsidered with the independent process, I think we’d be quite open to allowing that to happen.”

The letter also said there were concerns over how candidates were being picked in nomination races, with long waits for some candidates, leading to questions of possible favouritism.

It further flagged concerns of constituency association presidents being left out of the loop on issues and their input not being taken seriously.

Multiple volunteers and former volunteers have told The Canadian Press of repeated instances of being verbally abused by staff, belittled and harangued in one-on-one sessions or in groups.

Notley, asked Thursday to broadly outline the kinds of volunteer mistreatment they were hearing about, declined to do so.

“At this point, I think most of the issues that are at issue are already in the public sphere.”

Three former party volunteers who served in various capacities over the years, but left due to concerns including volunteer treatment, said Notley needs to do more.

Brandon Beavan, the former caucus co-chair for gender and sexual diversity, said the party gave notice internally in early 2020 that it was reviewing and updating its anti-harassment policy, but Notley is now saying the work began in the fall of 2021.

“The timeline to me doesn’t add up and the party has done zero work,” said Beavan in an interview.

“They’re just trying to cover this up more and more with hollow words and they’re not actually going to take action.

“There needs to be an independent investigation that is transparent and open around these complaints and allegations of abuse and harassment.”

Wyatt Tanton, a volunteer and a member of the party’s youth wing who once ran for a candidacy in the Camrose constituency, said: “This is the first time the party has really addressed the issues that have become this big story in recent weeks but have bubbled under the surface for years before that.

“It’s basic (human resources) stuff honestly. If this was a company, this would be a serious issue for them, but it seems like the NDP has been hoping this would just go away without having to do anything.”

Ben Angus, a former volunteer and former president of the Edmonton-Whitemud NDP constituency association, said he is skeptical the party will solve the problem.

“It looks like they’re just trying to shove it down the road and hope it goes away as the election comes up,” said Angus in an interview from Australia, where he lives.

“The concerns now aren’t about if we’re going to win (the election) in 2023.

“It’s about when are you going to treat volunteers with respect regardless of whether there’s an election coming up.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2022

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