It was all meant to change

It was all meant to change

The story is true, but I keep quiet about the names. It takes place quite recently.

A deputy walks in a corridor of the National Assembly. She meets another chosen one.

“They are beautiful, your sweater! ”

She calls him a fool. He finds that funny.

PHOTO FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

The National Assembly is an aquarium. A small world closed in on itself, writes our columnist.

I just want to clarify that the anecdote does not implicate MP Harold LeBel or his alleged victim. I say this so as not to fuel the rumor machine – the anonymity of the complainant must be respected.

Mr. LeBel will be on trial, and this column is not about him.

I want to talk more generally about all the other cases, involving both MPs and political employees. I am talking about the macho culture in politics. Of its various manifestations, which range from clumsiness to crime.

The National Assembly is an aquarium. A small world closed in on itself.

The elected officials are far from home and their families. They sleep at the hotel or in a small apartment close to work. The days start early and end late.

It is not uncommon to leave parliament on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening at 9 p.m., still on the adrenaline rush, with a need to decompress. The Grande Allée is nearby, with its many bars.

Even in the Assembly, the parties have their own bar, the deputies’ lounge, managed by the whip. They meet there for a drink, especially during intensive work at the end of the session. During caucuses, they meet at the hotel bar.

Power is everywhere. At the same time, people can be colleagues, rivals, superiors or subordinates. It is also a world of ambitions and ego. It complicates relationships.

I arrived at the National Assembly in 2010. I was told stories from another era.

That of a minister who called insistently to a journalist’s hotel room. Or those of the caucuses, where we caught ourselves in the morning seeing which elected representative came out of a room other than his own.

Politics is not what it used to be, they say.

I don’t know if it’s still a sick culture. But at the very least, it takes time to heal.

Since I started in the business, I have heard from a minister who demanded that his press officer wear high heels. I saw a minister invite, in the midst of the press melee, a young reporter to “have a little drink”. I also saw a person widen the fingers about ten meters from a minister passing in the corridor, to measure the width of his buttocks.

***

It was all meant to change.

In 2015, the National Assembly adopted a policy against harassment. Three years later, it was followed by an extensive awareness campaign. The posters were plastered all over the parliament.

Scandals have also started to erupt in recent years.

In 2016, a woman – who did not work in politics – complained of being assaulted by Liberal MP Gerry Sklavounos. The police did not lay charges. In the months that followed, other women came forward. Including a young activist who says she was kissed against her will by the deputy. She was then 15 years old.

Other women denounced his misconduct.

When this kind of case happens, we call our friends political cabinets. We ask them if they knew. They sigh. Of course they suspected it. They had been talking about it for a long time, to protect themselves. To know who not to be alone.

Other stories followed. In June 2017, Minister Pierre Paradis was the subject of a complaint of sexual assault by a political employee – he too was not ultimately charged.

The same year, Liberal MP Yves St-Denis was ejected from caucus after sending an unsolicited pornographic photo to a colleague. Subsequently, he was convicted of sexual assault on a city councilor in the Laurentians.

Then, last May, a Belgian politician said she had been touched by the former president of the National Assembly Jacques Chagnon, during a mission to Quebec in 2011. The latter denies.

The Assembly appointed an external firm to assess the handling of complaints.

One could conclude that the victims are less afraid to speak and that slippages are less tolerated. But we can also see the proof that morals are slow to improve …

In October 2018, the arrival of a new cohort of deputies allowed a small change of air. But we should not believe that everything is settled.

***

Human nature does not change, but it can be domesticated. Except that alcohol sometimes wakes the beast.

On Tuesday, the parties assured me that they were managing the deputies’ lounge differently. We don’t let them put on too many glasses anymore. This also improves the work in parliamentary committee in the evening …

For my part, the bars have helped me in my job. After two or three drinks, you get to know a political employee better. Tongues loosen. But for a woman, it’s different.

She will be asked if she wants to seduce to get a scoop. I know because it happened. It got the person into trouble. She felt humiliated. It has cut ties with its source.

I end with another example, public and recent.

Last week, the deputy Émilise Lessard-Therrien asked a question in the chamber of the Minister of Forests, Pierre Dufour. From the height of his condescension, he replied, “There’s no problem with that, young lady.” ”

Yet he was never called an “old man” …

Of course, this is just an anecdote of ordinary sexism, which has nothing to do with harassment and assault. But she proves that in this bubble of power, there is still a sex less equal than the other.

We suspect that when the cameras go off and the doors close, it’s worse.

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