If you want to see a fine example of the political management of a potentially devastating scandal, take a close look at how Justin Trudeau and the Liberals handled the accusations against two caucus members.
One news conference stripped the New Democrats of a political issue they could have – and likely would have - used against Trudeau in the run-up to the next general election. Trudeau positioned the Liberals as the champions of the fight against sexual misconduct in the workplace. And to cap it all, Trudeau’s statement effectively shifted the focus of the story from the salacious details onto the fact that the federal parliament has no means to deal with harassment.
That last one turned out to be highly advantageous. Within two days of the Trudeau news conference, a former New Democratic Party staffer launched a law suit against an NDP member of parliament over allegations of harassment. The best that Thomas Mulcair could muster is the claim that, as reported by Canadian Press, that the MP “would not face a reprimand because a management-union committee had already reviewed the matter.” The MP said “he took all the right steps, and believes the matter will be dismissed.”
Trudeau kicked two MPs out of caucus pending an independent investigation. Meanwhile Mulcair looks like he did nothing except shuffle the potentially sordid and damaging story through a secretive internal NDP bureaucratic process that might well be biased in favour of the politicians. That’s part of the story that already surfaced on Parliament Hill in the immediate aftermath of Trudeau’s announcement: there are no rules and parliamentarians can be a law unto themselves.
The day before that, the New Democrats tried to blame Trudeau for attacking the victims by going public with the accusations. Investigating the accusations and dealing with the problem would “make them victims a second time” according to Mulcair.
The problem with Mulcair’s claim is that it isn’t true. Trudeau did not identify the individuals or the party to which they belonged. The letter from Liberal whip Judy Foote to the Speaker of the House of Commons didn’t identify the individuals or their party either.
As we head into the week after the revelations, the New Democrats are up the political creek without an issue and the Liberals are insulated.
That’s skilful issues management.