EDMONTON — A Calgary politician who was recently ousted from the NDP caucus claims that Alberta New Democrats were told not to be photographed with federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh or to go public if they knew about opposition politicians who had behaved inappropriately towards women.
Robyn Luff went public on Monday with complaints about a toxic culture and bullying within the party, saying there is a “culture of fear and intimidation” and that she, and other NDP members of the legislative assembly, can’t represent their constituents.
By Monday night, Luff was out of the party. In a statement — which misspelled Luff’s first name as “Robin,” not “Robyn” — the party said her fellow caucus members had “lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”
On Tuesday, Luff fired back with a lengthy statement posted to Facebook that detailed her concerns about the way the NDP was running the party and government.
“I have had staff members, party members, and caucus members tell me, all confidentially, that they have felt this too, but are too scared to come forward,” the statement said. “For some time now, I have been having increased anxiety and stress responses when I know I have to have meetings where my concerns will be belittled.”
Graham Sucha, another Calgary MLA, told reporters that the allegations are “unfounded” and the decision to remove Luff from caucus was unanimous.
“We didn’t like the path that she took to try to address (her concerns),” Sucha said. “I have never seen bullying on my end and many of our members recognized and said that they never saw it on their end either.”
In her statement, Luff said that NDP MLAs are often told what to do and say.
“For instance we were told that if we had any information on opposition members who had behaved inappropriately towards women that it was best not to go public with it because our party wasn’t completely without fault on the matter,” she wrote. “When Jagmeet Singh was in town we got a text message saying not to be photographed with him.”
Caucus members were also told not to contact Karen McPherson, another Calgary MLA, after she left the NDP last October, Luff said.
Luff said she will no longer be sitting in the legislature and will not join another party. She had previously announced that she would not be running in the upcoming provincial election, which will be held in Spring 2019.
Read the full text of Robyn Luff’s statement:
To my constituents and the Alberta Public,
I am very disappointed in the decision of the NDP to remove me from Caucus. I believe in the overall values of the New Democratic Party, and I believe in the vision we share for the direction of the province. I wanted to work toward a solution to address the problem of fear and intimidation within the party, and to work towards a solution that would allow caucus members more freedom to represent their constituents in the legislature. The fact that I was the only caucus member to speak up publicly in three years, and that I was removed from caucus within hours after doing so only further reinforces my assertion that a culture of bullying exists. Since I have come out publicly, I have had staff members, party members, and caucus members tell me, all confidentially, that they have felt this too, but are too scared to come forward, and I will not breach their trust in me. The greatest blow of all is to be told my fellow NDP colleagues have voted me out, and that they are all complicit, every one of them.
I am also disappointed and very saddened in Brian Mason’s comments to the media that “people have to realize that’s the way government works.” I refuse to believe that the way government works is that all members of the same party have to agree in public all the time. I think that this assumption is a disservice to democracy. I believe he shouted in opposition for years that it shouldn’t work this way.
Voter turnout is a problem in Alberta. Less than 2% of Canadians belong to political parties. The most prevailing message I get from my constituents, that is raised over and over and over again, is that politicians don’t listen. That they do as they’re told, they’re corrupt, and that once they are elected they do whatever is necessary to stay there. They don’t feel their voices are heard, or that their votes matter. From my personal experience being in the government caucus, these ideas have not been refuted. This deeply saddens me. I will not sit by and be complicit in a system that doesn’t actively fight against such widespread disengagement.
I want to make it clear that I will not be joining any other party in the legislature. That was never my plan, and never an option. I already announced to my team in my riding I would not be running again this past September. I will not be running in next year’s election. My children have made it abundantly clear that they would prefer to have more of my attention, and I intend to honour that.
It was not an easy decision to come out publicly with this. But after 3 years of trying to bring up the issue of MLA autonomy and the oppressiveness of party influence I was convinced that no substantial action was going to be taken.
For some time now, I have been having increased anxiety and stress responses when I know I have to have meetings where my concerns will be belittled.
I have not even been allowed to bring up the question of free votes at caucus meetings. I want to give people some examples of what I experienced so that they have an idea of what it is like to work in a major party in a Canadian democracy.
There are issues that are important to folks in my riding that I have been advocating for, that I have been told are not priorities at this time. But that I have also not been allowed to speak about publicly. One of these things is a critical review of the Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Act. People are losing their homes in my riding because of legislation that allows landlords to raise pad rents as much as they want and to eschew their duties to upkeep land. Every time I bring it up I am told it’s not on the to do list and that I can’t ask questions about it in QP. Meanwhile, an American company is taking my constituents homes. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Many children in East Calgary would benefit from Early Learning Screening. I have had meetings with the Minister, and was told a pilot project was being worked on- but not to ask questions about it in estimates because “we don’t want to do the opposition’s research for them”. I have had no further updates or explanations.
I strongly believe that the climate leadership plan and carbon levy are the right public policies for Alberta- but a majority of my constituents have concerns, and I would have supported amendments from the opposition to study it’s implementation further, or to ensure the bill was reviewed regularly.
I am fully aware that the government cannot fix everything at once, and that not everything I ask for can be accomplished, but by not allowing me to speak publicly about these issues, it lessens public pressure and has the effect that constituents feel unheard.
My original private member’s bill- bill 202 was supposed to propose changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to increase renter’s rights. Something many of my constituents have brought up to me over the course of 2 elections. But I was forced to change it at the last moment to establishing a committee to study affordable housing, which the Housing Ministry happened to be doing at the same time anyway.
There are also many instances where our caucus is just told directly not to say or do something. For instance we were told that if we had any information on opposition members who had behaved inappropriately towards women that it was best not to go public with it because our party wasn’t completely without fault on the matter. This statement was never explained further, which is extremely problematic. When Karen McPherson left caucus an email went out that said we shouldn’t contact her, or make any comments to the media. When Jagmeet Singh was in town we got a text message saying not to be photographed with him. We are also frequently directed to share key messages on our social media. Based on past behaviour, one can assume that there is an order out not to communicate with me, or to comment on me to the press.
While it would have been possible to speak in the house about these issues, I would have had to circumvent the party’s vetting process, and was always under the threat that I would be faced with repercussions.
In May of 2017 I wrote a member’s statement about what I felt was a problem with our democracy. I was asked to edit it, and when I didn’t edit it to the party’s liking I was told I would be unable to read it in the legislature. This was very upsetting for me as it was an indication that the control I felt from party leadership was real. I will be including my censored statement, as well as the email with suggested edits.
Shortly after this, I had a meeting with the Premier where I told her I felt that she was running the government no differently than Stephen Harper had. Her response was that “she could see how I would say that” and then she went on to try to justify it by saying how much was at stake and how much scrutiny we were under. This sentiment was echoed once again in my conversation with her Chief of Staff last week, and conversations I have had with Issues Management.
Two weeks ago, as I was reading the member’s statement roster for the upcoming session, I noticed that MLAs who were not running again had not been given any statements. I texted a couple of them to ask if this was ok, only to find that they had not even been included in the email regarding the roster- they had been completely disregarded. When I questioned the whips about who made the decision to take away a privilege from members without their consent, I was never given an answer.
I tried once more this past week to bring the issue to the leadership’s attention, and it became clear to me that they weren’t going to do anything substantive to address it. When I brought up the idea of transparent cabinet interviews the Premier’s Chief of staff visibly tried not to laugh in my face. This, and the accumulated effect of all of my experiences has lead to my choice to go public.
Many documents exist in which previous elected officials talk about this culture of fear and intimidation that exists within party politics in Canada. That they have felt unable to do their jobs, as they understood them. However, the vast majority of elected officials choose not to talk about it until after they have left- (usually from the safety of exit interviews) when they have little opportunity to make any changes. I felt that I would deeply regret it if I chose to say nothing in the time I had remaining.
I am sending a letter to the Speaker and the House leaders outlining some changes I believe could be made right away, and that would be a good start to addressing my concerns. However, I believe more substantive changes are necessary to curtail the power of the Premier’s office before the next election. This should be an election issue. I believe there should be an end to the practice of whipping votes all together. If you have to convince a majority of MLAs your legislation is worth passing it will be better legislation. Secondly, I believe there needs to be a transparent process for hiring cabinet ministers. Given that I have been told qualifications and skills have nothing to do with being appointed to cabinet, and that a way leaders control MLAs is that they decide who is promoted, if there were an independent panel that interviewed and chose Ministers from the pool of elected MLAs it would serve to both remove power from the Premier and to have the most qualified elected officials serving the people of Alberta.
It is my hope that members might consider these changes as worthwhile. I think that the Alberta public would be supportive of these changes. I’d like to see the government make Jason Kenney whip his caucus into abstaining or voting against more transparency and increased freedom for elected officials.
But you can’t do that if you’d vote the same as him.
I have chosen to abstain from the legislature because I wanted to draw attention to the lack of representation and fear and intimidation I felt. I was also hoping coming forward would lead to changes. By choosing to remove me from caucus, the NDP has doubled down on their commitment to not addressing this issue- and as long as it remains unaddressed, the legislature will continue to be a tragedy of democracy. Over the coming constituency break I will be consulting with constituents and holding a town hall meeting to discuss their concerns and ideas for me moving forward. Until such time I will continue to protest, and will not be sitting in the legislature.
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