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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley apologizes over mistreatment of volunteers, staff

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley attends a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley apologized to her members Sunday over reports she revealed last week of mistreatment of party staff and volunteers.

"It is clear that in some cases we have fallen short. We've heard concerns expressed about that," Notley said in a speech in Red Deer at the party’s provincial council -- a meeting of legislature members, volunteers, staff and executives.

"As your leader I take responsibility for this, and I apologize.

"I take responsibility now for ensuring that the directions that you have given us this weekend are carried out."

Delegates at the weekend meeting approved multiple measures recommended by Notley and the executive to address workplace concerns, including engaging a third-party to investigate and resolve workplace respect and harassment complaints. 

The NDP will also be hiring a third party to review and if necessary improve on existing human resources and codes of conduct policies.

Notley added, "And all executive staff, including myself, will take additional respectful workplace training because we know we can always grow. We can always improve, and we can always learn more."

The change comes almost two weeks after a letter written to Notley and the executive in early March by 15 NDP constituency presidents and regional vice-presidents was revealed in the media.

The 15 letter writers called for an independent third-party review of what they termed “a pattern” of mistreatment of volunteers. 

The letter did not specify the type of alleged abuse, but 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, in an interview Sunday, said the third-party will investigate not only future workplace concerns but also take on any ongoing complaints or concerns of prior behaviour.

"We've had a very developed anti-harassment policy in place since 2014, but obviously not everyone felt that they could use it, maybe they didn’t feel it was independent enough," said Notley.

"So the purpose behind this is to ensure that people maybe in the past didn't feel they couldn't use it will feel more comfortable (doing so now)."

The letter writers also called for changes to how the party selects candidates to run in the upcoming election.

The 15 said there was a lack of clarity and timelines and said vetting of some candidates was taking more than year, leading to concerns of favouritism toward certain candidates.

They also said that concerns of constituency associations have been left out of the loop on discussions affecting their areas and that their feedback to party central was being ignored.

"We commit to addressing the outstanding matters that were raised by our constituency associations from many different corners of this province -- in their March letter -- by the end of July," Notley said during her speech.

"And we will complete the vetting of candidates who are currently in the process by August."

In recent weeks a number of former and current party members have expressed concern with how the party handled the letter. 

The two caucus co-chairs for the party executive's disability caucus, in a letter distributed June 7 to the executive and obtained by The Canadian Press, called for a full independent investigation into all allegations, "including abusive conduct towards volunteers, lack of transparency regarding the vetting process, and the favouritism of party-selected candidates."

Co-chairs Justin Reinke and Clare Hickie also wrote that while they appreciated the executive trying to solve the issue in-house, "the breadth and depth of these allegations have made it clear that this will not be adequate to fully and impartially investigate these allegations and provide the transparency and accountability to our membership to ensure we can move forward."

On Friday, Wyatt Tanton, an outspoken volunteer and one-time candidate nominee from Camrose, posted on social media that he was leaving the party, saying he wants the party to succeed but can't stay because he doesn't feel he can change the current culture from the inside.

"My story is one of many which span a range of extremely serious allegations of misconduct within the party," wrote Tanton.

"(The party) is incapable of succeeding in forming government and leading this province while it is burdened by the tremendous weight of a deep, systemic rot."

Notley, in her speech, said the party has well over a third of their 87 candidates selected, to go with a robust $6.1 million in fundraising over the last fiscal year.

"It is this kind of momentum that is made possible by teamwork," said Notley.

"So, to all our staff: Thank you for growing our party. 

"And I promise you, you will be respected as working people because that is one of our core values as New Democrats."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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