Kenney touts recruitment of women candidates for UCP ahead of next election

by Clare Clancy Clare Clancy

Canada’s official Opposition leader says the United Conservative Party is stepping up its recruitment of women candidates ahead of the provincial election expected in 2019.

“You’ll see a significant increase in the number of strong Canada women seeking nominations,” Jason Kenney said Tuesday at his first news conference as a sitting MLA.

Kenney was sworn in Monday after his sweeping win in the Dec. 14 Calgary-Lougheed byelection.

Two of 27 UCP MLAs are women — Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt, who represent Chestermere-Rocky View and Airdrie, respectively.

With the recent slew of sexual harassment allegations in Canadian politics, Kenney said people seeking to run for the UCP will undergo a rigorous screening process.

“We’ll be especially mindful of it now, but it was always our intention,” he said, noting a questionnaire and interview will examine anything in the candidate’s past that could be construed as sexual harassment. Both UCP hopefuls and current caucus members will be screened, he said.

In December, UCP house leader Jason Nixon came under fire after revelations that he fired a female employee who complained about sexual harassment at a Kelowna worksite. In 2008, the British Columbia human rights tribunal ruled against Nixon Safety Consulting — one of four respondents in the case — which had been providing occupational health and safety services at the site.

Kenney said Tuesday that Nixon answered questions about the case “exhaustively.”

“There has never been an allegation of harassment directed at Mr. Nixon. He says he regrets how that situation was handled in retrospect,” Kenney said, adding Nixon was open about the issue when he was screened by the Wildrose Party, which later merged with the Progressive Conservatives to become the UCP.

“Let’s not confuse the facts of that regrettable situation with actual allegations of sexual misconduct by people in positions of authority,” Kenney said.

The former federal cabinet minister said he was disturbed by the sexual assault allegations against his former colleague Rick Dykstra, who resigned from his position as Ontario Progressive Conservative party president Sunday.

“I had never heard any allegations of this nature while I was in Ottawa,” Kenney said, adding he commends women for coming forward with their experiences.

No workplace is immune to the issue of sexual harassment, Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean said Tuesday.

“I’ve heard stories from women across all sectors that tell me the problem … is rampant,” she said, noting the NDP caucus and party has continuously talked about the issue.

“It’s always been important to us to make sure there are good processes in place.”

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