In the run up to the provincial election both the governing Liberals and opposition Tories were desperate to change public sentiment. Liberals knew the public were angry with the tone and style of the MacLauchlan government. Tories, under then leader James Aylward, were trying to look competent after a decade of political self-inflicted wounds.
The Tories also needed money. In former NHL star Theo Fleury the party secured a perfect fundraiser headliner. The scrappy hockey icon had no problem filling seats, he’s become a political chirper of note with his often over the top, conspiratorial, right wing shots at Prime Minister Trudeau.
But his personal message of survival is powerful stuff. His was abused by his junior hockey coach and survived the depths the addiction. Today he is a self described ‘advocate for all trauma survivors in Canada.’
Fleury met with provincial legislators and urged them to pass a private members bill offering paid leave to victims of domestic or sexual violence. The lobby effort worked. Liberals not only offered their support to ensure its passage, but beefed up the act by adding seven unpaid leave days on top of three paid days the legislation proposed.
Bill 116, put forward by Stephen Myers, passed in the spring of 2018 and came into effect last week.
Now PEI is left with an act that is right politically but structurally flawed almost to the point of making it irrelevant to the cause it purports to defend how society can make it a little easier for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to pick up the pieces.
No public consultations were held, but government did solicit online input during the summer of 2018, which should have been the first red flag. Summer is never the best time to engage Islanders. And online consultation does not generate the type of public discussion needed to flush out how a proposed new system should work to provide support for victims while ensuring fairness to employers.
Government has no idea how much this program will cost Island employers because no analysis was done. Oddly, the excuse offered is the act was put forward as a private members bill, and government was not obligated to conduct a cost analysis. It’s an odd way to develop legislation, especially considering Liberal government offered substance and support.
Business owners, who are just learning of the act now, question why there was not greater effort to solicit public and business input and why they must carry the cost and not existing government mechanisms.
Where the bill, which amends the Employment Standards Act, really breaks down is in its requirement for victims to notify an employer of intent to use paid or unpaid leave. Shame and fear is often associated with abuse and violence. It’s tough enough telling immediate family or health care providers let alone a boss. Under the legislation an employer has the right to ask for written confirmation of abuse or violence. (In general we know the medical community loathes the necessity of work required notes as a major waste of time.)
Government is silent when asked how a requirement for written notes will interact with existing, rightful, legal protections for individual privacy. Can an employer ask follow up questions or challenge an ‘expert’ note? When asked, government offered no response to the question of when the leave starts: When an employee speaks to their employer or when written confirmation is received? There’s a big difference, potentially days or weeks, and at a minimum only adds stress and confusion to the process.
How does this support victims?
And what happens if someone is caught trying to game the system? Again, government only offers silence.
The amendment passed by the provincial legislature works for politicians. It is a political response with a photo op solution to a very real issue. But the ‘solution’ does not work for small business. And it definitely does not work for victims of violence or abuse.
It is a fix that needs fixing.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org