Ariella Kimmel, former chief of staff to Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer, filed a lawsuit this spring alleging the Premier’s office fostered a “poisoned work environment,” it failed to address her concerns about the sexual harassment of another employee, and she’d been fired for raising it. She’s suing for just under $400,000.
Kimmel says she raised her concerns in Oct 2020, she became the target of a smear campaign, and was fired in Feb 2021. Kenney’s chief of staff says her termination was unrelated to her insistence the government implement a robust sexual harassment policy, but Schweitzer says Kimmel was an excellent chief of staff. If she wasn’t terminated because she wouldn’t let up about sexual harassment and she wasn’t terminated for poor performance, then why was she terminated?
Kimmel’s lawsuit referred to a specific comment made at a drinking party in (former) Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen’s office in the Legislature.
And boom, just like that we discovered that sometimes Dreeshen’s office functioned like a speakeasy; someone declared “shields up,” the doors were locked and out came the booze.
At first Dreeshen brushed aside the allegation that he drank to excess (he didn’t have a problem with alcohol, he worked long hard days in the Legislature, there’s a “social aspect” to politics) but eventually he offered to resign his cabinet post saying his “personal conduct with regards to alcohol [had] become an issue for the government as a whole” and it was time for him to “focus on [his] personal health and wellness.” Premier Kenney accepted Dreeshen’s resignation.
What’s interesting about all this is that neither Dreeshen nor Kenney appeared to have a problem with Dreeshen’s “conduct with regards to alcohol” until it was raised in Kimmel’s lawsuit. Which makes us wonder whether Kenney would have accepted Dreeshen’s resignation had “shields up” not become public knowledge.
Why did it take so long?
Kenney has a reputation for micro-managing. It’s inconceivable he did not know about Dreeshen’s conduct. His principal secretary was handling Kimmel harassment complaint last fall and his chief of staff fired her this spring.
Kenney admits to having a drink or two in Dreeshen’s office and says he’s not averse to social drinking in the Legislature as long as it’s done with maturity. The “shields up” imbroglio doesn’t sound terribly mature, so why didn’t Kenney do something about it sooner?
Well, Dreeshen wasn’t an ordinary MLA. He’s been described as an up and comer. He hails from a political family and he’s an effective fundraiser. Apparently, he raised $180,000 in the third quarter making him a powerbroker within the party.*
No doubt it was easier for Kenney to turn a blind eye to “shields up” than take Dreeshen to task. What does this say about Kenney’s leadership?
Other than Dreeshen, the only other cabinet minister to be demoted (outside of a cabinet shuffle) is Tracey Allard who lost her cabinet post when she went to Hawaii during the covid ban on travel. Even then Kenney didn’t demote her until the public was in an uproar over his failure to discipline Allard and the other UCP MLAs and staff who ignored the travel ban.
It would appear nonstop carping about Kenney’s failures as a leader and policy maker won’t get you the sack unless you’re Drew Barnes or Todd Loewen. The remaining 25% of his caucus, including the vociferous Leela Aheer, Angela Pitt and Richard Gotfried, have expressed their disappointment and dissatisfaction with Kenney’s decisions and lived to gripe another day.
Kenney’s reluctance to take action over Dreeshen’s “shields up” and his hesitancy in disciplining MLAs who ignore or criticize his policies signal two things: (1) Kenney, unlike Harper, is a weak leader, and (2) Kenney’s frat house is coming apart at the seams
It’s only going to get worse if Brian Jean wins the nomination to run in the byelection in Fort McMurray.
Kenney’s demise would be welcome news but for the fact his government will be in power until May 2023 and he and his government should be focused on critical issues like managing covid and its aftermath, kickstarting the economy, and fixing healthcare, education, and other social services.
And for the record, Rachel Notley and her MLAs are putting in the long hard days at the Legislature and engaged in the social aspect of politics in their constituencies with no bozo eruptions, no cockups, and no complaints.
*West of Centre interview with Duane Bratt and others. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-politics-west-of-centre-podcast-kathleen-petty-1.5473933