What is Kent Hehr still doing in the federal cabinet?
Mr. Hehr is the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities who has been making news recently, and not in a good way. He has been accused by a number of women of conducting himself inappropriately in meetings, mostly by making comments that were rude, condescending and grossly insensitive.
The minister has denied some of the allegations while apologizing for others. But you have to ask yourself why any of these women who came forward would lie about their interactions with him. As well, the complaints all have a similar feel.
This week, a woman from Nova Scotia disclosed details of a meeting she and her husband had with Mr. Hehr in 2016 when he was Veterans Affairs minister. (He was since demoted in a cabinet shuffle.) Kim Davis's husband Blair – a veteran of the Canadian peacekeeping mission in Bosnia – is suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Struggling to cope financially, Ms. Davis was looking for some help from the government. She highlighted how difficult it was to save for their children's education. She was lobbying to have financial benefits given to the families of deceased military personnel extended to those dealing with severe injuries that prevent them from working.
She said the minister couldn't have been more disrespectful, saying at one point: "There's lots of kids out there that don't get [a] paid education, why should yours?" When she asked him how she was supposed to support her family and care for her husband, the minister is alleged to have said: "You married him. He's your responsibility." Mr. Hehr denies the allegation.
However, it comes on the heels of similar complaints. Members of a thalidomide survivor group looking for financial help recently accused the minister of making wholly inappropriate statements to them. At one point he's alleged to have said: "You don't have it so bad. Everyone in Canada has a sob story." When the group explained they needed help now as they had shortened lifespans, the minister is said to have blurted out: "So you probably have about 10 years left then now. That's good news for the Canadian government." Again, Mr. Hehr denied making some of the comments and apologized if others were "misinterpreted."
A woman in Calgary also recently complained about a meeting she had with Mr. Hehr in October, 2016. Jennifer McCrea is part of a group of mothers suing the federal government over benefits they allege were denied them while on maternity leave. When she asked him why Ottawa was fighting these women, he allegedly said: "That's like asking, 'When did you stop beating your wife?'"Ms. McCrea said her jaw dropped.
When this matter was raised in the House of Commons, Mr. Hehr read a statement saying he apologized, acknowledging that his comments to people can sometimes be "brash and sometimes even inappropriate."
There is clearly a pattern here. And as I say, there is no reason to doubt the accounts of the women who have come forward. They want the public to be aware of the minister's conduct. If these were sexual-harassment complaints, it's unimaginable Mr. Hehr would be allowed to remain in his position. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already demonstrated he has zero tolerance for anyone even remotely associated with allegations of that sort. Which is why it's a mystery he is sticking by someone who has been accused of being demeaning, callous and shockingly rude to people who have come to him looking for assistance.
The fact that those levelling these charges against Mr. Hehr are all women should not be overlooked.
Mr. Hehr has become an embarrassment to the government, not to mention a political liability. He tarnishes the image of this administration with each passing day. There is no question Mr. Hehr has overcome enormous personal obstacles on his way to Ottawa, having been left a quadriplegic at the age of 21 as a result of a drive-by shooting. But however painful and compelling his story is, it shouldn't exempt him from treating others with the common decency they deserve. Nor should it afford him protections for poor behaviour not accorded other ministers.
The fact that he is the only minister from Conservative-dominated Calgary should also not enter into any calculation concerning his suitability for a seat at the cabinet table. It's time the Prime Minister dealt with this issue in the manner it should be. If he does, Mr. Hehr will no longer be in cabinet.