Commissioner for Legislative Standards Bruce Chaulk has recommended punishment for former Liberal cabinet minister Dale Kirby, while clearing Kirby of seven of eight allegations against him.
Kirby, now an Independent MHA for Mount Scio, issued a news release Friday afternoon containing reports completed by Chaulk. In his email, Kirby names Liberal Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons as the complainant in one of the reports, something Chaulk declined to do in the text of the report as a measure of privacy.
The one allegation Chaulk found deserving of punishment took place at the November 2016 Liberal annual general meeting at the Hotel Gander.
There are two different versions about what occurred.
In the initial report, Parsons says Kirby asked to speak with her privately, at which point Parsons alleged he said he “wanted to get along with (her)” and “you are beautiful and I love you.”
It’s alleged the incident took place in a hotel room, with just the two MHAs present. Chaulk writes that Parsons said, “the comment did not feel sexual, but was more patronizing.”
Parsons says she ignored the “unprofessional overture,” and went on to talk about a petition regarding the 1.6-kilometre school busing policy. Parsons alleged Kirby tried to dissuade her from presenting the petition.
Parsons says she felt the incident was a violation of six parts of the MHA Code of Conduct.
“He used his political position, one of power over me, combined with a sexually harassing comment, in an attempt to control my response and my future behaviour solely for the private benefit of his career,” Parsons wrote in her initial complaint.
Kirby, however, has a different account of the incident.
Instead of happening indoors at his request, Kirby said Parsons invited him out to the parking lot to smoke marijuana together, with no one else around.
In an ensuing interview with Chaulk, Kirby said when he called Parsons beautiful, he meant she was a “beautiful person.” When he said he loved her, he says he meant it in “an aging punk rocker 1980s way.”
“This wasn’t a serious conversation. We were smoking weed. It’s absurd,” Kirby said in response to Parsons’ allegations in Chaulk’s report.
Chaulk says upon interviewing both Parsons and Kirby on the matter, he found Kirby’s account of the event “to be compelling in that he provided details that did not paint him in the best light and which formed a more coherent story than that of the complainant.”
Chaulk says Parsons did not deny the context, specifically the marijuana smoking, in her interview, but said the additional context “did not justify the conduct.”
Chaulk says he found Kirby’s comments were made “in a friendly manner within the context of a casual conversation involving marijuana.”
But there’s still a problem with the incident, according to Chaulk.
“While this conduct may not have been intended to be sexual in nature, I do find below that this interaction was a violation of Principle 5 of the Code of Conduct,” Chaulk wrote.
“By approaching the complainant and communicating in the manner he did at the Liberal convention MHA Kirby was attempting to garner support for his position for private reasons. Communicating in such a manner to the complainant brings discredit to his office and is to be discouraged.”
Chaulk goes on to recommend Kirby be reprimanded for that incident.
In a statement, Kirby takes issue with the recommendation and has sought clarification from Chaulk.
“I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents in Mount Scio, and working to resolve serious issues facing Newfoundland and Labrador,” Kirby stated.
Parsons declined comment Friday.
Late Friday, Speaker Perry Trimper announced the House of Assembly will open Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the findings of Chaulk’s reports.
It will then be up to the members of the House of Assembly to determine Kirby’s fate.