Prime Minister Baublehead‘s Ottawa is a braunnoser’s banquet for Liberal hangers-on of even middling talent, so it comes as a surprise to see Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna sued in small claims court by an assistant she dumped two years ago.
My old friend Suzanne Charest, a seasoned PR flack (CARE Canada, Canadian Red Cross, etc.) claims her $67,000-a-year gig in the minister’s constituency office was “abruptly terminated, without any advance notice or warning, on Nov. 18, 2016. The termination letter was personally delivered to the Plaintiff by Lucy Hargreaves, the Office Manager, in the presence of Karin McNair, Liberal Campaign Manager in Ottawa-Centre, in the Defendant’s Community Office, the purpose of which is non-partisan.”
Charest had earned her employment in McKenna’s scrupulously non-partisan office by, er, volunteering on her election campaign, starting in March 2014. McKenna’s stylish band of besties and ladies-who-lunch drew much sexist snickering but was fatally underestimated, as McKenna took out hard-luck Dipper Paul Dewar by 3,000 votes.
In the halcyon because-it’s-2015 afterglow, Suzanne hopped aboard the minister’s estrogen-rich staff as constituency assistant, and set to working setting up the office. Devoted? And how!
“During the Christmas/New Years 2015 holidays, the Plaintiff spent many days and was instrumental in Moving the Community Office to a new location at 107 Catherine Street in Ottawa, ON. She used her own vehicle to help with the move on many occasions and assisted with the official move during a snowstorm.”
“During the entire period of her employment, the Plaintiff received much positive feedback and comments from everyone (Paid staff, office volunteers, community stakeholders, constituents and others). The Plaintiff always received positive comments from the Defendant regarding her dedication, the exceptional quality of her work, her professional work ethic and service to constituents…The Plaintiff was the only French-speaking staff member in the Defendant’s Community Office. The Plaintiff was the also the only older individual in the office with a great deal of office experience.”
Experience is right: Charest’s stint as media relations manager at the Canadian Red Cross (1997-2006) spanned the shitstorm-toss’d years of the tainted blood scandale, which had left some 2,000 transfusion recipients with HIV and 60,000 with Hep-C. Whoopsie!
”At the heart of the delay in introducing HIV testing was the character of the Red Cross, the organization most responsible for ensuring the safety of the blood supply,” pronounced Justice Horace Krever in his report on the schmozzle. “The Red Cross was a tentative and ineffective decision maker that recoiled from its responsibility to make timely decisions on matters of safety.”
The Red Cross pled guilty in May 2005 to distributing a contaminated drug and paid a $5,000 fine.
The only Red Cross manager to face criminal charges was Dr. Roger Perrault, director of transfusion services, acquitted in 2007, thanks in no small part to the efforts of sainted legalist Eddie Greenspan.
But I digress. Back on Team Climate Barbie, the sisterhood of Suzanne’s admirers allegedly did not include Hargreaves, Minister McKenna’s director of operations. Madame H. apparently questioned the wisdom of paying an experienced communications professional nearly $70K to warm a seat in the constit. office:
“Lucy Hargreaves, the Office Manager, made condescending comments to the Plaintiff and made comments that the Plaintiff felt was bullying in the workplace. She felt demeaned and devalued. Comments included ‘you’re being paid too much’ and ‘if only you weren’t given such a high salary I could do what I want to with the constituency office budget.'”
And so it came to pass. Charest is suing McKenna personally for $25,000, the maximum award in small claims court. No legalist is listed in the file.
She claims she was sacked “without cause and in bad faith, with the knowledge, consent and instructions of the Defendant. The abrupt dismissal and the manner in which it occurred has had a severe, negative emotional and financial impact on the Plaintiff.”
Two years later, Charest’s working hard to rejoin the middle class, plugging away at a part-time comms gig with the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership at $30 an hour. (Mercifully, hubby Norm Looker is gainfully employed as VP at R.J. Burnside International, engineering and environmental consult-thingies on international development projects.)
“The Plaintiff is fifty-five years of age. She has been unable to find full-time employment and believes that her age and the termination are contributing factors.”
None of these whinges has been tested in court, and the minister has yet to file a defence.