Too often, movements of social protest force themselves on public consciousness, own the moment for a time, then fade from what used to be called the front page. Occupy. Idle No More. Even Black Lives Matter. But not #MeToo, which is transforming our society literally overnight.
The ranks of powerful men laid low by allegations of sexual misconduct are growing, not by the day, but by the hour. Between Wednesday morning and early Thursday morning, two conservative provincial leaders had their careers ended and their reputations destroyed.
Nova Scotia Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie’s already-planned departure was transformed into his immediate resignation from the leadership and of his seat, after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment resulted in demands from party officials that he step down.
And Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown resigned in the dead of night, Thursday, after CTV reported allegations by two women of sexual assault, which he denied. For a few hours, he fought to survive, but most of his senior staff resigned en masse, and the caucus made it clear he had to go, even though an election is slated for June 7. The seemingly doomed Liberals now have a chance to beat the odds yet again.
Mr. Brown’s departure will reverberate beyond Canada’s borders. A man who most likely would have been premier of Canada’s largest province in a few months is disgraced and his party in disarray. What other Canadian politicians will read this news with quiet horror? What state governors? What powerful British mayors? Former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, has already fallen, and GOP candidate Roy Moore denied a Senate seat in Alabama, because of allegations of sexual misbehaviour.
Now someone who was favoured to become one of Canada’s most powerful politicians – for the premier of Ontario is that powerful – has lost everything in a matter of hours. The world will take note.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wasted no time in letting the world know how seriously he took the allegations against Mr. Brown.
“Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment have no place in Canadian society, especially within our political system,” he declared in a statement Wednesday evening. “… the allegations against the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives are extremely serious and should be investigated fully.”
Fair enough. But rightly or wrongly, conservatives in Canada and elsewhere are tagged with accusations that they diminish women’s rights, that they would bring back laws against abortion, that they drag their heels when confronted with demands for full equality.
Unless conservatism can respond to the challenge of defending the rights of women and minorities in our time, this tidal wave of change will sweep the movement out to sea.
But far more than the political sphere is affected by #MeToo. Journalism, the arts, the academy, the office, the shop floor – suddenly people who thought they were safe are watching their lives implode on Facebook and Twitter. And each time one person says j’accuse, another comes closer to finding the courage. There are a lot of men no longer sleeping well at night.
Let it roll on. Let it grow. Boomers like me deluded ourselves into thinking that the old days were behind us. The professor seducing the reluctant student. The men at their private parties with their “hostesses.” The proposition, the threat: Sex with me, or else. Always, over and over and over again, power harnessed to lust, with the young and powerless paying the price. Some of us thought things had gotten better. But maybe not.
This is not to prejudge anyone’s innocence or guilt. The courts are there for that. Mr. Brown and Mr. Baillie will, if they so choose, have an opportunity to confront their accusers.
But the public square is not a court. And everyone of good will stands today with those who say: Enough. No more. No more fine words and fancy declarations that protected no one. No more lip service to equality, even as the man presses himself against the girl or boy – frozen, terrified, not knowing what to do.
Let everyone know: If you are accused you could lose everything. Maybe in just a few hours.
The Globe and Mail, January 25, 2018