The Green party is defending leader Elizabeth May amid allegations of bullying from former employees, arguing that she wouldn't be criticized for similar behaviour if she were a man.
The allegations, which were first reported by The Toronto Star on Saturday, come from three former employees who accuse May of creating a hostile work environment by yelling at employees and putting them down in front of colleagues.
Rob Rainer, one of the accusers who spoke to The Canadian Press, was an interim executive director at the party for seven months in 2014. He said coming forward with his experience was important because he continued to hear that other staffers were being bullied.
Rainer said the timing also seemed right, as the #MeToo movement highlights workplace misconduct of a sexual nature.
He said there had been four or five instances where he was directly harassed or verbally abused, alleging that May would "disparage" him at work in front of other people.
In one instance, he recalled a meeting with at an Ottawa hotel, where May began by noting that she was surprised to even see him there.
"She’s quite adept at making people feel small, and that’s how I felt at that moment," said Rainer.
The Green party was swift to defend May in the hours after the Star article was published, saying the 63-year-old was being "held to a different standard" than male leaders.
"A man with these qualities is admired for his leadership," read the party's statement. "A woman is portrayed as overbearing and bullying. These outdated gender stereotypes have no place in 21st century Canada."
Cristine de Clercy, a political science professor at Western University with expertise in women in politics, agreed that women can be treated differently than their male counterparts, but said these allegations represented a grey area.
Women "are often subject to intense scrutiny," said de Clercy. "It seems that sexist norms of behaviour ... speaking quietly, being more deferential, being less abrasive — often those norms, some people expect them from women leaders."
But Rainer took issue with the party calling it a gender issue, and said May's behaviour contradicts the party's code of conduct.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with gender. If a man did this, I’d be speaking about this the same way," said Rainer.
Rainer said his complaints to the party during his time there, and at the time of his exit interview, were ignored.
In light of the allegations, he wants the party to acknowledge the alleged incidents, launch an independent investigation, and have May step down as leader until an investigation is completed.
However, the party's statement made no mention of amendments, and called Rainer and the two other accusers quoted in the Star article "disgruntled former staff."
It further brushed off the claims by pointing to one of the examples in the Star story, where May requested her office be repainted and allegedly "threw a fit" when she came back before it was done.
"It is extremely unlikely that a decade-old anecdote about a man's frustration with his office paint job would merit national news," the party said in its statement.
— With files from Nicole Thompson