Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has asked the House of Commons to investigate workplace harassment complaints made against a member of his own caucus, Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs.
O’Toole’s call for a probe follows reports from former staffers who alleged abusive behaviour by Stubbs — treatment that allegedly forced at least one employee into sick leave to get a break from what they called a “miserable, unhealthy, toxic and just really unfortunate” workplace.
Two former staffers told the Globe and Mail that Stubbs would yell at them, call them at all hours of the day and constantly find fault with their work.
CBC News spoke to three former Stubbs staffers on Monday who made similar claims. Saying they fear workplace reprisals, they asked CBC News not to identify them publicly.
One described the Alberta MP’s office as a “very difficult … very toxic place that was hostile and high stress.”
‘She’s the worst’
The staffer said Stubbs was “unreasonable” and “you could never please her.”
“I’ve worked for a couple politicians at this point and she’s the worst. Nobody comes anywhere close,” the staffer said.
“I would like to say I’m a tough cookie and yet I only lasted a few months (in her office). I said, ‘Get me the hell out of here.’ I get it, I work in politics, but she was way beyond the usual.”
“She’s very demeaning. She yells a lot and she’s always irate,” the staffer said, adding that Stubbs would be warm and genial one moment and then “screaming” and slamming doors the next.
CBC News has asked Stubbs to comment on the allegations but hasn’t received a response.
In a statement she sent to the Globe and Mail, Stubbs alleges these harassment allegations are only coming to the fore now because she has opposed O’Toole’s leadership. In an interview with the newspaper, Stubbs denied allegations of abusive behaviour.
Jordan Paquet, a former policy adviser to Stubbs, said he was surprised by the allegations, adding his experience was of a positive work environment.
“I was always treated with respect. Absolutely, it was a mutually respectful environment,” he said. “If I needed time off, I took time off, she was always fine about that. She was always totally reasonable with expectations, with deadlines.”
Paquet said Stubbs brought passion and energy to her job, held high standards and was a good employer.
“Always checking in to see if we were OK. She was just the type of boss that you want to work for,” he said.
A second staffer, meanwhile, said it’s an “open secret” in Conservative circles that Stubbs is a difficult boss to work for, to the point of being abusive.
This second person described verbal harassment during her years-long stint as a Parliament Hill employee for Stubbs. The staffer said they know of more than a dozen people who have cycled through Stubbs’ office in the six years since she was first elected in 2015.
To her caucus colleagues, the staffer said, Stubbs is a “very bubbly person … so much fun,” but behaves quite differently behind closed doors.
“She’d question our intelligence, asking, ‘Hey, is there a brain up there?’ She would always say, ‘Why do I have staff at all if I have to do everything myself?'” the staffer told CBC News.
On one occasion, the staffer said, Stubbs was yelling at staff members in the members’ lobby of the House of Commons as other MPs looked on.
“I was waiting for someone to come over to check if I was OK, or to call her out on that behaviour. That didn’t happen and that’s the most disappointing part of it all.”
Stubbs accused of tasking staff with personal work
This staffer said that Stubbs would task her taxpayer-funded parliamentary workers with menial personal jobs like grocery shopping or grabbing last-minute birthday gifts.
“She would joke about it, saying it was the ‘other tasks as assigned’ part of the job description. We felt we had no choice but to take care of these things,” this staffer said.
The staffer said they were left with “PTSD” from their time in Stubbs’ office. They said a chance encounter with Stubbs after leaving her employ left them “sweating, super anxious.
“My whole chest just tightened up. I didn’t realize how much she had really impacted me until that moment.”
CBC News spoke to a third staffer — who worked for Stubbs for less than a year — who said their time in Stubbs’ office turned them off of politics for good. They agreed to speak to CBC News on the condition that they not be named.
“Pretty much on a daily basis she would question my abilities, saying, ‘Are you incompetent?’ and ‘Are you actually able to write?’ and ‘Am I the only one with any talent around here?'” the staffer said. “She would threaten to fire me and fire the whole office multiple times.”
‘She would get so mad’
This staffer said Stubbs was intolerant of all errors, no matter how small.
Under O’Toole’s predecessor Andrew Scheer, Stubbs served as the party’s natural resources critic. This staffer said that staff members who couldn’t recall certain details about the oil and gas sector would be brutally chastised by Stubbs.
“She would get so mad, so incredibly mad, and say, ‘You don’t know anything, you’re not able to do this job.’
“She would throw things. She was so mad, she chucked a purse at me and I had to dodge it.”
This staffer said their complaints about Stubbs have nothing to do with O’Toole or internal party squabbling over his leadership.
“That argument drives me crazy. Just because it’s happening now doesn’t mean it’s not deserved.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter if it’s opportune timing because she doesn’t support Erin O’Toole or whatever. I’m just glad it’s happening.”