Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer is calling for premier Jason Kenney to resign after the termination of Ariella Kimmel at the Alberta legislature.
Kimmel, a former legislature staffer alleged sexual harassment and drinking by ministers and seniors’ staff inside the legislature.
“Ariella Kimmel, who is a very dear friend of mine, worked for the premier for 10 years. I’m sure she thought she could trust him with this information and to see it happen with disgrace and have her terminated, to not have taken action to make sure she felt safe, and her concerns had been answered is absolutely beyond,” Aheer said.
Adding, “It became very clear that the leadership is failing, and that’s when I demanded his resignation. It would take a tremendous amount of grace and respect for the people of Alberta to understand that he’s not connecting with people.”
Aheer believes that fundamentally, the premier is the foundation of the party, following the MLAs, and then constituents.
“Elevating the people of the province has to be our first priority. We’ve done a lot of work on trying to handle harassment from within. Not only our organization, but this also isn’t a UCP issue, this is a systemic issue throughout all political parties, there’s a huge cultural issue within politics,” Aheer said.
Aheer and her team had been working on definitive structural language around government commitments to prevent sexual violence, support survivors, and improve responses.
“This is language in our policy that the premier did not follow. That is a failure in leadership, you need to believe people, you need to do what you can to make it safe for everybody, you have to be an ally, you don’t blame the survivor,” Aheer said.
“There’s a common theme, he doesn’t listen, he’s not empathic. This has become the Kenney party, the UCP as an organization are people who are committed to the principles on which we were elected,” she added. “This leadership and the people sitting at the top aren’t there for the UCP or for the people who elected them.”
Going forward, Aheer is calling on staffers at the legislature to stay humble, work hard, and keep their commitments, while changing the culture on harassment.
“These are calls to action for all of us. We have to address the culture on harassment on all levels and change the culture. We need to ensure all the systems are responding effectively to violence and harassment,” Aheer said.
When asked if Aheer would ever consider leaving the UCP if things don’t change systemically, she asked why should the woman be the one that needs to leave.
“Why is it me, who is a strong woman in a position where I have a platform to have a voice and stand up for the right things, why is my commitment only validated by leaving a party that I have worked six years to build because of a few bad apples?
“Those bad apples need to leave, they need to step down, they need to understand they don’t resonate with Albertans,” Aheer said.
Aheer plans to continue advocating for appropriate responses to workplace harassment and ensuring all legislature staffers feel safe in their workplace.
“Women are way more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not going to let anyone bully me out of my position or where I stand,” Aheer said.
“There’s been so much great work and great policy that’s been done, but all of it is lost because people don’t resonate with the leader, and he doesn’t have the capacity to show strong leadership and equality that people can trust and believe in,” she said.
Aheer has heard that Albertans are frustrated and concerned about whether they can trust Kenney, and it’s leaking down into whether they can trust the UCP.
“When you have a failure in leadership and are surrounding yourself with people who just say yes, not listening and not empathic, people, especially during COVID-19, need somebody they can relate to, and somebody who speaks to them, not at them,” Aheer said.