Former Liberal MP Kent Hehr to run for Calgary mayor

·5 min read
Kent Hehr, the former Liberal MP who left cabinet after he was investigated for allegedly sexually harassing women, will join Calgary's mayoral race. (Hehrformayor.ca - image credit)
Kent Hehr, the former Liberal MP who left cabinet after he was investigated for allegedly sexually harassing women, will join Calgary's mayoral race. (Hehrformayor.ca - image credit)

Kent Hehr, the former Liberal MP who left cabinet following allegations of sexual harassment, is running for mayor of Calgary.

Hehr was first elected to the provincial legislature representing Calgary-Buffalo in 2008, and made the leap to federal politics in 2015 when he won the seat for Calgary Centre — becoming the first Liberal MP elected in the city since the 1960s.

"I was a progressive in this city before being a progressive was cool. So I know how to work with people of all political backgrounds," Hehr said.

He served as associate minister of national defence, minister of veterans affairs, and minister of sport and persons with disabilities. But in 2018, Hehr resigned from cabinet after two women accused him of sexual harassment.

Hehr told CBC on Monday that he champions respectful workplaces and that he would encourage people to search his name online, read up on the allegations and make their own decisions.

"Since that time I have been on a deep personal journey, understanding the structures and unfairness of them that holds women and girls back in our society," he said. "I am committed as mayor, as every person in this city should be, to eradicating those barriers, to ensuring they have a safe city, a respectful city, and a city they can build their lives in and feel comfortable doing that."

An employee of another Liberal MP's constituency office told CBC in 2018 that she was groped by Hehr at a caucus party two years earlier, and a former Alberta legislature staffer, Kristin Raworth, accused Hehr of making sexually inappropriate comments toward her during his time as an MLA more than a decade ago.

The Prime Minister's Office hired a lawyer to conduct an investigation into the complaints about Hehr's conduct, but the report and its findings were kept secret. The accusers have said they were told the report determined their claims were founded, but they were not provided with a copy.

Hehr said on Monday that he has nothing to hide, and that he'd be comfortable with the report being made public. Hehr previously defended the decision not to release the report due to privacy concerns.

At the time, Hehr apologized for "unintentionally" putting people in uncomfortable situations and said he has learned his conversational style must change.

He said he did not recall meeting or speaking with Raworth and said his inappropriate touching of the second complainant was unintentional, which he said the investigation corroborated.

"I have no feeling or independent movement in my hands," Hehr, who is a C5 quadriplegic, said in a statement following the investigation. "While my disability explains much, it does not dismiss the feelings of those with whom I interact."

When Hehr was in his early 20s, he was shot during a drive-by shooting, paralyzing him from the chest down. The former junior hockey player changed his career path, pursuing a law degree and becoming a disability rights activist before entering politics.

The second complainant told CBC that she shared videos from Hehr's Instagram with investigators that demonstrated Hehr using his hands.

Two other people involved in different levels of Canadian politics confirmed to CBC News in 2018 that they had been warned of Hehr's behaviour, and said they knew of women who had been the subject of unwanted sexual comments or physical contact from the then-MP.

Hehr was also accused of belittling thalidomide survivors during his time as federal minister for persons with disabilities, when he was accused of saying that it was good news for the Canadian government that the survivors had shorter life expectancies. Hehr has denied making those comments.

Remained in caucus, but later lost his seat

Hehr remained in caucus following the investigation into harassment allegations, but lost his seat to Conservative Greg McLean by more than 19,000 votes in the 2019 election.

This will be his second time campaigning for mayor. He ran in 2010 but after poor performance in pre-election public opinion polls dropped out to endorse Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

In a video announcing his campaign, Hehr said he hopes to build a more equitable city.

"Our city has been through many ups and downs. But here's the thing, the ups come because of the downs. Adversity shapes our identity," Hehr said in the video.

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said Hehr has baggage as a candidate.

"The fact that he was only demoted from cabinet and not removed from caucus, you know, he can make the case there is something unique about this circumstance," Bratt said. "But if you're explaining, you're losing."

Hehr said in an interview that over the last few months, he's been chatting with Calgarians who told him that his progressive record was needed in the race. He said he opposes further urban sprawl, and would have voted against building a new arena for the Calgary Flames.

"I was born and raised in this city. I know people from all walks of life," he said. "The people of Calgary know who I am. I've worked hard on bringing their issues forward."

Hehr will enter a crowded arena when he formally submits his paperwork for the race on Tuesday.

There are currently 27 candidates in the running for mayor, including three city councillors. Nenshi, the current mayor, is not seeking re-election.

The full list of registered mayoral candidates can be found at Elections Calgary.

The full list of council candidates for each ward can also be found there.

Calgarians head to the polls on Oct. 18.

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