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Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

May 19, 2019 | Government

By George Le Masurier

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird knows what it’s like to be bullied as an adult woman in the Comox Valley. She entered politics in the early 1990s, when the Village Council table was more the province of men than it is today. And she has sat on enough nonprofit boards to experience dictatorial board chairs and intimidating fellow board members.

So she knows that bullying in local politics and nonprofits has nothing to do with the #metoo era, social media or overreaching political correctness.

And the mayor is determined to shine a spotlight on the problem.

Baird has invited 80 local women, and some men, to a second workshop that will feature local citizens talking about their experiences with bullying in politics, nonprofits and business workplaces. More than 40 women attended her first workshop last spring.

“We’re broadening our perspective this time,” she told Decafnation. “And including a focus on nonprofits and other organizations, not just politics.”

Baird and her committee have assembled a panel that includes professionals to help define bullying, how to recognize it and what to do what it happens.

“One of the goals of this workshop is not just to learn how to defend yourself against bullying, but also how to recognize it when it’s happening to someone else,” she said.

The last time Baird was bullied herself occurred at a Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, and the perpetrator was a male elected official.

“No one stopped him,” she said. “His behavior changed the whole atmosphere for everyone, made us all uncomfortable. Very negative.”

Baird said people who don’t stop or call out bullying are accessories to the crime. So she hopes the workshop will help people recognize bullying and find the courage to step in when it’s appropriate.

“I know that would be easier for some people to do than others,” she said. “But I think you would feel good that you did something that needed to be done.”

Bullying in nonprofits

According to a 2014 University of Windsor study more than half of Canadians reported at least one act of workplace harassment every week for the previous six months. A 2014 Angus Reid survey found that 43 percent of women have been sexually harassed on the job. And a Great West Life study reported that 71 percent of Canadian employees report concern over their psychological safety at work.

And nonprofits are not immune.

The Canadian online resource for nonprofits, Charity Village, reports that 78 percent of workplace bullies outrank their targets. And that includes donors or board members who threaten or intimidate nonprofit employees.

Board bullying is common and, according to one article on Charity Village, may be “more prevalent in the nonprofit sector than in the business sector.”

Bullying on nonprofit boards comes in five main forms, according to Charity Village: internal board interactions (such as ostracism and peer pressure), board to staff, board self-dealing (such as pressure to deliver inappropriate favors or benefits), sexual harassment and enabling bullying among staff (such as failing to take action, or willful ignorance of bullying at the staff level).

Bullying in politics

Bullying in politics is not a new concept. Men have historically dominated public office and the pioneering women who dared to enter this domain have almost all experienced some form of bullying.

Baird says she has noticed that political culture is slowly evolving, but holding public office is still harder today for women than for men.

“Some men don’t realize they are doing it, because they’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “If you’ve been bullied for years, it’s hard to get out of that situation.”

Baird said local politics is a prime hotbed for bullying.

“People think they have the right to say anything they want to, especially during election campaigns. It can be very hurtful,” she said.

As a mayor, Baird tries to avoid using her position in a way that intimidates other council members.

“Every councillor has the right to speak uninterrupted and to voice their opinion,” she said. “The mayor’s job is not to argue or criticize another councillor’s thoughts. We get a better product if we all listen to what other people are saying.”

There have been various and serious allegations of bullying against several different trustees on the Union Bay Improvement District for years.

Men also experience bullying, though perhaps not as frequently as women.

Former BC Liberal Party cabinet minister Bill Bennett called Premier Gordon Campbell a bully who was vocally abusive, sometimes reducing caucus members to tears.

“You have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today,” Bennett was quoted as saying at the time.

Positive outcomes

Bullying in politics or in nonprofits isn’t something that people feel comfortable talking about, according to Baird. Women, for example, just learn to deal with it.

So the Cumberland mayor hopes her workshop can break through that barrier.

“I want to make it (bullying) visible,” she said. “And when it does happen, not to sit back and allow it to continue, that people will stand up and stop it.”




Bullying happens when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else. Bullying can occur one on one or in a group(s) of people. There are many different forms of bullying:

Physical bullying (using your body or objects to cause harm): includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting or breaking someone else’s belongings.
Verbal bullying (using words to hurt someone): includes name calling, put-downs, threats and teasing.
Social bullying (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone): includes spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making others look foolish or unintelligent. This form of bullying is most common among girls.

— Children who bully are 37% more likely than children who do not bully to commit criminal offences as adults. (Public Safety)

Cyberbullying involves the use of communication technologies such as the Internet, social networking sites, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Cyberbullying includes:

— Sending mean or threatening emails or text/instant messages.
— Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
— Creating a website to make fun of others.
— Pretending to be someone by using their name.
— Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.
— Cyberbullying affects victims in different ways than traditional bullying. It can follow a victim everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from school, to the mall and all the way into the comfort of their home – usually safe from traditional forms of bullying.

— Source, RCMP



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