WINNIPEG – Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew is asking former premier Greg Selinger to resign his legislature seat so the party can move on from allegations that a longtime former cabinet minister tickled and groped female employees.
Selinger apologized Tuesday following harassment allegations by numerous women against Stan Struthers, an NDP cabinet minister from 2003 to 2014. The women said Struthers touched them in front of others, but Selinger said he never witnessed any inappropriate behaviour.
“Our government and political party failed them,” Selinger said. “Too many suffered in silence for too long. I want to apologize so that the voices of these women can be heard.”
Selinger said allegations that have come to light made him sick and he wishes more had been done under his watch.
“I wish that these incidents of sexual harassment were brought to my attention. The grotesque incidents that have been brought to light during the past few days happened under my watch,” he said.
“As such, I must take responsibility for our inaction in addressing these incidents.”
Kinew said that means Selinger should resign.
“It’s not about punishment. It’s not about discipline or holding him accountable. It’s really more about turning the page,” Kinew said. “I think it’s time for him to go.”
Kinew himself has faced allegations of domestic violence, which he has denied. He has said he is an “imperfect ally.”
“I don’t want this to become a witch hunt or a purge,” Kinew said.
Selinger said he’s open to an “exit strategy,” but will decide that in consultation with his constituents.
Shannon VanRaes, who worked with Struthers, said last week she was on a flight with him in 2010 when he asked if she liked being tickled.
VanRaes said she told him no, but she said Struthers put his hand under her skirt and later made sexual comments. Later that year, she said, he got down on the floor, grabbed her foot and pulled it toward his crotch.
Joelle Saltel-Allard said Struthers used to touch her when she was his press secretary between 2009 and 2011. She said he put his hand on her knee while they were driving and talked about sex acts he would enjoy.
Struthers, who has declined interview requests, issued a written statement last week apologizing “for any interactions I have had that have been inappropriate and that have caused any person to feel disrespected or uncomfortable.”
Both women say they lodged a complaint with their boss, Jay Branch, and were told he took it to Selinger’s former chief of staff, Michael Balagus. Both say they were later informed they would have to “suck it up.”
Balagus has denied he was told about the complaints. Attempts to reach Branch, who worked as a journalist for The Canadian Press more than a decade ago, have been unsuccessful.
Another government communications worker, Julie Kentner, said Struthers tickled her during a meeting in 2013 while they were discussing a document. Kentner said she told supervisors and they took her seriously, but she later decided not to pursue the matter formally.
Selinger said two women came forward with concerns about Struthers to his chief of staff, Jeremy Read, in 2015, but the women didn’t want to take the complaints further.
Selinger said he directed Read to make it clear to Struthers that any sexual harassment had to end.
Read said Tuesday he couldn’t launch a more formal investigation, partly because Struthers was no longer a cabinet minister and partly because the women didn’t want to lodge a formal complaint.
“If I had a complaint or a witness who was willing to come forward and act on it, it would have allowed for other kinds of actions to be taken.”
Struthers was one of five ministers who resigned from cabinet in November 2014 to protest Selinger’s leadership. Struthers announced in May 2015 he would not run in the April 2016 election for the “good of our family” and his Dauphin constituency.
— By Chinta Puxley in Edmonton