Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger has apologized for failing to keep women safe, amid calls for his resignation following allegations that former MLA Stan Struthers inappropriately touched multiple women during his time in office.
Provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked Selinger to resign his seat as MLA for St. Boniface Tuesday morning — the second time in Selinger's decades-long career he has been asked to step aside.
Instead, a defiant Selinger held a press conference Tuesday afternoon during which he made an apology, but said he wasn't ready to go.
"When we talked today, [Kinew] proposed that as one alternative. The other one was to cancel this press conference. I told him that I thought it was really important that we make this statement today to let people know how I felt," he said.
"I said to him, 'Having resigned as leader, I fully support him as the new leader, but it was important to clear the air about how I felt about what had happened in the past,'" Selinger said.
A recent CBC News investigation revealed that five women, including a former NDP cabinet colleague, accused Struthers of several instances of inappropriate touching dating back at least eight years.Two more women came forward after the initial story.
All of the incidents reported by the CBC occurred after Selinger became premier in 2009.
On Tuesday, Selinger expressed sympathy for the women who came forward and said he must take responsibility for what happened under his leadership.
"It's very clear that the voices of these women need to be heard and they weren't, and that's why I am apologizing today."
It's now time, Selinger said, "to create a safe set of procedures and policies where their voices can be heard. Because they've spoke out, and that took courage."
CBC News live streamed the former premier's 12:30 p.m. CT news conference, where he said news of the allegations made him "sick to the stomach." He and the party failed to ensure women had a safe and respectful place to work, Selinger said.
'Under my watch'
He claimed to know of two incidents reported to his last chief of staff at the tail end of his term as premier. Selinger said he supported action against Struthers at the time, but added he had no knowledge of any other allegations.
"As leader of the party at the time, I wish that these incidents of sexual harassment were brought to my attention," Selinger said.
"The grotesque incidents that have been brought to light in the last few days happened under my watch as leader of the party and government of the day, and as such I must take responsibility for our inaction in addressing these incidents. Too many suffered in silence for too long, and I want to apologize so that the voices of these women can be heard."
Selinger famously refused to resign as Manitoba NDP leader in 2014 following the resignation of five ministers from cabinet, including Struthers, who wanted to see him step down. His refusal triggered a leadership race in 2015, which he narrowly won over former minister Theresa Oswald.
Selinger, who has been the St. Boniface MLA since 1999, said he is open to stepping down eventually, once the proper transitional process is in place to replace him as MLA.
"The people of this community [St. Boniface] said, 'We elected you and expect you to stick around and to work on our concerns,'" Selinger said Tuesday.
He stepped down as party leader, but stayed on as an MLA, following the NDP's defeat by the Progressive Conservatives in the 2016 provincial election — one New Democrats deserved to lose in light of the recent flood of allegations, Kinew said last week.
Kinew shows Selinger the door
Kinew said Tuesday the best thing for the party now would be for Selinger to leave.
"It's not about punishment, it's not about discipline or holding him accountable. It's really more about turning the page," Kinew said.
"He indicated to me that he was going to apologize and take responsibility to a certain respect. And so I told him, essentially, that if you're going to take responsibility that now would be an appropriate time to exit."
Selinger said he supports the Me Too movement and efforts to create stronger workplace safety policies, and remains deeply sorry for what the women endured.
"It's really a call for change in culture of how we relate to each other as human beings, particularly when we are in positions of authority," he said.
"And I think that is fundamentally important, that we find more ways to be mindful, more respectful, and we have a normalized conversation about how we treat each other."
NDP knew of at least 4 complaints
CBC reported that party officials received at least three complaints about Struthers, nicknamed "Minister Tickles," from 2010 to 2015. Following stories last week, a fourth woman came forward, saying she had also complained about Struthers's behaviour to party brass.
Selinger said the first time he learned of allegations against Struthers was in 2015, when two women brought forward complaints to his chief of staff. He refused to name that chief of staff.
By that time, Struthers had already resigned as a cabinet minister and had signalled he would not be running in the 2016 election.
"I authorized and backed immediate action to make clear to the former MLA that his sexual harassment had to stop," Selinger said.
"It was reported back to me that the victims in these particular cases of harassment wished to take no further steps at that time and protect their privacy, as they were fully entitled to, and which we fully respected."
A different former Manitoba NDP chief of staff, Michael Balagus — who now holds that position with the Ontario NDP — was put on leave by the Ontario New Democrats late last week after he was accused of not taking complaints against Struthers seriously.
Balagus served as chief of staff for the Manitoba NDP from 2003-12 and denies he ever knew about Struthers's misconduct.