A second former NDP MLA says ex-finance minister Stan Struthers tickled her — twice.
She's among more than half a dozen women who allege they inappropriately touched by the former Dauphin MLA, who didn't seek re-election in 2016.
The woman, who requested anonymity, said Struthers tickled her twice and both times she told him to stop. The incidents happened when they were alone in the legislature.
"I just said, ‘Stop it. Don’t do that. What are you doing, you dope?’ It just didn’t cross my mind that it was something he was doing all the time to people," she said.
"I just thought it was a moment of stupidity and yeah, I was not present for these other experiences that other people (had). I just had no idea or I would have certainly jumped in for them."
The MLA didn't tell anyone about the tickling at the time and was shocked to see other women coming forward with similar allegations years later. She said she felt "dumb" when media began reporting on Struthers' widespread behaviour, which had earned him the nickname "Minister Tickles" from colleagues.
"I think maybe I come from an era where we’re used to men doing a great deal worse than trying to tickle you," she said.
Because both of them were MLAs, the woman felt Struthers didn't have "power over me, in my opinion anyway. So I didn’t feel any need to do anything other than tell him to get his hands off me."
Struthers has not responded to a request for comment from the Free Press. He offered an initial apology after five women came forward with stories about being tickled by him.
When asked whether current NDP leader Wab Kinew would like to respond to the most recent allegation against Struthers, his press secretary sent a statement from Bernadette Smith, the MLA for Point Douglas, instead.
"It’s upsetting to hear that this occurred. All too often, women are subjected to unacceptable behaviour. I stand with these women who’ve come forward, and look forward to the work of the commission that’s been called by the party," Smith said, referring to an independent commission the NDP is establishing to hear stories of sexual harassment in the political workplace. Two women will head the commission, though the NDP hasn't announced who they will be yet.
"I am confident that the women’s voices will be heard and that recommendations that will be put forth will ensure that this never happens again," Smith said.
The second former MLA who alleged tickling by Struthers said she believes the allegations brought forth by other women, including Shannon VanRaes, a former communications staffer who said Struthers put his hand under her skirt and tried to grope her.
The incident happened while the two were the sole passengers on a small plane flying to and from northern Manitoba for a government event in 2010. VanRaes said Struthers also tried pulling her foot towards his crotch in a separate incident.
She went to her boss, Jay Branch, then head of cabinet communications, who told her he took the complaint to the chief of staff, Michael Balagus, who allegedly replied with "suck it up." Balagus denied being told about the complaints.
"Of course he told Balagus. Everyone told Balagus everything, that’s how Balagus was good at his job. There’s no possibility he didn’t know," the former MLA said.
"The only one who I think truly would have been oblivious was Greg Selinger, until Jeremy (Read, then chief of staff) told him in 2015. Because that’s what they did. They would have protected the premier."
The woman said she's "grateful" to have left the legislature.
"It was an awful culture then and just politics in itself," she said. "I don’t think it was our party. I think politics itself is just pretty nasty, which is super sad."
-With files from Nick Martin, Kevin Rollason
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Friday, February 16, 2018 at 8:04 PM CST: adds thumbnail
9:29 PM: updates headline