February 24, 2018

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Embattled former NDP MLA keeps mum on growing number of accusers

Former cabinet minister Stan Struthers declined Monday to talk about the growing number of women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual touching while the NDP was in power.

"Thanks for the opportunity, but I will stick with the statement I put forth last week," he told the Free Press by email.

Nor is former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger talking about what he knew about Struthers and when he knew it – at least not yet.

The St. Boniface MLA is back from vacation, but, "He won’t be making any media statements today," said Rorie Mcleod-Arnould, press secretary to NDP Leader Wab Kinew. “Wab and Greg did not speak over the weekend.”

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Former cabinet minister Stan Struthers declined Monday to talk about the growing number of women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual touching while the NDP was in power.

"Thanks for the opportunity, but I will stick with the statement I put forth last week," he told the Free Press by email.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Dauphin NDP MLA Stan Struthers in his Manitoba Legislative Assembly Chambers seat in 2014.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dauphin NDP MLA Stan Struthers in his Manitoba Legislative Assembly Chambers seat in 2014.

Nor is former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger talking about what he knew about Struthers and when he knew it – at least not yet.

The St. Boniface MLA is back from vacation, but, "He won’t be making any media statements today," said Rorie Mcleod-Arnould, press secretary to NDP Leader Wab Kinew. "Wab and Greg did not speak over the weekend."

Kinew will soon be naming his commissioners who will be investigating what happened under the former NDP government, Mcleod-Arnould said.

Kinew has called what happened a failure in leadership. Although he wasn’t a part of that government, Kinew said the buck now stops with him – what’s not clear is if Kinew believes the buck stopped with Selinger.

Joelle Saltel-Allard and Shannon VanRaes, two former press secretaries in the NDP government who say officials did nothing when they complained about Struthers, have recently heard from more women with similar stories. As of Friday, at least eight women had accused Struthers of groping them.

And Kinew has reached out to one of them.

"I have been contacted by about a half-a-dozen women who told me privately about their own sexual harassment from Stan. Some of them might consider coming forward, but are currently seeking legal advice," said Saltel-Allard. "Many other women have thanked me about speaking out and told me about their own sexual-harassment experiences, not related to Stan.

"(Current chief of staff) Liam Martin reached out to Matt (my husband) and has offered to have Wab call me at some point this week. I’ve also been contacted by several ex-cabinet ministers and other NDP party members, including a past party president," she said.

Saltel-Allard said she’s received "hundreds of messages" of support in recent days, since telling her story of unwanted touching by Struthers.

"I’ve heard from women who suffered the same thing from Stan and other women who endured sexual harassment in general," she said Monday. "I’ve had contact from numerous, numerous, numerous party members and... ex-cabinet ministers."

Saltel-Allard said some party members and former NDP staffers have told her: ‘We knew this was going on and never did anything, and feel horrible about it."

Saltel-Allard said she never brought her concerns directly to then-chief of staff Michael Balagus, although she is convinced her former boss, Jay Branch, passed the information on to him.

"He (Branch) came back to me and told me they (senior staff) weren’t going to do anything about it. There was an election coming up and I just had to kind of shut up if I wanted to keep my job."

Branch no longer lives in Canada. He has not responded to repeated email requests for an interview.

However, VanRaes said she hasn't been contacted by the NDP since going public.

"No, I have not heard from Wab Kinew or any of his staff since the story broke. But I have encountered other women with similar experiences since then. None of whom are interested in going public, but yes, some individuals have reached out," VanRaes said Monday.

VanRaes said last week after she complained about Struthers, word came back to her through Branch that Balagus told her to "suck it up."

Saltel-Allard, who now operates a consulting business, left government in April 2011, six months before the general election that resulted in the NDP winning its largest majority.

Asked if she was confident the NDP is now trying to get to the bottom of the issue and ensure such incidents do not happen again, she said: "They’re talking the talk right now. I hope that they walk the walk."

Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday, through an aide, she would have no more to say about placing Balagus, her chief of staff and election campaign manager, on indefinite leave.

Horwath would not say if she talked to anyone in Manitoba before making her decision. In a statement Friday, Horwath said she was shocked to hear the women were saying Balagus had done nothing to help them when they complained about sexual misconduct by Struthers.

Only three hours before Horwath announced she had suspended Balagus, he told the Free Press in a phone interview none of the complaints ever got to him — they got no further than Branch, then-head of cabinet communications.

Mcleod-Arnould said Kinew and Horwath did not speak Monday, but would not say if they spoke last week before Horwath put Balagus on leave.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch and Nick Martin.

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