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Greg Selinger says he refused a request Tuesday morning from Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew to resign his seat as MLA over allegations of sexual harassment against Stan Struthers, a cabinet minister for Selinger when he was premier.
Kinew confirmed what could be an unprecedented and extraordinary political action: "I asked him to resign — he decided to go speak to the media," Kinew told reporters. "I’ve made my feelings known.
"It’s time for him to go."
Kinew said he won’t take any immediate action against Selinger, but will move up the date of the next caucus meeting. His top priority is creating a commission to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Selinger, the NDP MLA for St. Boniface, told reporters in his constituency office that he will meet with his riding association to discuss what he called "a transition process" for his exit from politics, but is not committing to any timelines.
The former premier said he also ignored Kinew’s demand that he not hold a news conference Tuesday.
Retired University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas said he has never seen a party leader try to force a former premier or leader out of caucus.
'It's not about punishment or discipline, or holding him accountable, it's about turning the page. I thought if he's going to accept responsibility, it would be a good time to step down'— Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew
"I cannot recall an example," Thomas said.
Selinger said he wanted to apologize Tuesday to the "courageous" women who have come forward since late last week to report alleged inappropriate sexual touching by Struthers. Those women say the NDP ignored their complaints while in government.
"I came here to apologize and to accept responsibility for what happened on my watch," Selinger said.
But he insisted the first he heard about issues with Struthers was in 2015, when then-chief of staff Jeremy Read made him aware of complaints from two women, to whom Selinger has promised anonymity.
Selinger said he acted immediately, ordering Struthers to put a stop to the alleged behaviour. The women chose not to take it any further, he said. He repeatedly refused to say Tuesday if his actions played any role in Struthers’ decision not to run for re-election in 2016.
"Was it sufficient? Clearly not," said Selinger, who served as premier from 2009 until 2016.
"Too many suffered in silence for too long," he said, adding he "had a nauseous, sick-to-my-stomach feeling" last week when Struthers’ accusers told their stories.
Selinger said he was never made aware of any previous complaints about Struthers, and never witnessed Struthers lay hands on a woman.
"I didn’t see sexually harassing behaviour," he said. "I only wish I could have known about it; it shocks me that it was not brought to my attention."
Kinew said he met with Selinger Tuesday morning.
"It’s not about punishment or discipline, or holding him accountable, it’s about turning the page," Kinew said. "I thought if he’s going to accept responsibility, it would be a good time to step down."
The two spoke Tuesday morning about loyalty, Kinew conceded, and how Selinger stood by Kinew’s candidacy in the 2016 election while the rookie politician was under fire for his past, including charges of domestic violence stayed 15 years ago, and performing misogynistic and homophobic lyrics in his music career.
"My focus is on doing the right thing by the women who spoke out," Kinew said. "It’s not about loyalty, it’s not about politics.
"My priority isn’t really about Mr. Selinger right now."
Kinew said he was meeting individually Tuesday with New Democrat MLAs, but when he asked for Selinger’s resignation, "I spoke as leader."
But for the time being, Selinger remains in caucus, he said.
Kinew said his chief of staff, Liam Martin, who also served as Selinger’s penultimate chief of staff, will remain in his job and they’ll continue to work closely together.
"It’s my understanding he was not aware of any complaints. I don’t want this to become a witch hunt or a purge," he said.
Last week, two former NDP press secretaries said they took complaints about Struthers to their bosses, but were ignored. One woman said she was told to "suck it up."
Friday, former Selinger chief of staff Michael Balagus told the Free Press the complaints never reached him, and stopped with then-head of cabinet communications Jay Branch. Branch now lives outside of Canada and has not responded to numerous interview requests.
While he denied knowing about any complaints, Balagus acknowledged he’d spoken with Struthers on two occasions about giving women unsolicited back rubs and shoulder massages during cabinet meetings.
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Late Friday afternoon, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath put Balagus on indefinite leave from his jobs as her chief of staff and campaign manager for June’s provincial election, based on reports Balagus allegedly ignored the women.
"Andrea Horwath is a strong leader," Kinew said Tuesday.
Selinger said his future as a member of caucus will be up to the rest of the NDP caucus.
Manitoba Tories and Liberals were content to stay out of the fray.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, who does not have a seat and whose party is one MLA short of official status in the Manitoba legislature, rejected talk of a St. Boniface byelection. "I won’t plan or make decisions based on speculation," he said.
Should he stay or should he go?
Greg Selinger's refusal to heed his party leader's order to quit is just another sign of the intransigence he showed in refusing to step down as premier in the face of demands from the so-called Gang of Five rebellion, Brandon University political science Prof. Kelly Saunders said Tuesday.
"Selinger has already admitted that he was aware of these complaints (of sexual misconduct by former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers) and this in fact happened under his watch. He needs to resign his seat if for no other reason than the good of his party," Saunders said.
"(NDP Leader Wab) Kinew is obviously trying to do some damage control here, and Selinger should do the right thing and take one for the team. We are seeing, perhaps, the reason why the Gang of Five resigned in the first place — Selinger seems unwilling to put the interests of his party before his own," Saunders said.
"I do not believe that he should stay until an investigation is complete — this is all about perception, and right now the NDP is not looking good on this front — especially with Kinew’s own problematic past."
University of Winnipeg political science Prof. Shannon Sampert said the situation is not surprising, given Selinger's previous decisions.
"This is unbelievable — but this guy has been unbelievable from Day 1 in terms of refusing to step down following an insiders' revolt and complete disregard for those within his caucus worried about their election fortunes way back before the (2015) leadership contest," she said.
But retired University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas said because Kinew has promised an investigation, it seems premature to ask for Selinger's resignation.
"Kinew could try to have the caucus vote to remove Selinger from caucus and sit as an independent. That would lead to a renewal of infighting. I think under the Elections Act that the leader has to sign nomination papers for candidates," Thomas said.
Thomas speculated about whether the allegations about Struthers reached the premier when "his leadership was under siege and he was distracted by survival and a fast-approaching election."
"Is it significant that three of the Gang of Five were female cabinet ministers?" he said.
The five -- finance minister Jennifer Howard, Struthers (municipal government), minister of jobs and economy Theresa Oswald, justice minister Andrew Swan and health minister Erin Selby -- went public with calls for Selinger's resignation and vacated their cabinet positions on Nov. 3, 2014.
"The rebels complained about the poor interpersonal skills of the premier, including, at times, his refusal to listen to his cabinet colleagues. All of this happened in a party that believed it occupied the moral high ground, in terms of respect for women and commitment to their advancement."