December 16, 2018

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Ontario NDP reinstates former Selinger chief of staff following suspension

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/3/2018 (289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Ontario NDP reinstated Michael Balagus Thursday after he accepted a share of responsibility for a lack of proper systems to deal with sexual misconduct incidents under Manitoba's former NDP government.

Balagus had been NDP premier Greg Selinger's chief of staff when many of the incidents involving former cabinet minister Stan Struthers occurred, but he denied that women's complaints ever reached his desk.

Balagus has said that he observed Struthers inappropriately touching women during cabinet meetings and had ordered the former minister to stop that behaviour.

When the widespread allegations broke here last month, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath put Balagus on indefinite leave as her chief of staff and campaign manager for the June Ontario provincial election.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/3/2018 (289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Ontario NDP reinstated Michael Balagus Thursday after he accepted a share of responsibility for a lack of proper systems to deal with sexual misconduct incidents under Manitoba's former NDP government.

Balagus had been NDP premier Greg Selinger's chief of staff when many of the incidents involving former cabinet minister Stan Struthers occurred, but he denied that women's complaints ever reached his desk.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Michael Balagus has been reinstated by the Ontario NDP.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Michael Balagus has been reinstated by the Ontario NDP.

Balagus has said that he observed Struthers inappropriately touching women during cabinet meetings and had ordered the former minister to stop that behaviour.

When the widespread allegations broke here last month, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath put Balagus on indefinite leave as her chief of staff and campaign manager for the June Ontario provincial election.

Thursday, with Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne under prolonged public criticism and the Ontario Tories in a bitter leadership race, Horwath brought Balagus back.

Horwath said in a prepared statement that ensuring a safe workplace is a chief of staff's responsibility, and Balagus has accepted that the system in place let them down.

Balagus says several times in his open letter that the women were left feeling unsupported and left feeling that they were not being listened to when they came forward.

In fact, that's exactly what the women have said —- they came forward, no one supported them, and no one did anything about Struthers's behaviour.

Former communications staffer Joelle Saltel-Allard was not impressed Thursday.

"I believe Michael Balagus was a major reason this behaviour was allowed to perpetuate in the NDP. It’s upsetting that there are little if any consequences for these actions by Balagus," Saltel-Allard told The Free Press.

"He instilled a culture of fear and exerted considerable control over staff and their livelihoods. It’s clear that Andrea Horwath doesn’t understand the full implications of the role he played in allowing sexual misconduct in Manitoba," she said.

Former communications staffer Shannon VanRaes, who says word came back from Balagaus to 'suck it up' when she complained that Struthers twice groped her, said Horwath should have talked to the women in Manitoba.

"I’m disappointed that Michael Balagus’s reinstatement occurred without any attempt to reach out to those who suffered under his lack of leadership. Had those affected by the pervasive culture of harassment that existed during his tenure been contacted — or any serious investigation undertaken — the long-term emotional, financial and social impacts of sexual harassment could have been made clear," VanRaes said.

"While Mr. Balagus’s career has been granted a reprieve, the women who were touched, groped and tickled by Stan Struthers were not so lucky," she said.

The furor in Manitoba over the revelations about Struthers led NDP leader Wab Kinew to demand that Selinger resign his seat. The former premier at first balked, but a week later decided to resign his St. Boniface seat effective March 7.

Kinew this week announced the members of a party commission that will meet privately with women who want to talk about what happened to them as staffers and MLAs, and then make recommendations for party policies on sexual harassment.

Premier Brian Pallister has announced new policies for ensuring safety from sexual harassment in the legislature, after it also emerged last month that he had fired former deputy minister Rick Mantey for sexual misconduct.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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