February 24, 2018

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'Buck stops with me': Pallister says two civil servants or staffers accused people in government of sexual misconduct

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>"I do not want in five or 10 or 15 years to hear something like this happened, where someone comes forward and says, ‘Well, I raised this,’ and I’m going to know that I didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t know. I don’t want that situation. So I’m accountable," said Premier Brian Pallister. </p>

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski / Winnipeg Free Press

"I do not want in five or 10 or 15 years to hear something like this happened, where someone comes forward and says, ‘Well, I raised this,’ and I’m going to know that I didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t know. I don’t want that situation. So I’m accountable," said Premier Brian Pallister.

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Premier Brian Pallister says two unrelated sexual misconduct complaints have made their way to his desk since being elected to government in April 2016.

Both complaints were dealt with to the complainants' satisfaction, the premier said, refusing to disclose more details other than they were from two individuals who were either civil servants or political staff.

"The concerns have been dealt with in the appropriate way to protect the complainant. That’s the key thing that we want to make sure happened," Pallister told reporters Wednesday.

"I would just say in many of these situations it is critical that the complainant have the opportunity to be heard and respected, that is what we're after, but they should also have the opportunity to have it be dealt with in a way that feels appropriate."

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PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Premier Brian Pallister says two unrelated sexual misconduct complaints have made their way to his desk since being elected to government in April 2016.

Both complaints were dealt with to the complainants' satisfaction, the premier said, refusing to disclose more details other than they were from two individuals who were either civil servants or political staff.

"The concerns have been dealt with in the appropriate way to protect the complainant. That’s the key thing that we want to make sure happened," Pallister told reporters Wednesday.

"I would just say in many of these situations it is critical that the complainant have the opportunity to be heard and respected, that is what we're after, but they should also have the opportunity to have it be dealt with in a way that feels appropriate."

"Not just as the father of two young women in the workforce, but as a person, as a human being, I am deeply saddened that someone would have to internalize the memories of oppression, misbehaviour, distrust, whatever word we choose to use, for a long, long time before they felt they could bring them forward. "We're cognizant that a culture of concealment, which is evidently what was in place for a long time, is not the way to go." -Premier Brian Pallister

Pallister wouldn't say whether people involved with the allegations had been disciplined, when the allegations were made or specify further as to who made them, citing privacy concerns.

How to report incidents of sexual misconduct in government was a major topic of discussion at the Progressive Conservative caucus retreat in Portage la Prairie earlier this week, according to the premier.

Pallister said complainants should feel confident they can go directly to him with any allegations of wrongdoing concerning members of his party.

He also revealed the government is planning an announcement next week about navigating sexual-misconduct investigations.

"I will say I think it's important that political staff don't feel they can only be heard on the political side," he said.

"There needs to be some type of arm's-length, more neutral place that they can go to because there's naturally a concern — and I think it's common sense — that someone in a political organization might be reluctant to say anything that will hurt their political organization, right? But (complainants) need to be heard, and perhaps the best way to do that is to not have silos."

Asked how he felt about the allegations that have surfaced about former NDP finance minister Stan Struthers tickling and groping women, Pallister said he was "deeply saddened."

"Not just as the father of two young women in the workforce, but as a person, as a human being, I am deeply saddened that someone would have to internalize the memories of oppression, misbehaviour, distrust, whatever word we choose to use, for a long, long time before they felt they could bring them forward.

"We're cognizant that a culture of concealment, which is evidently what was in place for a long time, is not the way to go."

In a statement Wednesday, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said it reviewed its records and canvassed staff and found no complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment.

"Our top priority — indeed our legal responsibility — is to represent our members on all workplace issues, including breaches of respectful-workplace policies. We take this responsibility very seriously, and act on any member complaints, regardless of who is involved," said Janet Kehler, MGEU's director of member services.

"It’s important to note that the details of any member complaints would be confidential between the member and their union. The MGEU wants all members to feel comfortable bringing any workplace concerns forward," she said, adding, "we encourage all MGEU members (who) experience harassment of any kind in the workplace to contact us."

Pallister's comments Wednesday echoed those made by provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew last week when reports detailing Struthers' behaviour surfaced.

"I am the leader of the Manitoba NDP now — the buck stops with me. The old politics are dead; doing the right thing should always come before politics," Kinew said Thursday.

"The buck stops with me," Pallister said. "I do not want in five or 10 or 15 years to hear something like this happened, where someone comes forward and says, ‘Well, I raised this,’ and I’m going to know that I didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t know. I don’t want that situation.

"So I’m accountable. I will remain accountable and I will answer your questions, but in this instance I will not give you details and I hope you would understand why."

— with files from Nick Martin

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

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History

Updated on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 1:48 PM CST: write-thru update

5:40 PM: New headline

7:55 PM: Updates quote statement

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