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Premier 'meant no offence' with high heels remark

Comments made during speech to 1,200 people at chamber of commerce event

New Democratic Party MLA Nahanni Fontaine says Premier Brian Pallister should apologize for sexist remarks he made Thursday that were directed at the chairwoman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Before beginning his state of the province address during a chamber luncheon, the premier wished Winnipeg architect Johanna Hurme good luck in her upcoming term as head of the chamber’s board of directors.

But first, he commented on her appearance. “I want to thank Johanna for dressing up. I want to thank her for those heels — I notice they are a foot high,” the premier said.

“It is a humbling experience to come to you today — not just in this condition — but having Johanna cut my meat for me meant a lot to me,” he said, referring to his inability to use his left arm after he fractured it last month during a hiking accident in New Mexico.

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WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister delivers his ‘State of the Province’ at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the RBC Convention Centre Thursday.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister delivers his ‘State of the Province’ at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the RBC Convention Centre Thursday.

New Democratic Party MLA Nahanni Fontaine says Premier Brian Pallister should apologize for sexist remarks he made Thursday that were directed at the chairwoman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Before beginning his state of the province address during a chamber luncheon, the premier wished Winnipeg architect Johanna Hurme good luck in her upcoming term as head of the chamber’s board of directors.

But first, he commented on her appearance. "I want to thank Johanna for dressing up. I want to thank her for those heels — I notice they are a foot high," the premier said.

"It is a humbling experience to come to you today — not just in this condition — but having Johanna cut my meat for me meant a lot to me," he said, referring to his inability to use his left arm after he fractured it last month during a hiking accident in New Mexico.

On Thursday night, Pallister issued a statement about his remarks.

"I want to address comments that I made to Johanna Hurme, a woman for whom I have the greatest regard and respect, at the outset of my Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce speech," Pallister said in an email.

"Given my tall stature, I am particularly aware of my height and often make light-hearted comments about being taller than the people around me. I made an awkward reference to Johanna’s high heels in that context. I can see how they could be easily misconstrued.

"That was never my intention, and I meant no offence of any kind to Johanna."

Hurme could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Fontaine, who did not attend the chamber luncheon, said she was shocked when she read a transcript of Pallister’s remarks.

She called Hurme "an accomplished architect who’s put Manitoba on the map."

"When you read the whole transcript, it is extremely unfortunate that the premier of Manitoba would comment on a very accomplished woman in respect of her appearance and her body. And in particular, in such a public forum in front of 1,200 people," Fontaine said.

"It is extremely disconcerting to hear those comments made from the premier. If you’re the premier of Manitoba... you should be lifting up women and celebrating our accomplishments. And more importantly, the women that he was addressing in all of the audience are very well-accomplished and productive women of Manitoba," she said.

"To imagine that you would make such a public statement on someone’s appearance and their body, and then follow it up with her cutting (his) meat for him — it’s highly inappropriate."

Lorne Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, agreed the premier’s comments were inappropriate.

"The focus should always be (on) the person, never on someone’s physical appearance," Remillard said Thursday. "I do encourage the premier to explain his remarks. They were inappropriate in today’s world."

Fontaine said it is even more disconcerting the premier made the remarks, in light of the considerable media attention recently devoted to inappropriate comments and actions by men against women.

"Surely, he must know what’s going on," the MLA said. "So even more so, how inappropriate. He should know better.

"Honestly, he should apologize. He should apologize to the woman that he, in some respects, shamed in front of 1,200 people. And he should apologize to all Manitoba women."

A biography posted on the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce website says Hurme is an architect and a founding partner of Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture.

She was educated at Helsinki University of Technology, as well as at the University of Manitoba faculty of architecture, where she holds a bachelor of environmental design and a master’s degree in architecture.

She serves on the council of the Manitoba Association of Architects, is the founder and chief executive officer of Design Quarter Winnipeg, and is an active member of the international Van Alen Institute for design in the public realm. She has taught design at the U of M, as well as the University of Toronto, and lectures at universities across North America.

— with files from Dan Lett and The Canadian Press

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch .

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History

Updated on Friday, December 8, 2017 at 5:36 AM CST: Adds premier's statement

6:31 AM: Moves statement up, changes headline

6:57 AM: Changes headline

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