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This article was published 8/2/2018 (887 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was really only a matter of time.
This week, news broke that ex-Dauphin MLA and cabinet minister Stan Struthers had been accused of sexually inappropriate touching and language while serving with the former NDP government. As distressing as the allegations are, there is little shock and awe in this story.
It’s not that Struthers had a reputation for this kind of thing. In fact, it appears his alleged transgressions were kept well-hidden by an inner circle of political staff. The lack of shock is due to the inescapable fact this kind of behaviour has been the rule, and not the exception.
Any time you have an organization where alpha males hold most of the power, and where women are excluded from positions of authority, you are going to have acts of sexually inappropriate behaviour. Not by every man. But in just about every workplace.
The allegations against Struthers mark the first time, for the most part, a #MeToo controversy has erupted in Manitoba. Before this, the closest the legislature came were allegations Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew abused a former common-law partner many years before he entered politics.
Those allegations came forward before the #MeToo movement took the world by storm via social media, and have largely existed on a separate narrative plain — although you can expect that to change in the wake of this story.
Struthers, who was an MLA from 1995 to 2016, has been accused of inappropriate touching of female staff — including one instance where it is alleged he put his hands up a woman’s skirt — and making sexually suggestive comments. Although the details are muddy, it appears complaints were lodged and Struthers was cautioned on at least two occasions to stop. He was not formally punished, and it appears he may not have really stopped his objectionable behaviour.
It’s an all-too familiar story in politics. Last week, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced an inquiry into "harassing behaviour" by one NDP MP against another.
Ontario, on the cusp of a critical provincial election, has been thrown into chaos after the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Patrick Brown, was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual assault. Similar allegations brought down the Ontario Tory party president.
Previously, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended two members of his caucus who were accused of sexual harassment, and has now created a new division within the powerful Office of the Prime Minister to field complaints of sexual misconduct.
Last month, The Canadian Press surveyed female MPs and found nearly 60 per cent admitted to having been the victim of sexual misconduct or harassment. This included three who said they were sexually assaulted.
Previously, attempts were made to excuse certain behaviour as "older men behaving like older men," suggesting that while it was inappropriate, it wasn’t malicious or all that serious in nature. Certainly, not serious enough to warrant serious punishment. Men were allowed to go on their way with little more than a slap on the wrist.
That was then. If #MeToo has taught us anything, it is the victims of this kind of harassment thought it was largely malicious and serious, and required a more serious response. It was only the people who did not experience the harassment first-hand who thought it was innocent fun.
Notwithstanding the fact no political party has a monopoly on this kind of behaviour, the timing of the allegations against Struthers could not have been worse for the Manitoba NDP.
In opposition, the party has suffered through stories that suggested it mishandled similar allegations against former NDP MLA Mohinder Saran. Although Saran was ultimately kicked out of caucus, it took months to reach a final decision.
That fact alone left the NDP looking like it did a good job of talking the talk about gender equality and zero tolerance for harassment, but a poor job walking the walk.
The Struthers story will also divert attention once again to the allegations of domestic abuse that haunt Kinew. The NDP has been hoping to slowly but surely showcase Kinew’s positive leadership attributes while framing past misdeeds as the starting point of a story of personal redemption.
Even though the Struthers and Kinew stories don’t intersect, they do combine to create the impression the NDP is not nearly as progressive as it would have voters believe. Will that affect the NDP’s chances in the 2020 election? At this stage, the only thing we know is Struthers will not be the last Manitoba politician accused of inappropriate behaviour.
The #MeToo movement has largely functioned as the social and political equivalent of a comprehensive spring cleaning in which years of misdeeds and ignorance are being identified and taken to the curb. By all measurements, we aren’t anywhere near taking out all the trash.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 10:22 PM CST: Updated
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