January 25, 2020

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NDP failed to protect its own

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2018 (714 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

First thing, let’s do away with the cutesy nicknames.

Early reports of alleged sexual misconduct by former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers noted that the behind-his-back nickname, employed by his legislative contemporaries, was "Minister Tickles."

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press FILES</p><p>Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers</p>

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press FILES

Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers

What has subsequently been described by more than a half-dozen women who say they were grabbed, groped and worse by the longtime MLA for Dauphin (and Dauphin-Roblin) is not a laughing matter. It is repugnant, and should not be trivialized by attaching a name befitting a Saturday morning kids’ show character to its alleged perpetrator.

Mr. Struthers, and the party he represented for more than a decade, have a lot to answer for.

That the #MeToo movement arrived in Manitoba politics with such an emphatic thump should surprise no one.

The abuses being exposed in various sectors during the past few months are generational and societal in scope and it was inevitable that the toxic behaviour of powerful men in this province would match the misdeed uncovered in other jurisdictions.

It’s also safe to say Mr. Struthers will not be the last Manitoban to be told, in no uncertain terms, that #TimesUp.

The allegations made against the former cabinet minister, who left provincial politics in 2016 after being part of the attempted ouster of premier Greg Selinger, are particularly problematic for the NDP because Mr. Struthers’ alleged inappropriate behaviour seems to have been widely known within his party. Complaints about inappropriate touching and lewd conversation were met with no deliberate action. The dismissive nickname was attached. One woman said she was told to "suck it up" when she made her objection to the minister’s unwelcome attention formal.

And rather than being held to account for the behaviour outlined by the offended women, Mr. Struthers’ political star continued to rise, peaking with his promotion to the position of finance minister — the most important and responsibility-laden appointment in the cabinet structure.

Past premiers Greg Selinger and Gary Doer must answer directly the necessary questions about what they knew and when. So must the senior support staff who ran the party machinery during the NDP’s reign.

This is, remember, the party that advocated loudly for LGBTTQ* rights in Manitoba schools.

This is the party that questioned the gender-ratio makeup of Brian Pallister’s cabinet and the new premier’s commitment to gender parity. This is the party that fancied itself the champion of equality and safe spaces.

This is a party that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep its own staffers safe.

It falls, now, to new NDP Leader Wab Kinew — an unproven politician who has not yet managed to outrun his own past charges of domestic violence and misogynist utterances — to clean up the mess and try, somehow, to convince Manitobans his party is changed and is worthy of voters’ consideration on election day in 2020. It will not be an easy task; his initial description of the issue as "a failure of leadership" is the smallest of steps in the right direction.

While Mr. Kinew is working to meet that commitment, the NDP’s ability to challenge the ruling Progressive Conservatives on such issues as health-care reform, labour relations and education funding will be greatly diminished. And political discourse in this province will be much the worse because of it.

It would be wise, however, for Manitoba’s PCs and Liberals to tread lightly as they seek to exploit Mr. Struthers’ fall from grace for political gain. There’s very little likelihood, over on Broadway, that #MeToo’s skeletons are confined to NDP closets.


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