Categorized | Canadian Politics

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath welcomes campaign boss back after probe into handling of harassment complaints

Posted on 07 March 2018 by admin

Michael Balagus left Queen’s Park amid accusations he didn’t take women’s complaints about a groping cabinet minister seriously under Manitoba premiers Doer and Selinger.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is welcoming her campaign boss back into the fold three weeks after forcing him to take a leaveover concerns he mishandled sexual harassment cases while he was chief of staff to two Manitoba premiers.

Michael Balagus, hired as a veteran hand and “fixer” after the New Democrats lost the balance of power in the 2014 Ontario election, will return to work next week, officials in Horwath’s office said Thursday.

Balagus left Queen’s Park on Feb. 9 amid accusations he didn’t take “seriously” women’s complaints about a groping cabinet minister who served under premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger.

But one of the women, who said she was the victim of inappropriate touching and sexual comments from cabinet minister Stan Struthers, quickly slammed Horwath for the decision.

“I believe Michael Balagus was a major reason this behaviour was allowed to perpetuate in the NDP,” former New Democrat press secretary Joelle Saltel-Allard said in a statement tweeted by CBC Winnipeg.

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

In a statement, Horwath credited Balagus, who is also her chief of staff, with implementing anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies for all New Democrat MPPs and employees at Queen’s Park since his arrival four years ago.

“I’m confident in Michael’s ability to lead our team,” she added, but noted the situation in Manitoba should have been handled better.

 “Michael recognizes and takes responsibility for the fact that the systems in place at the time let these women down.”

“It is a chief of staff’’s responsibility to ensure that employees are able to work in a safe environment.”

Balagus acknowledged in a statement that “these women were left believing they weren’t listened to, and that they had no recourse.

“I must take my share of responsibility,” he said. “I apologize to them, and to everyone on our team for this.”

One of the Manitoba government employees told CBC Winnipeg earlier his month she reported problems with Struthers to Balagus when she quit in 2011 after Struthers allegedly attempted to shove her foot in his crotch.

“I sat down across from him (Balagus) and told him to his face,” the public broadcaster quoted Shannon VanRaes as saying.

Other women say Struthers tickled them and made inappropriate remarks. In one case, he allegedly put his hand on Saltel-Allard’s knee and talked about sex acts he would enjoy. She complained to her boss.

Struthers has since apologized after more allegations surfaced.

“Events in Manitoba underline that these issues require our full attention and our full commitment,” Balagus said Thursday.

Horwath’s decision to reinstate him comes as the NDP prepares for the June 7 provincial election, while the Progressive Conservatives fight a leadership race in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal around ousted leader Patrick Brown, who denies the allegations and is also under investigation by Ontario’s integrity commissioner over his personal finances.


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