Manitoba's premier is facing criticism for beginning a speech by thanking the chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce for dressing up and wearing high heels — a remark he says was intended to be a joke about his height.

Premier Brian Pallister began his state of the province speech on Thursday with comments about the appearance of chamber chair Johanna Hurme, an architect and founding partner of 5468796 Architecture.

"I want to thank Johanna for dressing up. I want to thank her for those heels. I notice they're a foot high," said Pallister, one arm still in a sling as the result of a hiking injury in New Mexico.

"It's 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. Johanna — good luck in your upcoming term. Congratulations and thank-you for taking it on."

The premier's comments were inappropriate, said ​Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard, who asked Pallister to explain the context in which those comments were made.

Brian Pallister's high heels comment0:59

"We do understand there was some conversation at the table that may provide some context to the comments, but that does not excuse the fact they were inappropriate," Remillard said.

 "We do take the opportunity to urge the premier to explain his remarks in light of any context that may have occurred at that table."

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, the opposition critic for justice and the status of women, said she was disappointed by the premier's comments.

"Honestly, in this day and age it's unfortunate and disappointing that women are still getting comments like the premier's about their bodies and appearance and you know, honestly they're quite shocking," Fontaine said

Joke about height, says Pallister

Premier Pallister addressed the issue in a statement emailed to CBC News late Thursday. 

In the statement the premier, who stands six feet eight inches tall, said the comments were supposed to be a joke about his height.

"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," Pallister said in the statement.

"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."

With files from Sean Kavanagh and Ismaila Alfa