Premier Brian Pallister says 2 complaints made by staff under his watch

Manitoba's premier says his government has dealt with two complaints by staff since forming government, but staffers were satisfied with how they were handled.

Promises 'culture of concealment' will end under his government

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he is aware of two complaints against staff that have been dealt with to the complainants' satisfaction. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's premier says his government has dealt with two complaints by staff since forming government, but staffers were satisfied with how they were handled.

Brian Pallister, speaking after accusations of unwanted touching by former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers, offered few details about the complaints, citing privacy reasons, but said when complaints were made, the staffers were listened to and the government dealt with it.

"Yes, there has been concerns expressed by civil servants and government political staff about issues that have been raised and I have been made aware of them. And that is change from the way it was in the past," Pallister said, when asked directly if complaints had crossed his desk.

"I can also tell you, with great confidence, that they were dealt with and they were dealt with to the satisfaction of the complainant."

He declined to say who was involved or what disciplinary action was taken, or whether the complaints were based on sexual harassment or misconduct. 

Wednesday was the first time Pallister spoke publicly since a CBC investigation revealed at least four complaints were made to NDP brass about the conduct of former cabinet minister Stan Struthers — with no investigation or discipline ever occurring while the NDP was in power.

We are cognizant that the culture of concealment that was in place for a very long time is not the way to go.- Premier Brian Pallister

These allegations included unwanted touching and tickling. Two of the complaints were relayed to Greg Selinger in 2015, when he was premier. Selinger said yesterday he spoke to Struthers about the complaints, but didn't take them further at the request of the staffers. 

Last week, five women, including a former NDP cabinet colleague, spoke with the CBC and accused Struthers of several instances of inappropriate touching. He has since apologized.

Brian Pallister said he was saddened by news that several women told CBC no one acted swiftly on their complaints. He said the "culture of concealment" will end under his watch.

"We are cognizant that the culture of concealment that was in place for a very long time is not the way to go," he said.

"If anyone wants to work in the civil service, or as political staff, they deserve to be heard.… They can trust they will be dealt with."

The buck stops with the premier, said Pallister, and he wants to be accountable.

"I am not ever going to put you in the position where I am going to say, 'No, I don't know,'" he said.

He said his government will make a further announcement next week about strengthening their policy when dealing with employee complaints involving sexual harassment.

Premier Brian Pallister comments on accountability regarding harassment at the legislature 1:05

Pallister addresses Graydon tweets

Pallister also spoke to the controversy stirred last week after a comments made on Twitter by a backbench MLA about asylum seekers in Canada.

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon came under fire for replying to a tweet about asylum seekers' claims in Canada that referred to claimants as "illegals."

Graydon made the comment in a Twitter response on Jan. 31. (CBC)

The Progressive Conservative MLA replied to the tweet, saying, "Drain on society."

The comment has since been deleted.

"My immediate thoughts were, 'Why do we tweet?'" Pallister said.

"Mr. Graydon has always shot from the hip … his comments were hurtful, he is getting coaching on that and he is not tweeting."

"Sometimes people make mistakes and he has owned up to his."

Potato-plant expansion announcement

Pallister made the comments Wednesday in Portage la Prairie, where he announced an Idaho-based potato-processing company is planning a $460-million expansion of its current facility.

Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday that J.R Simplot Company will be expanding its Portage la Prairie facility. (CBC)

The expansion by J.R Simplot Company was touted by Pallister as one of the largest private-sector investments in Manitoba's history.

"Our government is excited to join Simplot today to announce a historic investment and expansion of their Manitoba operations," he said.

The provincial government will provide $6.31 million in tax increment financing. It will also provide $522,000 for employee training and $1 million in PowerSmart funding for electrical and gas efficiency projects.

The construction project is expected to begin this spring in Portage la Prairie and will increase the current facility from 180,000 to 460,000 square feet.

With files from Vera-Lynn Kubinec and Katie Nicholson