MLA Steven Fletcher defends tweet referring to 'hottest teacher' after online criticism
Independent Manitoba MLA told former teacher in tweet that classmates 'loved you in inappropriate ways'
A member of the Manitoba Legislature says people need to "chill out" after online blowback over sexually suggestive comments he made to a former teacher that are being called out as inappropriate.
The teacher, a woman who CBC has chosen not to identify, replied to a tweet sent by Assiniboia MLA Steven Fletcher, a former Progressive Conservative caucus member who now sits as an Independent, linking to an article he wrote for The Economist magazine.
"Excellent article, Steven. I wholeheartedly agree," the woman wrote in a tweet sent Thursday.
Fletcher replied with a tweet reading: "Thank you. It's nice to hear from you. You were always my favourite teacher. Given 35 years have passed if I may tell you that you were also the hottest teacher. All the boys loved you in inappropriate ways. :)"
As of 6 p.m. Friday, the tweet had not been deleted.
Fletcher's tweet drew sharp criticism from others on the social media platform who questioned the appropriateness of an elected official making such comments.
Some of Fletcher's former PC colleagues also criticized his tweet, including provincial Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires.
"I don't even know what to say ... so, so insulting, demeaning, inappropriate," Squires wrote on Twitter in response to Fletcher's tweet.
"As a woman and a former educator, I am surprised and disappointed by Mr. Fletcher's tweet," Smith wrote in an emailed statement.
"We should be celebrating teachers as children return to school. Instead, Mr. Fletcher offered a classless, inappropriate joke that undermines the respect that all women, and teachers, deserve."
'Surprised about the feedback'
In an interview, Fletcher defended his tweet, saying he has had a friendship with his former teacher and her mother, and that she knew about his feelings from past private conversations.
"This has been an ongoing back and forth for decades and obviously no disrespect was suggested — in fact, quite the opposite," he said.
"This is a person who is wonderful, who had and has a great sense of humour, and is well aware of — because I told her — how many of the boys at that time felt about their teacher."
Fletcher said he has great respect for the woman, who was his homeroom teacher when he was in Grade 7 and 8. He says he was only trying to say "thank you" to one of his former educators.
"People just need to chill out, really. If the individual has a problem with the tweet, that is one thing. For people to take it out of context and to go over the top, that's fine, that's what happens on Twitter," he said.
"I am surprised about the feedback and I will definitely reflect on this as I go forward. It's not my intention to be anything but respectful and thankful to the people who have provided me the education that I have received through the public education system."
When asked about the implications of an elected public official making sexually suggestive comments to a former teacher, in the context of a wider public discussion about sexual harassment, Fletcher said he didn't think about that when he wrote the tweet.
"First of all, an MLA in the Manitoba Legislature has no power. This has been since 35 years ago, so early '80s, which I say in the tweet, and I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been mentioned in a lot of other situations, including her mom to me, me to her mom, and directly."
'A matter of behaviour': Speaker
Myrna Driedger, Speaker for the Manitoba Legislature, said in an email that Fletcher's comment falls outside the Legislative Assembly Workplace Policy, which protects staff under the jurisdiction of the Assembly.
"This tweet has nothing to do with a staff member or another MLA, but rather is a matter of behaviour of the MLA," she wrote.
Fletcher won the Assiniboia seat as a PC candidate in 2016, but a year later was booted out of the Tory caucus for publicly breaking with the party on a number of policies, including voting against a bill to create a Crown corporation on energy efficiency.
He was formerly a member of Parliament, serving as minister of state in then-prime minister Stephen Harper's cabinet between 2008 and 2013 before being shuffled out.
Earlier this year, he indicated he wanted to run federally again for the Conservatives in the Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley riding.
He told CBC News in June that he got an email from the party's executive director, Dustin Van Vugt, saying his bid to seek the nomination had been rejected, without any explanation as to why.