NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has placed her chief of staff, Michael Balagus, on a leave of absence while she weighs reports he did not take women’s complaints seriously when he worked for two NDP premiers in Manitoba.
“I was shocked to hear of women accusing my chief of staff of not taking their concerns seriously,” Horwath said in a statement late Friday afternoon, relating to accusations from Manitoba government employees that former cabinet minister Stan Struthers groped and tickled them.
“I have removed Michael Balagus from his responsibilities at Queen’s Park, and he’ll be on a leave of absence until I can determine whether or not it’s appropriate for him to continue on our team,” she added.
“His role within our campaign is yet to be determined.”
Balagus, who was chief of staff to former Manitoba NDP premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger, said in a statement that no concerns were brought to his attention.
“That these women were led to believe by their supervisor that their horrific experiences were reported to a superior and dismissed only acted to further victimize them. As the chief of staff at the time of these incidents I deeply regret that their experience was not properly recognized or dealt with.”
Balagus was brought into Horwath’s office as an experienced political hand with years in government after the Ontario NDP lost the balance of power in the 2014 provincial election.
Balagus said the former processes for harassment complaints did not exist a decade ago, but that is “in no way an excuse that should be used by anyone.”
“Their experience and complaints should have been taken seriously, brought to my attention, investigated and action taken. These women deserved no less. That they were denied this is a shameful failure,” he added.
“I am hopeful that the investigation to be conducted by the Manitoba NDP makes crystal clear how that failure occurred and what role individuals may have played in denying these women the support and action they deserved. That includes any direct or indirect responsibility on my part.”
Horwath’s office said there are no allegations against Balagus from his time at Queen’s Park.
“Our organization has collective agreements, anti-harassment policies, and processes and procedures for reporting in place at Queen’s Park and at our party to ensure women are heard and believed, and appropriate action is taken,” Horwath said.