TORONTO - The leader of Ontario's New Democrats has reinstated her chief of staff, who was briefly relieved of his duties amid allegations that he failed to properly address sexual misconduct complaints in another province.
Andrea Horwath says she's comfortable allowing Michael Balagus to resume his duties, adding he takes responsibility for his part in events that unfolded while he worked as chief of staff to the former premier of Manitoba.
Several women came forward last month to allege former Manitoba finance minister Stan Struthers' tickled and groped them between 2003 and 2014.
In each case, the women said they were told to "suck it up" when they reported the behaviour to senior officials, including Balagus.
Horwath says Balagus recognizes that a chief of staff is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for subordinates, and says he has worked to improve reporting protocols for the Ontario NDP.
Balagus says he apologizes to the women for his part in their experiences and says he's committed to ensuring nothing similar happens in his current role.
"Events in Manitoba underline that these issues require our full attention and our full commitment," Balagus said in an open letter.
"Every person who works on our team deserves to be respected at work, and to be listened to when they advance concerns and issues – and these events have reinforced with me my personal responsibility in my role as chief of staff to ensure this is always true."
Horwath relieved Balagus of his responsibilities as her chief of staff on Feb. 13 while she investigated whether or not it would be appropriate for him to hold the role.
She issued a statement on Thursday saying she was confident in Balagus' ability to lead her team as the party gears up for a June election.
One of the women who brought complaints against Struthers expressed disgust at Balagus' reinstatement.
"I feel sick to my stomach," tweeted Joelle Saltel-Allard, who worked as Struthers' press secretary from 2009 to 2011. She alleged her former boss used to touch her inappropriately, putting his hand on her knee while they were driving and talking about sex acts he would enjoy.
Another woman, Shannon VanRaes, said she was on a flight with Struthers in 2010 when he asked if she liked being tickled.
VanRaes said she told him no, but she alleged Struthers put his hand under her skirt and later made sexual comments. Later that year, she said, he got down on the floor, grabbed her foot and pulled it toward his crotch.
Struthers, who has declined interview requests, issued a written statement apologizing "for any interactions I have had that have been inappropriate and that have caused any person to feel disrespected or uncomfortable.''
Both women say they lodged a complaint with their boss, Jay Branch, and were told he took it to Balagus. Both women say they were later informed they would have to "suck it up."
Balagus has previously denied he was told about the complaints. Attempts to reach Branch, who worked as a journalist for The Canadian Press more than a decade ago, have been unsuccessful.
Another government communications worker, Julie Kentner, said Struthers tickled her during a meeting in 2013 while they were discussing a document. Kentner said she told supervisors and they took her seriously, but she later decided not to pursue the matter formally.
Struthers was one of five ministers who resigned from cabinet in November 2014 to protest then-premier Greg Selinger's leadership. Struthers announced in May 2015 he would not run in the April 2016 election for the "good of our family" and his constituency.