Manitoba premier comments on Winnipeg chamber chair’s appearance, high heels

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is taking criticism for making comments about the physical appearance of the woman who chairs the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

As he began giving a state of the province speech Thursday, Pallister spoke about Johanna Hurme, an award-winning architect.

“I want to thank Johanna for dressing up. I want to thank her for those heels. I notice they are a foot high,” Pallister said to an audience of business people.

Hurme was named to the chamber position in October.

At the time the chamber noted her accomplishments as an architect, for co-founding her own company in Winnipeg and for her education credentials, including teaching design at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture.

Nahanni Fontaine, the Manitoba NDP’s status of women and justice critic, said Pallister should be celebrating women’s accomplishments, not commenting on how they look.

“It is extremely concerning and extremely disappointing — I would expect more from the premier of Manitoba,” Fontaine said. “Those type of comments are never appropriate towards women, never.

“He owes the woman in question an apology and I would go so far to say that he owes all Manitoba women an apology.”

Thursday evening Pallister issued a statement to qualify his remarks.

“I want to address comments that I made to Johanna Hurme, a woman for whom I have the greatest regard and respect, at the outset of my Winnipeg Chamber Commerce speech,” Pallister said in an email.

“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. 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.”

CBC Manitoba quoted Loren Remillard, president of the chamber, as saying Pallister’s comments were inappropriate.

Hurme was not immediately available for comment.

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