HALIFAX – Peter Stoffer, the former New Democrat MP known for his outsized personality on Parliament Hill, has apologized for behaviour perceived as demeaning or inappropriate, saying he never intended to insult anyone or make them feel uncomfortable.
The series of apologies came the day after allegations of inappropriate touching and kissing were levelled against him by a former NDP staffer who recalled being kissed by him in 2006 and 2009 — the second time while surrounded by others, including MPs.
The popular former politician and well-known veterans advocate held a news conference Friday in Halifax, where he said he was “deeply apologetic and regretful” for what happened when he was the MP for the suburban riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook.
Stoffer, who served as a Nova Scotia MP from 1997 to 2015, specifically denied sexually assaulting or physically abusing anyone.
However, he admitted that his actions as a “touchy” and “very gregarious, fun-going person” may have led to behaviour that was perceived as inappropriate.
“By some of the comments that I’ve heard recently, from some people in the past, they’re saying that some of my demeanour, some of my comments were inappropriate,” he said.
“For that I humbly apologize without reservation. If there is any man or any woman that at any time felt uncomfortable … because of my demeanour in any way shape or form, for that I apologize and I humbly regret that I put them in that type of situation.”
In all, Stoffer apologized five times.
In allegations made public Thursday, Lauren Dobson-Hughes accused him of grabbing and kissing her without her consent on two separate occasions.
Dobson-Hughes, who was an NDP staffer at the time, told the National Post that several MPs and senior staff were present at the second alleged incident “but nobody batted an eyelid.”
She said she complained to her boss, former B.C. MP Dawn Black, after the 2006 incident.
Black told the newspaper she took the complaint to then-NDP Leader Jack Layton, but was “disappointed” that Layton delegated the task to then-NDP caucus chair Judy Wasylycia-Leis instead of taking it up with Stoffer himself.
In an message posted on Twitter, Dobson-Hughes said senior party leaders ignored a systemic problem.
“For me, this is about the way — as normal practice — political parties … go out of their way to protect the electoral chances and reputations of abusive men, at the expense of legions of women,” she wrote.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday that he was “deeply disturbed” by the allegations, and he said the party would continue to “review, renew and expand” its harassment policies.
Bob Gallagher, who was chief of staff to Layton from 2005 to 2011, said he was never made aware of the complaint against Stoffer, but he thinks the way it was handled — and that fact that Dobson-Hughes recalled no one speaking up for her the second time it happened, in front of other MPs — is a damning assessment of the culture on Parliament Hill.
“The fact that you could actually have somebody kiss someone inappropriately and have other people around and nobody say anything and therefore the victim feels as though there is no way to really raise this as an objection — that is an utter indictment not only that there wasn’t a formal process, but that there was a culture of allowing that kind of thing to happen,” said Gallagher, who is now with the United Steelworkers.
Steve Moran, a former senior NDP staffer who was the direct supervisor to Dobson-Hughes at the time of the 2009 allegation, said he wished he had done more to prevent something like this from happening under his watch.
“I’m sickened, but not surprised, to learn these details,” Moran, who was the NDP’s deputy director of policy and research at the time, wrote in a Facebook post Friday, in which he said he would take part in any investigation.
“I accept my responsibility in not providing a harassment free environment,” he said. “I clearly failed in my duty in this regard.”
Stoffer said he has not been in contact with Dobson-Hughes, but he said he’s willing to talk to her.
Stoffer, speaking to reporters gathered outside the Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21, said he did not intend to “insult or demean or belittle” anyone, but he said he has come to accept that’s “exactly what happened.”
He said he grew up listening to the raunchy humour of Rodney Dangerfield and Canadian comedians Maclean and Maclean, a notorious musical duo known for their strong language and bawdy topics, and tried to enliven life on Parliament Hill with an annual party for the 3,000 people who work there.
“Everybody knows that the office I had was, what I would call, a fun office,” he said, where visitors were encouraged to shoot darts or enjoy a beer.
Ian Capstick, who was a press secretary to Layton at the time, said he always took issue with the way Stoffer behaved around young women in Ottawa.
“I told Peter that on more than one occasion, directly to him,” said Capstick. “Frankly, there is a reason that I never signed his guest book, wasn’t welcomed for a cold one, never had a hat on his wall and never (expletive) played darts with the guy.”
Still, Capstick suggested he should have shared his concerns more widely.
“There are a lot of people, myself included, who are responsible for the fact that nobody ever actually called Peter (out) on all of this.”
— With files from Joanna Smith in Ottawa.