WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he won't weigh into a debate over a squash club that doesn't allow women to become members and where one of his backbenchers held a fundraiser.
"I do respect it's a private organization. Private organizations have to make their own rules. They'll have to decide, I suppose, on this issue like they have to decide on others," Pallister said Wednesday.
"It's a topic for discussion but it isn't in the realm of what, as a premier, I should be injecting myself into."
Pallister's comments came after Jodi Moskal, a former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce who ran for Pallister's Progressive Conservatives in a byelection last year, raised concerns about the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club.
Moskal, who finished third in last year's byelection in the Point Douglas constituency, said it's unfair to restrict women from such clubs that are not primarily sports-related.
The club, which promotes itself as an athletic club that also helps people make business connections, allows women to enter as guests and to attend events. But it restricts membership to men and has done so since its founding in 1909.
A photo on the site shows four men wearing sport jackets and toasting with whisky glasses. The club's website stated that it is one of the remaining few private, men-only clubs in Canada. "Sorry Ladies, Men Only," the website read, but both of the references were removed earlier this week.
Whisky was the theme of a fundraiser held by Tory legislature member Scott Johnston at the club on Nov. 23 for his St. James constituency association. The Tories promised a whisky-tasting, along with an appearance by cabinet minister Cliff Cullen, at a "wonderful and innovative" event for $100.
A top party official said Wednesday the event was open to women.
"The P.C. Party of Manitoba gives constituency associations the freedom to rent venues based on the suitability of the facility for the event," party CEO Keith Stewart wrote in an email. "The St. James event was well attended by women and we would not support any party function that was not open to all."
The squash club's board of directors said in an emailed statement this week that while there are some co-ed tournaments and special events that include women, the club lacks the space required to be fully co-ed.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew, whose Winnipeg constituency includes the squash club, said Pallister should speak out against the men-only membership restriction as well as consider other action.
"The premier has a pulpit from which he can be an opinion leader and help to create a space for equality for women in our society," Kinew said.
"If there are legislative or regulatory steps that can be taken, then I think those should be explored as well."
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press