TORONTO – Two months after their leader resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have turfed another legislator and barred him from running for re-election over sexual harassment allegations from a former intern.
In a statement issued Monday, the Tories said the decision to oust Michael Harris followed evidence the party received on Friday that included a written complaint from a former intern dating back to 2013.
The party said they also obtained a series of text messages “of a sexual nature” between the intern and Harris, which included a request for her to send him photos, an invitation for her to meet with him late at night and a reference to something that may have taken place in his office at Queen’s Park.
The statement said Harris was asked about the issue and only denied that a formal complaint was ever made.
In his own statement Monday evening, Harris issued what he called an “unequivocal apology for the inappropriate texting conversation,” which he said was brought to the party’s attention “a number of years ago.” He also hinted at the global #MeToo movement addressing sexual misconduct.
“I think we are all looking back on past actions in a new way following the revelations in various industries over the past number of months,” he said. “It was a mistake.”
The Tories vowed to review how the party handles sexual harassment complaints after their former leader, Patrick Brown, stepped down in January following allegations made by two women to CTV News. Brown has consistently denied the allegations.
The new Progressive Conservative leader, Doug Ford, said he learned of the allegations Friday night and the party’s nominations committee made the decision to disqualify Harris the next morning.
“At the first opportunity (Tory parliamentary leader) Vic Fedeli on my behalf informed caucus and the speaker that Michael Harris was no longer a member of the PC caucus,” Ford said in a statement.
“We have a zero tolerance policy with regard to inappropriate workplace behaviour. This has no place in the PC Party of Ontario.”
Harris said over the weekend that he had chosen not to run in the spring election for medical reasons.
He elaborated in his Monday statement, saying he had declined the opportunity to challenge the party’s decision to revoke his candidacy due to the “rapid deterioration” of his eyesight.
“I expect to be having surgery as soon as May 7 to deal with my keratoconus,” he said, referring to a disease affecting the cornea that causes poor vision and can’t be corrected with glasses.
Harris said he showed up to work Monday morning but was told around noon that he was no longer a member of the PC caucus. He left the House without speaking to reporters Monday.
The Liberals and New Democrats raised concerns about the party’s handling of the situation, saying questions remained about who knew what and when.
“Ultimately this situation and the decisions around communicating it to the public rest with the leader,” Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said in a statement. “What did Doug Ford know about it, and what decision did he make?”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford needs to explain what role he played in Harris’s “attempt to cover up” the allegations.
Harris, 38, is a married father of four who was first elected to the provincial legislature in 2011. He was subsequently re-elected in 2014 and has served as opposition critic for transportation and research, innovation and science.
His wife Sarah told the Waterloo Record over the weekend that she was considering running in her husband’is place in the June election.