Kitchener MPP Michael Harris, who was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus on Monday over allegations of misconduct, is apologizing for what he calls an “inappropriate” text message conversation that occurred nearly six years ago.
In a statement on Monday, Harris said he deeply regrets his actions and sincerely apologizes to the person involved, whom he identified as a former party worker.
Harris announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in June for health reasons on Saturday. His wife, Sarah Harris, later told media outlets she would seek the nomination in his place.
In a statement on Monday, the Ontario PC caucus chair said an allegation was brought forward on Friday that involved a young former intern who had unsuccessfully applied for a job.
The party’s nominations committee met that day and disqualified Harris from running in the upcoming election, the party said. He was also removed from caucus, effective immediately.
According to the party, they were presented with evidence that showed text messages “of a sexual nature” had been exchanged between Harris and the intern.
“They included a discussion of potential part-time employment, as well as a request for her to send him photos, an invitation for her to meet with him late that evening, and reference to something that may have previously taken place in his legislative office,” party caucus chair Lisa Thompson said.
Harris said nothing further occurred beyond the text messages.
The party said the matter was the subject of a written complaint in 2013.
Harris, who has represented Kitchener-Conestoga since 2011, said he suffers from a serious eye condition called keratoconus and had been putting off corneal replacement surgery.
Harris said he learned he wouldn’t be able to run under the PC banner on Saturday morning, but maintained his health was a factor in his decision not to run again.
“I had the opportunity to challenge or appeal the decision to revoke my candidacy but decided not to due to the rapid deterioration of my eyesight,” he said.
Meanwhile, in statements condemning Harris’ alleged conduct, both the Liberals and the NDP questioned how the PC party dealt with the issue.
“I believe the right questions are being asked about the timeline that lead to Mr. Harris being removed from the Conservative caucus,” Liberal MPP Deb Matthews stated. “Ultimately this situation and the decisions around communicating it to the public rest with the leader. What did Doug Ford know about it, and what decision did he make?”
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PC leader Doug Ford said on Monday afternoon that he learned of the allegations on Friday. Harris was informed “at the first opportunity” that he had been turfed from the party, he said.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to inappropriate workplace behaviour,” Ford stated on Twitter. “This has no place in the PC Party of Ontario.”
Ontarians are set to head to the polls on June 7, following a hasty Progressive Conservative leadership contest and months of upheaval within the party.
With files from the Canadian Press