A backbench NDP MLA formally apologized today for insinuating in Thursday’s question period Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Schuler is gay.
"Yesterday in the Legislature I made a comment that was offensive, which I regret," NDP MLA Dave Gaudreau said in a statement issued late Friday morning.
"It was a poor choice of words on my part, especially given that they were directed at a colleague of mine for whom I have the greatest respect. I have since apologized to that member and conveyed this regret in person.
"I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my constituents, to my colleagues on both sides of the House, and to the premier.
"Unfortunately, homophobia is far too common and accepted in today’s society. Sometimes we even stop noticing it, until it comes out of our own mouths. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to fighting homophobia and bullying. All my working life, I have fought hard for a society in which everyone is treated equally and with respect.
"Yesterday I fell short of this standard, and I know I need to take responsibility for my actions.
"Once again, I offer my apologies to all Manitobans."
'Not OK': Premier
Premier Greg Selinger said this morning that Gaudreau’s comments were unacceptable.
'Unfortunately, homophobia is far too common and accepted in today’s society. Sometimes we even stop noticing it, until it comes out of our own mouths.'
"It’s not OK to make those comments in any context," Selinger said. "I think this is an opportunity for all of us to take a honest look at homophobia in our everyday lives -- comments we hear that need to be confronted and condemned.
"Manitoba is an inclusive province. That’s a strength we all need to uphold in our words and actions every day."
Gaudeau was also relieved of his caucus duties for the NDP. He was treasurer of the caucus executive.
A spokesman said Gaudeau will also not be allowed to ask questions in the house.
"You’re not going to see him speaking in the house for quite a while," he said.
'Thought we were beyond that'
Schuler said today he accepted Gaudreau’s apology but added, "I’m surprised that, as a heterosexual male in 2013, that we’re actually talking about this," he said. "Why are we talking about this?
"The problem is the way it was said, and it was spoken in such a fashion that somehow there is something very untoward, very negative, that if a politician is gay. I thought we were beyond that."
Schuler said Gaudeau’s comments diminish the role of politicians and will make their friends think twice about associating with them if there’s a chance they could become fodder in an opponent’s hands.
"At some point in time people will refuse to be seen with us in public."
'At some point in time people will refuse to be seen with us in public.'
Schuler also said the Gaudreau’s comment is more a slur against the gay and lesbian community than him.
"What they find troubling is that it paints being gay as negative," he said. "I don’t think the gay and lesbian community particularly appreciate that."
Sign of frayed nerves at legislature
While the episode ate up about 10 minutes in the legislature, outside the house, no one was talking afterwards.
It's another example of short tempers and frayed nerves as the legislature now heads into its 71st day of the summer sitting next week, as the Opposition Tories continue to fight against the PST increase and delay other government bills. The record is 85 days set in 1986.
The situation began innocuously when St. Norbert MLA Dave Gaudreau rose to ask a friendly question to Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux about a funding announcement he made earlier in the day to cultural groups in Manitoba.
But Gaudreau veered from the script when he said he had visited several Folklorama pavilions during the past two weeks and happened to see Ron Schuler with "his male friend."
Lemieux answered the question and question period continued on a Tory question on Bipole III -- until Gaudreau stood up on a point of order.
"I said some words -- regrettable -- in my question to the minister about the member for St. Paul (Mr. Schuler) and his male friend," Gaudreau said. "I would like to retract that from the record. I didn't mean it in any other way than I saw him last night at the event with, along with some other ministers here, and I'd like to retract those words, Mr. Speaker."
Privately, the Tories grumbled Gaudreau just repeated his attack on Schuler.
Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen was quick on his feet: "I understand the member for St. Norbert has stood up and he's tried to bring forward an apology, but I would suggest that he and other members, and maybe all members of this house, need to be more cautious before they actually bring forward those words," Goertzen said.
"So I've listened to his comments and I've heard his apology, but we're getting very, very close, Mr. Speaker, to saying things that are harmful to all of us as legislators, and this has to stop."
NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said she respected Gaudreau's apology.
"I heard members on the opposite side use some very alarming language to members of my party," Howard added.
"And so, you know, I have a responsibility to be careful in the way that I speak in this legislature, but we all do. And if we want the tone to be better in the house, this is where it starts. It starts with the words that we choose to use with each other, whether those words are on the record or not."
Speaker Daryl Reid said he was happy with Gaudreau's apology.
"I believe very strongly in a respectful workplace. I do my darndest to make sure that we follow the rules and practice and procedures... and we conduct ourselves with dignity and that we have the proper decorum in this chamber," he said.
About a month ago, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister found himself in a similar position when Howard accused him of calling an unnamed NDP MLA a "retard" during a vote to adjourn debate on a Tory cyberbullying bill.
Pallister denied he said the word and pointed the finger at the NDP for smearing him with another "false allegation."