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The Progressive Conservative caucus has expelled Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon for repeated inappropriate behaviour, emphasizing harassment won't be tolerated in their workplace.
"We’ve taken a difficult decision today, but it is an important decision, and I think it sends the right signal that we’re serious about changing the culture around here and not covering these things up… so that we can have the safest possible work environment for everyone," Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Monday.
The premier said recent incidents reported in the media didn't mark the first time Graydon had crossed the line.
"There were previous examples of (inappropriate) behaviour. This wasn’t the first example," Pallister said. "But I think it’s clear that steps had to be taken to make sure that there was not a repeat of these types of things."
The Free Press previously reported sources said Graydon had recently made two explicit comments to female political staff: suggesting one woman sit on his lap at a busy PC party luncheon; and, on a separate occasion, asking another woman to lick food off his face.
Last week, a former legislative staffer also relayed an incident where Graydon allegedly asked her to sit on his lap at an all-party banquet in 2013. She had mixed feelings Monday upon hearing he was expelled from caucus.
"Long-standing wrongs have been righted, but it should never have taken this long to rectify this situation," she said.
"MLAs and high-ranking staff on all sides have known about Graydon's inappropriate behaviour for years. Many women have been turned off of furthering their careers in politics because of this exact behaviour."
The woman, who requested anonymity, left politics after reportedly being subject to harassment at work.
"I hope today's events serve as a deterrent to disrespectful and misogynistic behaviour in the legislature and in constituencies in the future. I also hope that every MLA has a renewed appreciation for the importance of the office they hold and the kind of behaviour required to serve the people of Manitoba," she said.
Graydon, who has represented Emerson since 2007, has apologized for his comments, and said he will not run for re-election. He also announced last week he would go on medical leave.
After a morning meeting, the PC caucus issued a statement Monday afternoon announcing its decision to expel Graydon immediately.
"While we do not take this decision lightly, it has become apparent that previous attempts with Mr. Graydon to address a pattern of inappropriate behaviour have not succeeded," PC caucus chairman Wayne Ewasko said.
Graydon underwent sensitivity training last winter, after getting in hot water over social media comments. He later apologized for calling asylum-seekers "a drain on society" and retweeting posts that called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a "scumbag" and "turdeau."
"We have acted fairly, swiftly and respectfully in dealing with this difficult matter while ensuring all policies and procedures were followed and that the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved were respected," Ewasko said.
Graydon, who is in his 70s, did not respond to requests for comment Monday. It's unclear when he will return to the Manitoba legislature, having taken an indefinite, paid medical leave. The Speaker's Office confirmed Graydon did not need permission to take such a leave.
Pallister noted the decision to remove Graydon reflected the culture shift he wants to see at the legislature.
"I think it’s important we have a culture here that’s much more sensitive than we’ve had in the past. I’m trying to change. I’m an old dog and I’m learning new tricks. But I guess this one, to me, is an important thing for us to get our heads wrapped around," the premier said.
"There needs to be respect and safety and security in this place. I’m sincere when I say I hope that we can make sure that Manitoba leads the way in changing the culture of our entire government services in that respect."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, October 22, 2018 at 6:36 PM CDT: Full write through, adds video