A transcript of the text conversation that lead to Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris’s removal from the PC party in April have been reported, casting a different light on the matter.
Details of the transcript suggest that far from the accusations of sexual impropriety leveled against Harris by his own party, the conversation was fairly benign in nature.
The text conversation, which took place in 2012, appeared to be of a mutual flirtation between Harris, who at the time was 33 and unmarried, and a woman in her 20s. The woman was formerly an intern with the Progressive Conservatives, but at the time was not employed by the party.
The tone and substance of the conversation is sharply at odds with the Tories’ own accounting of the text. In a statement by Lisa Thompson, MPP for Huron-Bruce and chair of the caucus, she accused Michael Harris of soliciting sexual favours from the “young intern” with the promise of employment.
“These text messages were of a sexual nature,” said Thompson, in a media statement April 9. “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.
“As a result of this information a decision has been made to remove Michael Harris, MPP, from the Ontario PC caucus effective immediately.”
The statement referred to her as a “former intern” but did not distinguish whether she was employed by the party at the time of the messages were sent.
Thompson’s accusations appear to differ dramatically from reports of the substance of the text conversation itself.
After exchanging flirtations, the former intern texted Harris about her concern for being passed up for a full-time job with the PC party, suggesting her behaviour during her internship had made her a “liability.” Harris reportedly did not offer advice, but instead suggested they meet for breakfast to talk further. No promises of employment or extortion of sexual acts appeared to have been made.
Thompson also said in her April 9 statement that the party’s provincial nomination committee had reviewed the evidence and decided unanimously to bar Harris from running for re-election in June.
However, a member of the nomination committee said no such recommendation had been made. Speaking to the Waterloo Region Record’s Greg Mercer, Toby Barrett, an MPP and member of the committee, contradicted Thompson’s account.
“We were just reviewing the evidence. I don’t know whether we were necessarily making a recommendation to remove him,” he said, adding, “That wasn’t what I thought was part of my work on the committee.”
Thompson refused multiple requests to defend her accusations against Harris or provide any clarification of her claims or evidence to support them.
Following MPP Michael Harris’ ousting from the party, the Ford campaign announced the appointment of Mike Harris Jr. (no relation) to run in the election. Mike Harris Jr. is the son of the former premier.
Before the election of Doug Ford as the leader of the Ontario PC party, MPP Michael Harris was vocal supporter for Ford’s chief rival, Christine Elliott. Harris co-chaired Elliott’s campaign to become the PC party’s leader following the removal of Patrick Brown.