Disgraced Manitoba MLA Cliff Graydon says he's not a sexual harasser, has paid 'huge price' for comments

Cliff Graydon, the embattled Emerson MLA ousted from the Manitoba Progressive Conservative caucus, says he is no sexual harasser, although he made inappropriate comments toward female legislative staff members.

Emerson representative dismissed from PC caucus apologizes, says he's guilty of a 'bad sense of humour'

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon says he is not a sexual harasser, even if he has been portrayed as such in the media after allegations arose of inappropriate comments he made to female legislative staffers. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Cliff Graydon, the embattled Emerson MLA ousted from the Manitoba Progressive Conservative caucus, says he is no sexual harasser, although he acknowledges he's made inappropriate comments toward female legislative staff members in the past. 

"I admit I'm guilty of having a bad sense of humour," Graydon said Thursday morning.

The veteran PC backbencher, now an Independent MLA, made his first public comments to the media during the Thursday press conference since he was booted from the Tory caucus two weeks ago for his behaviour.

He apologized for his conduct and pledged to serve the remainder of his term as a fiscally conservative member of the legislature.

At first, Graydon, 72, stressed "as strongly as I can" that he is not a sexual harasser and has never been accused of that.

"People who know me best can verify I have never been accused of anything remotely resembling sexual harassment in my past. My wife of 45 years and my children don't deserve hearing these media statements about their husband and father."

Changing times

After questioning from reporters, however, he acknowledged his remarks would be perceived as harassment by today's standards. 

"I've grown up in a different era," Graydon said.

"I realize some people today are much more sensitive to inappropriate behaviour and that going forward, I will ensure I will be more conscious about my comments."​

Cliff Graydon says he's not a sexual harasser:

The embattled Emerson MLA ousted from the Progressive Conservative caucus, says he is no sexual harasser, although he made inappropriate comments toward female legislative staff members. 1:53

CBC initially broke the news last month that Graydon was accused of asking a female legislative staff member to sit on his lap during a recent meeting. A second staffer then came forward to CBC with a similar allegation.

He had also suggested another woman lick food off his face, according to a Winnipeg Free Press report.

There could be many [accusers] in my past. I have no idea, with my sense of humour. - Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon

"My jokes that now I regret were simply intended to be humorous, and I can assure those offended they were not intended to be demeaning or harmful to anyone," he said.

"I have apologized and I've paid a very huge price for my comments."

Graydon sought to clarify he did not ask a woman to sit on his lap, but rather offered his knee or a chair instead.

He has no recollection of asking a female staff member to lick him, he said. 

When asked whether other women may come forward with accusations, Graydon couldn't say.

"There could be many in my past. I have no idea, with my sense of humour," he said.

Repeated infractions

The Progressive Conservative caucus voted to kick Graydon out last month after what chairman Wayne Ewasko called "a pattern of inappropriate behaviour."

Graydon initially said the incident was dealt with to the satisfaction of all parties, but days later he went on medical leave, adding he would not run for re-election in 2020.

He has represented the electoral division of Emerson since 2007.

MLA does not grasp seriousness: accuser

The former legislative staffer who said Graydon asked her to sit on his lap in 2013 said the MLA's comments on Thursday show he does not grasp the severity of sexual harassment. 

"It's not a simple case of having different senses of humour or misunderstandings based on generational differences; it's something more targeted and nefarious. It's entirely sexual harassment," wrote the woman, whom CBC has agreed not to identify.

"His response today shows that he is unwilling to take other perspectives to heart and accept responsibility for his actions."

At the media conference, Graydon said he's disappointed to be removed from the Tory caucus, but would not criticize their decision.

He said his loved ones have been subject to harassment from the media, which he asked to stop, and thanked his family, friends and constituents for offering him unconditional support during this challenging time.

Graydon promised he wouldn't be sidelined from his legislative agenda as an Independent, as he will speak out on matters important to him, such as school taxes on farmland and agricultural concerns.

He will not join a pre-existing political party or start a new one, he said. 

"Anyone who knows Cliff Graydon knows that I'm not a quitter and I will continue to serve out the rest of my term," he said.

Later in the day, premier Brian Pallister told media he feels Graydon has "responded in a reasonable way" after the accusations came to light.

Pallister said he first became aware of inappropriate comments made by Graydon in early 2018, and his government took immediate action.

Past controversy

The recent controversy is not the first for Graydon, who faced trouble last winter when he used social media to call asylum-seekers who had been crossing the border "a drain on society."

He also retweeted posts from others that called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a traitor, a scumbag and a disgrace.

Graydon apologized, deleted the tweets and agreed to step back from social media and undergo sensitivity training, the details of which were never made public.

He said Thursday he is continuing to take training, but he would not divulge the nature of it. 

With files from Kristin Annable, The Canadian Press

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon met with the media today to offer his side of the scandal that saw him kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus. 2:03

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.