Tories to decide fate of MLA Rick Wowchuk, who showed pic of naked women

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says a decision will be made soon on the fate of newly re-elected Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk.

Wowchuk violated legislative assembly's respectful workplace policy multiple times

Despite news of the internal investigation's findings coming out five days before the election, Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk was re-elected with more than double the vote total of the NDP and Liberal candidates combined. (CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says a decision will be made soon on the fate of Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk.

In his first meeting with reporters following Tuesday's provincial election victory, Pallister was asked about Wowchuk's future in caucus and said that will be decided when caucus meets in a couple of weeks.

But he would not say if he wants Wowchuk to remain in caucus or not.

"That'll be a caucus decision. I'm not trying to prejudice the decision," he said. "A caucus membership is a decision caucus should make, not the leader."

An internal investigation determined Wowchuk violated the legislative assembly's respectful workplace policy multiple times with a former constituency assistant, including showing her a picture of naked women on his cellphone.

Another incident involved a phone call between the assistant and Wowchuk, who was in the bathtub at the time and remarked that he almost "FaceTimed" the conversation.

The investigation also found Wowchuk used the term "sex code" in reply to a query the assistant had made about messages from a malfunctioning phone.

He has apologized and said he deeply regretted his actions.

Despite the news coming out five days before the election, Wowchuk was re-elected with more than double the vote total of the NDP and Liberal candidates combined.

The former constituency assistant, who CBC has agreed not to identify, left her position in April 2019 following a year-long medical leave. She said she didn't want to leave her job but the work environment became toxic.

In the fall of 2016, she and Wowchuk were in his office in Swan River when he asked if she wanted to see a picture of "hard-working beavers" on his cellphone.

Thinking he was talking about wildlife, she said she looked at the photo which showed naked women wearing hard hats and holding chainsaws.

"Never show anything like that to me again," she says she told Wowchuk.

"I was shocked. I was embarrassed. I felt degraded as a woman. Like, why would you think it's OK for you to show me this picture?" 

Wowchuk told CBC he has participated in respectful and workplace sensitivity training since the incident.

Complaint 'leveraged' for political gain: sociologist

If Wowchuk is removed from the party caucus, that would make two members of the Progressive Conservative Party expelled in less than a year.

Former Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon was ousted in October 2018 after he reportedly made an inappropriate comment to a legislative staffer. 

He allegedly asked a female legislative staff member to sit on his lap during a luncheon earlier that same month when there was a shortage of chairs. Later, a second former legislative staffer came forward with similar allegations.

Christopher Schneider, an associate professor of sociology at Brandon University, said he's not surprised Wowchuk was able to carry the riding despite the reports.

Schneider and co-author Stacey Hannem wrote an article, Politicization of Sexual Misconduct as Symbolic Annihilation: An Analysis of News Media Coverage of the 2016 "Rape Election," on patterns followed by politicians who are accused of sexual misconduct.

The article, published in the January 2019 edition of the journal Sexuality & Culture, said responses tend to focus on the politicians themselves. In Wowchuk's case, Schneider said the politician's response focused on his own improvements — namely, sensitivity training — and the party's response focused on the implementation of policy designed to help victims of inappropriate behaviour come forward.

"They've leveraged what's been happening for political gain," Schneider said. "It makes them look good, rather than [implementing] consequences for Wowchuk. … There were no consequences here. And I think that's sort of problematic."

With files from Cory Funk