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Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray’s time at ‘dream job’ mired by harassment, poor management allegations

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray was forced to leave his “dream job” as the head of a clean energy think-tank after one year, following complaints about his management, according to former staff and communications obtained by CBC News.

Murray’s lawyer denies this, claiming he resigned “for personal and family reasons.”

A CBC News investigation into the 370 days Murray spent in 2017-18 as the executive director of the Pembina Institute — a Calgary-based environmental organization — also revealed allegations Murray used sexual innuendo in the workplace, physically harassed a former employee at a company gathering and drank to excess at some organization functions.

Former Pembina employees described Murray as a “chaotic personality” who breached confidentiality, refused to accept briefings, failed to show up to some internal meetings, showed up late to some meetings with government and corporate leaders, often did not respond to communications and engaged in questionable management practices.

Murray’s campaign declined repeated requests for interviews about his time at Pembina. The candidate himself said on Tuesday he would be happy to answer questions about Pembina and advised CBC News to make an appointment, but his campaign later denied the request.

Murray’s lawyer, Bailey Harris, said in a letter on Tuesday any harassment allegations against Murray stemming from his time at Pembina are “categorically untrue” and said they were never brought to her client’s attention.

“Mr. Murray wishes to be very clear: no allegation or report of sexual harassment was ever raised with Mr. Murray while he was employed by the Pembina Institute or after,” Harris said in her letter.

‘High-risk, high-return appointment’

A Probe Research poll published Sept. 23 suggested Murray was the leading candidate to become Winnipeg’s next mayor in the Oct. 26 election, with the support of 40 per cent of decided Winnipeg voters.

Murray originally served as Winnipeg’s mayor from 1998 until 2004, halfway through his second term, when he resigned to make an unsuccessful bid to become a federal Liberal member of Parliament.

He then moved to Toronto, where he was eventually elected in 2010 as a Liberal member of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament. Within months, he was appointed to cabinet.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, right, and Minister of Infrastructure Glen Murray wait to board the subway while en route to Wynne’s speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in Toronto on Monday, April 14, 2014. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

In 2017, a year before an Ontario election the Liberals would lose, Murray resigned his Toronto Centre seat to become the Pembina Institute’s new executive director.

“There’s no good time to get into politics and no great time to get out of politics,” Murray told the Globe and Mail.

Murray, who had served as the Liberal-appointed chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy shortly after leaving his job as Winnipeg’s mayor, called his new gig at the helm of Pembina his “dream job.”

Founded in the 1980s, the institute conducts research and analysis into energy use and provides recommendations about energy policy.

“The chairman of the board described him as a high-risk, high-return appointment,” former Pembina fundraiser Iain McMullan said of Murray.

McMullan, the first person Murray hired after he assumed the reins of the non-profit, described Murray as a magnificent presence in front of audiences who proved to be “intrinsically unreliable on pretty much everything” once he stepped off stage.

“He can be inspiring, and he can be harmful to others, in my experience,” said McMullan, a veteran corporate fundraiser who served as the Pembina Institute’s director of strategic partnerships under Murray.

“I’ve seen him give speeches — 20-to-30-minute speeches with no notes or a borrowed PowerPoint — and hold the audience in the palm of his hand. And they all thought he was fantastic afterwards. I’ve seen him do that. But the rest of the time, he’s chaotic. He’s a chaotic personality.”

Allegations of sexual innuendo, harassment

Murray started at Pembina on Sept. 5, 2017. Former employees said he continued to live in Toronto while he worked for the organization but made visits to its offices in Calgary and Vancouver.

Several former employees said Murray’s behaviour soon set off red flags, particularly his alleged utterance of sexual innuendo in the workplace and in one-on-one meetings with employees.

Duncan Kenyon, who served as Pembina’s oil and gas director and as its Alberta director, said he once went for a walk with Murray where his boss started out praising his work, but soon began speaking about his sex life. 

Kenyon said Murray raised the fact he enjoys having sex outside his relationship.

“He’s blowing smoke at you and then he’s moving it toward sexual conversations,” Kenyon said.

“You’re not having these kinds of discussions with your colleague, let alone your boss.”

A former Pembina board member CBC has agreed not to name said they were aware Kenyon and two other Pembina employees alleged they were subject to Murray’s use of innuendo.

That does not include Pembina’s previous executive director, Ed Whittingham, who said he was subjected to sexual innuendo during a one-on-one conversation with Murray on his successor’s first day on the job.

“He said some things about his personal life, and particularly the openness of his relationship with his husband and openness in terms of having sex outside the relationship that made me feel very uncomfortable and immediately had me thinking, ‘My gosh, have we made the wrong choice?'” said Whittingham, referring to Pembina’s decision to hire Murray. 

“This is an inappropriate conversation to be having with anyone — even me, as the outgoing guy — on Day 1 of his time at Pembina.”

Whittingham said he walked out of that meeting so disturbed, he thought of calling David Runnalls, the chair of Pembina’s board of directors at the time.

“I thought, ‘I’m probably overreacting and I’m the guy on the way out. This is my successor, and if I make that call, basically, I’m crapping all over my successor literally on Day 1.’ And I didn’t make that call,” he said. 

“And to this day, I regret not making that call.”

Murray also went beyond sexual conversations to physical contact, said Kenyon. He alleged Murray rubbed up against him, pelvis to buttocks, during a company social function in Banff, Alta., in March 2018.

“He comes up to me and starts doing very suggestive sexual dancing — you know, grinding me,” Kenyon said.

“It was very crowded on the dance floor, right, so it’s pretty hard for people to see what was going on, exactly. You’re just like, ‘Oh, come on, man.’ I’m being like, grinded by my boss on the dance floor. Unbelievable.”

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Former Pembina Institute program director Duncan Kenyon alleges Glen Murray engaged in sexual innuendo with him during a one-on-one meeting and grinded against him at a Pembina social function. Murray’s lawyer calls allegations of this nature categorically untrue. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Whittingham said Kenyon came to his home two days later and told him about the incident.

“Duncan laughed it off, as sometimes we do, both men and women, but particularly men who are on the receiving end of sexual advances by other men,” Whittingham said.

Kenyon also said he informed his immediate supervisor at the time, Pembina’s deputy director, and said he believed he was taken seriously. That director did not respond to CBC News requests for comment.

Kenyon said he took no further action. 

He said he acknowledged the role his relative privilege played in that decision, compared to a younger man or a woman placed in a similar position.

“We’re older guys, this is not the end of the world for us. It’s just uncomfortable,” he said.

Harris, Murray’s lawyer, said any harassment allegations against Murray are untrue. She also said Murray was never made aware of harassment allegations.

“To Mr. Murray’s knowledge, no one ever filed a complaint against him,” she said in her letter to CBC News.

Harris also said former Pembina board chair Runnalls said no harassment allegations were ever brought to Murray by Pembina’s leaders.

“We are advised that the former Board Chair unequivocally said that the senior management team never brought forward any complaints of this nature against Mr. Murray,” Harris said.

Runnalls confirmed to CBC News he had no knowledge of “any such claim” against Pembina and nothing was ever brought to the board.

Allegations of excessive drinking

Former employees also said Murray drank to excess at some company social functions and public events.

“He would regularly get very intoxicated at events that Pembina hosted, just rip-roaringly drunk,” said Kenyon, alleging Murray could barely walk at a Vancouver event attended by Catherine McKenna, who was the federal environment minister at the time.

Kenyon also said his boss was intoxicated the night Murray allegedly physically harassed him in Banff.

Jason Switzer, a former senior advisor and director of industrial decarbonization at the Pembina Institute, backed up the allegation Murray drank to excess in the Alberta resort town.

“As we were walking … back to our hotel from one of the bars that we were at, he was barely able to walk. He was really, really drunk,” Switzer said.

“I take that perhaps as a reflection of him wanting to unwind amongst colleagues, but it was certainly a situation you would never want to see someone in that kind of leadership role in, setting his first sort of engagement with his staff.”

Murray’s campaign team did not respond to requests for comment about allegations Murray drank to excess at company functions.

Allegations of poor management

According to former Pembina Institute employees and correspondence obtained by CBC News, Murray’s management practices alienated longtime Pembina employees, leading four to quit the organization over concerns about professionalism.

“Glen discusses confidential information with any staff that will listen,” a former employee wrote to Pembina board members in 2017.

“He has been told things in strict confidence that he comments on out loud at different staff meetings. This is confidential information told to him in strict confidence about sexual harassment, mental health, etc.,” the former employee wrote in an email dated Nov. 17, 2017, two months after Murray joined the organization.

“This should be kept totally confidential and not be brought to light at every call or conversation in the hallway. I have concerns about lawsuits for defamation or harassment.”

Former Pembina Institute employees also outline a litany of complaints about Murray.

Three told CBC News they could not get Murray to stay on message when he met with potential donors, government leaders or representatives from other environmental organizations.

“It became pretty clear — and perhaps unsurprisingly — that he was going to go his own way and that the program leads weren’t going to be able to brief him,” Switzer said.

“He really had his own perspectives on things, and if he liked a particular set of talking points, he’d run with them. But essentially he was going to kind of act extemporaneously on any kind of issue.”

McMullan said he found Murray very difficult. 

“I never really was able to get into a constructive working relationship with him in the six months we spent together. And I tried very hard,” he said. “My sense was he just didn’t want to be briefed.”

Switzer and Kenyon also said Murray often attended meetings with people outside the organization but did not take notes to inform staff what transpired at these meetings. They also said they were often unaware of Murray’s whereabouts.

“We never knew who Glen was meeting with, didn’t know what he’d discussed. He never came to us to tell us he was going to go meet with so-and-so,” Kenyon said.

“He would regularly take meetings without anyone there to take notes, so we just had no idea what the followups were,” Switzer said.

“There was no sort of certainty that we were going to get any outcomes from any of the meetings that he was having, whether it was with government partners or corporate partners.”

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Ed Whittingham, who served as the Pembina Institute’s executive director before Murray, said he helped his former employees organize an ouster of Murray because he presented ‘an existential threat’ to the organization. (CBC)

Former staff also complained Murray was often late for meetings. Whittingham, Murray’s predecessor, said he once flew into Calgary and was left waiting so long he contemplated leaving.

Whittingham said he experienced a similar wait when he arranged for Murray to meet with the CEO of a Calgary-based oil and gas company.

“He arrived 40 minutes late and the CEO, like me, was about to get up and leave,” Whittingham said.

Kenyon said Murray also embarrassed Pembina at private meetings by talking over corporate and government officials.

“They couldn’t get a word in. It wasn’t a discussion. It was just the grand Glen Murray sermon,” he said.

Kenyon said Murray also promoted less-experienced personnel into senior positions as a means of insulating himself from longer-serving staff.

“He’s very personable, can be quite likable, charismatic, but really in many ways actually is cultivating people to be his allies and is not genuine in many of his interactions,” Kenyon said, describing Murray’s tactics as a divide-and-conquer strategy.

“Early on, people were a little bit skeptical. And then later on, it was clear he was really not doing his job.”

Murray’s campaign team did not respond to requests for comment about complaints about Murray’s management.

‘An existential threat to Pembina’

Murray’s performance came to a head in March 2018 at Pembina’s annual staff and board gathering in Banff, where the institute’s employees from across Canada meet to strategize and engage in face-to-face time.

Former employees said in addition to drinking heavily, Murray did not properly prepare for the multi-day gathering, which they described as the most important on the Pembina calendar.

“The assembly itself was so kind of badly disorganized — after years of it being sort of meticulously organized to deliver particular outcomes — that at that point, I think there was a sort of general sense of fatigue among the staff around that,” Switzer said.

“It was a shambles,” McMullan said. “It drove everybody crazy because everybody was saying, ‘You know, this is really important. We only do this once a year. Let’s work together on the agenda.’ 

“And he decided he wanted to pull a bunch of rabbits out of the hat.”

McMullan said those rabbits included new lines of work for Pembina and a surprise rebranding exercise for the institute. 

Several former employees said the event wound up creating solidarity among staff who wanted Murray out.

“That was actually when it crystallized, to be very honest, that the people within the organization started planning to do what we had to do to get him removed, because he was doing so much damage,” Kenyon said.

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The Pembina Institute is an Alberta-based think-tank that focuses on clean-energy policy. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Following the staff retreat, Pembina directors began meeting with the intent of bringing complaints about Murray’s management to the institute’s board, Kenyon said. 

Whittingham said he joined the effort to oust Murray after he became “the unofficial, unappointed director of sympathetic listening” to his former colleagues.

“The last thing I wanted to do was be a part of the ouster of my successor, but at that point, I thought it was such an existential threat to Pembina that I really needed to act,” he said.

‘He’s got to go,’ chair told

Whittingham said he initially met with one board member in June 2018 to assert the organization failed to conduct due diligence on Murray, and said he later told board chair Runnalls the situation with Murray was “beyond repair and he’s got to go.”

Whittingham said Pembina enlisted George Greene, the founder of the environmental consulting firm Stratos, to conduct a series of interviews with senior staff as well as a staff survey. 

Kenyon said he was among those interviewed by Greene. Kenyon said he only discussed Murray’s management and did not disclose his allegations about innuendo and grinding during that interview.

Greene interviewed Pembina employees in July and August 2018 and presented a summary of his findings to the board during an emergency meeting on Aug. 24, 2018, according to correspondence obtained by CBC.

Greene did not respond to requests for comment. Harris, Murray’s lawyer, confirmed Greene presented a verbal report to Pembina’s board.

Runnalls presented Murray with a termination notice one week later, according to the correspondence. Murray requested and was given the option of resigning instead, according to the correspondence.

Runnalls informed senior leaders at Pembina that Murray opted to resign on Sept. 9, 2018, according to the correspondence.

Murray formally left the organization on Sept. 10, 2018.

“While I’m looking forward to a new challenge, the Pembina Institute is a very hard place and team to leave,” Murray said in a statement at the time.

In response to CBC News requests for comment this week, Murray’s lawyer stated a different reason for his departure.

“Mr. Murray resigned from the Pembina Institute four years ago (2018) for personal and family reasons,” Bailey Harris said in a letter to CBC News.

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Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray spoke in Winnipeg in 2018, nine days after he left the Pembina Institute. He said he was moving back to Manitoba and was done with politics. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Publicly, Runnalls thanked Murray in 2018 for his leadership.

“In his time here, Glen has been a great accelerator for the organization and its staff,” Runnalls said in a statement at the time.

This week, Runnalls declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Murray’s departure or claims made about Murray’s management.

Nine days after Murray left Pembina, he was in Winnipeg, where he declared he was moving back to Manitoba and had no interest in returning to politics.

Pembina declines comment

The Pembina Institute declined to address allegations about Murray or the circumstances that led to his departure. 

“For privacy and legal reasons, we are unable to comment publicly on any personnel matters,” executive director Chris Severson-Baker said via email earlier this month. 

“Pembina has comprehensive workplace policies and procedures in place, including policies and procedures governing respectful workplace behaviours and the prudent use of resources and assets.”

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Chris Severson-Baker, executive director at the Pembina Institute, says his organization can not comment on Murray’s departure. (Pembina Institute)

Whittingham, the former Pembina director, said Murray’s workplace behaviour makes him question whether the latter is fit to be a mayor.

“I think it’s incumbent upon him to explain the work that he’s done and why he is now qualified for a much larger leadership role, when it was very clear in the span of a year that he was completely unqualified for a smaller leadership role,” he said.

Kenyon said he thinks Murray would be a toxic mayor.

“The kind of workplace he would create would be really problematic,” he said. 

“I would really not want to, ever want to see someone have to work in an office with him, based upon how he was at Pembina.”

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