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Premier Mike Harris, showing his apparent frustration over persistent questioning about his role in the 1995 Ipperwash affair, called Liberal MPP Gerry Phillips an "asshole" yesterday in the legislature.

The Premier's office later denied he had used the word.

But several Liberal and New Democrat MPP said they had heard him clearly, despite the clamour from both sides of the legislature that erupted with Mr. Phillips's attacks on the Premier.

NDP deputy leader Frances Lankin described the incident. "I am going to quote the Premier. As he sat down he muttered 'And you are an asshole,' speaking of Gerry Phillips."

She was one of several MPPs who immediately demanded that the Premier withdraw the remark, as parliamentary procedure requires of any impolite comment uttered on the floor of the legislature.

Rick Bartolucci, Liberal MPP from Sudbury, had a similar recollection. "He clearly said, looking down but towards Gerry, 'You're an asshole.' "

The remark was not picked up by the microphones, as the one on Mr. Harris's desk apparently was turned off. Attorney-General David Young was speaking at the time, responding to Mr. Phillips's question.

Nor was the remark recorded by the legislature's Hansard.

Speaker Gary Carr said he did not hear it and noted that there had been a general tumult in the legislature at the time that made it difficult to hear any specific comments.

Mr. Phillips's questions about Mr. Harris's role in ordering an end to a native protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park, which resulted in the shooting of Dudley George six years ago, generally result in outcries from MPPs on both sides of the legislature.

A statement from the Premier's Office disputed the opposition MPPs' assertions that Mr. Harris had used profanity in referring to Mr. Phillips.

"The Premier has the utmost respect for the legislature and his fellow MPPs on both sides of the House," it said. "The allegation is false."

Government House Leader Janet Ecker defended the Premier.

"I didn't hear the remark. What I do know is many times members on all sides of the House get a little heated up in debate. And everyone has said something in that legislature that, on reflection, they perhaps wished they hadn't said."

Last month, she was displeased when Liberal House Leader Dwight Duncan accused her of throwing "a hissy fit" in the legislature.

Opposition MPPs said the fact the Premier would use such language shows he senses the damage a public inquiry about the shooting of the unarmed native protester could do to his reputation.

Mr. Phillips, who said he heard the remark but refused to repeat it, commented: "It's tragic. This situation involves a very serious matter. And the Premier has chosen to try the personal attacks instead of trying to deal with the issue."

The veteran Liberal MPP added: "I've come to expect it from him now. . . . It's completely in character for him. Maybe he thinks he can bully people and get away with it. But I won't be bullied and most people won't be bullied."

Mr. Phillips had been asking the Premier why he is attempting to bankrupt Mr. George's family by forcing them to proceed with a civil suit to uncover Mr. Harris's role in the shooting.