Canada’s environment minister says she’s fed up with the sexist comments women in politics have to put up with, and she accuses conservatives of being the worst offenders in the misogyny department.
Catherine McKenna spoke at length about this week’s events where an opposition lawmaker referred to her as “climate Barbie,” then deleted the tweet, apologized, and drew condemnation from the leader of the Conservative party.
She addressed the issue in a chat with Canadian reporters Wednesday along the East River in New York City — beside the United Nations, where she is attending a series of high-level meetings on climate change.
McKenna said she accepts the apology, assuming it’s sincere. But she expressed anger about this becoming an issue while she’s been having substantive meetings this week with the secretary-general of the United Nations, with California Gov. Jerry Brown, and with female climate leaders.
“You know what’s really sad? That I’m having to talk about this. It’s really disappointing, what happened. And unfortunately it’s not about me — it’s about how women, especially women in politics, face these kind of comments — sexist, misogynistic comments — especially from conservatives,” McKenna said.
“I want to be talking about what I’m doing. But unfortunately we’re having this conversation. And this isn’t just something that happened once. This has been going on since I’ve been in this position. You can just look at my Twitter feed. And it’s not about apologies. It’s really about changes in behaviour, and changes in attitude. And that’s what I hope comes out of this. We need to move on. I’ve got two daughters. There’s lots of young women who want to get into politics, and I want them to feel like they can go do that, and they can talk about the great work they’re doing — not about the colour of their hair.”
The leader of the Conservatives referred to his daughters too, in a statement late Wednesday.
“As a father of three daughters, I want to ensure that gender-based stereotypes have no place in Canada or Canadian politics,” Andrew Scheer said.
“The demeaning words used by the member were inappropriate and he has rightly apologized. The minister is in New York today and I am in the process of contacting her so I can assure the minister that this type of behaviour has no place in the Conservative caucus.”
The unnamed member in that statement — Gerry Ritz — apologized.
Ritz triggered the furor Tuesday with the wisecrack on Twitter. He promptly deleted the tweet and apologized, but not before touching off a cascade of social media outrage, including from McKenna herself.
“I apologize for the use of Barbie, it is not reflective of the role the minister plays,” Ritz wrote.
The issue dominated the start of Wednesday’s question period. The Ritz controversy proved the perfect remote control for a government keen to change the channel amid sustained public anger over its proposed changes to small business taxes.
Three times, Scheer tried to press the government on its plans, and all three times Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr — standing in for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in New York for the UN General Assembly — ignored them.
Instead, Carr demanded Scheer disavow Ritz’s words and compel him to apologize in the House of Commons, not just to McKenna but to all MPs and all Canadians. Initially, Scheer would not bite. Until his statement late in the day, he hadn’t said a word publicly about the tweet, avoiding reporters after both the weekly Conservative caucus meeting and after question period.
The Liberals, on the other hand, came back to it, again and again.
Carr said: “Leaders have to be sensitive to telling all Canadians that that kind of language is unacceptable… We gave (Scheer) an opportunity to do that today. He chose not to accept it.”
The Liberals also took the opportunity to embark on a fundraising opportunity, issuing an email to potential donors from McKenna referencing the tweet and asking for money to help the Liberals build a “more inclusive society for our kids and grandkids.”
Politicians of all stripes criticized Ritz for the remark.
Others also pointed out Ritz borrowed the “climate Barbie” insult from The Rebel, the far-right website Scheer has disavowed barring changes in its editorial direction, following its coverage of the racist demonstrations last month in Charlottesville, Va.
More than 80 stories on the website refer to McKenna with the insult, and several Rebel contributors were happy to acknowledge using it, including one who bragged Wednesday on Twitter that she had coined the phrase.