Skip to main content

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa, Monday, March 7, 2016.FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says "sexist, misogynistic comments" like those from Tory MP Gerry Ritz describing her as a "climate Barbie" demonstrate the need for an attitude change toward women in politics.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York Wednesday, Ms. McKenna said she would have rather been talking about her climate change meetings earlier in the day. She was instead forced to address a controversial remark made on Twitter by Mr. Ritz on Tuesday, where he described Ms. McKenna as "climate Barbie."

"It's not about me. It's about how women – especially women in politics –face these kinds of … sexist, misogynistic comments, especially from Conservatives. I want to be talking about what I'm doing but unfortunately we're having this conversation," Ms. McKenna said.

Read more: Looking to the future of women – in politics, and beyond

Related: Canadian women on sexism and the struggle for gender parity

Mr. Ritz, a former Conservative cabinet minister, deleted the tweet, which prompted social media outrage, and apologized.

"I apologize for the use of Barbie, it is not reflective of the role the minister plays," the Saskatchewan MP tweeted.

Ms. McKenna said she accepts his apology, "assuming it's sincere", but added that it's not about saying sorry.

"It's about changes in behavior and changes in attitude," she said.

"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 go talk about the great work they are doing, not about the colour of their hair."

The minister said she has faced sexist comments since she entered politics.

"You can just look at my Twitter feed."

The Liberal Party referred to Mr. Ritz's tweet in a fundraising e-mail Wednesday, which asked potential donors for money to help the party build a "more inclusive society for our kids and grandkids."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not publicly comment on Mr. Ritz's tweet. Mr. Ritz, who is no stranger to controversial comments, announced his retirement from politics in August. His last day is set to be Oct. 2.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the "nasty" culture women in politics are faced with on Wednesday. Speaking at a conference hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Trudeau admitted that his government is struggling to retain the young women the Liberal Party recruited to run in the 2015 federal election.

"We went out and recruited a lot of great young women to run for politics and they did and were successful. And now we're having a bit of a challenge … around retention. As people are realizing that, 'Wow, this is a really nasty place to work … Parliaments are built for elderly white grandpas, right?' " Mr. Trudeau said in a discussion with Ms. Gates.

Mr. Trudeau's comments come after Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould announced earlier this month that she is pregnant. He said his government is working to find ways to enable her to continue to fill her cabinet role while also being a "great mom."

Ms. Gould will become the first Canadian cabinet minister to have a baby while in office.

"I think it's great that we have a minister who's going to be the first minister to have a baby in office. That's just normal," Ms. McKenna said.

With files from The Canadian Press