Editorial cartoon by Don Dimanlig

Editorial: “Climate Barbie” comment shows we still have a long way to go

By Maggie Parkhill and Maureen McEwan 

Sexism is alive and well, folks, and not just in Trump-land.

Last week, Conservative MP Gerry Ritz derisively dubbed Environment Minister Catherine McKenna “climate Barbie.” McKenna, who is also the MP for Ottawa Centre, was recently in New York for Climate Week, representing Canada at the United Nations.  

Much like the once-popular doll, Ritz’s comments come straight out of the 1950s.

In the House, MPs from all sides slammed the Saskatchewan MP and former federal agriculture minister. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer eventually offered an apology for Ritz’s inappropriate tweet. And Ritz, too, expressed regret for his use of the phrase.  

But this wasn’t Ritz’s first sexist remark directed at a political opponent. Last year, he suggested Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland — then federal trade minister, now Minister of Foreign Affairs — was too emotional and needed “adult supervision” on the Canada-EU trade negotiations.  

There’s a widespread sentiment in this country that Canada is better off than the States when it comes to political leadership, an idea propelled this week when Trump and Trudeau delivered starkly contrasting remarks at the UN — the U.S. president’s address full of belligerent rhetoric, the Canadian PM’s speech an expression of shame over his country’s historical mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples.  

But we have Trump-minded individuals in Canada, and it’s not helpful to put blinders on and look to the south, crying, “Sexism!”  

Our House of Commons has been plagued with misogyny from all sides. Tory MP Michelle Rempel has said that a co-worker once insisted on waiting till she was “less emotional” to speak with her. Former Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews were suspended from the Liberal caucus in 2014 after being accused of sexual misconduct involving female NDP MPs.  

It’s hard to imagine that sexism doesn’t lurk in the back of many MPs and senators’ minds when it comes to drafting laws. How can such men represent the women of this country when misogyny permeates the chambers from which they lead?

Ottawa Centre is an example of what diverse representation in leadership can look like. McKenna, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi offer a good snapshot of Canada today.  

But Canada is far from perfect on this issue.

So what’s the solution?   

Next June comes a provincial election, followed in October 2018 with a municipal vote. One year later, citizens will go back to the polls to elect the next federal government.

Now is the time for women, people of colour and others from underrepresented groups in Canadian society to start thinking about running.

It will always be difficult for women who step forward as trailblazers and change-makers. Some will face sexist comments — they might even be called a Barbie themselves. They may be called “nasty,” “shrill” or “unlikable.” But if they have the strength to face it, women in Centretown — and in every other community across the country — should consider entering the political arena.

The Gerry Ritzes of the world aren’t changing with the times. It’s time for women to take their jobs and show them what real leadership looks like.

As McKenna tweeted back to Ritz: “Your sexist comments won’t stop us.”