St. Albert MP Michael Cooper has been accused of sexist conduct in the House of Commons following a tense exchange with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and he said his comments had nothing to do with her gender.
Cooper and Joly got into a back and fourth at a committee meeting when Cooper commented on Joly’s encounter with a Chinese counterpart during a G20 meeting in New Delhi last week. When Joly said that Canada would not accept China’s meddling, Cooper said: “You’ve talked tough with your Beijing counterpart, so you say. You even stared into his eyes. I’m sure he was very intimidated.”
Joly responded, saying that Cooper would “know China” since he participated in a paid trip there as a parliamentarian in 2017. She accused him of falling into “China’s trap” of creating division.
Liberal and NDP MPs called his comments sexist and claimed he brought into question Joly’s ability to do her job.
In an interview with the Gazette, Cooper said the claims of sexism are “ridiculous.”
“I mean, my comments had nothing to do with the minister’s gender and everything to do with the lack of action by this Liberal government to stand up to the Beijing regime in the face of election interference,” he said.
Cooper added that his comments would apply equally to the Prime Minister, as they did to Joly.
The Liberal’s went on to claim there is a “constant demeaning nature” toward women in the House, with Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell calling for Cooper to apologize.
When asked if the claim regarding his "demeaning" behaviour was valid, Cooper said: “All I can say is that I asked some straightforward questions [of the] minister yesterday and when I asked her direct questions, she acknowledged that all the government has done … is denied a visa to one diplomat. That's it.”
Cooper, who sits on a parliamentary committee looking into allegations of foreign election interference by China, was questioning Joly on Thursday following her testimony to the committee.
Cooper has said Trudeau and his government have not done enough when it comes to foreign interference, citing the Prime Minister’s refusal to take part in a public inquiry.
Following the meeting, NDP MP Rachel Blaney told reporters it was outright “sexist.”
“I just want to say, as a woman politician, I remember at the very beginning of my career being asked if I was tough enough to do the job and I think it’s absolutely devastating that that sort of frame of reference would be used in this way,” she said.
The dialogue between Cooper and Joly is expected to continue next week, with the committee set to continue on Tuesday.