06/26/2014 11:10 EDT

Peter MacKay: Female Staffer Wrote Mother's, Father's Day Emails


Justice Minister Peter MacKay says a female staffer was behind the controversial Mother's and Father's Day emails that landed him in more hot water this week.

All he did, he says, was sign off on them.

It was revealed Tuesday that MacKay raised eyebrows in the Department of Justice with two very different tributes for male and female employees.

In an email marking Mother's Day, MacKay lauded moms for holding down two jobs — at work and at home, where there are often diapers to be changed and other chores about which to worry.

In a memo for Father's Day, the minister saluted dads for "shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders."

You can read the full text of his Mother's and Father's Day messages here to compare for yourself.

The difference in tone between the memos sparked charges of sexism, and accusations the minister was reinforcing gender stereotypes.

An evidently exasperated MacKay told The National Post's John Ivision a female official wrote the messages.

"The head of the communications branch is female, it was vetted by my female director of communications and posted by my female press secretary – and yes, signed off by me," MacKay said.

MacKay said he would he regularly send emails thanking public servants in other departments but learned long ago that nothing is off the record and "no good deed goes unpunished."

The emails surfaced after The Toronto Star reported MacKay told members of the Ontario Bar Association earlier this month women don't apply to be judges because they fear the job will take them away from their children. Those remarks were derided as sexist and old-fashioned.

The minister also told The National Post reports about his comments at the private OBA meeting were inaccurate.

But some weren't impressed with MacKay's line of defence on the emails issue, with more than a few suggesting he was trying to duck responsibility and hide behind his employee.

The justice minister has faced a seemingly relentless pile-on since The Star first broke the story, but rejected calls to apologize in question period last Thursday.

In a lengthy Facebook post Sunday, MacKay said the comments attributed to him from that OBA meeting were untrue and the opposite of what he really said. He also railed against "inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric" in the media.

"In addressing a few dozen lawyers I took the opportunity to encourage MORE women and minorities to apply to be judges, to enable the Federal Government to promote them to the bench and thus to better reflect the diversity that is Canada today. That was the intent and tone of my remarks," he wrote.

Still, the justice ministers of both Ontario and Quebec took swipes at their federal counterpart this week.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee called MacKay's reported comments about female judges "deplorable."

"It's now 2014 in Canada," she said.

"We can be professional and have our families and have aspirations to access the bench... For my part, I have two teenagers and I travel back and forth between Maniwaki and Quebec each week.

"I think I'm a good mother and I think I'm a good professional."

But some Conservatives are jumping in to help the embattled minister.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters Wednesday he didn't agree with the interpretation that MacKay's emails were sexist.

"The clear objective of my government since our arrival in power has been to increase the participation of women in leadership positions, not only in the public sector but also in the private sector," Harper said.

Alberta Tory MP Laurie Hawn told The Edmonton Sun the controversy surrounding MacKay's emails was "utter nonsense."

Hawn said MacKay's messages were just meant to show appreciation to staffers who are parents and were in no way sexist.

"People are running around with their hair on fire looking for something to be insulted about and if they can't find it, they make stuff up," he said.

But this is not the first time MacKay has faced accusations of sexism.

In 2006, he was forced to apologize to former NDP leader Alexa McDonough for telling her to "stick to knitting" during a radio debate.

Months later, MacKay was accused of referring to then-Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, his ex-girlfriend, as a dog in the House of Commons — an allegation he vigorously denied.

The Conservative government appointed or elevated 485 judges between 2006 and 2012. Of those, 145 – 30 per cent – were women.

With files from The Canadian Press, previous files

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