09/20/2017 20:31 EDT | Updated 09/21/2017 13:05 EDT

Catherine McKenna Says 'Climate Barbie' Tweet Isn't New, Blasts Conservatives

Liberals have sent a fundraising note addressing the insult.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016.
Chris Wattie / Reuters
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016.

NEW YORK — A sexist tweet by a Conservative colleague is nothing new, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested Wednesday, saying she has suffered online abuse for two years.

And she pointed the finger at her Tory opponents.

"It's not about me. It's about how women, especially women in politics, face these kinds of comments, sexist, misogynistic comments, especially from Conservatives," she told Canadian reporters gathered at the United Nations.

"... There [are] 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're doing, not about colour of their hair," said the minister.

McKenna was responding to a since-deleted tweet by former Conservative minister Gerry Ritz, the MP for Battlefords–Lloydminster, Sask.

Ritz tweeted late Tuesday: "Has anyone told our climate barbie!" in response to a news report about how no major advanced industrialized economy is on pace to meet Paris climate commitments.

McKenna tweeted back: "Do you use that sexist language about your daughter, mother, sister? We need more women in politics. Your sexist comments won't stop us."

Twenty minutes later, Ritz, who announced last month that he is retiring from politics, said he was sorry.

"I apologize for the use of Barbie, it is not reflective of the role the Minister plays," he added in a follow-up tweet.

His Conservative colleagues in Ottawa denounced the comments.

"[Ritz] made a big mistake. He apologized. He did what he had to do," Quebec MP Gérard Deltell said.

Ontario MP, and former leadership hopeful, Erin O'Toole called Ritz's tweet "inappropriate."

Sensing an opportunity, the Liberals pounced, sending a fundraising note Wednesday based on Ritz's tweet and titled: "Sexist comments like this won't stop us."

"Being called 'Climate Barbie' isn't new," said the email, issued under McKenna's name. "The Rebel Media organization and it's [sic] followers have been using it to try to undermine and demean my work since day one — and Andrew Scheer has been silent as the attacks continued."

Adrian Wyld/CP
Michelle Rempel, shown arriving to a Feb. 25, 2016 press conference in Ottawa, has also faced 'Barbie' insults.

Scheer did not comment on Ritz's tweet, but released 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,'' he 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.''

But the impression McKenna tried to leave — that only Conservatives are attacking female cabinet ministers — is inaccurate.

Former Conservative cabinet Michelle Rempel has often been criticized online. Someone even created a talking-point Barbie doll of her.

"This was widely shared," she tweeted Tuesday. "I just sucked it up. Maybe I shouldn't have."

McKenna began her statement to the media Wednesday evening highlighting the different meetings she had earlier in the day discussing climate leadership.

You know what's really sad? That I'm having to talk about this.Catherine McKenna

"You know what's really sad?" she asked. "That I'm having to talk about this.... I want to be talking about what I'm doing, but, unfortunately, we're having this conversation."

After a few minutes of questions, HuffPost Canada attempted to ask the minister a question on climate, but she declined to answer. Her staff said she "had to go."

With files from The Canadian Press

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