OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer resisted demands Wednesday that he condemn longtime Tory MP Gerry Ritz and force him to apologize in the House of Commons for posting a sexist tweet about the Liberal environment minister.
Seizing the opportunity, the Liberals mounted an aggressive question period offensive over the tweet, dominating the opening salvos of question period and distracting — albeit briefly — from the Opposition's own line of attack on small business taxes.
Ritz, a Saskatchewan MP who's no stranger to controversial remarks, triggered the furor Tuesday by describing Environment Minister Catherine McKenna as "climate Barbie" on Twitter.
Ritz promptly deleted the tweet and apologized, but not before touching off a cascade of social media outrage, including from McKenna herself.
"I apologize for the use of Barbie, it is not reflective of the role the minister plays," Ritz wrote.
Even if it was only for the first 15 minutes of question period, the Ritz controversy proved the perfect remote control for a government keen to change the channel amid sustained public anger over its proposed changes to small business taxes.
Three times, Scheer tried to press the government on its plans, and all three times Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr — standing in for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in New York City for the UN General Assembly — ignored them.
Instead, Carr demanded Scheer disavow Ritz's words and compel him to apologize in the House of Commons, not just to McKenna but to all MPs and all Canadians.
"We can all agree sexist comments should not be part of the public debate or part of any conversation anywhere, period," Carr said.
Scheer, however, would not bite. Indeed, he hasn't said a word publicly about the tweet, avoiding reporters after both the weekly Conservative caucus meeting and after question period. His office offered no additional comments.
Carr, on the other hand, was only happy to oblige.
"Leaders have to be sensitive to telling all Canadians that that kind of language is unacceptable to him as a political leader," he said outside the parliamentary chamber.
"We gave him an opportunity to do that today. He chose not to accept it."
The Liberals also took the opportunity to embark on a fundraising opportunity, issuing an email to potential donors from McKenna referencing the tweet and asking for money to help the Liberals build a "more inclusive society for our kids and grandkids."
Politicians of all stripes criticized Ritz for the remark.
Others also pointed out Ritz borrowed the "climate Barbie" insult from The Rebel, the far-right website Scheer has disavowed barring changes in its editorial direction, following its coverage of the racist demonstrations last month in Charlottesville, Va.
More than 80 stories on the website refer to McKenna with the insult, and several Rebel contributors were happy to acknowledge using it, including one who bragged Wednesday on Twitter that she had coined the phrase.
Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said he didn't think Ritz's language was "appropriate" and was glad he deleted the tweet, but he criticized the Liberals for using the controversy to avoid questions.
"For the government to use something from an MP who is leaving, not answering questions, I think is inappropriate," he said.
A spokesman for Ritz said the MP wasn't saying anything more about the tweet beyond what he already said on Twitter.
Ritz is in his final days as an MP, having announced his retirement in August. His last day is Oct. 2 but his spokesman said Ritz — who was not in the House on Wednesday — has no plans to return to Commons before then.
— Follow @mrabson on Twitter.