HALIFAX — The deputy leader of the federal Conservatives kicked off her party's policy convention Thursday with an allusion to an old groping allegation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confronted this summer.
Lisa Raitt served as co-emcee with Monica Barley, a New Brunswick lawyer who ran for that province's Progressive Conservative leadership.
Raitt noted that while two women would be serving in the role, "we didn't send out a news release and we didn't make a big fuss about it." Raitt added that she also didn't have to check a "special box on the application form."
It is never, ever all right to grope women, no matter if you are some average Joe or even the prime minister of Canada.Lisa Raitt
The dig at the Liberal government's penchant for promoting its feminist credentials became clearer when Barley jabbed that they "didn't even have to pass a good feminist test that some guy came up with."
Barley received a standing ovation, first from a number of female delegates and then the room, when she said Conservatives don't tell women how to act or what to believe.
"We respect all women. No if, ands, or buts," she said.
"And speaking of butts," Raitt interjected, sparking more laughs.
"I just want to be perfectly clear about something and let's just get it out of the way tonight. It is never, ever all right to grope women, no matter if you are some average Joe or even the prime minister of Canada."
Delegates in the room again rose to their feet.
Last month, Trudeau addressed allegations made in a 2000 editorial in the Creston Valley Advance newspaper that he had behaved inappropriately and apologized for being "forward" with a female reporter at a B.C. music festival. The unsigned editorial, which surfaced on social media, used the term "groping."
The issue sparked headlines because of Trudeau's praise as a feminist leader and his support of a zero-tolerance approach to allegations of sexual misconduct.
The prime minister told reporters this summer that while he is confident he did not behave untoward with the reporter, "the same interactions could be experienced very differently from one person to the next."
The former reporter at the heart of the story came forward to say the incident "did occur as reported," that Trudeau apologized, and that she will not be discussing the matter further.
An Ontario man, however, has launched an e-petition calling for the government to table a response to the incident. The petition is sponsored by Tory MP Michelle Rempel.
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Addressing delegates later, Raitt played up her experience growing up in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton. But she also took another swipe at Trudeau and his much-praised gender balanced cabinet.
"I know that I would never be allowed in the Liberal Party and I'll tell you why. It's because I want to know that when I succeed it's not because of some quota assigned from the Prime Minister's Office. It's because I earned it," she said.
"And I want to tell you something else, if somebody offered me one of those non-economic, female portfolios in a gender-balanced cabinet, I would have told them exactly where they could shove their quota."
Raitt, a former transport minister, was evidently referencing how the most senior economic roles in Trudeau's cabinet are held by men. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, however, has arguably the most sensitive file, responsibility over the NAFTA negotiations and Canada's relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who earlier Thursday had to address the exit of former leadership rival Maxime Bernier from the party, will deliver his keynote Friday.