POLITICS
05/01/2019 17:50 EDT | Updated 05/02/2019 10:55 EDT

Tory MP Pierre Poilievre Scolded Over ‘Little Potato’ Dig At Trudeau In House Of Commons

The odd moniker stems from the prime minister's first official visit to China.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 21, 2018.

A Conservative MP has been told to stop referring to the prime minister as "little potato" in the House of Commons.

Pierre Poilievre earned the light scolding from House Speaker Geoff Regan in question period Wednesday. It was the third day in a row the Tory finance critic invoked the unusual nickname.

"When leaders in China dismissed this prime minister as quote 'little potato,' he thought they meant it as a compliment," Poilievre said before being cut off by Regan.

Watch:

Poilievre was referencing how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked up the moniker during his first official visit to China in 2016. Then-International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland explained to CNBC at the time that Trudeau's name sounds similar to the Mandarin word for potato. The "little" part is because the prime minister's father, Pierre, was "senior potato," she said.

And though Freeland called it a "fond" nickname years ago, Regan said the Tory MP was indirectly insulting the prime minister. Conservatives promptly let the Speaker know they disagreed with his call.

Poilievre reiterated his party's demand that, in light of China's ban on canola shipments and imprisonment of Canadian citizens — seen as retaliation for the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou — Trudeau scrap funding to the country's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Liberal government has committed $256 million over five years to fund infrastructure projects in Asia.

Trudeau defended the investment, saying the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank supports "clean and green" projects in the region, including flood management in the Philippines and landslide mitigation in Sri Lanka.

Earlier Wednesday, Liberal ministers announced canola farmers hurting from China's ban will receive more financial support from the government.

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The prime minister did not bring up Poilievre's longtime nickname: "Skippy." According to a 2014 story from The Canadian Press, the handle is a nod to a kangaroo from an Australian children's show. Poilievre was first elected in 2004 at the age of 25.

After question period, Tory House Leader Candice Bergen rose on a point of order to "seek clarity" on Regan's ruling. She noted that Freeland called the nickname a term of endearment, a position with which Tories disagree.

"We were not actually calling him little potato," she said, before being cut off by the Speaker.

"I don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. I can't say what this phrase might mean in the Chinese culture, but here we speak English and French and it certainly did not seem to me to be used as a compliment in the context," Regan said. "It seemed to me to be an insult and I don't think insults should be used toward any member in this House."

Watch: Tory House leader defends 'little potato' jab at PM

Throughout question period, many Tory MPs noticeably referred to Trudeau as "the Liberal leader," rather than the prime minister.

According to the rules of decorum that govern the House, the "two main party leaders" are generally referred to as the prime minister and leader of the Opposition. However, Trudeau has referred to Andrew Scheer as "the Conservative leader."

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice told Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt via Twitter that while it's not against House rules to refer to Trudeau as the Liberal leader, it's "just a way to diminish the position."

With a file from The Canadian Press

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