Emma Teitel: Brian Mulroney sexist comment embarrassing for daughter
A lot of things have changed in this country since Brian Mulroney was its Prime Minister from 1984 to 1993, namely that it’s no longer OK to call a female politician a “little girl”— unless of course she is a little girl.
Stranger things have happened. In 2012, a 3-year-old boy named Bobby Tufts was appointed mayor of the tiny tourist town of Dorset, Minn., when his name was drawn from a hat at a town fair.
Amanda Simard, however, is not 3 years old, nor was her name drawn from a hat. She is an elected official and an adult.
Unfortunately Brian Mulroney didn’t treat her like one on Sunday. The former PM participated in an interview on Radio Canada’s “Toute le monde en parle,” where he went to bat for Ontario’s Francophone Affairs Minister, Caroline Mulroney, a.k.a. his daughter.
“Caroline is always there to defend the interests of francophones in Ontario,” Brian Mulroney said on the program in French.
He said this because last year the Ontario Progressive Conservatives came under fire for eliminating the province’s French language commissioner and for cancelling plans to build a French language university.
Simard, herself a representative of a heavily French-speaking riding, was so displeased with these cuts, she left the PC caucus to sit as an independent. It was an action some Canadians regarded as brave and principled.
Brian Mulroney, presumably, was not one of them. In the interview in question he described Simard like this: “la petite fille qui a démissionné est partie.” Translation: “the little girl who resigned has left.”
As far as sexist barbs go, it’s certainly an odd one, considering that Mulroney made it in a direct attempt to defend his daughter — a powerful female leader who no doubt has come up against similar sexist stupidity during her time in office, and who no doubt wasn’t a fan of it.
It’s hard to believe that Caroline Mulroney is pleased with her dad right now, whose remarks suggest he thinks she is as much a little girl as Simard is; a little girl who needs her father to fight her battles in the media.
Meanwhile, the backlash to the former PM’s comments was, like most things in this era, swift and digital. This week, Simard tweeted the following statement in reference to the incident: “Mr. Mulroney attempted to defend his daughter Caroline, who completely dropped Franco-Ontarians. He has done great things for Canada, but his words belong to another time and have no place in a respectful and egalitarian society.”
Put another way, Brian Mulroney himself belongs to another time and he wouldn’t have much luck in this one with a mouth like that. The former PM was quick to issue an apology (though if he’s a mensch, he’ll reach out to Simard personally).
“I had no intention of insulting anyone with this poor choice of words and would like to offer my sincere apologies,” he said in a statement this week.
Some may decry the former PM’s comments as proof that sexism remains a serious problem in Canadian politics but look around. It’s hard to find anybody of note who is even vaguely supportive of them. Sexism is still obviously persistent in politics and elsewhere, but Mulroney’s personal brand of sexism is so plainly patronizing and demeaning, it’s hard to imagine any current North American leader endorsing it, except maybe Donald Trump. It’s nice knowing we’ve come far enough that when an old boy re-emerges from the ’80 like some sort of sexist mole, we whack him back into place.
Mulroney recently celebrated his 80th birthday in Florida where he sang a duet with Michael Bublé. This seems more his speed these days. He should leave the politicking to those who can handle it: the little girls of the world.
Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel