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Conservative MP called out for 'shameful' comment to Joly during foreign interference hearing


Liberal and NDP MPs called out Conservative MP Michael Cooper over what they described as a "shameful" and "completely unacceptable" comment he made to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly during a hearing on foreign interference on Thursday.

"You've talked tough. You've talked tough with your Beijing counterpart, so you say. You even stared into his eyes, I'm sure he was very intimidated," said Cooper in questioning Joly during a combative and intense meeting of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC).

Joly and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc were there to testify at the request of the committee, as part of its ongoing study into foreign election interference.

Cooper's comment was in reference to something the minister of foreign affairs said earlier in the meeting about a recent conversation she had with her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang. 

"I was extremely clear. I looked at him in the eyes and said to him 'first we will never tolerate any form of foreign interference… in our democracy and internal affairs, and second we will never tolerate any form of breach of our sovereignty.' And, and so that is why I think it's important to have these tough discussions. They're not something that we like doing, but I think it's necessary for Canadians," Joly said.

Cooper’s remark prompted an immediate request from the committee chair to "be mindful" about his approach and giving witnesses time to answer questions.

Responding, Joly said: "Well, Mr. Cooper, you would know China because you went to China as a parliamentarian in the past. And so therefore, I think you would understand that when we fall into too much partisanship, we're falling into China's trap."

Cooper's questioning of Joly continued for a few minutes, but afterwards both Liberal and NDP MPs spoke out slamming Cooper for how he spoke to the minister and calling for him to apologize.

"I just want to say as a woman politician, I remember at the very beginning of my career being asked if I was tough enough to do the job. And I think it's absolutely devastating that, that sort of frame of reference would be used in this way," said NDP MP Rachel Blaney. "I believe a minister has a position of power, regardless of gender identity, and that should be respected. And I'm sure that internationally it is, and I think it's shameful that that was even said in this place."

Joly thanked her for saying so, and LeBlanc followed agreeing that what Cooper said was "inappropriate."

Before the meeting concluded, Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell rose on a point of order regarding Cooper's conduct, seeking an apology. 

"The constant demeaning nature that only occurs to our female minister… Yesterday, it was another member of our team asking a question in QP and a Conservative member said she deserved a participation medal. Today it was a question of whether this minister is tough enough. Every single day we sit in this House as women and we hear these… micro aggressions, but they don't feel very micro. To continuously be undermined," she said.

Following her, Liberal MP Sherry Romanado asked Cooper whether he would have questioned whether former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was "tough enough" when he confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling him to "get out of Ukraine."

"That was completely unacceptable, unacceptable behaviour for every woman that has ever taken her place in this House. And I demand an apology."

Cooper has not apologized for what he said, telling CTV News in a statement that his comments “had nothing to do with the minister’s gender and everything to do with the lack of action by her and her government to hold the regime in Beijing accountable for interfering in our elections and harassing and threatening Canadian citizens.”

Cooper added: "Canadians need concrete action against Beijing’s interference, not symbolic stare-downs. What we have again confirmed today is that not a single one of Beijing’s diplomats has been expelled, despite all the warnings to the Trudeau government about interference in our democracy and the intimidation of Canadians from diaspora communities."

Thursday was not the first time Cooper has faced criticism for his conduct while questioning witnesses at a House committee. In 2019, then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer removed Cooper from the justice committee after he quoted the Christchurch shooter's manifesto to a Muslim witness. At the time, Scheer called it "insensitive and unacceptable."

Former Liberal deputy prime minister Sheila Copps—who infamously said "I'm nobody's baby" in the House, calling out then-Progressive Conservative MP John Crosbie for telling her to "quiet down, baby"—was watching Thursday's meeting.

"When he said what he said, I just did a double-take," Copps told CTV News. "He was changing the channel in the wrong direction, because he was trying to ridicule the minister and instead he ended up ridiculing himself." 

With a file from CTV National News' Judy Trinh




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