Conservative MP Michael Cooper speaks to reporters during a break at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding foreign election interference on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. PHOTO BY SPENCER COLBY/THE CANADIAN PRESS/FILE
OTTAWA — Conservative MP Michael Cooper says he wasn’t being sexist when he mocked Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly for “staring into the eyes” of her Chinese counterpart and “talking tough” about meddling in Canada’s elections.
He suggested he would have said the same thing had she been a man.
“My 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,” said Cooper, in a statement late Thursday afternoon.
“My comments apply equally to the prime minister and her Liberal predecessors in the role.”
The testy exchange between the two MPs came earlier in the day when Joly was testifying before a parliamentary committee studying allegations of Chinese interference in the last two federal elections. Cooper, who is on the committee, is frustrated the Trudeau government has refused to call a public inquiry into the allegations. Instead Justin Trudeau announced two other parliamentary committees will investigate behind closed doors and their work will be overseen by an as-yet-to-be-named “special rapporteur.”
During an intense bout of questioning, Cooper made light of Joly’s encounter with her Chinese counterpart during a G20 meeting in New Delhi last week, when she told him that Canada will not accept China’s meddling.
“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.
Joly shot back that Cooper would “know China” since he participated in a paid trip there as a parliamentarian in 2017 and accused him of falling into “China’s trap” in stoking division.
Several MPs on the committee accused him of being inappropriate, with Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell calling the comments “demeaning.” After the meeting, NDP MP Rachel Blaney told reporters it was outright “sexist.”