OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a "process is now properly underway" to look into a Liberal MP’s allegedly sexist comment to a Conservative MP.
The Conservatives have been pressuring Trudeau to take action against Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, who is accused of making a stripper-related joke about Conservative MP Dianne Watts while they were both at a closed-door committee meeting earlier this month.
According to the National Post, which first reported the story, when Di Iorio heard the colourful ring tone as Watts received a call on her cell phone, he said : "Where’s your pole to slide down on ?"
This happened March 8, International Women’s Day.
Trudeau was asked about the remark during a news conference Friday in Boisbriand, Que.
"One of the things that we brought in a number of years ago around issues such as this, as a part of my commitment to gender equality, to a harassment-free workplace, is ... an actual process that will be there to deal with issues of this sort," Trudeau said.
"That process is now properly underway."
Any further questions about what that means were referred to Chief Government Whip Pablo Rodriguez, whose office emailed a statement saying Di Iorio did not mean any offence but has twice offered Watts an apology.
"Mr. Di Iorio offered an apology to Ms. Watts and explained no word that he himself uttered was intended to offend. He offered that apology again earlier this week," his chief of staff, Charles-Eric Lepine, said in the statement.
"All members agree that any form of inappropriate language or behaviour is unacceptable. Every member of Parliament has the right to a safe and respectful working environment and we take this responsibility seriously".
Di Iorio has not responded to a request for comment.
In a statement emailed by her office, Watts said the next step is up to Trudeau.
"There should be no place or time where such comments are acceptable," she said.
Opposition House leader Candice Bergen said most everybody would think Di Iorio meant a stripper pole — not a firehouse pole as someone suggested.
"I don’t think her phone tone was a fire siren," Bergen told reporters Friday.
Liberal MPs are hunkering down for a weekend caucus meeting, where they will get ideas — or perhaps marching orders — on how they can sell the new budget to Canadians and get ready for a busy agenda this spring.
"I think what’s important for us is to understand how the budget will ultimately impact our constituents in our ridings," said Liberal MP Arnold Chan, who like his colleagues is staying in Ottawa an extra day before heading back to his Toronto riding of Scarborough-Agincourt for the week.
Trudeau opened the meeting Friday afternoon with a rallying cry about the budget, before heading down the road to lend high-profile support to Mona Fortier, Liberal candidate in the coming byelection in Ottawa-Vanier.
Liberal MPs who sit on the backbenches are looking forward to getting more time this weekend to hear from — and speak to — their cabinet colleagues.
Many have been feeling more comfortable making their voices heard, as they continue to exercise the freedom Trudeau promised them with more free votes.
"He said, ’You are the voice of your constituents in Ottawa. You are not my voice to your constituents,’" said Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette. "I continue to believe in that."
That ethos was on display earlier this month, when a majority of Liberals voted in favour of Bill S-201, on genetic discrimination, even though cabinet voted against it and Trudeau said it was unconstitutional.
A move to change the rules of Parliament was also a hot topic as MPs headed into the two-day meeting.
The Liberals argue their suggestions for change — including setting one day aside for Trudeau to answer questions — are meant to modernize the House of Commons.
"Over the course of the decades, and indeed centuries, Parliament has gone through many different evolutions and I think we can all agree there is always time to reflect on what we can improve, how we can make our process of serving Canadians ever better," Trudeau said in Boisbriand.
The Conservatives and New Democrats call it a power grab and urge the Liberals to not make changes without their agreement.