TORONTO – Former prime minister Brian Mulroney apologized Monday for using the term “little girl” to refer to an Ontario politician who left the Progressive Conservative caucus over cuts to francophone services.
Mulroney appeared Sunday night on Radio Canada’s “Tout le monde en parle,” and defended his daughter Caroline Mulroney, Ontario’s attorney general and francophone affairs minister.
“She is the best voice that Ontario francophones could ever have, believe me,” the former prime minister said in French. “The little girl who resigned, she has left. That’s over. But Caroline is still there to defend the interests of Ontario francophones.”
Brian Mulroney apologized the next day, saying he used the French expression “p’tite fille,” translated as little girl, while speaking about Amanda Simard when he should have said “young woman.”
“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.
Earlier Monday, Simard addressed the comments on Twitter, writing that Mulroney was attempting to defend his daughter, who “completely abandoned Franco-Ontarians.”
“He has done great things for Canada, but his comments belong to another era and have no place in a respectful and egalitarian society,” Simard wrote.
After question period Monday at the Ontario legislature, Simard further said that one positive to emerge from the incident was that people were “overwhelmingly” condemning the remark.
“The fact that so many people are denouncing his comments is encouraging for women in politics,” she said. “I think we need to support women in politics and not retort to those types of name calling.”
Caroline Mulroney did not answer questions after question period.
Simard was elected last year at the age of 29 to represent the largely French-speaking eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
She left the Tory caucus in the wake of the government’s decision to eliminate the independent office of the French-language services commissioner and scrap a planned French-language university.
After an outcry from Franco-Ontarians, the government announced it would create a commissioner position within the office of the provincial ombudsman, establish a Ministry of Francophone Affairs and hire a senior policy adviser on francophone affairs in the premier’s office. But Simard said she was not satisfied by the “partial backtracking” on the cuts.
Premier Doug Ford has said the measures regarding the commissioner and the university were necessary to bring down the province’s deficit, although he has not said how much would be saved.
Brian Mulroney told “Tout le monde en parle” that Ford was elected to trim the deficit and debt.
“So it took cuts, changes of attitude, etcetera, and everyone was affected, including the Franco-Ontarians,” he said. “But it has been barely a year that Caroline is there. You are going to see with time how well she works with her colleagues to mend fences and to rebuild confidence between Ontario’s French minority and the Ford government.”