Toronto Conservative candidate and former science teacher Sabrina Zuniga is facing criticism online for comments she made about how the ground is able to absorb oil spills.
"Oil is a natural substance. So spilling into the environment, the land will absorb it, 'cause that's what oil is," she said during an interview with CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel).
"It's just, when there is too much [oil] at once, that's when the difficulty comes in," she said.
Zuniga is running in the battleground Spadina-Fort York riding in downtown Toronto against Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan and NDP candidate Olivia Chow, both veteran politicians. Sharon Danley is running for the Greens.
The Tory candidate made the comments about oil absorption in reference to pipeline safety.
"A lot of people would like to see the pipeline get going and go through, because it is a safer method than putting [oil] on trains, for instance," Zuniga said. "We have the technology to keep the pipelines safe, to cut off if anything is going to spill."
It is not clear which pipeline project Zuniga was referring to.
CBC News asked Zuniga's campaign office for comment, but has yet to receive a response.
Parties differ on pipeline support
Pipeline politics have been a divisive issue during this campaign. The Tories are in favour of Keystone XL and approve in principle the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines, as long as the projects pass regulatory hurdles.
The NDP opposes Northern Gateway and Keystone XL, but is open to Energy East. The party's position on Kinder Morgan is unclear.
The Liberals also oppose Northern Gateway, but are in favour of Keystone XL and open to Kinder Morgan and Energy East. The Greens oppose all four pipelines.
Though certain microbes are able to break down components of oil, the damage following oil spills can linger for years. Several notable pipeline oil spills in Alberta have caused contamination and environmental damage in recent years.
In 2013, documents obtained by CBC News found that the pipeline safety incident rate doubled over the past decade.
Zuniga a former science teacher
Zuniga used to work as a science teacher. Her LinkedIn profile says she taught science at W.T. Woodson High School in Virginia, the City Adult Learning Centre and at the Royal Ontario Museum, specializing in biology and chemistry.
The profile also says she was the chair of the science and math departments at Great Lakes College of Toronto, a private high school.
It says that Zuniga studied biology and chemistry at Baker University in Kansas, where she earned her bachelor of science. She also has a PhD from the University of Toronto.
Zuniga touted these qualifications during the CPAC interview when asked about jobs for youth.
"I'm here to champion research and innovation. Again, teaching science and teaching biology and chemistry in high school, this is a natural for me. It's my background and this is where the jobs are going to come."
The comments surprised more than a few Twitter users.
Some even took the opportunity to point Zuniga to examples of the environmental damage caused by past oil spills.
wow. just wow. CPC candidate/science teacher says oil spills no big deal. just get absorbed. http://t.co/belLqLAD29— @DanaOuellette
So a former science teacher....who knows nothing about science, apparently. Two words lady: Exxon Valdez. Two... http://t.co/HKhBNiioNJ— @rosemartland
...while others just decided to have a little fun with it all.
A Message to Sabrina Zuniga: You're pretty much right. You're just confusing "oil" with "water". Keep teaching science, though.— @JeremyJSchultz