Opposition MPs say Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth's advice to women's groups to "shut the f--k up" about the government's maternal health initiative shows the "culture of intimidation" created by the prime minister. 

ruth-nancy-cbc

Senator Nancy Ruth speaks to the CBC after a meeting on Monday with international women's equality rights groups. ((CBC))

Leading off Tuesday's question period, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae called Senator Nancy Ruth's comments the "pithiest, sharpest description" of Conservative policy he's heard in a while and paraphrased it for the House — minus the swear word.

"If you have a disagreement with the government, just shut the F up," Rae told MPs.

Speaking for the government while the prime minister travelled to Europe, Transport Minister John Baird said Ruth's language was "completely unacceptable and in no way, shape or form represents the view of the government."

P.O.V.:

G8 abortion debate: Should it be on the agenda?

Baird then accused the Liberals of trying to divide Canadians through their plans to impose a "culture war," instead of getting behind the "admirable goal" of the government's maternal health plan.

"That is something Canadians can unite behind," he told MPs.

Opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of trying to reopen the abortion debate through its G8 maternal health initiative, which calls for a focus on nutrition and strengthening health-care systems in the developing world.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said Ruth's comment "revealed the true face" of the government, since she is privy to what is said behind closed doors at Conservative caucus meetings.

"Will [Harper] finally come clean about his true intentions and admit he wants to reopen debate on abortion in Canada by putting an end to foreign funding?" he said.

Baird replied that Ruth does not speak for the government and reiterated that "no one" wants to reopen the abortion debate.

Senator warned of 'backlash'

Ruth made the controversial remarks on Monday morning during a meeting she sponsored on Parliament Hill for international women's equality rights groups.

During the question and answer period, Ruth advised those in the room that pushing the abortion issue was not the right strategy if they really wanted progress on the maternal health issue. Her comments were caught on tape by the Toronto Star.

"We've got five weeks or whatever left until the G8 starts. Shut the f--k up on this issue," she said. "If you push it, there'll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country."

She went on to say, "Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don't make this an election issue."

Last week, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announced the federal government would consider funding family planning measures such as contraception in its G8 initiative, but not abortion under any circumstances.

On Tuesday, a women's rights group accused the government of cutting funding to 11 women's groups in the last two weeks as part of an "ideological driven" pattern of punishing feminist groups.

Kim Bulger, executive director of Match International, said her group was one of 11 to lose funding, saying the government is targeting those groups who support funding for abortion as part of the maternal health initiative.

But Oda said performance issues were behind Match's funding cut.