British Columbia

Wilkinson's delay in addressing sexist remarks is concerning for a leader, Bowinn Ma says

The B.C. Liberal leader apologized Tuesday after video from a Sept. 17 event was shared on social media, showing Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite saying NDP candidate Bowinn Ma used her appearance to charm a male MLA during a networking event.

B.C. Liberal leader apologized after video from Sept. 17 event was shared on weekend

North Vancouver-Lonsdale candidate Bowinn Ma says comments made about her during a Liberal candidates event were sexist. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The leader of the B.C. Liberal Party has now publicly apologized for sexist remarks made about NDP candidate Bowinn Ma, and though the offending comments were not made by Andrew Wilkinson himself, Ma said she is disappointed by his handling of the situation.

On Saturday, a video was shared on social media showing Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite saying Ma, 35, used her appearance to charm retiring Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan during a networking event. The comments were made Sept. 17 during a virtual roast for Sultan.

In the video, Thornthwaite says Ma is "a very pretty lady and she knows that she's got 'it' and she knows how to get Ralph going."

Thornthwaite and Wilkinson both apologized online after the video sparked outrage on social media. 

WATCH | Thornthwaite says Ma 'knows how to get Ralph going':

Jane Thornthwaite is apologizing for comments she made about NDP candidate Bowinn Ma during a virtual "roast" event held in honour of retiring Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan. Thornthwaite claimed Ma, 35, used her appearance to charm Sultan during a networking event. 2:06

On Tuesday, Wilkinson tacked a verbal apology onto the end of a press appearance announcing his party's campaign platform for the upcoming Oct. 24 election.

During the apology, he said he was immediately embarrassed upon hearing the comments and that he wished he had found a way to intervene and stop Thornthwaite without derailing the festivities for Sultan.

"Many of us were increasingly embarrassed, to the point of being appalled, but it is hard to stop the train in a social event when you don't know what the next words will be," said Wilkinson.

Hours before Wilkinson apologized during the news conference, Ma told CBC the Liberal leader needed to speak up.

"I don't need Andrew Wilkinson to apologize to me, or to blame his lack of leadership on his female team member either," Ma said on The Early Edition. "He's the one who needs to address British Columbians."

"That a man who was vying to be the province's premier would bear witness to the sexism and find it perfectly fine, that's the part that concerned, and continues to concern, me the most," Ma added.

Janni Aragon, political science professor at the University of Victoria, said not only were the comments made by Thornthwaite sexist, they were also racial.

"Because Bowinn Ma is a racialized woman, we actually refer to this as racialized sexism. This trope of the sneaky or hypersexualized woman of colour perseveres and is quite problematic," said Aragon.

Not only were the comments made by Thornthwaite (left) sexist, they were also racial because they played into racist tropes that racialized women like Ma (right) are hypersexual or sneaky, according to political scientist Janni Aragon. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Aragon said she would have appreciated it if Wilkinson had interrupted Thornthwaite, or steered the conversation away from attacking Ma.

"I really would have appreciated if the party leader would have put his hand up and said, 'Now let's get back to Ralph,'" said Aragon. "It wasn't just one comment, there were repeated comments."

The apology tour for the B.C. Liberals continued Tuesday afternoon as Thornthwaite addressed her hurtful comments at a previously scheduled speaking event before the Capilano Students' Union.

"I wanted to reiterate that I'm sorry, and there's no one more disappointed in my words than me," she said, adding what she said about Ma was stupid and insensitive.

Thornthwaite also phoned Ma soon after the video was leaked and Ma said she appreciated the Liberal candidate reaching out to her.

CBC News reached out to Ralph Sultan for reaction and was told he was unavailable for comment.

To hear the complete interview with Bowinn Ma on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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