Manitoba

Union official tells employment minister she doesn't look fat in her pants during press conference exchange

A senior Canadian union official joked about the appearance of federal cabinet minister Patty Hajdu's buttocks during a Thursday announcement about federal assistance for women who want to work in building trades.

Patty Hajdu was in Winnipeg to announce $3.1M for assistance for women seeking work in building trades

'I'm going to get in trouble for this, but no,' Robert Blakely said when Minister Patty Hajdu asked if she looked fat in her pants during an exchange at a press conference in Winnipeg Thursday morning. (Warren Kay/CBC)

A senior Canadian union official joked about the appearance of federal cabinet minister Patty Hajdu's buttocks during a Thursday announcement in Winnipeg about federal assistance for women who want to work in building trades.

Hajdu, Canada's minister of employment, workforce development and labour, was in Winnipeg Thursday morning to announce $3.1 million worth of funding for up to 750 apprentices in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

During the event, held at an inner-city Winnipeg union training centre, master of ceremonies Robert Blakely, the Canadian operating officer for Canada's Building Trade Unions, stood before an audience of union members and trainees and joked that the minister did not look fat in her pants.

During his introduction, Blakely recalled that when he was a boy, his dad told him, "Your real friends are the ones who tell you the truth — the ones who know the right answer to, 'Do I look fat in these pants?'"

Watch the exchange between Blakely and Hajdu:

A senior Canadian union official joked about the appearance of federal cabinet minister Patty Hajdu's buttocks during a press conference on Thursday. 1:22

He went on to say that Hajdu is a real friend and repeated the pants comment again, leading into her introduction.

"[She's] from plain-spoken Thunder Bay, where people actually tell you, 'Yes, you look fat in those pants,'" he said.

The minister then got up and said, "Well, do I look fat in these pants, or what?"

Blakely then took a step back toward the podium, peered down at Hajdu's posterior and said "I'm going to get in trouble for this, but no."

Patty and I know each other. We like other. We have the same kind of weird sense of humour.- Robert Blakely, Canada's Building Trade Unions

​Hajdu noted she asked the question about her pants and consented to the exchange.

Blakely nonetheless returned to the podium to apologize.

"Patty and I know each other. We like each other. We have the same kind of weird sense of humour. I think we trust each other in what we do in business. So you do things sometimes somebody else will look at and say, 'Oh my god, what happened there?' " Blakely said.

"I did something that could be offensive to somebody else and if I offended anybody, I'm sorry."

Following his apology, Blakely ended the news conference by stating he got to hug three beautiful women at the news conference: Hajdu and other speakers at the event.

'A learning moment for everyone'

Following the event, the minister expressed no concern with Blakely's comments and drew attention to the funding for women interested in working in trades.

"Changing the culture of workplaces is an ongoing process. It will take actions like the one we announced today that will support women in the trades across country take their place," Hajdu said in a statement. 

"The success of women in the workplace depends on all of us to work together and support each other to change long-standing norms."

Blakely then issued a statement of his own. 

Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu expressed no concern with Blakely's comments after the Thursday morning event. She drew attention to the funding announced for women interested in working in trades. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"We don't, and have never condoned any sort of harassment, and if someone is made to feel that way, we need to create a safe space to speak up, which is what happened today," he said. 

"It's a learning moment for everyone. We need to focus on the importance of this investment in women in the trades, and will continue to work harder to do better."

Electrical workers demand full apology

The Canadian arm of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose representatives witnessed Thursday's press conference, said it does not condone Blakely's comments and demanded "a full and sincere apology" on behalf of skilled tradespeople.

"This drags us back to the dark ages," said Matt Wayland, a spokesperson for the IBEW in Canada.

Wayland said Hajdu's announcement was supposed to be good news for women in the building trades but instead drew attention toward inappropriate comments.

As for Thursday's announcement, Hajdu said there have been many programs to encourage women to get into the trades, but past programs haven't been enough to help them stay in those jobs.

The new funding will be used to help women deal with some of the challenges in the workplace by providing training around diversity, and around discrimination and harassment.

"Women, often when they pursue careers in the trades, have additional barriers in the workplace because there aren't very many women," she said.

"So having other women support them and help them work through some of those challenges leads to success for the women, leads to success for the employer."

During the news conference, Hajdu was also asked how she reconciled her role in cabinet with her friendship and support for former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

"I can have a personal friendship with people I may disagree with," Hajdu said.

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