Jack MacLaren's 'vulgar' joke about Liberal MP bombs across party lines

An eastern Ontario MPP has apologized after facing sharp criticism for making a "vulgar" and "crude" joke involving his federal counterpart and her husband in front of a crowd at a fundraiser.

Kanata-Carleton MP Karen McCrimmon accepts apology, doesn't think he should resign

Ontario MPP Jack MacLaren, at left, tweeted this photo of himself at the Carp Fair event alongside, from left to right, Ottawa Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, fair vice-president Dan Lord and Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray. (Twitter)

An eastern Ontario MPP has apologized after facing sharp criticism from across the political spectrum for making a "vulgar" joke involving his federal counterpart and her husband in front of a crowd of people.

Jack MacLaren, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills, was speaking at a "men's night" cancer charity fundraiser on March 24 in the rural Ottawa community of Carp when he directed the joke at Karen McCrimmon, the federal MP for Kanata-Carleton.

McCrimmon wouldn't get into the specifics of MacLaren's attempt at humour, only saying that "it was vulgar, it was inappropriate, it was crude and it used my name and my husband's name.

"He's reading this joke off a piece of paper, and when I realized what he just said I kind of looked at him and when I looked back out into the audience, you could see it in their faces, that they were just — oh, my God, did he really just say that?" McCrimmon said Wednesday.

'There was no applause ... they were mortified'

"After he finished his speech, it was quiet, there was no applause, as I said they were mortified," she said.

Carp Fair board president Ron Bidgood said he was preparing his own speech when he realized MacLaren had stopped speaking.

"There was no applause, there was nothing, he just sat down," he said. "Somebody turned to me and said, 'That's not good'. I didn't truly hear what Jack had said, but I knew that it wasn't good by the reaction of everybody else."

McCrimmon, the first woman to command a Canadian Forces flying squadron, said she experienced vulgarity and sexism during her time in the military. But she said even so, MacLaren's comments surprised her.

"I like a good bawdy joke ... but when you bring someone up on stage and use their name and their husband's name to make a joke ... you've got to draw the line there, it is going to embarrass somebody," she said.

McCrimmon said dozens of people in attendance apologized to her on behalf of the community, but she said when she brought it up to MacLaren two days later at another community event he seemed surprised that his remarks had caused offence.

Conservatives among MacLaren critics

After news of the incident surfaced, politicians from all stripes came out in support of McCrimmon, and against MacLaren's remarks.

"Ugggh. I'm sorry Karen. Total crap," Tweeted Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. "Terrible you had to go through that. Unacceptable," Tweeted provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn't comment on whether MacLaren should step down or be disciplined but said she hoped there was an apology.

"That kind of comment is part of a culture that allows for the abuse and mistreatment of women. it's unacceptable. And as I said I hope there will be a full and personal apology," said Wynne.

MacLaren's party leader Patrick Brown said in a statement "this so-called joke was unequivocally inappropriate."

"I made a very clear statement that we have zero tolerance for misogynist comments," said Brown. "I expected Jack to make an apology to Karen McCrimmon, he did so this morning and it had to happen immediately and it happened this morning."

MacLaren has not responded to a request for comment.

'I think he gets it,' McCrimmon says

McCrimmon confirmed MacLaren emailed an apology Wednesday morning and said for her part, she's satisfied.

"I'm glad, I think he gets it. I don't know where his head possibly was, but I think ... he gets it," she said. She also said she appreciated the support from politicians across party lines and the community she represents.

"I found that heartening … they were not happy," she said.

McCrimmon said the only thing she wants to see now is for MacLaren to apologize to the Carp Agricultural Society, the sponsors of the event.

"I think he gets it now, I'm not one of those reactionaries (for who) every response is 'step down'," she said on Ottawa Morning Thursday.

"But we need to use this as a learning opportunity, as education, and if it accomplished that I'm happy."

Bidgood said the event helped raise $14,000 for the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre, the preferred charity of Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray, the event's guest of honour.

Bidgood said he hopes the event, and a similar event for women, won't be overshadowed by the incident.

"I'm very proud of what we do up there and I do not want the comments of one of our elected officials to put a damper on the evening," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News has received several comments asking why we chose not to include the text of the joke at the centre of this story, in order to allow readers to judge its vulgarity for themselves. While we have not obtained a recording from the event in question, we are satisfied after talking to several sources that we know what Jack MacLaren said. While CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices do allow for "occasions when in reflecting reality it would be inappropriate to excise certain uses of language or depictions of violence or sexuality which normally would be avoided" so as not to "deny CBC audiences access to certain events which may contribute materially to an understanding of the world in which they live," the guide also dictates that the material we publish must be "in good taste ... and reflect the generally accepted values in society regarding such matters as vulgarity, profanity or sexual behaviour ... Where matters of taste are concerned, therefore, care must be taken not to cause gratuitous offence to the audience." We feel that publishing the text of a joke which many of those who heard it found to be crude, vulgar and misogynistic would indeed cause gratuitous offence to a broad swathe of our audience, and would not add materially to the understanding of this story to the degree that its re-telling is justified.