TORONTO — Ottawa-area MPP Jack MacLaren apologized Tuesday for comments he made about the sexual abuse of patients.
MacLaren is the third Progressive Conservative MPP to be criticized by the Liberals during the last week for behaviour the grits have called "misogynist" and "insensitive" towards women.
He made the comments Monday afternoon in a debate on the Protecting Patients Act, which, if passed, will legislate a stricter disciplinary process for doctors accused of sexually abusing patients. It's been billed by the government as a "zero tolerance" policy for the sexual abuse of patients.
"Any time you hear the term 'zero tolerance,' I find that dangerous, because there always has to be consideration of leniency, of understanding and of tolerance," MacLaren said.
In question period Tuesday morning, Liberal MPP Peter Milczyn called the comments "shocking" and "concerning," and asked Health Minister Eric Hoskins to explain the zero tolerance policy.
"Zero tolerance means just that," Hoskins answered, "zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse of any kind by anyone, period."
Hoskins received a standing ovation from MPPs in response, which saw members of MacLaren's own party get to their feet.
After question period, MacLaren said he made a mistake.
"I regret very much my choice of words yesterday and I assure you it won't happen again," he said.
But he also reiterated his concerns.
"The trouble with zero tolerance sometimes is it can be an abuse of over-zealousness to punish people, and doctors are deserving of respect for the most part," he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews called MacLaren's remarks "a throwback to another era when misogynist opinions were the norm."
She termed it a pattern in the Progressive Conservative party and called on Leader Patrick Brown to "deal with the rogue members in his caucus."
Matthews pointed to two other recent events.
Last Tuesday, the Liberals criticized PC MPP Randy Pettapiece for a comment he'd made about a female nominee to the Ontario Energy Board.
"Maybe with her background, she could go to the kitchen and get them to do something about this coffee?" Pettapiece had said.
Pettapiece said his comment was meant to be about her scientific background, and apologized to the woman.
On Monday, Minister of the Status of Women Indira Naidoo-Harris criticized Brown for planning to do a speech at a men's only club.
Her criticism turned out to be incorrect. Brown's speech is planned for Wednesday at the Athletic Club's Stratus Restaurant in Toronto. The Athletic Club and its restaurant are open to members of both genders, but are part of the Cambridge Group of Clubs — and the flagship Cambridge Club is men-only.
Whether or not a strategy of painting the Progressive Conservatives as sexist will work for the Liberals may depend on how hard they push it, said Western University political science professor and former PC MPP Rob Leone.
At first, it may seem to some like the Liberals are going personal and negative to avoid their own political problems, he said.
"If you have enough examples, then perhaps you could build a narrative that people might listen to," said Leone. "I would expect that if this is going to stick, we're going to see a lot of this come out in ads going forward to try to brand the conservatives as intolerant."
Brown said he's "offended" by the possibility that the Liberals are employing a strategy to paint his party as sexist.
"They know it's wrong," he said. "Maybe this is an example of a government that feels uncomfortable talking about their own accomplishments and chooses to attack others instead."
Brown plans to go ahead with his speech Wednesday and said the Liberals were "stretching" with their criticism of the Athletic Club.
"It's disappointing politics as usual where you shoot first and aim second," he said.
However, Brown said he's disappointed in MacLaren.
Last year, MacLaren underwent sensitivity training at Brown's request after making jokes about Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon at a fundraiser.
"It can't happen again, and Jack knows that," said Brown.
MacLaren is the only Progressive Conservative MPP, aside from Brown, who is seeking to run for the party again in 2018, but has yet to be nominated.
MacLaren is facing a contested nomination, which is unusual for a sitting MPP. His nomination meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Jessica Smith Cross, The Canadian Press