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This article was published 6/2/2019 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA – After facing a barrage of criticism, Winnipeg Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette has admitted an all-male calendar issued by his office flies in the face of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vision of gender equity.
Ouellette spent Wednesday apologizing for sending his Winnipeg Centre constituents a calendar that lists a dozen "notable Canadians" — all of whom were men.
"I made a mistake; the office made a mistake. We're going to use this as a learning moment," Ouellette told the Free Press. "I apologize to anyone who was offended; it wasn't my intention."
When the Liberals formed government in 2015, Trudeau famously told media he had a gender-balanced cabinet "because it’s 2015."
Ouellette was forced to defend that vision of gender equality after he was called out by women for the calendar.
"I think we have the most feminist prime minister in Canadian history and he's been very clear in his leadership about how he wants us to act, and I've been attempting to live up those high expectations," said Ouellette.
The MP said his government has delivered for women through childcare, the inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as increasing baby bonuses.
Heather Milne, an English professor at the a University of Winnipeg, said she was surprised when she saw the flyer Tuesday.
"I was just about to throw it in the recycling, but I opened it up, and I saw 'notable Canadians' and I saw 12 faces. I noticed they were all cisgender men," she said, referring to men who were born male.
"I thought to myself, 'wow, what an oversight," said Milne, who has taught courses that touch on gender.
The flyer includes 12 local men, including the late businessman Israel Asper, Chief Peguis, Terry Fox and politicians of Filipino origin.
Milne said it's "quite striking" that none of Ouellette’s staff noticed the lack of women in the flyer as it was being prepared.
Ouellette did not directly answer when asked whether he’d personally vetted the calendar:
"It's my office; I'll take responsibility," he said. "We have a lot of young people working in the office. It's a busy time around Christmas. Mistakes are made, people learn, and we move on."
For Milne, the flyer speaks to her MP’s priorities.
"On the one hand you could say 'Oh, it's just a piece of junk mail; nobody reads these things.' But I think that in sending it out, he's setting a tone, and indicating who's important to him."
Milne posted a photo of the calendar on Facebook. NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine re-posted it, calling the mailout "insulting." She wrote that it "discounted every single accomplishment Canadian women have achieved" and "essentially rendered women invisible."
Dozens of Facebook users posted their disapproval, with one dubbing it a "malendar."
Ouellette would not say whether Fontaine was exaggerating. "She has her specific crowd," he said after posting multiple brief apologies to commenters on her Facebook page.
"I'm willing to engage; I'm not going to run away. If I make a mistake, I admit it."
Milne said Ouellette "missed an opportunity" to highlight local Indigenous women who are doing "amazing work" on reconciliation and rights. But Ouellette said he'd intentionally sought out diverse people who were not active politicians.
He later posted on Facebook: "I will produce another calendar of notable Manitoba women," and he asked for recommendations.
Ouellette said he will use his monthly mailout "do something different for March, for the international month of women," he said, referring to Women’s History Month — although that commemoration take place in October in Canada to correspond with Persons Day; Britain and the United States mark that month in March.
Milne stressed that Ouellette has "done some important work" on issues such as poverty, and that it’s "amazing" to have an Indigenous MP.
"I don't want to attack him," she said. "I feel bad for him; I think that he messed up and maybe he'll learn from it."
Updated on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 6:19 PM CST: Full write through, adds photos