Former Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said he “can’t help but think” he was speaking from “deepest” empathy for the Prime Minister’s wife as he apologized for comments he made about the Prime’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Trudeau was speaking at a conference in Toronto for the Canadian Press awards ceremony Monday, and said he was “proud” to be recognized with the award for his work on issues of gender equality and for his efforts to raise the profile of women in politics.
“I was speaking to a small group of women journalists who I met over the years, and I was thinking of the way I’d like to see our society, the way our country is run, be run for women,” Trudeau said.
“So I was talking about how I want to see it be a more equitable society for women and for all of us.”
Trudeau said his comments about Wright “were a mistake, and there’s no question that I can’t help to think that there’s some deeper empathy for his wife, I can assure you.”
“I know she’s a strong woman, she’s passionate about the cause of women’s equality, she really cares about that issue,” Trudeau told reporters after the awards ceremony.
Trudeau did not directly address Wright, saying he “didn’t mean to offend anybody.”
But he did say he did not understand why Wright had not been invited to the party’s annual dinner.
“It’s not because he’s a woman, I think that’s an important distinction,” Trudeau added.
“The fact that he’s not here, I have no idea why that is.
I’m just sorry, Nigel, it’s not your fault.”
Wright, who has been an outspoken critic of the Conservative government, has publicly criticized Trudeau, calling him a “c***.”
But Trudeau said Wright was not an “actuary” and that he was merely trying to help with the Prime Ministers office’s efforts to promote gender equality.
“He was just trying to be helpful, he wasn’t doing anything that he shouldn’t have been doing,” Trudeau continued.
“If it were up to me, he would have been invited, and he was invited.”
The Prime Minister and Wright had a brief encounter in 2013 when the Prime Minster visited Wright’s wife in the hospital, and Trudeau was told about Wright’s role in a charity that was supporting the former prime minister’s family.
“And so I think, for me, that was an honour to meet him, to have that interaction, and to have him be involved in the charity was just amazing,” Trudeau explained.
“That was just such a nice experience.
He’s a very good man, very passionate about women’s rights and that sort of thing, and obviously I respect that.
And so, for him to be invited to attend the party in my honour, that’s just great.”
Trudeau’s comments came after an uproar over a tweet he sent in late October, saying Wright was “a great Canadian.”
Trudeau was referring to a tweet by Conservative Party of Canada member and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said Wright had been a “great Canadian” and was a “friend to the city.”
In his apology, Trudeau said that Wright “was a very important part of the team that built the city that we know today.”
“We are incredibly grateful for his many contributions to the City of Toronto, including to its Mayor, who is a great Canadian, a friend to the mayor and to his family,” Trudeau wrote.
“But he was also a great friend to his wife.”
Trudeau, who was speaking on behalf of the PMO, did not mention Wright by name in his apology.
The Prime Minsters office said in a statement to CBC News that Trudeau was responding to the criticism of Wright and that his remarks were taken out of context.
Trudeau, an MP for the riding of Toronto-Danforth, has been criticized for his response to Wright’s remarks, but he has defended them as a way to acknowledge the efforts Wright and other women have made to bring attention to issues of equality in politics and in the workplace.
“Nigel Wright is an icon in Canada’s politics and for the world,” Trudeau’s statement read.
“To me, his remarks about women are a reflection of the very deep empathy we have for him.”
The PMO did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News.
The PM said that while the party has received a great deal of support from female voters in the last election, it has also received criticism for its approach to gender equality in the party.
“Our gender balance in the House of Commons is one of the best in Canada, and in fact it is one among the best, and this is something that the party will never be able to undo,” Trudeau stated.