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Catherine McKenna doesn’t regret fighting the Rebel on ‘climate Barbie’ tag

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna poses for a photo in her office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Nov. 7, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she hadn't planned to confront a reporter from the Rebel during a news conference last week, but when the right-wing website posed the first question at a news conference in Vancouver, her pent-up frustrations at the outlet's "climate Barbie" tag just came out.

The incident happened at the conclusion of a meeting of provincial and federal environment ministers and McKenna asked the Rebel's Christopher Wilson if he would commit that neither he nor his outlet would use the sexist label anymore.

She concedes it was a little bit "awkward" to raise the issue in that manner but she "just thought it was really important."

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"I'm quite pleased I did it and I'm pleased because hopefully it makes ... it more possible for other women and girls to step up and do the same," McKenna said in an interview Tuesday with The Canadian Press.

The ensuing feedback since the incident has been overwhelmingly positive, said McKenna, adding she wants the Rebel and anyone else to stop using sexist names for all women, not just her.

"There's a group of people who continually attack me because of the colour of my hair or supposedly the tone of my voice or all sorts of reasons," McKenna said.

"But it's about making sure that women and girls can see a place for them in politics and recognizing that it's not OK to make fun of women because of how they look."

The "climate Barbie" tag was coined by Rebel media almost as soon as McKenna was named environment minister in November 2015.

The term gained more mainstream awareness in September when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was forced to condemn its use by one of his MPs.

Gerry Ritz tweeted the slur in the final weeks of his career as an MP but after an online outcry he deleted the post and apologized.

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McKenna received bipartisan support both then and this past weekend, with Conservative, NDP and Liberal politicians among those publicly supporting of her decision to confront the Rebel.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who has also been a frequent target of sexist online trolls, took to Twitter on Sunday with some of the more egregious comments she's received. She said her staff keeps a running daily tally on a white board of the number of sexist calls they receive.

Rempel posted a creepy letter from someone who wrote about whether she was wearing underwear and said if she dressed provocatively no men would listen to what she had to say.

But Rempel also said it angers her that partisans try to pretend there is a political overtone to sexism, or that one party is worse than another.

"Every party has done stupid sexist s***," Rempel tweeted. "Trying to paint it as an issue to one party or another for gain is part of the problem."

She took on those in her own party at the same time and said every woman has the right to call out sexism when they see it.

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"Watching people defend the Climate Barbie moniker rather than arguing against the economic model of a carbon tax is revolting," said Rempel.

For her part, McKenna wouldn't apologize for the fact that the Liberals issued a fundraising letter on the back of the 'climate Barbie" issue after the Ritz tweet in September.

The letter stressed the need for more women in politics and said Liberals understand that need.

"I'm not going to apologize for the fact we believe we need to be supporting more women in politics," she said. "That's been a priority of ours and that includes providing financial support for them."

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