CALGARY – Two high-profile Calgary politicians have become embroiled in a heated social media spat with Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accusing Mayor Naheed Nenshi of making a sexist remark.
It began on Sunday when Rempel and Nenshi sparred on Twitter over the impact of a property tax increase on suburban business owners.
The disagreement escalated on Tuesday when Nenshi told reporters that Rempel was making hay out of an issue she doesn’t understand.
“I’m happy to have her wade in. I’m happy to have her help if she wants to help, but it’s sort of helpful if she actually knows what she’s talking about first,” the mayor said.
When pressed on what Rempel was confused about, Nenshi said: “She just didn’t understand what was going on.
“Apparently math is challenging, but hopefully she’ll figure that out.”
That evening, Rempel, who has an economics degree, tweeted a link to a Calgary Herald story with Nenshi’s comments. She wrote: “Wherein @nenshi mansplains to me, and small business owners in Calgary, that ‘math is hard.'”
Nenshi tweeted back that he was sorry that what he said “came off as sexist.”
“I would have said the same thing to men in political discourse.”
Rempel scoffed at the apology, replying “lol.”
Nenshi later retweeted someone who found past examples of the mayor making similar math-related remarks to Twitter users with male avatars.
The argument dragged on late into the night. Rempel said no man would have to justify his math abilities and added that she’s looking after the people she represents.
“I’m so sorry for not kissing the purple ring on behalf of my constituents who you’re putting out of business,” she wrote.
“No comment. But a great and totally untrue insult,” Nenshi retorted. “Keep being you.”
A statement released by Nenshi’s office Wednesday showed no signs of the argument being resolved.
“The mayor apologized immediately once he heard how his comment had been interpreted,” it said.
“It’s disappointing to see that Ms. Rempel has not accepted the apology and continues to spread misinformation.”
The spat evoked memories of an exchange during a 2015 Alberta election debate in which then premier Jim Prentice made a remark to NDP Leader Rachel Notley about math being difficult.
“If it went badly for Jim Prentice, count on it being a problem for you,” said Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. “It was ill considered, if it was considered at all.”
Williams said it’s good Nenshi apologized, but the math comment was not constructive.
“It makes him look petty. It makes him look condescending and it doesn’t help people to understand the policies that he’s trying to defend.”
Kara Levis, a board member with the group Ask Her, said there was disrespect on both sides of the Rempel-Nenshi argument.
Ask Her’s goal is to encourage more women to get involved in Calgary municipal politics. Levis said she believes more diversity in politics generally would help elevate the discourse.
Levis was commenting on behalf of Ask Her, but she is also president of the National Women’s Liberal Commission and worked on former TV journalist Nirmala Naidoo’s campaign for a Liberal seat in Calgary in the 2015 federal election.
She said remarks targeting a politician’s math acumen aren’t inherently sexist, but “it has in the past been levied at women quite frequently.”
“Gender is not part of that statement, but it is certainly a disrespectful statement to be making in what we would hope to be a more civil political discussion.”