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CEO's 'poorly chosen words' spark outrage

Michael Geoghegan described NDP MLA Jenny Kwan as 'pretty but stupid'

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Vancouver Sun


By Matthew Ramsey
Vancouver Sun
Nov. 25, 2003

Michael Geoghegan said he is considering a wrongful dismissal lawsuit after being fired Monday as president and CEO of the B.C. Construction Association.

Geoghegan insisted he was terminated because of a left-wing conspiracy on the BCCA board of directors, not because he appeared on a radio talk show and described NDP MLA Jenny Kwan as a pretty but stupid politician who has only lasted in politics because she's a woman and Chinese.

"Essentially, I was fired for expressing my political beliefs," he told The Vancouver Sun.
"I chose a very poor way of expressing my view that Jenny Kwan is a political lightweight ... There are no grounds for firing here."

Geoghegan made the comments Thursday during a debate with New Democrat David Schreck on a Victoria radio talk show where he is a regular political commentator who represents the B.C. Liberal viewpoint.

On the air Geoghegan said, "The fact that she's been as successful as she has in her career has everything to do with her gender and ethnicity. If she'd been a white male she would have been an also-ran a long time ago." Schreck then called the comments racist and sexist.

Geoghegan apologized for his "very poorly chosen" words later that day. In discussions with the BCCA, he said he offered to be suspended for two weeks with his pay donated to a charity of Kwan's choice.

But the BCCA board of directors met in a teleconference Friday, and Geoghegan said he was given a choice between resigning and being fired.

He believes the board let him go because four members are New Democrat supporters.
Furthermore, Geoghegan said he appeared on the CFAX talk show not as a representative of the BCCA, but as a B.C. Liberal supporter and that the association knew before it hired him that he was a regular guest on the highly-charged political show.

"There was definitely a political agenda here to silence me," he said Monday in a phone interview from his Victoria home on Monday.

And while he is not retracting the apology, Geoghegan claims he has received several e-mails from prominent NDPers who, while surprised that he would say the things he did, agree with him.

Geoghegan insists he is not a racist or a sexist and, while with the BCCA, has worked on campaigns to attract women and skilled immigrants to the construction industry in the province.

But the association's chairman said Monday the comments were simply too much.
"I think he felt sorry and he did apologize for his remarks both to Jenny Kwan and to the BCCA board," said Bill Gyles. "The board felt that we couldn't carry on with him as our president and CEO."

The BCCA represents about 1,700 construction sector companies in the province.
In a prepared release, the association's vice-president tried to distance the organization even further.

"The B.C. Construction Association and its members believe in equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender or ethnic background," said Abigail Fulton. "And we certainly support the role of women in government."

As for Kwan, she said Monday she accepts Geoghegan's apology and is "very gratified" by the swift response of organizations such as the Canadian Jewish Congress and the BCCA in condemning his statements. She declined to comment on whether Geoghegan should have been fired.

"That's a decision of the B.C. Construction Association and their determination," she said. "It's not my judgement to make whether or not the BCCA acted appropriately."

As for Geoghegan's comments to The Sun on Monday, Kwan noted: "It appears to me every time Mr. Geoghegan opens his mouth he gets into trouble."

Before being hired by the association about six months ago, Geoghegan was a self-employed government and media relations consultant. He is a member of the federal and provincial Liberal parties and is a former political official under the previous NDP government.

© Vancouver Sun 2003

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