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Wynne says she isn't sure why Doug Ford has twice commented on her smile

Last Updated May 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm EST

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, left, and Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne shake hands after taking part in the second of three leaders' debate in Parry Sound, Ont., on Friday, May 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

PARRY SOUND, Ont. – Doug Ford has now commented twice on Kathleen Wynne’s smile, and the Liberal leader doesn’t know why.

During a televised election debate Monday night, the Progressive Conservative leader turned to Wynne and said, “You’ve got a nice smile on your face.”

Wynne laughed awkwardly and said, “So do you.”

Ford remarked on it again Friday during another televised debate in Parry Sound, Ont.

The two leaders shook hands and as Wynne turned to shake NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s hand, Ford held his handshake with Wynne and said, “Still like that smile.”

After the debate, Wynne said in response she just turned away.

“I’m not sure what my smile has got to do with making good policy for the north or anywhere else in the province,” she said.

Ford spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman said it was a “lighthearted moment” during the first debate, and noted both leaders made the comment to each other.

“It was a reminder to always keep things friendly,” she said in a statement. “Doug Ford made the same comment after the second debate as a way of saying they are rivals on stage, but he respects her. It was nothing more than that.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the comment “awkward.”

“I don’t know why he’s doing that,” she said later Friday in Sudbury, Ont. “You’d have to ask him why he feels he needs to do that each and every time we get to a debate.”

Liberals took to social media to say the remarks were sexist, while others accused them of overreacting.

Erin Tolley, a political science professor at the University of Toronto who studies gender and politics, said she understands why people are bristling at the comments.

“I think for people who haven’t had their professional expertise or their qualifications diminished by a focus on their appearance, then yes, when you see the negative reaction to Mr. Ford’s comments it probably does seem a little misplaced,” she said.

“But for those who have been told to smile more, dress differently in order to succeed in their workplace, Mr. Ford’s focus on Premier Wynne’s appearance carries that sting.”