The Trudeau government came to power calling for more women to get involved in politics and claiming to champion diversity. This week it failed on both counts with its treatment of Conservative MP Rachael Harder — turning a routine committee meeting into a master class in crass partisanship.
On Tuesday, MPs on the Status of Women committee met to elect a new chair following the departure of Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu. The Liberals and NDP wasted no time in rejecting the 29-year-old Harder over her views on abortion. But instead of debating Harder’s candidacy — something we expect our elected representatives to do — they staged a walkout just two minutes into the meeting, effectively preventing the committee from doing any work.
In doing so, the Liberals betrayed their stated core principles in several ways. First, the rejection of Harder sends a strong signal that the Liberals are not all that committed to seeing more women in Canada’s Parliament. What other message are young women considering political office supposed to take away from seeing an accomplished, millennial, rural Alberta female unceremoniously rejected from a committee position?
Even a cursory look at Harder’s path into politics shows us a young woman who had to work exceptionally hard to get where she is today, winning a nomination in a riding that was hotly contested (primarily by older, male Conservatives).
Harder ought to be an inspiration for other women with political ambitions. Instead, her accomplishments are being ignored by the governing party — which prefers to reduce her views and opinions to her position on abortion and nothing else.
The message from the Liberals for any woman who holds views similar to Harder’s is clear: If you don’t think exactly as we do, you’re not welcome here. It’s like a politicized scene from Mean Girls: You can’t sit with us.
The walkout at committee was the equivalent of an omnibus budget bill: politics done through force, not fellowship.
The Liberals’ claim to value diversity obviously has a hard limit: They’re willing only to support, and debate, ‘diverse’ views that happen to line up with their own. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken at length about Canada’s “strength in diversity.” Surely that strength extends to a diversity of political opinions as well.
The Liberals have assumed that Harder is incapable of holding views beyond her opposition to abortion. That’s more than a gesture of contempt for women in politics — it’s a slap in the face for all parliamentarians. And given the diversity of views within their own caucus on reproductive rights, it’s an odd position for the Liberals to take.
Harder’s position on abortion undoubtedly makes some women uncomfortable. As someone who’s pro-choice, I can appreciate why. But a true acknowledgment of diversity must recognize that women in politics are more than the sum of their views on abortion — that they are able to separate their personal views from political action. I’ve not lost faith in the ability of parliamentarians to be objective. Too bad the government doesn’t share that trust.
The Liberals were successful in 2015 largely because of the attitude and outlook change they represented, compared to the Conservatives. They told voters that they would do politics differently. At first, things seemed promising: The Liberals put many women on the front bench, undertook a study to make Parliament more family-friendly and, through their party apparatus, committed to removing barriers preventing underrepresented groups from entering politics.
Open and transparent debate, tolerance of diversity and a respect for the institution of Parliament were all Liberal commitments just two years ago. Now the government is guilty of committing the very sins it promised to shun. The walkout at committee was the equivalent of an omnibus budget bill: politics done through force, not fellowship.
Eventually, voters grow weary of politicians behaving exactly like the ones that came before them. Considering that this particular display of partisanship came at the expense of a young woman trying to make a career in public life, one has to wonder whether it was worthwhile.
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