Saturday, October 21, 2006

Decorum doesn't stop on the floor of the House

I know this is a bit late in coming, but Peter Mackay's comments calling Belinda Stronach a "dog" on the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday is completely unacceptable, just as much as John Crosbie calling Sheila Copps a "baby" was twenty years ago.

Say what one will about Stronach. It is completely irrevelant she has fickle tastes in men, she went from Liberal to Conservative and back to Liberal faster than lobbyists want things to get done in Ottawa (a snail's pace) or she was just handed her job as President of Magna without at least working in the factory or among the bean counters for at least a reasonable period of time. The fact remains, she was attacked for one reason and one reason only; she's a single mother who has influence and opinions.

Even as late as 1993, Parliament was a very polite place. There were the occasional outbursts, such as when some MPs called others "liars" and "hypocrites" (both resulted in the guilty party being kicked out of the House for the day), and another member touching the Mace. For the most part, however, they were very friendly in the cloakroooms and in committees; and they actually cared for each others' welfare as well as those who sat in the House before them. I'll never forget Brian Mulroney's meaningful tribute to Pauline Jewett (one of the titans of the NDP) or the fact he took out time of his very busy schedule, during the Charlottetown Round of constitutional talks in 1992, to visit her when she was on her deathbed. Can anyone imagine Stephen Harper going to the funeral of a non-Con if, God forbid, something was to happen to them? Or to send a "Get Well Soon" card if a female member from the opposition had to go under the knife for breast cancer?


The turning point for Canada was in 1996 (I think it was) when Liberal John Cannis Malakas called Darrel Stinson a "racist" and Reformer Stinson called Cannis a "son of a bitch" and lunged from his chair, aiming for a donnybrook. There was absolutely no call for that, but for some reason things got poisoned afterwards. I guess conflict sells better than cooperation on the evening news. But what ever happened to "Hi, howya doing?" It's too damn difficult for them to even say that I suppose.

It's especially bad for women on the Hill. First, they had to fight for separate "facilities." Then, they had to fight to get on the plum committees where the real work of the House is done. It wasn't until 1957 that Canada had its first female Cabinet Minister (Ellen Fairclough) and that was 24 years after the States had its first (Frances Perkins).

The issue isn't that the comment was made. The fact is that many if not most males on the Hill, from all parties, still wish it were the 1950s when a woman's place was thought to be in the home. And it's on that point that the decorum has really broken down. The seeds were sown long ago, but it's only in recent times that it's become poisoned.

No one questions a male politician sacrificing his family life for a political career and while they may get hot and bothered when they have an affair, as most inevitably do, they never call for their expulsion unless they tried to lie about it. But when a woman tries to succeed, oh that's different. Kim Campbell may have been dragged down to an extent by her association with Mulroney, but she had the guts to stand up to Bill "Fantastic" Vanderzalm before he was elected Premier of British Columbia -- in 1986. She was scorned for it by her fellow Socreds for saying something that's since become a standard phrase in both Canadian and US politics, that "Charisma without substance is a dangerous thing." That was five years before the party forced Fantastic to resign in disgrace over a major conflict of interest.

Even our First Ladies have gone through the wringer. Does anyone in Canada still remember when Margaret Sinclair split from Pierre Trudeau and just weeks later was asked on NBC's Today Show if she had "abadoned" her children? If she had gotten interim custody, would they have asked the same of Pierre? No. The fuckheads in the MSM were too busy covering his pirouettes and the latest shade of red on his trademark rose lapel.

It's because of women that we have family allowances, old age pensions and universal health care in Canada. It's also because of the courage of women that we have our mostly functional system of half-way houses, the death penalty has been abolished, and Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard are free men today. All this was accomplished despite persecution, and despite our out-of-date system of electing people first past the post. Imagine what more can be done if we had proportional representation. Us men tend to take a look at the short term. Women look at the long term.

Decorum doesn't stop on the floor of the House. It should be applied to every aspect of one's relationships, both on the Hill and off of it. If members from opposing parties would just stop once in a while and actually sit down to talk things out, things could be a lot calmer. I agree women should be a little more empathetic when it comes to the guys, but if the opposite were also true it would go a long way.

Perhaps the case can be made that Stronach should apologize for her philandering ways. But she really doesn't have to until every man sitting in the House who has cheated on his wife stands on the floor and admits it.

As for Mackay, he really should apologize to Stronach. 17 months of grief after their breakup is long enough. I'm not saying they should necessarily become friends again, just that they bury the hatchet and move on.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

No comments: