Saturday, May 28, 2005

Misogyny and Sexism: Alive and Well in The Conservative Party of Canada

To listen to the commentary flying around the country this last month, one would think that Canadians are still in the dark ages… or at least their politicians are. The cause of all of the commentary? Newmarket – Aurora MP and Conservative Party superstar Belinda Stronach’s defection to the Liberal Party of Canada. That’s right. The cause of all of the vitriolic, misogynistic, malicious, childish, vindictive remarks heard in the sound bites and read in the newspapers around the country was not a rapist, not a murderer; it wasn’t even a purveyor of child pornography. No friends, it was none of these things; it was in fact an MP who crossed the floor.

Belinda Stronach, the woman who was instrumental in brokering the merger between the Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party into one supposedly cohesive party, the woman who once ran for Conservative Party leadership (and unfortunately lost to the bland, ineffectual Stephen Harper), the woman who was one of the most modernizing, progressive voices in the Conservative Party defected saying: “….As time went on, I felt uncomfortable with the direction the leader [Stephen Harper] was taking [the party]….”. While her detractors have dismissed the statement as an excuse, the comment may have been indicative that the chasm between the extreme right Alliance members and the centre right Conservative members is widening contrary to the united front the party puts on.

Had most of the comments been political in nature, one would expect them. If there were comments about Ms. Stronach being a turn-coat, or betraying her, political principles, or even betraying her party, then one could accept them, chalk them up to the usual mud-slinging that goes on and maybe even accept them. However, the comments have been far from political in nature. They have in fact been extremely personal.

The comments have ranged from Ms. Stronach being called an “attractive dipstick” by former provincial (Ontario) Cabinet Minister Bob Runciman to Drayton Valley-Calmar MLA Rev. Tony Abbott saying: “To me, what it is, it’s a little rich girl basically whoring herself out to the Liberals”. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper briefly traded in his leadership role for the role of gossip columnist commenting on the status of Ms. Stronach’s personal relationship with Conservative Peter MacKay after making several derogatory comments in the vein of “I’ve never really noticed complexity to be Belinda’s strong point”. When the party’s leader stoops to shilling gossip and making derogatory comments, can one really blame the rank and file members?

The comments made about Ms. Stronach that were political in nature were fair game. The comments on her personal life were completely out of bounds and in no way acceptable to the Canadian public. For the most part (with some notable exceptions), people wrote in to newspapers condemning the personal nature of the remarks made about Ms. Stronach but by far, the biggest condemnation was reserved for Mr. (Rev) Abbott. Mr. Abbott offered a grudging apology only after a hail of criticism from within his own party (read: former Progressive Conservatives) and the general public. In fact, an insider at the Legislature confirms the report that Mr. Abbott was involved in a physical altercation with another MLA over the comments he made. Mr. Abbott’s office has of course denied this allegation. This same insider when questioned about the core values of a party that has people who makes comments like that said that Mr. Abbott’s remarks could not be taken as indicative of the attitude of the entire Conservative Party but should be taken as more of a reminder of the extreme right that Mr. Abbott hails from.

Regardless of where Mr. Abbott et al hail from, these remarks cross every single conceivable boundary that exists in polite society. These remarks point to something that many females who would rather tear up a ballot than vote Conservative fear. They fear that misogyny and sexism are very much alive and well in the Conservative Party and judging by the level of personal comments that have been heard and read; they are not wrong. In fact, those comments only prove that they are right.

If Stephen Harper thought that running off at the mouth was going to win his party more votes in the election that is going to be called sooner rather than later, he should have thought twice. It is a proven fact that Canadians have a very low tolerance for sexism and misogyny and those quaint remarks from obviously sexist and misogynistic men hit a new low. What would have been smarter for the party faithful to do was make the same comment that Iris Evans made ``Just don’t call me a politician today``. In that single sentence, Ms. Evans managed to convey her displeasure, her disdain and her anger and she managed to do it without stooping to personal remarks. New Brunswick's Conservative Premier Bernard Lord echoed the sentiment. "This is just another action, another moment, that breeds cynicism of electors", David Hancock of the Alberta Legislature weighed in saying "She got elected as a Conservative, she ran for the leadership of the Conservatives, and I think that sort of positioning just brings the whole operation of politics and politicians into disrepute". All of those comments are well within the realm of acceptable, and coincidentally, all of them were made by former Progressive Conservatives.

It is apparent that Stephen Harper does not truly comprehend the complexity of the Canadian voter. It is also apparent that he thinks a strong majority in the Western provinces is exactly what will win him the election. What he cannot seem to fathom however, is that women who vote will certainly not vote for a party that allows its members to make disgusting, vile comments about a woman who did what many men have done. They will not vote for a party that condemns a woman for having just as much ambition as a man, and they will definitely not vote for a party that try as they might to convince Canadians that they have a centre not extreme right agenda on their minds.

No matter how much they deny it, under the leadership (and I use the term leadership very loosely here) of Stephen Harper, this party has veered to the extreme right. As a voter, I would definitely think twice about voting for the Conservatives in any election be it for the province or the country. If the Conservative Party of Canada wants to win any kind of power in the next election, they need to replace the extreme right members with people who are more centre right and certainly more tactful.


Blogger Tom Carter said...

Amal, I don't know a lot about Canadian party politics, but what you're talking about reminds me of the abuse Condi Rice has taken now and then in the U.S. In her case, sometimes it's not only sexist but racist, too. There's just no room in a modern society for that kind of nonsense.

1:51 PM  

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