5 min

STFU about abortion

Everyone is talking about lesbian Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth’s comments to aid groups that they should “shut the fuck up” about abortion lest the Harper government get even more defensive about it and provoke a backlash. She meant it helpfully – and she hasn’t run away from the issues in the past. She’s a fierce feminist who hasn’t shied away from bringing up women’s issues to her caucus, and from trying to get women’s groups to engage this government on their own terms – through measures like tax credits rather than subsidies.

But her comment, as well meaning as it was, points to the broader problem that this government is exhibiting – that if you speak up, you’ll get slapped down (and that usually means getting your funding cut). And in her own frank way, she was no doubt trying to tell them to fly under the radar. But it is still a sad day that this is the state of the debate in our country, thanks to this government.

During Members’ Statements, Conservative MP (and maverick) Michael Chong spoke about his upcoming motion on reforming Question Period – to more of a UK-style Prime Minister’s Questions, where the PM would only be obliged to show up on Wednesdays; other ministers would face dedicated questions on specific days on a rotational basis; questions and answers would be longer than their current 35 seconds; and half of the slots would be left open to MPs that could be selected randomly. (Chong previously wrote more about it here.)

It’s an interesting idea that I’ve heard before, and that I’ve mulled over, but I’m not entirely convinced by it. For one thing, not scheduling certain days for certain topics allows Question Period to be more responsive to the issues of the day, and theoretically having the Prime Minister in the House three or four days a week and answering the first round of questions is certainly good optics for holding the government to account. Then again, he can and does frequently pass off questions he doesn’t want to be seen answering (again, for optics) to designated spokesministers, like the always-ready John Baird. And can you imagine him standing up to give the very same canned answer for 45 minutes? But there are a few other problems with the translation of a UK model to Canada. For one, the UK has a debating culture that Canada frankly lacks. Also, Chong wants decorum to be better enforced, but we should also not forget that Speaker Milliken tried this on a couple of different occasions, and the Conservatives screamed bloody murder that he was stifling their freedom of speech. No, really. So it’s hard to say that he’s not enforcing decorum when they simply won’t let it happen.

On the other hand, I do like the ideas of longer times for questions and answers, and that half the slots be left open to be chosen randomly. This not only empowers the Speaker to make the decisions, but it would (theoretically) make the MPs more likely to have to think on their feet. Unless, of course, their respective leaders’ offices just email everyone the designated questions of the day. But on the flip side, this could be a way for the Speaker to encourage decorum – he won’t call on you to ask a question if you’re too disruptive. So on the whole, I think some of the proposals have merit, but others I’m not too convinced by.

The Conservatives, incidentally, conspicuously avoided mentioning that it was World Press Freedom day, given that their government was given a failing grade on openness by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Question Period was led off by Dominic LeBlanc, who tried to wrap the Jaffer allegations up in the Conflict of Interest Act. And Siobhan Coady tried to wrap them up in the PMO’s Guide for Ministers. Neither elicited a substantive response from either the Prime Minister or John Baird. Gilles Duceppe tried to wrap up the Jaffer allegations around Access to Information, and Carole Freeman tried to wrap them up around press freedom. No bites there either.

Jack Layton, however, was on a mission that involved the massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, and he wanted assurances from this government that they wouldn’t allow BP to do the same in the Arctic. Harper claimed that Canada has the toughest regulations out there, so it couldn’t happen here.

And then it was back to Jaffer. Eventually, questions turned to the government’s use of national security as a pretext to information secrecy, the danger of this oil slick with word that there may be a lifting of the moratorium on tanker traffic along the BC coastline, and the exodus of scientists from this country, where policy is increasingly being driven by ideology. Liberal whip Roger Cuzner asked about a tax credit for volunteer firefighters – just as his party unveiled a promise to do just that. And at the very end, Bob Rae asked about why Match Canada – the only NGO doing gender-specific development, that has been funded by CIDA for 34 years – is losing their funding. Remind me why this wasn’t first on the list, instead of last?

For those of you keeping track, the Question Period drinking game was three “culture of deceits,” and only one “bags of cash” and “high ethical standards.”

Sartorially speaking, snaps go to Kirsty Duncan for her textured white jacket with the pink top. I was less keen on Johanne Deschamps’ orange leather jacket with the black trim (which is unusual, because Deschamps is normally impeccably dressed), or Linda Duncan’s two-toned green ensemble of a pale green jacket and moss trousers – and hot pink heels. And the Megan Leslie outfit watch reports a brown-and-white harlequin-patterned top with black trousers. Distracting were the competing pink belt and emerald heels. But it is a fabulous top.

In case you were wondering, the Conservatives are hoping for a deal on those detainee documents by Friday. We’ll have to see how the negotiations go, considering there’s been minimal progress to date.

Under the column of it's certainly not taking very long, now former-NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis will officially announce her run for mayor of Winnipeg today, and Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs will be her campaign co-chair. Carstairs will also shepherd Wasylycia-Leis’ CAMR bill through the Senate once it passes the House of Commons.

Just for fun, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell filmed a cameo for an upcoming series called She’s the Mayor. Nice to see her again, and continuing to advocate for women in public life in other ways.

Up today – Michael Ignatieff has some mysterious policy announcement coming up in Thunder Bay this morning, but it’s also debate on his Private Member's Bill. It’s also a Liberal opposition day on the Lobbying Act – not that this is a surprise given the obsession with the Jaffer affair.
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