A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"There is more than a slab of bacon talking there"

I know everybody has pretty much talked the MacKay-Stronach-dog story to death over the past few days, but it reminded me of a similar incident that occurred almost a decade ago with the Hon. Deborah Grey, MP for Beaver River. Deb rose in the house on February 18th, 1997 to criticize CPP premiums, and used the Pensions received by MP's to drive her point home. As per hansard:

Miss Deborah Grey (Beaver River, Ref.):
Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary said that the CPP premiums are not a tax but a contribution to a public pension plan. Let us just look for a moment or two at a private pension plan, the MP pension plan, the most obscene in the country.

Canadians are now paying twice as much of their salary for a paltry $9,000 a year in CPP. Thanks to the government, parliamentary porkers like the member for Sherbrooke and the Deputy Prime Minister are going to pocket five to six times that amount. That is scandalous.

How can the Prime Minister justify asking Canadians to pay 70 per cent more of their meagre pensions when he and his Liberal colleagues are just going to lap up the lavish MP pension plan?

An hon. member: There is more than a slab of bacon talking there.


I can recall there being a fuss over what was said to Deborah, but I don't believe the ruckus was anywhere near the stink kicked up over MacKay's dog comment (even though this particular comment was far nastier and far more personal). Furthermore, I don't recall there being any comments about how this sort of thing 'prevents women from getting involved in politics'.

Is there a double standard in play here? Almost certainly. Female Conservative MP's have been the target of as much inappropriate behaviour in the house as their liberal, Bloc and NDP counterparts. The CPC's recent press release mentions but a few examples of such remarks; Yet these cases hardly received any attention nationwide. I chalk that up to an indolent media interested only in soundbites that reinforce easily-believable stereotypes: conservatives are intolerant, sexist, and homophobic.

Deb Grey didn't sit back down and whimper about the ramifications those comments would have on females entering politics; She stood right back up and gave as good as she got:

Miss Deborah Grey (Beaver River, Ref.): Mr. Speaker, it may be that I am a porker but I opted out of that pension plan and the taxpayer does not owe me one single penny for that.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear.

Miss Grey: A pension porker I am not. I opt out; Sheila copped out.

This leads into an important point I want to make. Politics isn't a 'nice' racket to be in. If you plan on getting involved, you better have thick skin or get some quick. It requires tough individuals who have the personal strength and courage to rise above criticism on all sides to get things done. If you don't have those qualifications, then I don't want you as my MP, standing up in the house to represent me. I take offense to every suggestion by Liberal, Bloc or NDP MP's that we need to change the political climate in Ottawa because women can't hack it. That in itself is a patently sexist idea, and it tells me who in this country really believes women and men are equal (and it ain't the left). Women can hack it; Deb Grey could hack it, Rona Ambrose can hack it, and Belinda Stronach damn well should be able to. Trying to make cheap political points by saying this is indicative of some sort of anti-women stance by the conservatives is horse rubbish. Deb Grey's principled response to Douglas Young's comments do far more to encourage women's participation in the political arena than Belinda's hurt feelings ever will.

Don't get me wrong here; I'm not defending what MacKay said in the house. Regardless of what mean-spirited comments were directed towards him about a very personal (and very public) moment in his life, MacKay could have, and should have taken the high road and kept his mouth shut. As a government minister, he is obliged to remain above petty banter. His comments were both immature and inappropriate. I offer this criticism as someone who has had the opportunity to talk with Mr. MacKay on several occasions and (usually) thinks very highly of him, so I do not make it lightly. MacKay should offer a simple, straightforward and brief apology in the house and let the furor die off on its own, as it should.


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