As any student of Canadian politics knows, Ellen Fairclough was Canada’s first female cabinet minister, appointed by Diefenbaker in 1957 and serving until her defeat as MP for Hamilton West in 1963. I have mixed feelings about Fairclough’s politics: she did good work on the immigration file, but she was a Tory, of course, and reportedly had a thing against gays, if you buy the fictionalization from Robertson Davies’ What’s Bred in the Bone. But I digress.
Although far from being, say, a Judy LaMarsh, Fairclough did mention after her stint in government that the male ministers treated her, well, like a woman – the Progressive Conservative cabinet’s resident knitter whose delicate sensibilities might have been compromised by the necessity of actually thinking about politics.
But that’s okay, because everything has changed. Women are equals in politics now, right? So Fairclough’s most famous quotation is a relic of our past?
If a male member of Parliament says anything foolish it is forgotten the next day, but if a woman does it, it is repeated endlessly, right across the country.
Except, in politics, in 2012, the sexist dinosaur is anything but extinct, as this statement by Tory MPP Rick Nicholls shows:
We now know that, despite attempts to deflect, [...] the assorted Ornge stories are connected to a long list of Liberal insiders. Liberal party president. The Premier’s right-hand man, Don Guy. Senior Liberal staffer Jennifer Tracy. Warren Kinsella’s squeeze, Lisa Kirbie…
I know Lisa Kirbie, if not well. She and I were involved in the same association at different times, but I’d heard about her from my mentor, Bob, and sought her out at the Vancouver convention. For that matter, I found Warren Kinsella, too, because we both had a personal beef with my CPC MP.
What I haven’t really followed is the l’affaire Ornge, and I have zero intention of making any comment on it; that’s not my point.
To paraphrase what Lisa Kirbie herself said in a letter to the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, she’s a grown woman with a professional and political resume that she can defend without any reference to her romantic partner. It is beyond insulting – it is egregiously sexist – to suggest that Lisa is some sort of shrinking violet who needs her man to get her a job.
Also, would it be okay if we weren’t talking about someone’s “squeeze,” but instead if a member had suggested that a non-white individual got his/her job because of affirmative action quotas? I mean, really, no.
You can’t attack private individuals in the legislature, period. I guess someone wasn’t paying attention when CPC MP Daryl Kramp tried the same trick in the House of Commons on, wait for it, Warren Kinsella. Um, hi, you can’t do that, cf parliamentary tradition in every Westminster democracy. Private individuals can’t answer you back in the legislature, you know.
Coming soon after federal NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen’s somewhat odd proposal that decorum in the House would improve if the Speaker, you know, did his job, it would be entirely appropriate for the Ontario counterpart, Speaker David Levac, to give all members of the Ontario legislature – Liberal, PC, & NDP – a stern talking-to about professional conduct, and while I might not throw actually Gloria Steinem in Nicholls’ face, the Speaker could strongly suggest that Nicholls rephrase his comment in lieu of a highly doubtful apology.
I know so little about MPP Nicholls. I hadn’t even heard of him until today, to be honest. I guess I could mock his apparent delusion that Tim Allen is the best speller in the world, but that would be a personal attack (and I’m not even an elected member). But seriously, there’s precious little information about Nicholls online besides his official Queen’s Park page and a defunct website so I really have no idea what motivates the man.
Perchance he’s somebody’s squeeze, or some other insulting archaic bit of lingo.