We learned Tuesday, courtesy of the Liberal and New Democratic Party members of the House of Common’s Status of Women’s Committee, that some new qualifications seem to have been put into place for serving one’s country. The occasion was the election of a chair for the Committee. Precedent has it that the Official Opposition nominates this position from among its membership. Yet when Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder was proposed, the Liberal and NDP members walked out. Their action meant the committee lost quorum and therefore couldn’t vote on the nomination.
The procedural tactics will continue Thursday but the arguments continued through the press. Liberal MP Pam Damhoff justified the walkout saying: “The Opposition Leader chose someone who is not pro-choice, who has voted against rights for trans people in our country, and those are not views that the Liberal members of this committee can support as chair.”
NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson argued, "The chair is the spokesperson for our work and it’s impossible for a spokesperson of an all parliamentary committee where reproductive choice is at the foundation of women’s equality…to be able to communicate and articulate our work.”
Let’s step back for a moment from the specific MP and her views on given issues. At the heart of our democratic system is an understanding of Parliament as the place where the voice of the people is heard. We hold elections in which the citizens of each district elect a voice to parler – to speak – on their behalf. The election of 2015, in which 32,321 voters put an X beside Ms. Harder’s name (she received 56 per cent of the ballots cast in the riding), provides her the authority to take her seat and speak on behalf of the people of Lethbridge.
Insisting, as the Liberal and NDP members of the Committee seem to be doing, that an MP in good standing must pass some sort of ideological orthodoxy test in order to serve in Parliament is offensive. It is offensive to the MP herself. Indeed, it would be interesting to see if it breaches her Parliamentary privilege. It is also offensive to Parliament as the institution where differing understandings about Canada are settled civilly, even when debated heatedly. Most importantly, it is offensive to the citizens of Canada regardless of where they stand on particular issues or the political spectrum generally.
Why? Because it is saying that Canada is no longer a democracy that treats citizens equally, in which we believe in the power of evidence and ideas to persuade each other, or in which we have respect for the consciences and deepest beliefs of our neighbours.
Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a piece entitled “The Dying Art of Disagreement.” In it, Bret Stephens insightfully observes that whereas agreement is the basis of building a community, “to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”