Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Of slights and slurs: No political party is free from sin...

Everyone can put their foot in their mouth and make mistakes. If you're Liberal MP Robert Thibault, you can do it twice in one week. You can even do it when you're apologizing for the previous slight that came out of your mouth.

Thibault's first comment against the Tory opponent in his riding, 60-year-old Greg Kerr, could possibly be excused as ham-fisted defensiveness. Thibault was apparently asked about how the Tories are targeting him for defeat in the next election. Thibault responded with a ridiculous statement that if the Tories were truly serious about knocking him off they'd have run someone much younger than Kerr. In a year when a 72-year-old is running to be President, Thibault's statement was baffling and yes, ageist.

After Tory Senator Marjory LeBreton responded with concocted "outrage" at Thibault's comment, he simply dug himself in deeper with the dumb and sexist suggestion that LeBreton was an "idiot" who should "go back to making tea" for former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Why is it that some men seem to instantly revert to these kinds of sexist put-downs when taking on female political opponents? Sexism is still rampant in our society, as any woman would attest. It's sad and deplorable. A former female boss of mine at Queen's Park once shared with me how former Liberal House Leader Dwight Duncan told her (in response to her suggestion that MPPs should practice better decorum in the legislature) that he didn't want to turn the House into some kind of "tea party." It's knee-jerk, let's-put-her-in-her-place kind of language, designed to maintain a sense of male superiority.

Of course, the Tory response to Thibault's stupidity was totally hypocritical. As we know, there is no shortage of recent examples of Tory sexism and general disrespect for human rights.

"If Liberal MPs are allowed to publicly use offensive language like Thibault's without consequence, it shows that Stephane Dion's commitment to women in politics rings hollow," said Tory minister Rona Ambrose.

What consequences did Peter MacKay face when he called Belinda Stronach a dog in the House of Commons? What about those Tory MPs who called Stronach a whore when she switched parties?

What consequences did Tory MP Tom Lukiwski face when he was caught on tape saying, "Let me put it to you this way — there’s As and Bs. The As are guys like me. The Bs are homosexual faggots with dirt in their fingernails that transmit diseases.”? Lukiwski's carefully orchestrated apology and promise to "spend the rest of his life making amends" quickly evaporated once the national media storm died down. He continues to serve as a Parliamentary Secretary in Harper's government, without any reprimand.

And of course who could forget Pierre Poilievre's attack on all things Aboriginal on the same day as Stephen Harper's public apology over the residential schools issue?

Clearly this kind of discriminatory language - whether it be sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist - knows no ideological or partisan bounds. The only difference seems to be that the Tories have a bigger range of bigoted statements they're prepared to tolerate.

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