Liberals, NDP reject pro-life MP as women’s committee chair

Conservative MP Rachael Harder's pro-life views upset Liberals and NDP on the status of women committee.

Conservative MP Rachael Harder’s pro-life views upset Liberals and NDP on the status of women committee.

The Liberals and NDP ganged up on Conservative MP Rachael Harder (Lethbridge) to prevent her from becoming chair of the House of Commons committee for the status of women because she holds pro-life views.

On Sept. 26, the Liberals and NDP walked out of the committee to prevent a vote on the chair. It is one of the few committee chairs reserved for the opposition party. Tory leader Andrew Scheer put Harder, his party’s critic for the status of women, as its candidate for chair, but the six-member Liberal contingent joined NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) in walking out of the committee meeting, denying a quorum and preventing a vote on its chair.

Malcolmson said Harder’s pro-life views made it impossible for her to be the voice of women. “She has not yet demonstrated her ability to remove that (her pro-life views) from her day-to-day work.” Malcolmson said Harder’s pro-life views could make some women uncomfortable testifying before the committee.

Liberals, including committee vice chair Pam Damoff (Oakville-North Burlington), echoed Malcolmson’s sentiment and federal Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said “I support … and applaud” the Liberal members of the committee. She said the controversy, “This is about Andrew Scheer choosing to appoint an anti-choice candidate” to chair the committee. In a scrum in the halls of Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded his Liberal MPs for standing up for women’s “reproductive rights.” The same day, the Liberals sent a fundraising email to supporters condemning “Andrew Scheer’s out-of-touch agenda” on abortion despite the fact the Conservative leader has repeatedly said he will not re-open the issue.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada expressed support for the Liberals and NDP.

The Conservatives rallied to Harder’s side. Several pro-abortion Tories such as Senator Linda Frum and MP Karen Vecchio (Elgin-Middlesex-London) said as “a pro-choice woman I support Harder” as chair. Vecchio said the walkout demonstrated “the intolerance of the Liberal Party of Canada which claims to value diversity.”

In a joint statement, Vecchio and Harder complained: “For Justin Trudeau to say a Member of Parliament is unfit to hold a procedural position because she doesn’t agree with his personal position is ridiculous.”

On CTV’s Power Play, Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said Harder could set aside her personal views to chair the women’s committee.

Campaign Life Coalition vice president Jeff Gunnarson said Harder should not have to set aside her personal views to chair the committee, noting that polls show there is no gender divide between men and women on the issue. “Many women are pro-life and their views should also be represented on the committee,” Gunnarson told The Interim.

Gunnarson also noted that in March, Harder pressed Status of Women Minister Monsef on whether she considered sex-selective abortion to be a form of gender-based violence. “Isn’t that a women’s issue worth examining,” Gunnarson wondered.

On Oct. 3, the committee reconvened and the Conservatives once again put Harder’s name forward as chair. Six Liberals and Malcolmson used their majority to defeat Harder and elected Vecchio chair instead.

Vecchio attempted to reject the nomination, but the Liberals and NDP voted her chair regardless.

Among the Liberals who thought Harder was unfit to chair the women’s committee were Marc Serre (Nickel Belt) and Sean Fraser (Central Nova).

Gunnarson said, “it was bad enough that Trudeau rejected pro-life Liberals as candidates in the 2015 election, but it is beyond undemocratic to impose his pro-abortion ideology on other parties.”

National Post columnist John Robson wrote that the Liberals were “belligerent and dishonest” in this whole affair, saying it was bizarre to insist, as Liberal MP Damoff does, that “the spokesperson for Canadian women should be someone who is representative of the Supreme Court decision that was made in 1988.” Robson notes that the Morgentaler decision did not establish abortion as a right but more importantly that the chair of a parliamentary committee is hardly the spokesperson for all Canadian women.

The Globe and Mail, a pro-abortion champion, editorialized that the Liberals and NDP sanctioned viewpoint discrimination against Harder and said it could only be justified if there was a “clear requirement, either legal or practical, that the committee chair overtly favour the status quo when it comes to abortion.”

The previous committee chair was Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton), a pro-life MP who addressed the 2017 National March for Life.

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