I’m not sure what aspect of this makes me more frightened, ashamed, and horrified about the current government in Canada. There’s the fact that they have suddenly taken this socially conservative stance that we always knew was possible but heretofore they have refrained from pursuing. Or, the idea that, in the face of vocal opposition from its constituents (because they are beholden to the bleeding hearts in this country as much as their conservative base) they would, petulantly, cause “more backlash” on this issue. Or, the fact that any member of their caucus, male or female, would even suggest that Canadians should not express themselves on an issue. Hell, even the profanity is shocking!
Let’s look at this a bit more closely. First, that the Conservatives are making an issue of this at all is an indication of their true colours. What I mean is this: in Canada, the abortion debate, isn’t - it’s a non-issue. An Angus-Reid poll in January showed that only 7% of Canadians think that the health care system should, under no circumstances, fund abortion. So, is it for this tiny portion of the Canadian population that the government is making this stand, the second such blatant socially conservative stand they’ve taken since taking government. (The first was the absent gay rights section in the immigration guide.) I would be shocked to hear of any Canadians who didn’t think such action was possible from this government, but I suspect most of us thought we’d be safe from it so long as the Conservatives ruled with a minority. I guess, though, that the pathetic state of our opposition parties, none of whom appear at all ready (nor to have the confidence of the country) to take over, has made the Conservatives brave. Or, perhaps, Harper and his pals just couldn’t contain their ultra-right-wing ideology any longer.
What we have seen before, though, is the kind of childishness that Senator Ruth suggests is possible if Canadians don’t shut up about this issue. One need only point to the two prorogations of Parliament as evidence that, when things aren’t going exactly as he wants, our Prime Minister is more than willing to take his ball and go home. Still, it is surprising to hear from a member of his own caucus that this kind of pettiness is actually a part of his political agenda. It makes it very hard to see Harper as a functioning adult and I hope that at least one of the Opposition parties runs with the spoiled schoolyard bully metaphor during the next election campaign. I fear, though, that none of them are that clever.
That leaves the rather anti-democratic sentiment behind Senator Ruth’s statement. Canadians are an apathetic lot, so any issue that gets any part of our population talking is something to which it is obviously worth paying attention. Even still, the Conservatives have it pretty easy. Can you imagine how badly Harper would behave were he faced with the kind of public protest that is commonplace in France? Besides, the idea that any democratic leader would pay retribution upon a segment of his or her society for the mere act of speaking against the government is, by definition, counter to our constitutionally-protected freedom of “thought, belief, opinion and expression” (see 2b of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). The Conservatives garnered less than 38% of the vote in the last election. Yet, this kind of sentiment is the stuff of tyranny and tin-pot dictators. Isn’t the mere suggestion of this behaviour, from someone close enough to the leader of our government to have perhaps heard such opinions first-hand, disturbing?
All of this adds up to something that truly frightens me. If Senator Ruth truly supports women’s health issues in general and the right to an abortion in particular, should she not be standing up to the Prime Minister in caucus? We don’t ask much of our Senators for the comforts they enjoy but we do ask for the “sober second thought” that is the job of the Senate. That includes telling the Prime Minister that he’s wrong when, frankly, he’s wrong. Who better to tell him to shove his fundamentalism where the sun don’t shine than a Senator who, once appointed, gets to keep her job until she turns 75 years old. It makes me wonder what are the real reasons behind Conservative attempts to change the nature of Senate appointments (literally the only plank in their platform that I support).
So, to Senator Ruth, I counter with this: why don’t you do less shushing and more shouting? As one international aid advocate says in the article linked above, ”I don’t remember any women’s rights ever gained by staying silent”. Be the leader you were appointed to be and speak out against the Government on this issue. The vast majority of Canadian women are depending on politicians like you to protect their rights. Shame on you for even suggesting that these rights are negotiable, even for a limited time. You have the hutzpah to use the word “fuck” in a statement to the press. Put that moxie to good use and tell Harper what you really think.