OTTAWA – Conservative MP Rachael Harder's nomination as chair of the House Status of Women Committee has been defeated, and despite objection, her colleague Karen Vecchio was voted to take the job.
The committee's attempt to elect a chair ended abruptly last Tuesday, when all the Liberal members walked out in protest of the Conservative members' nomination of Harder as chair, citing her anti-abortion views as unsupportable. Their walkout forced the end of the meeting before her nomination could be voted on.
Today, the Liberals used their majority on the committee to vote down her nomination, then nominate and vote in Vecchio as chair, despite her objection. Sole New Democrat MP on the committee Sheila Malcolmson voted in support of the Liberals’ move.
The Liberals and New Democrats alleged that, based on Harder's House voting record and a previous endorsement from the Campaign Life Coalition, that she was not fit to chair a committee mandated to study policies, programs, and legislation related to women’s rights.
Vecchio, who has been on the committee for some time, tried to back out of the nomination, but could not get the consent of the committee to withdraw the motion nominating her.
Her first move as chair was to adjourn the meeting.
Malcolmson said, while it was “too bad” that Vecchio was forced to take the seat, she sees the outcome as a victory.
"I feel more comfortable with her being the committee spokesperson and the arbiter of the committee’s business, given that she doesn’t have as outrageous a positon on reproductive rights and abortion access," said Malcolmson.
In March of this year, Vecchio said at the committee said that she is pro-choice.
Since last week's shutdown, the committee had been in limbo without a chair. Now, with a reluctant chair, it’s unclear how it will proceed.
Liberal MP Pam Damoff, who nominated Vecchio, defended the move as a committee decision.
"The committee votes by majority… and the committee has chosen someone different to be their spokesperson," she said.
In a joint statement released after the meeting concluded, Vecchio and Harder accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal members for politicizing the committee.
"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. It’s disappointing that Justin Trudeau would act this way and his actions demonstrate the intolerance of the Liberal Party of Canada, which claims to value diversity," the pair said in the statement.
The statement also says the Conservatives will accept the "democratic will" of the committee.
Vecchio is the party’s families, children and social development critic, and Harder is the status of women critic, both were appointed to those roles by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
The previous chair, Marilyn Gladu was taken off the committee at the start of this sitting because she is now the Conservative health critic, and a member of the House Health Committee.
It's parliamentary tradition that the Status of Women Committee is chaired by an opposition MP, nominated by the opposition.
There are a few other House committees that also elect chairs from the official opposition: Public Accounts; Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics; and Government Operations and Estimates.
Chairs of House committees receive a $12,000.00 salary top-up.