Conservatives defend pick for Status of Women chair, amid Liberal, NDP objection
OTTAWA – A meeting of the House Status of Women Committee ended abruptly Tuesday morning when all the Liberal members walked out in protest of the Conservatives’ nomination for chair, citing her anti-abortion voting record as unsupportable.
Seconds into the meeting, the Conservatives on the committee nominated MP Rachael Harder to be chair, and immediately the Liberal MPs on the committee got up and walked out of the room, shutting the meeting down before her nomination could be voted on.
The Liberals and New Democrats allege that, based on her House voting record and a previous endorsement from the Campaign Life Coalition, that she is not fit to chair a committee mandated to study policies, programs, and legislation related to women’s rights.
Harder was appointed the Conservative party’s status of women critic by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
"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," said Liberal MP Pam Damoff.
Despite saying Harder had voted against trans rights, according to the House of Commons website Harder either abstained or was absent any time Bill C-16, the government’s trans rights bill, was voted on as she has no registered voting record on it. She did back Bill C-225, a private member’s bill from a Conservative colleague that would have amended the criminal code to create an offence for killing or injuring an unborn child during a crime. The Liberals and NDP argued at the time that the bill would re-open the abortion debate, something the bill’s sponsor denied. The bill was ultimately defeated.
Liberals push issue in QP
The parliamentary dispute spilled over into question period Tuesday afternoon when the Liberals brought it up.
There, Damoff doubled down on the government's decision to block someone who "is not supportive of women's right to choose."
She said she hopes Scheer will put someone else forward for the job, someone "who will protect and advance women's rights."
However, Scheer and his caucus have signaled they have no intent to back down from their pick to chair the committee.
Following question period, Scheer told reporters he thought it was "unprecedented that the prime minister would interfere and block the nomination of a democratically elected Member of Parliament to serve as chair of a committee," adding that it "shows a lack of respect for the parliamentary process."
Raitt 'appalled' by Liberal move
Conservative MP and deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt also defended Harder's appointment, and said she’s "appalled" by the Liberals’ behavior. Rait said it's hypocritical for the government to think she can’t put her views aside, the way Trudeau asked some members of his caucus to do on this issue when he became leader.
"When the government says Rachel Harder can’t be the chair of this committee, what they’re saying is they don’t trust her to put her personal beliefs aside. They don’t give her the benefit of the doubt," said Raitt. "I hope that they back down on this because it’s not the right thing to do. It’s contemptuous of the choice of the opposition."
Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef weighed in too. She said though the committee is independent, she supports their move.
"I'm proud of the committee for standing up and I'm looking forward to seeing how this will be resolved," Monsef said.
NDP first raised concerns
NDP status of women critic MP Sheila Malcolmson first raised concerns over the prospect of Harder’s appointment on Monday.
"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, for her to be able to communicate and articulate our work," she said after Tuesday's meeting.
Malcolmson was ready to propose the nomination of another one of the Conservative committee members as chair, but because the government side had walked out, the committee no longer had a sufficient number of MPs present for the meeting to proceed.
It’s parliamentary tradition that the Status of Women Committee is chaired by an opposition MP, nominated by the opposition. Chairs of House committees receive a $12,000.00 salary top-up.
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.
The committee cannot continue its regular business without a chairperson. 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.
Now, the committee is in limbo until its next meeting, with her fellow Conservative MPs on the committee saying they’ll stand behind their choice of Harder as chair.
Malcolmson said there are other women in the Conservative caucus who could have represented a more moderate choice.
"The Conservatives, if they want this committee to carry on, then they’ll have to nominate someone with less radical views than Rachael Harder," said Malcolmson.
Asked to speak to being classified as anti-abortion, Harder would not respond saying the questions weren’t relevant to the meeting and her nomination as chair.
"I care so much about the issues of women across this country and making sure we’re working hard for them. I’m ready to get to work," she said, accusing the Liberals of "thwarting" democracy by not allowing her nomination come to a vote.
It is expected the committee will meet again on Thursday where again the first thing on the agenda will be the election of a chair.