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Tories undermine Status of Women Committee with anti-choice appointee

John Bell

September 29, 2017

Any idea that new Tory leader Andrew Scheer would steer a more moderate course toward election was put to rest in September when Tory MP Rachael Harder was nominated to chair the House Status of Women Committee. The Lethbridge MP has established credentials opposing women’s right to choose, and opposing trans rights.

Status of Women is one of a handful of parliamentary committees where it is “traditional” for the opposition to nominate the committee chair. The job is accompanied by $12,000 annual pay bonus.

Coincidentally, $12,000 is the same amount Harder secured as grants for two Lethbridge “pregnancy care centres” that refuse to provide referrals to legal abortion services. The federal money was used to create summer jobs for anti-abortion activists. Since her first election in 2015 Harder has gained the endorsements from anti-choice organizations like Campaign Life Coalition.

Liberal and NDP members of the Committee walked out en masse to protest the appointment. "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," said NDP status of women critic Sheila Malcolmson.

Liberals were also indignant, but it wasn’t long ago that it was revealed that Liberal MP Iqra Khalid had funneled $56,000 in federal summer jobs grants for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. This is the group that grabbed headlines by showing up at busy city intersections, and on college campuses, with giant, graphic posters meant to horrify the public. These misinformation missions were staffed by students as summer jobs.

War on choice

The Tories are defending their nomination saying that the walkout is an insult to “democracy” and “parliamentary tradition.” But in fact it is part of their stealth war against women’s rights, and the right to choose that has been fought for and won by women in this country. Any other “tradition” is bogus.

More than a controversy over a parliamentary committee, the whole episode exposes how right-wing MPs funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to fund anti-choice organizations, and chip away at women’s rights. While this usually means Tory MPs, there are Liberals burrowed in the “Parliamentry Pro-Life Caucus”. (Thomas Mulcair decreed in 2015 that NDP candidates must be pro-choice, but refused to turf a Scarborough candidate who let slip his anti-choice beliefs.)

Research by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada reveals that “pregnancy care centres” like the Lethbridge and District Birthright Society and the Lethbridge Pregnancy Care Centre cash in either with direct funds or with tax-exempt status.

Scheer repeats the old Tory evasion, that his party will not make abortion rights an election issue, even while they undermine access and weaken women’s rights by stealth. Trudeau plays up his “feminist” status, but the Liberal legacy includes turning a blind eye to MPs betraying the essential right to choose. Abortion rights were won on the streets, through mass action. We can’t rely on parliament to defend them.

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