There’s no real theme to the column, beyond a general sense of wonder.
First, burkas and citizenship. Foreign Affairs Minister Jason Kenney said this week that women would no longer be allowed to take the citizenship oath with their faces covered as part of their religious beliefs.
You can have a good debate about the burka and niqab and their place in society. There are concerns some women are forced into wearing them, making them instruments of oppression. Other women say it is a core part of their religious faith, mandated in the Koran. There are questions about how society changes when some people hide their faces in public.
But Kenney’s reason is goofy. He fears women might not actually be saying the citizenship oath.
Come on. New citizens have all studied and passed a test. We don’t now know whether they are taking the oath, or moving their lips. (Perhaps Kenney will mandate monitors to stand next to every person at the ceremonies in future.) It would be easy to have women wearing head coverings sign a written oath.
Even more offensive was Kenney’s response to questions about legal challenges to the edict. “I’m sure they’ll trump up some stupid Charter of Rights challenge,” he said.
There is nothing “stupid” about asserting the rights guaranteed all Canadians by law. Kenney’s contempt for the law, and those freedoms, is alarming.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau got in trouble this week by calling Environment Minister Peter Kent “a piece of s***.”
That, of course, reminded people of his father, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, being accused of mouthing “f*** off” to opposition MPs 40 years ago.
Trudeau claimed then he was mouthing “fuddle duddle.” Justin Trudeau was more honest, jumping to his feet to apologize and retract his remarks.
So what riled him? NDP environment critic Megan Leslie had asked Kent a question about Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.
Kent responded by noting that “if she had been in Durban” Leslie would be better informed.
But the Conservative government had, for the first time in the history of Kyoto talks, refused to accredit opposition MPs as observers at the talks, denying them a role. Trudeau thought it a bit much that Kent would bar MPs, then criticize them for not going. (Green leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May cleverly got herself approved as a delegate for Papua-New Guinea; Liberals and New Democrats could have shown similar initiative.)
Sadly, Trudeau’s rudeness was far from the low point of the just concluded parliamentary session. The Conservative majority has not brought civility or even a basic commitment to let MPs actually do the job of representing their constituents. Legislation has been forced through with minimal debate. There is an appalling lack of respect, civility or even basic decency in the Commons, in large part because the Conservatives seem to see evil enemies across the House rather than men and women elected by Canadians to represent them. (It does, of course, take two to bicker.)
As the session ended, the Conservatives confirmed they planned to increase secrecy by barring the press and public from more meetings of parliamentary committees. Conservative MP Tim Wallace said going behind closed doors “gives members of Parliament an opportunity to speak frankly.”
Wallace is acknowledging duplicity, perhaps dishonesty — saying one thing in public, and another when citizens don’t have a chance to know what’s going on.
Then there’s the stonewalling of the G8 spending scandal that saw border security funds diverted to often frivolous projects in Treasury Board president Tony Clement’s riding, Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s misleading explanations for his use of a search and rescue helicopter as a taxi to get him from a fishing camp in Newfoundland and other lapses.
It’s odd. The Liberals were booted out because the Conservatives promised something better. Now they’re turning into what they once condemned.
Footnote: The session ended with Speaker Andrew Scheer, a Conservative MP ruling that a party dirty tricks campaign aimed at Liberal MP Irwon Cotler was “reprehensible,” but not against the rules. The Conservatives were caught calling voters and falsely claiming Cotler had resigned and a byelection would be held. It was later revealed thatthe company hired to make the calls had also worked on Scheer’s election campaign.