Harper’s no ladies man

Look at his cabinet, his track record and his failure to act – Stephen Harper is crushing Canadian women

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Stephen Harper’s government has been the least welcoming to women since the bad old days. And the bad old days weren’t so long ago. Before 1982, rape victims still had to provide their sexual histories in court and the Supreme Court did not have a single woman Justice. Status of Women Canada only became a federal ministry in 1976, and until 1981, it was run by men. I grew up absolutely confident of my rights as a woman. I am no longer so sure. Younger women should brace themselves.

Thirty years later, Stephen Harper has crushed Status of Women. The federal agency no longer fights for “equality,” that dirty word having been removed from its mandate. No, this now-puny agency exists “to facilitate women’s participation in Canadian society by addressing their economic, social and cultural situation through Canadian organizations.”

I don’t know what that means – that we can now purchase tampons tax-free at the local Legion Hall? Or get our driveways shovelled gratis? – but it does signal that the Conservatives don’t like women, especially the ones who speak up.

Here’s proof. Proportionately, the Conservatives have the fewest women MPs of any party. They have 11 per cent while the Liberals have 20 per cent , the Bloc 33 per cent and the NDP 41. Harper’s cabinet has fewer women (six of 26) than Mulroney’s did in 1992.

And once there, women are powerless. When Harper needs someone to look foolish or unpopular, he goes for a woman. Rookie Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, whom Harper turfed in January, was willing to be stupid about global warming, making blunder after blunder. Heritage Minister Bev Oda obediently dropped Status of Women into the food processor.

Then there’s child care. The NDP forced the smug Liberals to set up national child care after 12 years of red-book Liberal promising and three consecutive surplus budgets. Harper killed the plan and then sourly offered parents 100 bucks a month.

I wince when I see the ads. I remember my husband in utter despair over sending his small children trudging off with their little backpacks to daycare in the hottest month of the summer. But that’s the best he could afford, and Harper’s pathetic allowance wouldn’t have helped even then.

Harper’s women have learned to avoid success lest they be punished. Conservative Alberta MP Diane Ablonczy was once Harper’s rival. But she’s been erased from any meaningful political landscape. Belinda Stronach left the party after Harper shouted at her, in front of others. He thought a woman would naturally submit to bullying.

Deborah Grey, a Reform MP I liked, was attacked by her former allies for deciding to join the MPs’ pension plan she had once condemned. Grab it, Deborah, I thought. Wait till you’re old, or ill, or widowed. Do you really want to be destitute like your average Canadian senior, for the sake of a party that doesn’t like your gender?

Grey is among those women MPs who are always assessed for beauty and found wanting. She was called a “slab of bacon” (by a Liberal male) for being fat. Belinda Stronach was referred to as a dog (by Tory boy-minister Peter MacKay). Liberal cabinet minister Diane Marleau a “two by four” (by a Reform male).

No one points out that Rona Ambrose’s replacement, the new Environment Minister John Baird, has become obese, the fat forcing its way up his big neck and squeezing his eyes almost shut. It’s okay for a man to be fat, public death for a woman.

It gave Canadians pleasure to punish the arrogant Liberals in the last election, and rightly so. But electing a minority Conservative government has been a disaster for women. With no day care, an end to the quest for equality, no power, no voice, it is as if Harper’s icy dislike has laid a thick grey layer of felt over women in this country. He doesn’t trust or admire us. He does not consider our interests or our welfare. We do not exist for him, except when we need dismissing.

The best thing for women in the next election would be a Liberal government with a strong, vocal NDP presence to keep them alert to women’s concerns. The path we are on now is degrading. Our daughters futures look bleak indeed.