Helena Guergis affair. Just a few weeks ago, this Member of Parliament was a member of Cabinet and the Minister of State for the Status of Women. Recently, Guergis was forced to resign from Cabinet pending an investigation into her conduct by the RCMP and the Ethics Commissioner. The allegations against Ms. Guergis have never been disclosed to her. She has also been dropped by the Conservative party as a future nominee in her own riding.
Before I go any further, I should point out that I have never voted Conservative. In fact, I would rather stick pins in my eyes. However, in the Guergis affair there is a much bigger issue that is getting little air time--the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party's treatment of women, and not just any woman, the Minister responsible for the Status of Women.
Last February, in a rush to catch her flight at the Charlottetown airport, MP Guergis lost her temper, was less than polite with airport staff and made some disparaging remarks about the city of Charlottetown. She later apologized publicly for her outburst. First of all, I have never been to an airport without seeing a passenger throw a temper tantrum. Does this excuse the behaviour of a member of Cabinet ? No. But if it had been a male member of Cabinet, it would have been a non-event, and if he had been forced to make a public apology--another non-event. Let's face it: men can still lose their temper in public, women cannot.
Guergis is a young MP who has made some mistakes, as people new to politics are wont to do. She is also married to former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, who was picked up by police last fall for drinking and driving, and possession of cocaine. He later paid a $500 fine and was charged with dangerous driving. There have also been reports that Jaffer used his wife's office, car, e-mail address and blackberry to conduct business, not great foresight on the part of Jaffer, a seasoned MP who knew the rules. But I'm sure that he is not the only spouse on Parliament Hill to use a government car or e-mail account for business. Jaffer also reportedly frequents strip clubs and has boasted that he has an "in" at the Prime Minister's office. Is it really out of the ordinary for businessmen to brag or frequent strip clubs? I don't think so.
Let's flash back to the late 1970s. The Prime Minister's wife partied in her hotel room with the Rolling Stones, one of whom, just a few days later, was arrested for heroin possession. Was the Prime Minister's reputation tarnished by his wife's behaviour? No. In fact, most people felt sorry for him, so much so that he was re-elected.
Now more than 30 years later, women who have been successful enough to reach public office are still defined by what their husbands do. Not only are women under greater scrutiny in the public eye, but they also are guilty by association. Guergis should not have let her husband use her office and communications devices, but this did not warrant her ouster from Cabinet, Caucus or the Conservative Party. Furthermore, employers are required to give reasons and warnings before a dismissal. Guergis received neither. She was clearly blamed and punished unjustly for her husband's behaviour.
I realize that many of you will object to my comparing Helena Guergis, a junior cabinet minister, with former Prime Minister Trudeau. Like comparing apples and oranges, some will say. But that's because I was hard pressed to find an equivalent comparison. Let's face it: if a similar series of events had happened to a junior minister who was a man, it wouldn't have made the front page. Double standards are still alive and well.
Ladies, if this is how the Conservative Prime Minister treats the Minister of State for the Status of Women, imagine how he will treat women if he wins a majority of seats in the next election. Just peel off your socks and head back to the kitchen.
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