September 26, 2017 2:35 pm
Updated: September 26, 2017 8:02 pm

Liberals accused of ‘thwarting democracy’ after walking out of women’s committee vote

WATCH: Liberal MP’s walked out of a committee meeting studying women’s issues Tuesday in protest of the Conservative party’s choice for chair. Elaine Van Rootselaar reports.

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The Conservative party’s choice to lead a committee studying women’s issues – an Alberta MP with an established record against abortion rights – prompted a walkout of Liberal MPs Monday morning.

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“The Liberal members of the party cannot support the opposition putting forward someone like Rachael Harder, whose voting record is opposed to where women stand,” Liberal MP Pam Damoff said seconds into the meeting.

“We cannot support Ms. Harder as chair. We have to leave the meeting.”

READ MORE: Lethbridge, Alta. MP Rachael Harder named critic for status of women

The official Opposition has the right to select the chairs for a number of House of Commons committees; among those is the status of women committee.

WATCH: Trudeau stands by his MPs who protested the selection of Rachael Harder

Liberal and NDP members on the committee said they could not support Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s nomination of Harder – who he also appointed his status of women critic – because of her voting record on abortion rights as well the endorsement she received from the Campaign for Life Coalition.

“The opposition leader chose someone who is not pro-choice, who has voted against [transgender] rights for people in our country, and those are not views that the Liberal members of this committee can support,” Damoff told reporters after walking out of the meeting.

Harder didn’t actually cast a vote on transgender rights in the House of Commons, but she co-sponsored a private member’s bill seeking to make it a criminal offence to kill or injure “a pre-born child” when accused of harming a pregnant woman.

Some critics saw the bill as an attempt to chip away at the rights of a pregnant woman, and the bill was eventually defeated.

WATCH: The Conservatives protested the government’s decision on Tuesday morning to walk out on the vote to elect a chair to the status of women committee.

 

Later Tuesday, deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt said she was “appalled” at how the Liberals handled the nomination and vote.

“Not only did they walk out, I’m appalled they brought it up in question period,” she said. “I was hoping we could have some sort of discussion to work out what the issues were.”

Damoff said she and her Liberal colleagues walked out instead of voting against Harder because they respect the Conservative’s right, according to the rules of Parliament, to select the committee’s chair.

Conservative MP Rachael Harder’s nomination to chair the status of women committee prompted the Liberals to walk out of the meeting Tuesday, Sept. 26.

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During question period, however, the Liberal MP had a colleague from her caucus ask her to discuss the committee’s agenda – much to the displeasure of Conservative MPs who shouted and booed over Damoff’s attempt to answer.

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Asked repeatedly about her record on abortion rights, Harder deflected and instead tried to steer questions toward the job of a committee chair – and accusing the Liberals of “thwarting democracy.”

READ MORE: Liberal government’s ‘baby steps’ on women’s issues not going far enough, critic says

“Let’s not make this about any issues that aren’t relevant to this meeting,” she said, trying to steer the narrative toward the job of a committee chair – and her belief the Liberals “thwarted democracy” when they walked out.

“When we put a committee chair in place, it’s done by a vote … unfortunately the Liberals weren’t even willing to engage in the democratic process and stay and be a part of the vote. They decided to get up and walk out, which means they were thwarting democracy which is the very system that Canada is based on.”

WATCH: Examining gender equality in Canadian politics

Sheila Malcolmson, the NDP critic for the status of women came out against the nomination Monday afternoon before it was even official.

“I don’t have any argument with Rachael Harder’s right to hold and to express [her] views as a member of Parliament,” she said Tuesday morning.

“However, being our spokesperson for this committee’s work … establishing the tone and style of questioning, being able to interrupt witnesses or interrupt MPs who are asking questions, she’d be a completely inappropriate choice.”

Though Malcolmson brought Harder’s nomination to the spotlight, the Liberals didn’t tell her of their plan to walk out, she said.

READ MORE: Pay equity laws not a ‘silver bullet’, says status of women minister

She said she was prepared to nominate another Conservative member to chair this morning, but the meeting was abruptly adjourned after the Liberals walked out, since there weren’t enough bodies at the table.

Both the Liberals and NDP said they are hoping Scheer puts forward a different name to nominate for chair of the status of women committee.

WATCH: Lisa Raitt slams Liberals over walking out of women’s committee vote

Other Conservative members include Karen Vecchio and Martin Shields.

In the meantime, the business of the committee is on hold until members are able to appoint a chair.

“If [the Conservatives] want this committee to carry on, they’ll have to nominate someone with less radical views than Rachael Harder.”

Speaking to reporters after question period, Raitt dismissed the suggestion that Harder’s personal beliefs would interfere with her abilities as a committee chair.

“Her beliefs are her beliefs, and she holds them herself,” Raitt said, noting one Liberal minister and another parliamentary secretary are pro-choice. “When the government says Rachael Harder can’t be chair of this committee, what they’re saying is they don’t trust her to put her personal beliefs aside.”

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