In case you haven’t heard, last week Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais sent a letter to 23-year-old NDP MP Charmaine Borg – copying all MPs, senators and their staff – allegedly personally attacking her for distributing a flyer in her riding – and his – advocating the abolishment of the Senate, which is, you know, just one of the most fundamentally well-known positions of the New Democratic Party.
According to the Toronto Star, in the original letter (written en francais), Dagenais “characterized Borg as a whiny, ignorant, useless Quebec MP who was elected by fluke and stands little chance of being re-elected.” He also suggested that Borg go to the Library of Parliament and “read a book” to better understand the Constitution before criticizing it. Borg fired back on Monday by formally lodging a complaint against the Conservative Senator “for what she describes as a condescending, ‘misogynistic,’ personal attack against her.”
At a time when the Senate is facing more criticism than possibly any other time in Canadian history (expense scandal, anyone?), the motives behind Dagenais’ letter seem clear: he’s simply defending the Red Chamber. However, was the letter insulting? Yes. Attacking? Oh, yes. Misogynistic? Well… let’s take a step back.
While the letter carried misogynistic undertones, Dagenais did not come out and explicitly attack Borg for being wrong because she is a woman. And while Borg makes a good point that this sort of “public humiliation” wouldn’t be accepted in any other workplace, we need to realize that the House of Commons ain’t your typical workplace. Watch a solid 5 minutes of any daily Question Period and you’ll quickly understand that it’s not just character-assassinating letters that separate the HoC from other Canadian day jobs; pretty much everything that Canadian parliamentarians – elected or otherwise – do on a daily basis would be a typical organization’s Human Resources nightmare.
The “Real World: House of Commons” aside, not only did she say this type of public humiliation wouldn’t be accepted in any other workplace, she made a point of saying “especially towards a woman.” And in a press conference on Monday, Borg said, “the tone insinuated I was nothing but a little girl who knew nothing and I do find that tone very misogynistic. And I do believe that if I was not a young woman I would never have received such a letter.” Not to turn the tables on Borg, but her implication that Dagenais suggested she read a book because she was an uneducated “little girl” was indeed, nothing but her own. Uh, honey? No offense, but doesn’t that make you sound a little misogynist by implying Dagenais’ language may be acceptable man-to-man but definitely not man-to-woman? What if you happened to be black? Or disabled? Or a member of any other minority? Let’s just agree that whether or not Jean-Guy Dagenais is perceived to be a raging misogynist, Borg is also grasping at straws, making this a feminist issue when it is, in fact, more of an ageist one.
Indeed, a well-known piece of info is that Dagenais ran as the Conservative candidate in the electoral district of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot in the 2011 general election. Judging by that cushy appointment to the Senate in 2012, Dagenais didn’t win. Who beat him out, you ask? Well, rookie NDP Marie-Claude Morin, a woman who, like Borg, is nearly 40 years Dagenais’ junior. So, Mr. Dagenais, are you defending the Senate or swallowing those last few sour grapes of losing the election – and your hometown riding – to a smart young woman opposite the spectrum? Or maybe you’re just starting your 2015 campaign already. It would seem fitting considering Borg recently called you to abandon your seat and run against her in the next election. Hey, maybe you’ll rise to the challenge and take her on and win. Of course that would mean you’d have to give up that $135,200 a year salary in the Senate….but if you stick to your Conservative guns, and think it’s truly age before beauty that matters in politics – as you imply in the letter – maybe it’s worth a shot.
Regardless of Dagenais’ real intent, two things are clear: 1. Dagenais’ wording IS downright condescending and ageist towards an elected official who did nothing more than distribute official party literature; and, as a result 2. Buddy just gave all critics and skeptics of the Senate another clear example of why Canadians don’t need to be footing the bill of a clearly archaic institution.
Misogyny or not: NDP 1 – Senate 0.
And Charmaine, for future battles, don’t be so quick to wrongfully invoke the sisterhood of feminism; we’ve got your back but try not to use it for political gain when there are plenty of other legitimate ways to prove you’re the right woman for the job.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.
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