Have you heard? When it comes to Liberal policy papers, pink is the new red. And for women, skanky is the new empowered. Can “slavery is the new freedom,” be far behind?
Speaking of behinds, the hottest piece of memorabilia at the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal is a black thong with the phrase “I’m Liberal” on the front – mainly because it has no back. When a garment is already testing community standards, advertising its wearer as liberal would seem to be redundant. But more on the thongs later.
On Monday, the Liberal women’s caucus released its “Pink Book” of women’s policies. The book includes cover letters from MPs Belinda Stronach, Judy Sgro and Maria Minna. Sgro’s letter warns that “the work of the Liberal Women’s Caucus could not be more important than it is now, when we see the Conservative government trying to turn back the clock on the progress women have gained in gender equality issues.” Minna writes of “the Conservative government’s regressive approach to women and women’s concerns.”
The report itself repeats decades-old Liberal orthodoxy on: government funding for Status of Women Canada, government funding for government-run day care, government legislation to implement pay equity, government funding for caregivers, raiding the EI fund for larger maternity/paternity benefits, etc. As far as the Liberal party is concerned, the state may have no place in the thongs of the nation, but anything beyond your lingerie drawer is fair game.
Luckily for the Pink Book’s authors, journalists seemed more interested in their overheated rhetoric than their reheated policy ideas. Said Judy Sgro upon the report’s release: “I think Harper and his Conservative government, based on their policies, would clearly prefer women would stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and move us backwards 40 years.” An old yet still-provocative metaphor, especially given the famously well-shod Belinda Stronach’s participation in the Pink Book. When Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals last year, her arrival was greeted by then-minister Anne McLellan, who gushed over Stronach’s “great shoes.”
It is always good advice for any observer of politicians to remember this oft-quoted maxim: “Listen to what they say, but watch what they do.” Scarcely 48 hours after Stronach, Sgro and Minna were raising the pink flag of equality, their Liberal sisters were dropping red and black thongs in the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, proving that, while they may be unwilling to go barefoot, bare-assed is totally cool. And on a December night in Montreal, partially numb.
Happily, the titillation was not confined to the souvenir table. On the opening night of the convention, billed as “A Celebration of the Liberal Family,” two very comely female singers were called upon to entertain the crowd as it awaited the arrival of Howard Dean. Unfortunately, no corresponding male eye candy was on offer, Maritime troubadour Lennie Gallant being more reminiscent of the folk singer in “Animal House” whose guitar was smashed by John Belushi.
But a gap between Liberal rhetoric and action when it comes to women is not new, merely unremarked. Whether it is Pierre Trudeau’s purported conquests, John Turner and Iona Campagnolo patting each other’s behinds during the 1984 election, Anne McLellan praising Belinda Stronach’s shoes, or the infamous Globe and Mail pictorial of the all-white, all-male backroomers directing the leadership campaigns, there has long been a, shall we say, “duality” in the Liberal party when it comes to women.
This duality is in keeping with one of the underlying themes of the Liberal party: do as I say, not as I do (or, in this case, not as I renew). And it is a theme apparently undiminished by the party’s recent trials. Having been de-Martinized by both the Gomery commission and an election loss, the Liberals have concluded that their longstanding attitudes and policies – and Bob Rae’s behind – are all looking as good as ever.
Energized by recent polls and their leadership race, Liberals seem firmly in the grip of the same “we’ll be right back” self-delusion that plagued the Ontario conservatives after losing power in 1985. The Liberals are convinced that they too will be right back. Just as wearing a thong is not for the self-conscious, selling thongs while speaking of women’s equality and anticipating a swift return to power are not for a party overburdened by self-reflection.