Over the past few days, a Conservative senator and a NDP member of Parliament have been giving lessons in how not to conduct a civilized argument. On display have been the worst tendencies of the old politics, and the meanest impulses of the new.
Charmaine Borg, age 23, is the NDP MP for Terrebonne-Blainville, north of Montreal. She recently sent a flyer to her constituents, calling for the abolition of the “costly and anti-democratic” Senate. Jean-Guy Dagenais, age 63, is a Conservative senator who lives in Ms. Borg’s riding; he received one of these flyers and was incensed. So he wrote Ms. Borg an angry letter, and sent it to all parliamentary offices.
Mr. Dagenais’ letter will not be remembered as an exemplar of the upper chamber’s sober second thought. Only one sentence even resembles a rebuttal of Ms. Borg’s flyer. A version of her mailing states that senators get a lifetime salary; in fact, they only serve to age 75, though they do get a pension after that.
But the rest of Mr. Dagenais’ letter is a kind of emotional outburst, or the transcript of a barroom rant. He advises Ms. Borg to cure her ignorance by visiting the parliamentary library. He calls her party “past masters at whining.” He claims that constituents of Quebec’s NDP MPs regularly come to him for help, because voters believe that NDP members are “useless and impotent.”
Why he felt the need to send this to everyone on Parliament Hill is a mystery. He’s made himself look useless and impotent, and has advanced the debate on Senate reform by not one millimetre.
But in her response, Ms. Borg decided she’d go even further overboard. She could have calmly noted that the Mr. Dagenais, a failed Conservative candidate in the last election, was eloquently illustrating her party’s views on the Senate. Instead, she decided to take the intemperate dialogue to a whole new level. She excitedly accused him of sexism.
“I think if I was an old white man, he wouldn’t have attacked me,” she said. She called his letter “condescending and misogynistic.” She suggested he was engaging in “intimidation, obstruction and interference” in her work as an MP. And she formally asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to look into the matter.
Old politics or new, old politicians or young, Canadians deserve better.