A rookie NDP MP is fighting back after a Conservative senator branded her as whiny, useless and ignorant in a letter that was widely circulated on Parliament Hill.
Charmaine Borg is arguing the missive was "misogynistic" and that MPs must be protected from such personal attacks. On Monday, Ms. Borg complained about the letter from Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais in the House of Commons, hoping that it will be studied by a parliamentary committee to rule whether her privileges as an MP were breached.
"I think if I was an old, white man, he would not have attacked me," Ms. Borg, 23, told reporters. "We're not doing any favours to young women who want to run in the future by having this type of behaviour in Parliament."
The dispute between Ms. Borg and Mr. Dagenais heralds the intense competition among all federal parties in Quebec, as Conservatives, Liberals and Bloquistes will strive to take down the 57 New Democrat MPs in the province in the 2015 general election.
Ms. Borg entered the House of Commons in 2011 as part of the NDP Orange Wave, grabbing her seat from the Bloc Québécois with nearly 50 per cent of the vote.
She recently sent out an anti-Senate flyer in her riding of Terrebonne-Blainville, north of Montreal, attacking the Red Chamber as "a costly and undemocratic institution that no longer serves a purpose in today's Canada." The flyer, which promoted the NDP's abolitionist stand, went on to state that the Senate "is now mainly used to reward the government's friends."
Mr. Dagenais, who took 16 per cent of the vote as he finished in third place for the Conservative Party in the riding of St-Hyacinthe-Bagot in the 2011 election, was incensed when he received the NDP document at his home in Blainville.
"What trash," Mr. Dagenais wrote in a letter that was sent to Ms. Borg, but also to all other offices on Parliament Hill.
Mr. Dagenais, 63, said Ms. Borg would never have been elected "had it not been for the spontaneous movement of sympathy among Quebeckers for [former NDP leader] Jack Layton, who parachuted candidates to plug the various holes in ridings in the province."
Mr. Dagenais said he frequently hears complaints that NDP MPs are "useless and powerless to get any results" when they are approached by their constituents, adding that New Democrats are now "experts in whining."
He added that Ms. Borg "obviously knew nothing about constitutional matters" to send out her flyer, which argues that senators receive a salary for life. He said that he will have to retire at the age of 75, and hopes to live longer.
"There is a well-stocked library in Parliament at your disposal, and you should use it," Mr. Dagenais said in his letter.
Ms. Borg said the letter was "condescending," pointing out that she took political science classes at McGill University and is well-versed in constitutional matters.
"If his letter contained real facts, had a real debate about ideas, then I wouldn't be here having a question of privilege in the House," Ms. Borg said.
She added it's "very ironic" that the attack originates from an unelected senator.
"He was a failed candidate, and then a year later, was named by the Prime Minister as a senator," Ms. Borg said. "I don't think he has any place to challenge my legitimacy. If he really believes in democracy, he'll resign and run against me in 2015."
Mr. Dagenais refused to take the challenge.
"I was appointed to the Senate, and I don't see why I'd leave the Senate where I'm able to serve citizens. I don't have to be an elected official to have an opinion," he said in an interview.
He rejected the allegation that his comments were misogynistic, stating that he would have replied to the flyer regardless of who had sent it.
"If I happened to live in the riding of Outremont [represented by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair], I would have had the exact same reaction," Mr. Dagenais said. "I'm far from being a misogynist."