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Editorials Globe editorial: Keep the purity tests out of Parliament

There is a lot that is troubling about the current spat over who should be allowed to chair the House of Commons standing committee on the status of women.

Some Canadians are upset that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would nominate Rachael Harder, an Alberta MP who is staunchly opposed to abortion, as chair of the committee. For them, the choice is objectionable.

But others are angry that the Liberal government has refused to recognize the nomination. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who never fails to remind us that he is a feminist, supported his MPs when they walked out of a committee meeting last week after the Conservatives put Ms. Harder's name forward as chair.

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"Quite frankly, one would hope that the committee for the status of women would have a spokesperson who would be able to stand up and unequivocally defend women's rights," said Mr. Trudeau.

A lot of this is political theatre. The Liberal members, who hold six of the committee's 1o votes, could have easily voted against Ms. Harder's nomination and moved on. Instead, they staged a walkout, and the Liberal Party later used the incident to raise funds.

Mr. Scheer, too, is playing games. He knew full well that nominating Ms. Harder would spark a controversy and send a message to Conservative voters, who are more likely to be opposed to abortion than Liberal voters are. His choice of nominee is not some innocent happenstance.

But, on balance, it is the Liberals who are in the wrong.

The function of the Commons committee on the status of women is, according to its mandate, to examine legislation and issues related to equality of the sexes and violence against women and girls. Ms. Harder is as perfectly suited to chair the committee as any MP, regardless of her personal beliefs. That's how Parliament works.

Furthermore, Ms. Harder would not, as chair of a Liberal-dominated committee, be in a position to impose her beliefs on anyone. Committee chair is a largely procedural position, which is why the government can agree to having a few committees chaired by the opposition.

We would be among the first to oppose any attempt to curtail Canadians' hard-won right to abortion. But we also oppose any government that demands ideological purity from an MP in order for her to hold a position for which she is otherwise qualified.

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