On Elbowgate

N.B. Initially I had been considering publishing this on Facebook, but it morphed into a longer piece so I’ve published on Medium. Feel free to share if you’d like.

Things grew heated in the House of Commons today.

Today was a fairly busy day in the life of Natalie. I had several meetings and university classes, but nonetheless, being a die-hard lover of Canadian politics, I’d been tuning in periodically to the proceedings in the House of Commons throughout the day. How could I not? It was a big day — first the formal apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, as well as debate on the issue of assisted death. I was expecting debate to be lively, but I was certainly not expecting what actually happened.

I felt compelled to write about this because I felt viscerally angry watching this as a woman, and deeply ashamed watching this as a Canadian.

Earlier in the day, there had been some talk as to whether the Government would move to limit the debate on the issue. There was some question as to whether this was an intimidation tactic or a genuine motion, but former Speaker and current Opposition House Leader Andrew Scheer noted fairly aptly, “The motion that they put on notice is something that I’ve never seen or even heard of. It’s one thing for the government to use the tools available to it to implement its agenda. It’s another thing to take away tools from the opposition, and that’s what we’re seeing. This is a very undemocratic proposal by the government.” Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP, called it a childish, petulant attempt to get Parliament to submit to majority will. The word “draconian” was tossed around in many news reports and social media updates from MPs. Dominic LeBlanc, Government House Leader, has refused to tell the Conservatives and the NDP which bills will be debated over the coming weeks — not even the Harper Government pulled such stunts.

By the end of the day, tensions were running high. The Liberal Party wanted to move the vote along and end debate. Then this happened:

I felt compelled to write about this because I felt viscerally angry watching this as a woman, and deeply ashamed watching this as a Canadian. Today, the Prime Minister bowled through several MPs, pushing and elbowing a female colleague, and nearly coming to blows with the Leader of the NDP.

This behaviour, especially from the leader of our nation, is wholly unacceptable. It is deplorable and should be condemned. Even supporters of the Liberal Party ought to speak out against these actions — this cannot be dismissed because the Prime Minister purportedly subscribes to a leftist ideology, or because he’s popular among Canadians. In fact, most of the commentary I’ve seen online from average folks is that what Trudeau did was “no big deal”, that this incident is being exaggerated by the opposition parties, that it wasn’t wrong because it happens all the time in real life (for example, during a morning commute) and that Trudeau is absolved of blame because it wasn’t on purpose.

I’ll return to the everyday occurrence bit later, but I want to be absolutely clear that intent doesn’t matter. Allow me to remind you of a similar incident: Rob Ford knocking over Councillor Pam McConnell in 2013.

Rob Ford was formally censured following this incident. The media and the public condemned it. Most of us could reasonably assume that he hadn’t knocked her over maliciously, but the effect was still the same at the end of the day.

I’d like to argue that Justin Trudeau should be held to the same standard. In the video of the incident, we can clearly see NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau stumble after being pushed by the Prime Minister, clunch her breast in pain, and look around, shaken over what had just transpired. She was in such distress that she had to leave the House to collect herself. She missed the vote on assisted death because of this. While this is all happening, the Liberal caucus rises to its feet to give their Leader a standing ovation. Is this the “sunny ways” and “real change” that Canadians voted for?

Justin Trudeau has expertly built his public image around being a feminist, among other things. However, a real feminist does not approach colleagues, especially those who are women, in that way. I’ve met Prime Minister Trudeau before — he’s extremely tall. If Justin Trudeau walked towards me with that kind of speed and aggressive gait, elbowing me in the chest, I would feel violated regardless of whether or not it had been intentional. It certainly appears that he did not intend to hit anybody, merely to move the vote along by allowing a Conservative Whip, Gord Brown, pass by a blocked aisle. It should be noted that what was happening — standing in the aisle and talking — was normal and procedural. I’m also going to state right now, on the record, that tugging Brown away was also not OK.

The fact is the Government did not need Gord Brown to sit down to continue the vote. They could have proceeded with only their Whip, Andrew Leslie, sitting down. Instead, he lost we saw the Prime Minister lose his temper in his frustration to get on with the vote — a vote on a motion that opposition members, I’ll remind you, were calling draconian. The Speaker of House scolded the Prime Minister, saying that nobody should manhandle any member and that it was the speaker’s job to call a vote once one whip was in place, as Leslie was.

It was not necessary — there were so many other ways Trudeau could have achieved his intended result without the aggressive walking or the shoving and elbowing. Some in the media have gone so far as to express the opinion that had this happened outside of the House of Commons, were Trudeau not in the position of power and privilege that he occupies, it might have even been deemed assault. What transpired was disrespectful to his colleagues, and disrespectful to women who every single day in the workplace are afterthoughts in a male superior’s path (both literally, as was the case today, and figuratively). It was disrespectful to Canadians, who elected Trudeau hoping for better than this.

Just because this incident could happen to any person on any given day, as some Trudeau apologists were indicating online, it does not mean that we should accept that. Why should we expect the Prime Minister not to be held to a high standard of behaviour as both a public servant and as an example to the rest of society?

Members of the Liberal Party ought to apologize for giving violence a standing ovation.

To top this all off, we also saw the Prime Minister march past his colleagues without second glance only to turn back and nearly come to blows with the Mulcair, who was expressing valid rage over what occurred and was trying to stand up for a member of his caucus. It called to mind an image of Marty McFly (the protagonist from my favourite movie, Back to the Future), being unable to back down or control himself when being called out. This in turn reminded me of the plethora of “He’s Just Not Ready” ads that aired during the 2015 election.

Justin Trudeau needs to give a fuller, more public apology to Ruth Ellen Brosseau and the other MPs he shoved. He should take responsibility and own up to losing his temper. Members of the Liberal caucus ought to apologize for giving violence a standing ovation. The media must hold him to account in the same way they did Rob Ford. Canadians should not give Trudeau a pass— not for shutting down debate on such an important legislative issue, nor for losing control and allowing his anger to take over his actions. It will be up to the House of Commons to decide how to proceed from here, but one thing is clear — Trudeau must answer for his actions.

Natalie Petra is a student studying Ethics, Society and Law at the University of Toronto. She is the President of the NDP in York — Simcoe, and formerly served as the Director of Communications of the New Democratic Youth of Canada. Views expressed solely represent those of the author.

Connect with me on Twitter at @nata1900.

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