In SNC-Lavalin affair, feminism reduced to rhetoric

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 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends Question Period in West Block in Ottawa. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

About this whole SNC-Lavalin he-said, she-recorded, his perspective, her truth, down-and-dirty game of politics…

Forget those platoons of pundits opining on nothing but this affair for weeks, even as terrifying reports on climate change come out and Conservatives from coast to coast gas up for the camera in their continuing efforts to bamboozle their faithful Buckabeers on how the carbon tax works.

Climate isn't the only issue being ignored. As Toronto's former chief city planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, who last year ran against John Tory for the city's mayoralty, tweeted:

"Dear Media looking for a scandal. I've got a good one for you. Endless material. And it's causing real destruction, in real time, in real lives. Our democracy is even at stake. It's hidden in plain sight. Just go at it. It's called White Nationalism. You are welcome for the tip."

Meanwhile, one usually never-discussed topic is getting an unusual amount of play -- and that's feminism. In particular, whose feminism is more feminist than the other feminist's feminism.

Consider: Conservative MP Michelle Rempel does a kitchen table video condemning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his #fakefeminism.

"Standing up for women's equality, and calling yourself a feminist for votes is probably the most hypocritical and disgusting things he can do," she says to the camera, as if she isn't one of the more senior members of the party which welcomes the annual anti-choice March for Life rally in Ottawa. Or which champions "freedom of speech" on campus when it's convenient, like against women's reproductive rights, but condemns it when it's the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in support of Palestinian human rights.

Rempel and her sister Conservative MP Candice Bergen have repeatedly aimed their barbs at Trudeau because, you know, if they come from women, the #fakefeminism charges must be true.

"This all started when the good ol' boys at SNC-Lavalin were caught bribing and spending money on prostitutes, and then the prime minister and his good ol' boys said to them, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it,'" Bergen railed in the House. "However, a woman, the former attorney general, then said no to the good ol' boys -- and she was promptly fired and silenced."

In this skirmish, "feminism" gets tossed around by the right like a political football, played with now that it's rhetorically expedient to do so.

But, when it comes to equal pay, reproductive rights, violence against women and, yes, goddammit, state-funded universal daycare, the political field is deserted and even the guys in the stands run for the exits.

As much as Trudeau's feminist heart seems to be in the right place, his brain apparently hasn't caught up. Feminism is more than just a bunch of gender mentions in the budget, nor is it mixing men and women in cabinet and pronouncing it a gender-just society.

Politics is, by definition, sexist, invented by men for men. There's little opportunity for as many women as men to raise the money, run for nominations in their ridings, and then divide their scarce time between Ottawa and their district in Northern Wherever -- Niki Ashton, I salute you -- where their families may be.

When push comes to shove in the metaphorical smoke-filled backrooms -- a term that already oozes testosterone -- it's boys' rules only.

Hardly surprising since men are trained from their childhood years to follow the leader, on the hunt, on the warpath, up the career ladder. They learn quickly that, if they are not out there playing their assigned position, their side loses and they get cut from the team, killed -- or eaten.

Which is what Jody Wilson-Raybould may not have understood.

Those who claim that Trudeau betrayed his avowed feminism by kicking out Wilson-Raybould and her sister rebel Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party are in fact putting their sexism on display because Trudeau would have done the same had they been men. Only he wouldn't have been so gentle.

So it's not surprising that, on the day after they were expelled, Philpott told The Globe and Mail that she still believes Trudeau to be a feminist: "I have no desire to cast any doubt on his qualifications as a feminist. He has fought very hard for women's rights, and he deserves credit for that."

Well, he certainly talks a good game.

Trouble is, the whole politics stadium needs to be blown apart and rebuilt -- and an entirely new league, with new rules, created.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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