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March 29, 2001

Liberals, party of hatred

Fry laughs off her smear and Copps adds a new one

Paul Wells
National Post

It took seven security guards yesterday to rush Hedy Fry past waiting reporters and out of the House of Commons. I'm wondering how many it will take today to airlift Sheila Copps past the scribes. And I'm wondering when membership in the Liberal Party of Canada became a licence to hate.

Until it was time for her to leave, Ms. Fry had a fine old time during question period yesterday. Commons broadcast rules require that the cameras point only at MPs who are on their feet speaking, so if you were watching on television you would have missed the spectacle of Ms. Fry carrying on. Perhaps you have worried that she is not enjoying herself these days. Let me reassure you that she is having a blast.

A week ago the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism said crosses are being burned in a Canadian city. She returned hours later, not to retract but to assert the existence of documentary evidence that didn't exist. She finally hauled herself to her feet the next day to offer an apology that was all the more easily extracted from her because it was the only cost of her behaviour. She stays in Cabinet. She keeps her car. Jean Chrétien remains her staunch defender.

So she's off scot-free, isn't she? Which explains Ms. Fry's ebullient behaviour yesterday in the House. She smiled broadly while Mr. Chrétien fended off questions about her behaviour.

She listened as Martin Cauchon, the Revenue Minister, who sits in front of her, leaned back and made a comment, which made her burst out laughing.

She waved coquettishly across the floor at the opposition benches, as if to say: Hi! Can't catch me. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

She had something she wanted Alliance MPs to know, because she repeatedly mouthed some short phrase or other with exaggerated facial gestures. She had something she wanted them to see, because she held up a piece of paper, facing the opposition, and pointed at it, her eyebrows arched.

Whatever her point was, she failed to make it: I could find nobody in the opposition who heard her comment or could read her scrap of paper. And we didn't get a chance to ask, because yet again she was hustled past reporters behind a flying wedge of blue-clad Commons security guards.

The guards were only doing their jobs. I cannot imagine they will get much chance to relax soon.

At one point, Gurmant Grewal (Alliance, Surrey Central) was rattling off the impressive list of communities whose reputations Ms. Fry has thoughtlessly sullied. In front of him Deborah Grey (Alliance, Edmonton North) said he mustn't forget Ms. Fry's anti-Christian comments during last November's election campaign.

(Ms. Grey was referring to Ms. Fry's comment that the Alliance leader wants to "abuse his political power by making all Canadians believe, as he said, that Jesus Christ is the God of the whole universe ... I say that is an insult to every Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, everybody else who believes in other religions." As you might expect, people who believed in any number of religions denounced Ms. Fry's ranting as nonsense. She has never apologized.)

That's when Sheila Copps said, "What would you know about Christians?"

The moment led to some confusion. Was Ms. Copps shouting at Mr. Grewal, who is not a Christian, or to Ms. Grey, who is? Both stood to demand an apology. Reporters discussed the matter. Some people seemed to think it would be worse if she were attacking Mr. Grewal. I'm afraid I don't see the slightest difference.

Imagine if Joe Clark were to rise in the House of Commons and say, "Mr. Speaker, it is clear by the greed and duplicity he has shown in the Shawinigan affair that the Prime Minister is not a good Christian." How long could Mr. Clark survive the outrage such a stupid, hateful remark would cause? Or what if Mr. Clark had only heckled the Prime Minister in his trademark basso profundo: "What would you know about Christians?"

Would Sheila Copps find that fair game?

Yet after hurried consultations with half a dozen colleagues, Ms. Copps rose to claim her comments were harmless. She was only questioning Ms. Grey's ability to show "the very important Christian value of forgiveness." Was she sorry? "I'm sorry that members opposite have tried to construe these comments as being something that they utterly were not. Make no mistake about it. The comment was in direct response to the member from Edmonton North."

Oh, well then. Thank goodness she wasn't insulting a member of another faith. Insulting Christians is just one of those very important Liberal values.

Large systems get their characteristics from the top. If in two weeks a backbencher can call the opposition racist; a junior minister can find crosses burning where none were burning; and a former deputy prime minister of Canada can anoint herself judge and jury of a colleague's faith; then the rot comes from the top. Jean Chrétien is defending the morally indefensible, with the entirely predictable result that each day he has more of it to defend.

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