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Stay classy, Braz-man!

This may surprise a lot of my foreign friends (and probably a bunch of my Canadian friends as well), but Canada has a Senate. Unlike the American Senate, our Senators are appointees who serve for life, somewhat like Supreme Court Justices. They are supposed to be an arms-length body appointed from a wide swath of Canadian life whose job it is to scrutinize legislation passed through the House of Commons (something akin to the American Congress, but not really).

The most distinctive features of Canadian Senators is the fact that, unless you’re particularly interested in federal politics, they’re entirely anonymous. Canadian Senators don’t really make a big splash, and they’re rarely found in the headlines except when the entire Senate is under discussion for some reason or another. That all changed when Harper appointee Patrick Brazeau agreed to a boxing match with Liberal member of Parliament Justin Trudeau. Overnight, Senator Brazeau went from anonymous public servant to household name. But of course, because nobody checks to make sure celebrities aren’t total pieces of shit, this happened:

It was a relatively sleepy week on Parliament Hill, with MPs having gone back to their ridings a few days ago. But Sen. Patrick Brazeau managed to wake up everyone with a Twitter attack on a reporter who filed a story about his 25 per cent absence rate in the Senate. Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn probably didn’t expect the response she was about to get when she tweeted the link to her story.

“Youngest senator has worst attendance record of upper chamber this session. bit.ly/QdajLp Will be updated. #cdnpoli

The honourable senator responded soon after.

@jenditchburn no wonder I didn’t mention why with the assinine reports you guys have to make. No regard for personal lives or situations.”

But he wasn’t done, suggesting Ditchburn change her name to something that started with a “b”.

@jenditchburn while u smile Jen, others suffer. Change the D to a B in your last name and we’re even! Don’t mean it but needs saying.

Get it? Because her name’s Ditchburn, so changing it would make her Bitchburn! It’s hi-fuckin’-LARIOUS! But apparently he didn’t mean it, it was just something that needed to be said. By a Senator. On the internet. Usually this is the point in the post where I say “in soandso’s defence” and try to present the opposing argument in as honest a way as possible before pointing out why it’s wrong. In this case, however, there is no defence for this kind of comment. If you’re an adult, you don’t respond to a professional criticism with a personal attack. You certainly don’t do it by making an elementary-school barb about the person’s last name. You certainly don’t do that if that pun involves calling the other party an ugly bitch. And you absolutely, positively do not do that if you are a Canadian Senator.

Of course, if you’re not an adult, if you are in fact a puerile man-child who, despite being woefully unqualified and lacking even the basic maturity that one would expect from a sullen teenager, is appointed to one of the highest political positions in the country, then this kind of infantile reaction is par for the course.

Now, Senator Brazeau offered an apology, which Ms. Ditchburn accepted. If it was anything at all like the faux-pologies offered on Twitter (endless repetitions of “I don’t want to be responsible for the fact that I called you a bitch, so if you’re offended it’s your fault”), I’d imagine that Ms. Ditchburn accepted it with repeatedly rolled eyes. The problem is emphatically not simply that he said the words; the problem is that when his back is to a wall, a member of the Canadian Senate reaches into his bag of options and pulls out ‘call national reporter a bitch’. Senator Brazeau’s attack was not just on one reporter, but on any woman who has the temerity to report on his lacklustre performance – when a woman says something he doesn’t like, she qualifies as a bitch, and her personal appearance becomes relevant to the discussion.

I don’t often call for someone’s resignation, but Sentaor Brazeau’s completely thoughtless and inappropriate reaction suggests to me that he does not deserve the title of Senator. Further, his continued antics (this isn’t the first time he’s embarrassed himself on Twitter) brings disgrace to an institution that, because of its relative anonymity, doesn’t exactly enjoy robust public support. He should find a quiet moment when the spotlight is on something else stupid that the Republican North Party does and then resign quickly.

For the record, if you are interested in the perspective of a Senator who demonstrates her fitness for the position, I highly recommend Mobina Jaffer.

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Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    I’m sorry, I may have missed it, but where did the “ugly bitch” thing come from? I thought when you first mentioned it, you were just extrapolating, but then you said something about “her personal appearance becomes relevant.”

    To the extent that any use of misogynist slurs plays into patriarchal notions of women that view their appearance as the most important factor, I get it… but, 1) I think that’s a bit of a stretch, and 2) more importantly I am wondering if I missed some more overt subtext (after all, one important lesson I’ve learned is that coming from a position of privilege it’s easy for me to miss when somebody is making a subtle jab at someone based on gender or race, and it’s quite possible there was some other dog whistle in there that flew over my head)

    (And to be clear, I agree with every single other thing you said about Brazeau’s reprehensible tweet)

  2. mythbri says

    Your fury is misplaced, SC. Clearly you should be miffed that Brazeau had to step up and call Ms. Ditchburn a “bitch” himself, instead of having someone else do it for him.

    WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE SENATORS?!

  3. says

    When he said that when she smiles, other people suffer. I don’t know what other interpretation to give that comment other than “you have an ugly smile”

  4. leftwingfox says

    The elimination of the Senate is one of the few areas where I generally supported the Reform Party. Funny how that position has switched to the Liberal/NDP alliance, now that the Reform Party has morphed into the Conservative Party of Canada.

  5. says

    I’ve always been curious about that position – the Senate performs the necessary function of being a body that is not beholden to electoral cycles and shallow, populist pandering. Why should it be abolished?

  6. leftwingfox says

    Hell, the entire idea of the Canadian Senate to begin with is pretty classist. Leave aside these are appointed by the Prime Minister, and as such are going to be well-connected; There’s even an outdated provision that Senators must own $4000 worth of land in their province, and have at least $4000 in personal wealth above their debts and loans.

    (This is only “outdated” in that it hasn’t been adjusted for inflation, not that it is no longer on the books. Adjusted for inflation, this would have meant somewhere between $175,000 and $200,000)

    Given the role of the Senate to provide a “sober check” on government, and head up various committees, the idea of a bunch of politically connected rich guys being the epitome of sober judgement is pretty classist.

    The east one can do when assigned to this position, is to be… well… classy.

  7. leftwingfox says

    I think we cross-posted. See above for my thoughts on the classist elements.

    I do think there is value in a deliberative body that is not beholden directly to electoral politics. As a check on government in it’s current form though, it’s essentially useless, as Mulroney proved when he appointed 8 temporary senators to pass the GST.

    As a deliberative body heading up the various Standing Committees, I have to wonder if celebrity newscasters, olympic athletes and businessmen with arty affiliations make up the best method of forming these sorts of policy committees.

  8. jamessweet says

    Ah. He said “while [you] smile, others suffer”, which (to me at least) has a very different connotation than if he had said “when”. I thought (and to be frank, still think) that he was implying that she was gloating over her article while others paid the price.

    In any case, I will say no more about it, as the tweet is still unacceptable regardless of how one interprets the sentence in question.

  9. says

    *yawn* Let me know when one of your senators interrupts the prime minister mid-speech by standing up and shouting, “You lie!” /snark

    Seriously, though, judging from your reaction, the Canadian political sphere must be accustom to a level of civil discourse the USA’s can only dream of, and I am envious.

  10. says

    It was the Senate who defeated (in a tie vote) the Mulrouny government’s second attempt to pass abortion legislation after the Morgentaler decision. They’re not completely useless.

    Personally, I’m in favour of senate reform; the idea of an unelected body doesn’t sit right with me. An elected senate would be best, though with longer terms than MPs.

    I believe Harper was in favour of senate reform, not abolishment. That was before he could pick senators, though, go figure.

  11. Pen says

    The problem is also that he responded from a place of not feeling accountable for his performance. It is perfectly true that there could be personal reasons affecting his attendance, but when most people don’t show up at work they’re expected to call in and say why up front, not to mention supply evidence.

  12. says

    Reorm didn’t want to eliminate the Senate. They wanted a “Triple E” Senate, with the E’s being equal, elected, and effective. The Senate would have had equal membership for all provinces and be elected like the House of Commons.

  13. says

    Actually Senators are no longer appointed for life. They now retire at 75. Only Senators appointed before the Constitution Act of 1965 don’t have to retire. Brazeau is 37, so we may have to put up with him in the Senate for the next 38 years.

  14. says

    If someone tried to pie the POTUS, the Secret Service would have 30 rounds in them before the whipped cream cleared the pan. And that’s only a slight exaggeration – we’re all about our excessive force ’round here.

    Back on topic: I agree that the senator was completely unprofessional and unstatesman-like in responding to the press tweet with a personal attack. I wonder if he would still have resorted to name-calling if the press member had been male.

  15. says

    We tried the whole “not beholden to popular bias” thing with the Senate here in the US, prior to the Seventeenth Amendment. Senators were assigned by the state legislatures instead of by popular vote.

    We found, mainly, that the old system lead to continuous political corruption (wheeling and dealing) as well as frequent deadlocking (between the house and senate).

    It turns out that electing senators doesn’t really resolve the root causes of those problems, and we’ve still got them today. However, the only people seriously arguing for a return to the old system are the most regressive segments of the Republican party.

    More democracy was no panacea, but it didn’t really hurt anything, either.

    In my opinion, in order to establish a legislative function that would be immune to corruption and gamesmanship, it would be necessary to make it effectively random. In order words, to fill positions not by appointment or election, but simply by placing random citizens in them. This form of government would raise some questions, of course, including whether a random selection of citizens would actually be able to govern effectively in the public interest, and who ultimately acts as the check to ensure that the selection was truly random and not a function of some kind of underground manipulation.

  16. leftwingfox says

    @Fionnabhair: Good point.

    @kagerato: I was actually leaning towards a slightly more technocratic angle, i.e., if there is value in the senate with targeted policy committees, then I’d prefer panels of actual experts in the fields, rather than politically connected wealthy folks.

    Still, the idea of a senate as Jury Duty would be a fascinating idea; picking a relatively random cross-section of Canada to serve an advisory role in government could be a great way to ensure greater participation from the economic, ethnic and gender groups that have been poorly represented in government as a whole.

  17. Suido says

    I read that as “you take pleasure in others’ suffering”.

    Still a horrible sentiment, but not necessarily gender based.

  18. F says

    Not-really randomly selected Mobina Jaffer tweet:

    I believe us Senators need to do a better job of communicating the work of Senate.

    Oh, and she’s got a blog an’ everything.
    http://www.mobinajaffer.ca/

    I think I’d love to steal this woman from Canada and have her installed as President. Canada South!

  19. joel says

    Hey, you managed to stereotype and insult men, children, teenagers and infants all in one sentence.

    “Of course, if you’re not an adult, if you are in fact a puerile man-child who, despite being woefully unqualified and lacking even the basic maturity that one would expect from a sullen teenager, is appointed to one of the highest political positions in the country, then this kind of infantile reaction is par for the course.”

    This is really not fair to young people. Why is it still ok to use the young in this way?

    Besides it not being fair, we need to be welcoming to teenagers, and children not abuse them if we want to share freethinking with them.

  20. kevinalexander says

    @kagerato

    I have been arguing for Lottodemocracy for years. The electoral system has become completely corrupted by money so it’s the richest gang that runs the show.

    If Harper tried to get his stuff past a truly representative body I don’t think he could do so much damage.

  21. Onamission5 says

    I wish people would stop accepting these not-pologies for bad (sexist, racist, phobic) behavior from those in positions of power and influence, and instead hold the actors accountable. Accepting apologies gives bad behavior a pass. All someone has to do is issue a “gee, sorry you were offended” statement to the press and they’re off the hook for whatever revolting thing they say, no sanctions, few consequences. It’s bullshit. It needs to be unacceptable to say such shit in the first place. Call them to the mat, address the issues which make people think they can act like that on impulse, issue a weak retraction later, and get away with it.

  22. says

    Gotta love that whole “I don’t really think X I just think it’s appropriate to behave as if I think X” thing. As if that’s actually a meaningful distinction.

  23. joel says

    “Dismissed” is an apt term in this context. That’s what we do to the young in many ways.

    By the way in order to actually dismiss a comment you must stamp your foot and mutter I hate you.

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