EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition NDP tried and failed Thursday to censure the deputy speaker for evicting one of their members from the house in a day that saw both sides accuse each other of belittling and marginalizing women in politics.
The governing United Conservatives voted down an NDP motion to discuss whether deputy Speaker Nicholas Milliken should still have his job after he ordered NDP member Marie Renaud out of the chamber during debate the evening prior.
Milliken ejected Renaud after she accused UCP members of trying to intimidate her through gestures while she was standing to speak to a bill.
Milliken said Renaud’s comments imputed unfair motives and were disrupting the house, and ordered her to withdraw the comments and apologize.
Renaud withdrew the remarks but would not apologize and was evicted for the balance of the night.
On Thursday, Renaud told reporters she faced mocking gestures, stares and facial expressions to try to throw her off balance during her speech.
“It happens frequently to a lot of women in our caucus. And last night was just bad and I called it out,” said Renaud.
Milliken is a United Conservative backbencher but is expected to be impartial when directing debate from the Speaker’s chair.
NDP house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP made the motion because Milliken failed to not only address Renaud’s concerns but focused the blame on her, calling into question his impartiality.
“It affects every single member from having the ability to stand in this house and to be able to feel freely without harassment to debate with the intent of having the Speaker be a neutral, non-partisan body,” Sweet told Speaker Nathan Cooper in making the motion.
UCP backbencher Laila Goodridge challenged Renaud, telling the house that bullying and intimidation can’t be countenanced but heckling is a part of politics, and having someone focus their attention on you in the house is respectful and appropriate.
“We need to be careful not to label everything and everyone we don’t like as bullying. Not liking something does not make it bullying,” said Goodridge.
“I would suggest that if someone doesn’t want people looking at them when they speak, perhaps they’re not in the right field.”
The debate was the capstone to a Wednesday that saw typical attacks, insults and angry hyperbole between the NDP and UCP boil over. It even dragged in the memory of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
During debate of a bill that would allow non-constitutional referendums, NDP member Marlin Schmidt pointed out that even conservative icon Thatcher had concerns that referendums can be twisted to curtail minority rights.
“Just let me say that I am no fan of Margaret Thatcher,” Schmidt added.
“If nothing else goes right for me in a day, I can at least count on enjoying the fact that Margaret Thatcher is still dead. And the only thing I regret about Margaret Thatcher’s death is that it happened probably 30 years too late.”
At the direction of the Speaker, Schmidt apologized and withdrew the remarks.
On Thursday, UCP backbencher Miranda Rosin told the house that Schmidt’s remarks make it difficult for women to enter politics.
“The disgusting comments we heard, which celebrated the death of the greatest female leader in the 20th century … will not be encouraging to any woman who wishes to seek elected office,” said Rosin.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press