EDITORIAL: Offensiveness of convenience

Opinions on stripper-pole remark should not vary depending on likability, party affiliation or political spin.

Where’s your pole to slide down on?

It’s an odd question to ask anyone other than, perhaps, a firefighter – but odder still, and quite the reach, to ask a political opponent during a closed-door meeting to discuss national business.

Still, that’s the rhetorical comment South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts says she heard earlier this month, when her cellphone ringtone – designated for her daughter’s calls, and described as “jaunty” – sounded.

While Nicola Di Iorio might well have intended his question to be received as a light-hearted joke, we won’t know for certain until the Liberal MP for Saint Léonard-Saint Michel addresses the issue publicly. His Conservative counterpart, however, recounts the reaction from others in the room was one of uncomfortableness.

By any account an odd situation, it is made perhaps oddest by the reaction and online comments to this story that read like partisan strikes from the Bizarro world, in which Liberal foes call out sexist behaviour and Conservative foes suggest anyone offended should develop a sense of humour. In fact, non-Conservatives seem to have shown more than their usual flexibility, bending over backwards to explain how: 1) the ‘pole’ in question isn’t necessarily a ‘stripper pole’; 2) a closed-door meeting is no place for personal calls; and 3) this is non-news.

Really? A Canadian MP’s joke that can easily be interpreted as sexist, possibly flirty and most definitely insulting is non-news? Apologists for Di Iorio and/or his party would do well to remind themselves that their leader – our prime minister – has gone on record calling himself a feminist. They should note that their federal cabinet by design comprises an equal number of men and women (a misstep and patronizing in its own way, but well-meaning nonetheless).

One can only imagine the Liberal response if the late Conservative Toronto mayor Rob Ford had made such a comment to one of his political opponents. (And, for that, one certainly doesn’t need much imagination.)

Or does the source and the target of such a ‘joke’ determine its level of offensiveness?

While all are free to form individual opinions, we suggest each of us should take a consistent stance, irrespective of feelings about either side… regardless of likability, regardless of party affiliation and regardless of political spin.

Otherwise, the next time we hear such a joke or comment in the House – or on the street – we’ll know exactly where one really stands on the issue, stretching personal credibility to the limit.