Defending the Indefensible?

By Max Fawcett | November 19, 2004

Carolyn Parrish, the Liberal MP from Mississauga-Erindale, was kicked out of the Liberal caucus by Prime Minister Paul Martin today for comments she made about him, his leadership, and her loyalty to him. She wasn’t, as many media outlets are reporting, asked to leave because of her frequent criticism of the Bush administration. But since that’s how it’s being reported, let’s begin by looking there.

Carolyn Parrish first became a widely known public figure when she said, within the range of television microphones, “Damn Americans. I hate those bastards.” She later apologized for her remarks, but didn’t appear terribly contrite. It certainly didn’t cost her many votes as she sailed to re-election in the recent federal election, winning by over 10,000 votes.

More recently, she referred to supporters of the American missile defence program, a wet dream for their military-industrial establishment, as a “coalition of the idiots.” She was taken to task for calling President Bush “warlike”, a reasonable comment given the fact that he himself has repeatedly refers to himself as a “war President.” After Bush’s re-election on November 3, she displayed a keen sense of irony in remarking that “I wouldn’t guess what’s next on his agenda, but it’s probably not peace and love.” Finally, she appeared – or, more accurately, will appear – on CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” in a segment in which, among other things, she kisses and then stomps on a George W. Bush doll. While she was surely poking fun at herself, this country’s punditocracy didn’t really seem to get that. Warren Kinsella, a former Chretien aide, referred to her on his website as “the real moron” and, in a surprising twist for one of Canada’s biggest Paul Martin critics, commended the Prime Minister for removing her from caucus.

Parrish was no friend of Martin’s to begin with. She was the only Liberal MP to survive the nomination purges that took place in the spring of 2004 in which Martin loyalists stacked nomination meetings and replaced the sitting MP with a candidate of their choosing. Sheila Copps, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage, was unable to survive a similar putsch in spite of the fact that she had a much higher profile than her opponent, now-House Leader Tony Valeri, a man whose most apparent virtue is his resemblance to Count Chocula. Parrish, by contrast, was facing Steve Mahoney, a member of cabinet and one of the most enthusiastic Martin loyalists. But she walked into the teeth of the Martin machine, won, and won big, something few others have done.

Her recent comments about Martin’s leadership were, I suspect, intended to precipitate some sort of crisis. In recent weeks she had been particularly critical about the government in general and in particular, Defence Minister Bill Graham’s desire to circumvent a debate over missile defence and support the American plan. After Martin’s adventure with “asymmetric federalism”, she may have found less and less to be proud of as a Liberal and thus fewer and fewer reasons to remain in caucus. In that respect (as I have heard from a number of long-time Liberals) she isn’t alone.

What does Parrish’s removal from the Liberal caucus mean? At first glance it means one less MP that will support Martin’s tenuous hold on power, although it was likely that she wouldn’t have supported him even if she had remained in caucus. More importantly, it means the loss of one of the few current MPs who possesses anything resembling a normal human personality – that is, she has a sense of humour, is passionate about issues, and speaks her mind.

Much of the criticism directed at her has been about her “style”, implying that she should have quietly registered her dissent and then gone about her business opening mini-malls, securing work permits, and generally attending to the needs of her constituents. But that isn’t, to me at least, what a Member of Parliament is elected to do. Sure, there are the inescapable and necessary chores that an MP must perform, but they must also deal honestly with issues of national importance. If a stink needs to be raised about a particular issue – like missile defence – then it is a conscientious MP’s job–regardless of party affiliation–to raise the biggest stink possible. I think even her critics would concede that Parrish is an expert at that.

Her opposition to Bush and his policies is not some wing-nut stance, as the adjectives ascribed to her might lead you to believe. It is a position that is supported by over 75% of Canadians, and it is a position that wasn’t being expressed by Martin or his associates. Parrish might be loud and, at times even crass, but she has been a refreshing beacon of humanity in a sea of conformity.

What’s really interesting here is another choice that Martin is making at the same time. On the one hand, he let Parrish go for the reasons mentioned above. On the other, he continues to defend the Minister of Immigration, another Toronto-area female MP named Judy Sgro, who helped a stripper who worked on her re-election campaign jump the immigration queue and obtain her Canadian citizenship. Sgro had the temerity to defend her decision by striking back at her critics, asserting that people were wrong to judge the woman for her “lifestyle choice.” She clearly doesn’t understand what she did wrong, and yet her  misjudgment has, to date, earned her the support of the Prime Minister. Odd priorities, eh?

There will be a deluge of commentaries tomorrow, most of which will be obituaries for Carolyn Parrish’s political career. Don’t believe it for a second. John Nunziata won re-election as an independent candidate after being booted out of caucus for criticizing Jean Chretien about his failure to remove the GST. Chuck Cadman earned re-election as an independent candidate after losing a Conservative nomination race in his riding. I would be willing to bet an awful lot of money that she will, if she decides to run again, win easily as an independent. If I lived in her riding, I’d vote for her.

Ottawa, November 19 – 1036 w.


  • Max Fawcett

    Max Fawcett is the former editor of the Chetwynd Echo, a weekly newspaper in the small northern town of Chetwynd, B.C. He currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

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