‘Ottawa’ Reevely: The Ontario Liberals Pounce on Jack MacLaren’s Latest Bad Day
With the Ontario Liberals having lobbed three allegations of sexism and misogyny at Progressive Conservative MPPs in the past week, the outline of their campaign for re-election is becoming clear: Whatever our faults, the Tories are dumb old dinosaurs and you need us to protect you from them.
And oh, the Liberals nailed one when Kanata MPP Jack MacLaren said something deeply dumb in the legislature about a bill that would toughen penalties on health-industry workers who sexually abuse patients.
The bill is the Protecting Patients Act and it’s actually a small smorgasbord — a charcuterie plate, maybe — of legislation that also updates the rules for medical labs, makes it harder to opt out of vaccinations, expands certain powers of registered nurses and rewrites the law on government-funded seniors activity centres.
Nobody wants to sound like they’re OK with sexual abuse, but it doesn’t follow that anything that purports to crack down on sexual abuse is automatically good. Several MPPs had problems with the bill, particularly that the important section cracking down on dirty doctors was mixed in with so many things that have no connection to it.
The NDP’s France Gélinas argued that getting victims to complain is hard and the government’s plan doesn’t help or support them. Let’s separate that part of the bill out and try again with more care, she proposed.
“Pull it,” agreed her caucusmate Catherine Fife.
Then came Jack.
“Any time you hear the term ‘zero tolerance,’ I find that dangerous, because there always has to be consideration of leniency, of understanding and of tolerance,” he told the legislature. “We are a tolerant society, so now to prescribe that we want to be, by law, intolerant, I think, is a very wrongful way to go, and we are doing ourselves a great disservice as a society, and to our people and to the patients of Ontario. … We’re going to make a situation where it’s such an unpleasant place and unfriendly towards doctors in Ontario. Of course, we’ve had pay cuts for doctors in the last couple of years. There’s going to be an incentive for them to go to greener pastures where they can make more money and they’re more appreciated.”
Look. There’s a legitimate argument under there. Zero-tolerance policies on anything are dumb — there are always edge cases with complex sets of facts where removing all discretion in punishment produces bad results. Zero-tolerance policies on violence in Ontario’s schools meant giving up on kids who needed help; judges revolted against mandatory minimum sentences in criminal law. Most perversely, adjudicators sometimes shy away from finding people guilty of misconduct if they think the punishment will be excessive for the case.
But Jack MacLaren, hauling around his history of sexual jokes and attempts to humiliate his Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon, might be the very worst person in Ontario politics to make that case.
And so ineptly. Ontario prides itself on being a tolerant and inclusive society, yes, but we mean not minding what god you worship or clothes you wear. Using your medical licence to grope your patients isn’t part of our cultural fabric. Connecting those two ideas through the word “tolerance” is weird.
Tuesday, MacLaren retracted. “I regret very much my choice of words yesterday and I assure you it won’t happen again,” he said outside the legislature.
The MacLaren incident is the third one the Liberals have pointed out in a week. First, they extracted an apology from MPP Randy Pettapiece for joking that a prospective member of the Ontario Energy Board, an accomplished chemical engineer and nuclear expert, might use her expertise to do something about Queen’s Park’s coffee. It’s not completely obvious this was sexist, but it was certainly disrespectful in a job interview with a committee of legislators.
There was the embarrassing misfire against Tory leader Patrick Brown the other day, accusing of him of sexism for speaking at a men’s club where he was not, in fact, speaking. But now this, a direct hit.
Look what came up in a week when the Tories aren’t under any particular pressure. The Liberals didn’t even get to a petition MacLaren endorsed and presented asking the government to protect life-energy manipulators from being told not to call what they do “psychotherapy.” The Tories have creationists and UN-fretters, sex-education skeptics and Magna Carta maniacs. Who knows what one of them might say?
Brown’s labouring mightily to seem like a reasonable guy but he can only disavow his own party members so many times. Spooking Ontarians into thinking the Progressive Conservatives are nuts has been a successful Liberal strategy and the Tories are always happy to supply them with raw material.