I’m gonna have to side with Voltaire on this one.

Much has been written in the last couple of days, both in mainstream media and non-traditional media, about Doug Elniski’s recent public comments and although I echo many of the sentiments expressed by my fellow bloggers, I feel there is something off about Albertan’s thirst for blood these days.

When I first read the excerpt from Minister Elniski’s speech (via Daveberta – by the way, best post title ever) I admittedly was livid. The frustration that boiled in my veins had me half seriously considering driving to Calder that moment and door knocking until I had enough concerned citizens with me to flip his seat. Fuming, I delved deeply into the recesses of my feminist heart and stayed there, pleasantly, plotting quick and tactless ways of bringing this shallow and insensitive comment to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Turns out, everyone else felt fairly similar and a barrage of commentary ensued, giving me the time to intellectualize about why these comments were so offensive and what it was I wanted to come out of this.

Hardly the first time an Alberta elected official has said or done something so blatantly offensive that calls for resignation seemed impending; these comments struck a cord in me so tense I felt my entire body vibrate.

Nevertheless, to truly understand my frustration, whole context is needed here, for both mine and for Mr. Elniski’s sake.

Firstly, look at the entirety of the speech given. Please, do not take exception to this opinion, but the whole thing is not very good. Borrowing some phrases from an overused and cliché feel-good youtube clip (which is so toothache inducing, I refuse to link) that was trite and rather sentimental to begin with, the speech was fluff. Complete and total fluff, clearly no staffer had touched it, even to fix the grammatical errors. The speech on a whole is as trite as the content lifted from other sources, it is shallow and hardly inspiring. The comments made about both young boys and young girls are thoughtless and sterotypical and sadly poorly represent most Albertans.

Secondly, from Elniski’s blog post it is not entirely clear on whether the insensitive and ignorant comments were a part of the whole speech or just an added on bit for the pleasure of his blog readers (although it seems as if the general journalistic consensus is that the comments were a part of the speech…).

Lastly, and most importantly, Elniski’s speech was just that, a speech. It was not a piece of legislation, it was not an amendment, it was not a call to all men everywhere to lock up their housewives and break out the aprons.

It was callous, it was insensitive and it was completely ignorant of the daily struggles of women globally who still fight to attain the right to be treated as persons. We seem to have easily forgotten that EQUALITY is a word with much power behind it. That while we enjoy a society here in Canada that strives to achieve an institutional blind eye to gender, race and physical ability, we also continue to toil in a culture where equality sometimes means little more than accommodation.

Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, oft quoted but surmises my feeling’s on our current state of affairs.

With public officials (Raitt, Evans and now Elniski) saying nothing less in public than they would in their homes are doing nothing less then exercising their right to speak in public. The same right I presently employ by this post, by my Twitter and Facebook account and by conversing with others in public spaces. The election Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in question here today has been an active individual using social media tools to engage people far and wide. While he may tweet comments I personally find offensive, he is thinking them regardless and he was elected; mind,  body and soul, to represent the people of Calder and Alberta.

The greater issue at hand is that his comments speak to a culture of narrow mindedness and ignorance. Accommodation is not equality and believing that to be true is simply laziness and unwillingness to create positive change around you.

Today on Twitter, a comment appeared regarding a poll on CTV.ca for Elniski to resign. Where Alberta once had a Premier (with a rather high approval rating if I remember correctly…) who drunkenly threw loose change at residents of the Calgary Drop-In Center and now we are calling for resignation of an MLA who exercised his right in this country to voice his opinions? How fickle we have become.

I would like to state again, I in no way believe that Equal should only come “as little packets at Starbucks”, and I still have some less than pleasant thoughts about this particular member’s opinions. I believe that his apology was sincere and I would be disappointed to see this incident cause censorship of public officials, nonetheless I would love nothing more than the opportunity to have a long discussion about Women’s rights. In the end thought, I respect that he is as free to say what he thinks as I am, regardless of how unintelligent and insensitive.

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One thought on “I’m gonna have to side with Voltaire on this one.

  1. Kendall says:

    Solid article Jenn.

    We have to be careful about demanding resignations because we risk becoming the Girls and Boys Who Cried Wolf. The people should always have the right to hold their elected officials accountable. But there are other ways to do it besides just jumping to a call for resignation. If society asks their leaders to step down every time one does something that impacts society in a negative way, the call for resignation will be diluted when there is an extreme breach of democracy and the society really needs it. It will just be the “call for resignation of the week”.

    Calling for resignation is not the appropriate way to respond in most disagreements, especially of this sort. It is a reactive, rash response. If anything, calling for a resignation will do nothing more than force the official into patch-up mode, scrambling to justify their actions to the voters and themselves. Usually, it will result, as I believe it did in this case, with an insincere apology. What should result is a healthy debate between the official and the people as well as an equally healthy debate amongst the people. Overcoming sexism is something that happens through a deeper understanding of another perspective, not by confrontation or a slap on the wrist.

    For those on the left, what happens if an official makes a comment about abortion, sex education, or birth control that the right doesn’t like? Is it okay for them to immediately demand that the official step down? If anything, the left is more vulnerable to this sort of demand simply because progressive views are the ones that break with tradition and won’t necessarily conform to those of mainstream society. We must protect other’s rights to free speech, so that we can protect our own.

    I’m not saying that a society should never ask their officials to step down. What I am saying that it must be done sparingly in order to maintain the impact it has the potential to have.

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