Liberal MPs walked out on a status of women committee meeting Tuesday morning to oppose the Conservative pick for chair, Rachael Harder, a parliamentarian who has previously said she is anti-abortion.
During the last federal election, Harder told the Campaign for Life Coalition that she would introduce and pass laws to protect "unborn children," while adding she believed life begins at the time of conception.
The Alberta MP said she supported abortion only when necessary to save the life of a mother.
These answers led the anti-abortion group to deem her perfectly "pro-life," signalling to supporters they could feel confident voting for her. The group later amended its rating, urging caution, after it said a local newspaper quoted Harder as saying she believes every woman should have access to abortion services.
Last summer, Harder handed out some $12,000 in federal job grants to two pregnancy care centres in her Lethbridge, Alta., riding that refuse to refer patients to abortion providers.
While in office, former prime minister Stephen Harper blocked efforts to reopen the abortion debate. While he is personally pro-life, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said the country has already settled certain divisive social issues.
Harder did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Only a handful of House of Commons committees are chaired by members of the opposition, including the status of women. Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu recently left the post after her appointment as opposition health critic.
Harder was tapped by Scheer to fill the vacancy, but Liberal and NDP MPs gave it only two minutes of thought before walking out on the scheduled meeting. Harder's nomination for the position did not make it to a vote.
'Liberal effort to change the channel'
During question period, the committee's Liberal vice-chair, Pam Damoff, sought to explain why MPs walked out but was largely shouted down by Conservative MPs. She managed to ask Scheer to reconsider his pick.
"I think it's certainly unprecedented that the prime minister would interfere, and block the nomination of a democratically elected member of Parliament to serve as chair of a committee. I think it shows a lack of respect for the parliamentary process; it's very unfortunate," Scheer told reporters Tuesday.
He said Harder was a hard-working MP who supports his positive vision of Canada.
"It's a Liberal effort to change the channel," away from growing backlash to the government's proposed small business tax changes, Scheer said in French, while adding there are members of the Liberal caucus, including John McKay and Lawrence MacAulay, who have previously voiced anti-abortion positions and yet still hold positions of power.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied he pressured his MPs to initiate the protest, but said he supported the move to boycott Harder.
"The fact is that the Liberal Party, and indeed this government, is unequivocal in our defence of women's rights. We will always defend women's rights ... and quite frankly, one would hope that the committee for the status of women would have a spokesperson to stand up and unequivocally defend women's rights. That is sort of the point of the status of women committee," he told reporters.
Sheila Malcolmson, the NDP member of the committee, said "reproductive justice is foundational to women's rights," and she would call on the Conservatives to nominate a "less radical" member of their caucus to take over the post.
MPs Karen Vecchio and Martin Shields are the other Conservative members of the committee. Vecchio did not answer the Coalition for Life's questionnaire during the last campaign. But the group said Vecchio "supported the culture of death" by voting for the medical assistance in dying legislation, and endorsed government's "radical transgender ideology" by voting in favour of Bill C-16, the trans rights bill.
Maryam Monsef, the Liberal government's status of women minister, commended her colleagues' act of protest.
"Andrew Scheer would like us to believe that his style of leadership is an inclusive one, a positive one where gender equality matters, and yet he continues to send signals like this that go against what the women's movement has been saying for decades," she said.
"[The committee] decided that having their spokesperson, and the chair, be someone who does not support a woman's right to choose, is not supportive of trans persons' rights, is not the best choice," Monsef said.