Quebec Liberals deny accusations they're 'anti women'

The Quebec Liberals are vigorously defending themselves from accusations their government has been encouraging various forms of violence against women.

Parti Québécois accuses government of waging violence against women through budget cuts

Carole Poirier, the Parti Québécois's status of women critic, refused to back down from her comments accusing the government of violence against women. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec Liberals are vigorously defending themselves from accusations their government has been encouraging violence against women through reckless budget cuts.​

That was the accusation leveled at the Liberals by the Parti Québécois's status of women critic during a legislative committee hearing on Friday. The committee was examining provisions in the recent budget for women's issues.

In a written submission to the committee, Carole Poirier criticized the funding levels the government had allotted for the Secrétariat à la condition féminine, which funds women's initiatives. 

"Let's not mince words," Poirier said. "For two years, this government has been encouraging acts of violence and sexist discrimination, which can be physical, psychological, verbal, economic, social and political."

The accusation left one Liberal member of the committee speechless. Marie-Claude Nichols, visibly flustered, managed to say that she was "completely taken aback."

"I am without words," Nichols said in response to Poirier's remarks. "I simply can't believe it."

No backing down

But Poirier refused to back away from her comments after the committee session ended. Speaking to reporters afterwards, she accused the government of being "anti-women" by virtue of its funding cuts to women's groups.

"I won't apologize because these are facts," Poirier said.

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She was joined in her criticism by Québec Solidaire MNA Manon Massé, who argued the Liberals were committing "economic violence" against women by adopting austerity measures in their budget. 

Women's groups also left the committee session with harsh words for the government. The head of the Quebec Women's Federation, Mélanie Sarazin, echoed descriptions of the Liberals as "anti-women."

"We are disappointed, we are shocked," said Sarazin of the lack of financial support for women's issues. 

Status of Women Minister Lise Thériault accused the Opposition of playing partisan politics with women's issues. (Radio-Canada)

Playing politics?

The government minister responsible for the status of women, Lise Thériault, defended the Liberals' record, and claimed the opposition was playing partisan politics with women's issues. 

"By accusing the Quebec government of attacking the physical, psychological and sexual integrity of Quebec women, the Parti Québécois's representative is demonstrating bad faith and intellectual dishonesty that is unbecoming of a parliamentarian," Thériault said in a statement released Friday evening. 

"She is demonstrating a lack of respect towards our democratic institutions that is without equal." 

The Secrétariat à la condition féminine also released a statement on Friday, pointing it out it has given $6.5 million over the past two years to women's groups across the province. 

Thériault fell afoul of women's groups earlier this year when she refused to describe herself as a feminist. The resulting outcry prompted her to revise her initial position, saying she was a feminist "in her own way."

Sarazin recalled the controversy upon leaving the committee session, saying the government lacked a "feminist vision."

With files from La Presse Canadienne and Ryan Hicks