Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Calling a Spade a Tuning Fork0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Thursday November 30, 2006 at 8:02 pm)

Ave, dear readers. Again, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, Q.E.D., at your service. Today, I address you in search of the answer to an important question: what makes things what they are?

It is a question of considerable age, to be certain. But the Bard’s take, however elegant, only helps us make a mei out of a rose. More challenging by far is to make a rose out of a daisy.

This more ambitious task (or something frightfully like it) is being undertaken at this very moment by the World Chess Federation. In their quest to be recognized as a sport, they will now test competitors for drugs.

A stunning solution, to be sure; but not one without its precedents. Does not salt make food of metal?

Convinced, I close, leaving with you the immortal words of the Thimble Theater Sailor Man:

I yam what I yam.

Are not we all?

GE

Something for the Ladies?0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Wednesday November 29, 2006 at 7:15 pm)

The unfortunate thing about contentious issues in Canadian society is that the more important the issue is, the less likely it is that reasoned debate will prevail. The nation debate is but one example. A more obviously mishandled one is the Women’s Program.

This program is a nationwide distribution system for grant money designed to focus on promoting women’s equality through social development programs. It was created in response to suggestions by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1973.

And now, the Conservative government has moved to close twelve of its regional offices as part of its plan to cut $5 Million from Status of Women Canada.

Naturally, this has produced a vocal outcry from the opposition:

Canadian women are still only earning 71 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, more and more women are living in poverty, and we are still waiting for the government to create child-care spaces. With the closure of these regional offices, the government is taking away one of the very few remaining resources for women.

Which are all serious problems. What’s not certain is what they have to do with the closures.

And there’s no excuse for that. After all, the current government’s proposals for restructuring the agency can easily be compared with the previous government’s review of the agency just last year.

Key points from that report:

  • Overall, stakeholders perceive the design and delivery of the WP to have several important strengths. These include . . .its social development approach. . .its decentralized structure and presence in communities. . .
  • . . .the Program’s decentralized delivery model can also contribute to increasing the costs associated with providing this form of assistance [social development funding]. . .
  • . . .program staff and managers believe that the WP suffers from poor internal communications and information sharing among the regions and the national office.
  • Staff from several regions stressed the importance of in-person contact with organizations in their own communities and said that they lack the personnel, as well as the travel budget, to serve all communities and groups within their region equally

In summary, then, a few key points emerge:

  • Women’s groups value the program’s local representation as well as local officers’ help
  • Local offices are costly and aren’t well integrated with the national office, resulting in poor coordination and redundancies

Which means what for the government’s proposal?

Whether they’re doing it well, they are addressing legitimate concerns about the expense and inefficiency of running so many offices. But the fact that the officers are going to be relocated to Heritage Canada offices raises further questions:

  • Will these officers remain exclusively officers of the Women’s Program, or will they be officers shared between the two agencies?
  • Will they have better resources and communication with the national headquarters at Heritage Canada offices?

In a best case scenario, the officers are simply relocated to larger regional offices and Heritage Canada facilities in the same communities and others begin to provide more local service. In that case, more communities will have a local presence, though the staff in each community won’t have as much time to work locally. On the other hand, more work will be done to coordinate efforts on a larger regional base. What that means is broader, if not better, community presence, the same amount of work in the agency and better agency performance.

In a worst case scenario, the officers will be shared between Heritage Canada and the Women’s Program. In that case, the resources for women’s groups will be reduced, and there’s no guarantee that these dual-use officers will have the time to conduct the kind of effective national communication which the report recommended. That would be a serious problem.

Of course, it’s not clear which of the two it will be. Not from the government and not from the liberals. From one, we get uninformative rhetoric, and from the other, well, more uninformative rhetoric. The NDP, if you’re wondering, have gone further still, suggesting that the closures will result in staff cuts.

What no one is doing is asking what point on the range between the best and worst-case scenarios above the proposal falls. Partly, perhaps, this is because it’s not possible to be certain before the changes are implemented; but the simple explanation is clear: because while every one of them truly cares about women’s support, not one of them truly cares about supporting women.

Taking Stock of Laughter0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Gaia (Monday November 20, 2006 at 7:38 pm)

“Laughingstock” is the new moniker the Liberal opposition is hoping will stick to Harper’s Conservative government. But questions abound.

First, yes, it is such a lazy attempt to brand the man that’s unlikely to do more than galvanize existing support (and, perhaps, drive swing voters to less theatrical, more issue-minded options).

Second, yes, the two “fossil of the day” awards received by Canada at the global climate talks mark the second year running Canada has received the prestigious dishonour, and the Tories are now the second Canadian government to be so honoured.

Third, no, this isn’t the first time a Canadian Prime Minister has grandstanded over nothing.

And finally, yes, this would be the second Canadian Prime Minister to be a laughingstock on the world stage. Any guesses on who the first was?

For Want of a Slap0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Gaia (Wednesday November 15, 2006 at 11:48 pm)

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has self-servingly blamed Canada’s poor track record on emissions control on the former government at the UN conference in Nairobi. But she wasn’t alone. Representatives of all three opposition parties tagged along, self-righteously claiming that they represented the majority of Canadians.

Now, those parties are upset:

Environmentalists and critics from all three opposition parties said it was inappropriate to use the UN conference for partisan purposes, and accused the minister of factual inaccuracies.

Clearly that’s not what they meant. What they meant was that it’s wrong for the government to use a UN conference for partisan purposes. It’s okay for everyone else.

New Research Into Nil0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Monday November 13, 2006 at 10:30 pm)

Latest in the ongoing series of questionable poll results, this survey of Canadian attitudes towards privacy.

While it’s commendable to know that Canadians are concerned about mall kiosks demanding home addresses and drivers’ licenses with every $5 battery purchase, does anyone think we needed academic peer-review to ensure the justice of refusal to comply?

Surely they’re not suggesting that solving identifiable problems should wait until the general public knows what’s wrong? Do we have to wait for consensus to push for reforms, or is it a push for reforms that should be used to build consensus?

But the general uselessness of asking public opinion on fine-tuning policy hits a new height in this survey:

Nearly half of Canadians think that the laws enacted by the government aimed at protecting national security in the aftermath of 9/11 are intrusive. Close to 30 percent think that the laws are not intrusive. One-fifth are not sure.

In case you’re wondering, that one-fifth is roughly the proportion of honest people polled. If anyone believes that nearly half of Canadians are in the slightest degree aware of what laws are indicated (let alone their contents), they may safely be located either outside of that one-fifth, or in a special sub-category thereof — the honest optimists.

More to the point: what possible value is a narrowly-constructed policy refining survey which asks for opinions on subjects of which we can safely assume the respondents to be ignorant? It’s not a public opinion poll — it’s being used to discuss fine-tuning policy considerations. Considering the power of disinformation, modelling policy proposals on popular support isn’t just a case of putting the cart before the horse: it’s a case of jumping off the wagon.

The reason being that academics, unlike politicians, are free to conduct research and identify solutions without the complication of facing public rejection — that’s what tenure’s all about. As a result, research into how the public views its privacy is important; but to collect useful information (for policy design), it’s probably necessary to get information about things the public knows.

Gut response to political conditions isn’t particularly revealing of anything but political opportunity; and if academics voluntarily confine themselves by public opinion, their work will unquestionably suffer.

Foundation of Sand?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Brass Tacks (Sunday November 12, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

The debate over the quality of voters’ choices rages on. Are they rational creatures? Can they be properly polled? Are they consistent?

At the risk of making a federal bill out of a personal choice, two recent stories may be of help towards answering these very questions.

In Toronto, 60% of those who support the construction of a garbage incinerator say they would support it in their neighbourhood. Assuming, as we must from The Star’s releases, that 91% support incineration, that comes to 54% of the community at large. Assuming, not too cynically, that a few percentage points worth of people might feel differently about an actual incinerator than the idea of an incinerator, we’re talking about roughly even numbers other either side. Given that angry voters may be likelier to vote, it hardly suggests, as The Star does, that the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon is anything less than formidable. Moreso when only around 40% of the population bothers to vote.

Lesson: Don’t assume voters are altruistic just yet.

And from Florida, news that a voter used a rare stamp worth several hundred thousand dollars to mail in his absentee ballot. Could this be a fabulous tribute to the money-wasting ploy used in Brewster’s Millions? Could it be a proud statement of how the voter values his democratic rights? Was it an attempt to boost the State of Florida’s coffers? Could it be just another example of a voter who fails to wonder at unusual things, like an old-fashioned stamp with an upside-down plane?

Lesson: Voters are either really unobservant or reckless spendthrifts.

And the debate rages on.

Doobie or not Doobie?0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Full-Timers, Brass Tacks (Saturday November 11, 2006 at 12:05 pm)

While various groups recommend legalizing marijuana, the Canadian government steams ahead with legislation to more effectively target those who drive while under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The Frosty Wonk’s not suggesting folks toke up before hitting the road — that’s just stupid. But apart from showing a clear tendency to rely on public prejudice over multiple governments’ recommendations to legalize responsible adult use of the substance, there’s a contradiction abrewin’ to make you stop and think. Consider:

  • Canadian Government: Marijuana use dulls the senses and reflexes, so driving under its influence is a dangerous risk.
  • World Anti-Doping Agency: Marijuana use dulls the senses and reflexes, so its use in competitive sports is an unfair advantage.

Truly a wonder drug.

Misplaced Priorities0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Golden Tacks, Full-Timers (Friday November 10, 2006 at 11:40 pm)

While hackles are raised over government musings, government action goes ignored.

Fierce reaction to the possiblity that the Harper government would seek to preclude federal spending in certain areas is overkill for several reasons. First, federal spending on social programs (the contentious sectors) is a relatively minor contribution. The previous government’s daycare proposal would have been a drop in the bucket had it been for a national program (it was little more than that in Quebec). On health care, the federal government wants credit for lowering its own taxes to “allow” the provinces to increase their spending through higher rates of their own. While that’s a fair explanation for the complained-of decline in federal contributions to health spending, the claim that the federal government continues to support healthcare on an annual basis by not raising taxes rings a bit hollow. Based on the government’s figures for 2004-2005, the federal contribution, with $17 Billion in tax points is $27.2 Billion. Less the tax points, that comes to $10.2 Billion of $83 Billion in spending, or just over 12% of funds (the exact proportion varies by province).

Second, unlike the government’s Senate reform proposals, there wouldn’t likely be a public backlash if the Liberal majority in the Senate blocks a constitutional bar on federal spending. Therefore, even if the possibility being discussed materializes into legislation and is passed through the House of Commons with the aid of the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals would have no reason to fear killing it in the Senate.

It’s the second reason that explains attention to the issue. The idea of Constitution-wrangling is inherently dangerous (if not psychotic); and the same threat of public unease which has dimmed Michael Ignatieff’s hopes in the Liberal leadership contest will surely afflict the already-beleaguered Tories.

So can blogger attention to the issue be faulted? It’s a pure political ploy, after all — drawing attention to the foibles of your opponent.

The Cold Hard Wonk loves politics, but there is good and bad. Full points to the bloggers for calling the Prime Minister out on a dumb-as-dishwasher proposal, but minus several times as many for ignoring the far more serious problem.

Unlike the fearsome Constitutional amendment, the government’s plan to place police representatives on the boards which approve judicial candidates is more than possible. That makes it a clear and present danger.

Someone arrested and brought before the court suffers from a problematic bias. Police arrest can create an unfair presumption of guilt — a matter that can’t be left for the police to determine for one simple reason: it’s their job to find guilty people. The only thing that stands between an accused and conviction is the premise that their guilt must be proven, and the judge is the guardian of that narrow premise.

To properly guard against false convictions a judge must be as neutral as possible. That means in particular that a judge must avoid the understandable urge to believe that once the police do their duty the arrested party is likely to be guilty. It’s a hard thing to do in a society where people are raised to respect the police. It must also be a hard thing for a dutiful officer to cope with — that after all their effort and care, their word counts for nothing more than any other person’s. That’s why it’s essential that the two be rigidly separated. Police must have no role in judging and judges no role in investigating. By maintaining that separation, neither can be unduly influenced.

What happens, then, when the police, as an organization, are given the power to vet judges? Could a candidate’s just indifference be mistaken for hostility? Could the police representative, acting faithfully and in what she believes to be good faith, weed out the very candidates whose balanced views burden justice? Is that a temptation too great to be risked?

Without question. That’s why the Canadian Judicial Council is seriously concerned. It’s an issue which should be of real significance to Canadians, though it is undoubtedly harder to present than the simple gut reaction to Constitutional debate. In choosing to talk about the unimportant but volatile issue over the dangerous while ignoring the dangerous but subtle one, they’re playing easy politics at public expense.

There is another option — cover both; and politicians claiming to stand up for Canada should be asked why they didn’t.

Only the Beginning0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, The Elephant (Thursday November 9, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

Once the euphoria dies down, American Democrats will have some serious thinking to do. Joe Lieberman isn’t why, but his story does hint at it.

The Connecticut Senator lost a bitter primary election against Ned Lamont, who entered the race in anger over Lieberman’s support for the Iraq War. Denied the party standard, Lieberman ran his own campaign. The Democrats weren’t pleased by the prospect:

At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said [an] aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.

Well, ahoy-hoy, gentlemen — the corker’s still here!

The victory comes from a combination of name recognition, filched Republican support, and some Democratic hangers-on. But, most importantly, it demonstrates that the anti-war coalition isn’t enough to put things over the top by itself. Support for the war, it seems, isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

Consider further: four of the Democrats’ new seats came with narrow margins, two with extremely narrow margins. That even with a series of unaccountable scandals and gaffes. Thirteen of the twenty-eight new Representatives won by fewer than ten thousand votes.

When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, they did so with a concise description of their objectives, an approach neatly lifted for the Canadian Conservatives’ 2006 election run. That victory provided them with a considerable run of the place.

The Democrats agenda is unfocused by contrast, particularly because it identifies issues without specifying any particulars apart, possibly, from removing bars to stem cell research. That might be a critical issue for Michael J. Fox, but it’s not for voters, who placed the Iraq conflict, terrorism, and ethics at the top of the list.

No one has a monopoly on scandal. Given time, the cleanest closets offer skeletons. The real problem is that little of their agenda offers anything of substance on the top issues. In that respect, the election, as characterised, stands largely as a referendum on the Iraqi conflict.

But if voters weren’t responding to the content of the Democrats’ position, it’s hard to see how they’ll keep their gains without making them respond. That demands a serious effort to grasp public attention with responses to the issues; and, just as crucially, a solid plan to both pace their responses and deny the President any bragging rights.

Seeing how they do that will be far more interesting than anything this election had to offer. That’s why it’s not a time to expel sighs of relief. It’s a moment to bate breath in anticipation.

What Liberals Want0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Wednesday November 8, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

The Frosty Wonk’s talked about the special pitfalls of modern leadership contests before, but one point wasn’t really touched on: policy.

At times like this, when an ebb in fortunes coincides with both new leadership and calls for renewal, the leadership can be the weakest political link. Why?

It’s a simple problem: preaching to the choir.

Trying to attract party stalwarts isn’t all there is to a modern leadership campaign, but the candidate’s appeal is to a rank-and-file who, on the whole, are there to defend their values. When the party’s riding low and almost back to its base of support, those values don’t likely represent a winning coalition of voters.

Which is nothing more than saying that a winning electoral strategy can’t be built solely by appealing to your own base. You must reach out for other voters and other votes. That means developing policies which may worry the party membership — at least at first.

While the leadership candidates pay lip service both to the party and to their electoral viability, the reality of the contest means that satisfying the party comes first. In circumstances where the party is struggling to find itself politically, there’s a tendency to self-righteous navel-gazing.

Contrary, then, to what some pundits have suggested, Michael Ignatieff’s greatest strength really is his independent-mindedness:

Taking a strong position isn’t any good if it’s a position Liberals and Canadians don’t want you to take. It always amazed me how Ignatieff supporters will justify any stand of his they don’t agree with - “sure, I don’t agree with his stand on the Iraq war, but it was because of his bond with the Kurds”, “I don’t think Quebec is a nation, but his heart is in the right place”, “yeah, I’m not big on his puppy genocide policy, but at least he’s taking a strong stand”. It’s alright to say you disagree with your candidate on a policy topic and still think his other positives (and despite all this, Ignatieff still has a lot of positives) outweigh the policy differences.

It is a bad sign when Canadians disagree en masse, but choosing some policies involves rejecting others, which always results in offending someone. The politics lies in finding the right combination to maximize your support. One of the Liberals’ greatest mistakes under Martin was the party’s growing fear of displeasing anyone. Hence Mr. Dithers, worthless but high-visibility spending, and carefully-scripted foreign trips. Perhaps it was an effort to shake off the image of a strong-minded predecessor, but that didn’t cut the electoral mustard. It’s time for them to make tough choices.

But while Canadians at large are a good measure of likely policy, Liberals aren’t right now. The party hasn’t completed its renewal process, leaving it without the new direction it’s supposed to be working from. The government’s declining popularity gives the Liberals hope that things might be just fine as they are, reducing the incentive for change. And when you’re still searching for your vision, choosing it by reaction to the government isn’t good enough.

Is the “nation” issue the wrong one? Yes. But that’s not the point here. The point is the danger in seeking self-satisfaction when you want other people to come along. If the Liberals are satisfied with fighting with the NDP and waiting for the Tories to screw up so they can try their hand at a minority government, then there’s no reason to change anything. Some people might have thought they’d have a bit more in the way of aspirations.

Playing Along0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday November 6, 2006 at 10:24 pm)

The NDP, sensing Liberal efforts to steal their turf, have responded in superb fashion.

The NDP offered what looks like productive help. The key? The NDP knows the government can’t accept it. By making a positive, helpful gesture, they compel the government to draw attention to its fear of disapproval over its environmental policy and thus, tacitly admit that the policy isn’t saleable. The Liberals, a day late, and a dollar short, rush to say “Me, too!” as surely as the NDP previously copied Liberal strategies.

But being first with the gesture garners the NDP extra credit. And as they’re coming up with ways to make things right, they look productive, which goes a long way with voters looking for a solution. As the environment looms larger as an issue, it’s likely that there’s some chance to get a bit of extra traction. By making a positive effort to work with the party in power, the NDP show that they’re not only trustworthy standard-bearers for the environment, but standard-bearers willing to work with others to get the job done. After-the-fact Liberal claims that their offer was more suitable drown in the same indifference to the niceties of Parliamentary procedure that brought them plaudits for pro-Kelowna legislation.

The ability to work with either likely governing party is what Jack Layton’s selling; and it’s hard to turn that down if ideological purity and committment to a policy is your preference. Moreover, it’s not something the Liberals can really market. This is why the NDP under Layton has consistently maintained the 15%+ level of support they hadn’t enjoyed since 1988 under Ed Broadbent.

It’s why the Liberals can’t compete with the NDP for their share of the electorate. They’ve got to go after the big target: Conservative support. While their private member’s bill was a good effort at a positive message, its likely target, environmentally-minded voters, probably aren’t among Tory supporters to begin with; and the Liberals lack the street cred to swipe NDP and Green support on the environment.

It’s a good model for the Liberals to follow; but this isn’t their issue; and playing nicely with others doesn’t win you the big prize: a majority. It’s a different game that the Liberals need to play, and chasing the littlest kid on the Parliamentary block isn’t the way to get there.

Letter to the Star0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Sunday November 5, 2006 at 11:56 pm)

Thin Black Line

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Reading Susan Delacourt’s Analysis piece in Sunday’s Toronto Star, an question occurs: is discussing the nature of journalism’s failure to inform the public intended as an excuse for the Star’s behaviour:

Publishing a sensationalist piece whose claim: “Trouble Between PM and GG?” is raised only by partisan sources and contradicted by reliable sources within the same article (Oct. 5/2006)?

Reporting that a candidate’s response to a journalist’s question constitutes his “musing” about the issue (”Harper Muses on Possibility of Majority Win”, Jan. 8/2006)?

Accepting partisan figures on spending without presenting easily-accessed independent statistics for verification (Daycare, Dec. 7/2005)?

Does Ms Delacourt’s review of Frank Rich’s analysis mean that the Star will cease to act as a neutral mouthpiece for politicians and do its readers the basic service of simultaneously and visibly presenting the information needed to assess their claims? Would that do a disservice to the public? Wouldn’t it elevate both the quality and reputation of the paper?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Cold Hard Wonk
Fortress of Icitude

Trusting the Company0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Brass Tacks (Saturday November 4, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

One of the most important points to remember about joining a group with diverse interests is that you’re not always going to get your way. In for a penny, in for a pound, is the old motto. But obviously that doesn’t apply to dollars and cents.

The angry and public resignation of Sean Ahern, a Conservative Riding Association President in Montreal, over the federal government’s decision to change the taxation of income trusts proves that. But you really have to feel for the man. After all:

  • If you can’t count on your party to put your personal interests above the common good, then what’s the party good for?
  • If you’re a financial planner concerned with stability, then surely your portfolio is heavily exposed to an investment based on a controversial tax loophole when many recent warnings have suggested that the loophole must be closed.

What really stands out, then, isn’t the loss of a few votes. It’s the kind of votes and party faithful that the Conservatives had attracted: short-sighted, greedy, and self-interested. Is the real loss that of a few thousand votes, sprinkled nationwide, or the revelation that such men as these were the bulwark of Conservative support?

Known by the company they keep, indeed.

Flush but Uneven0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks (Friday November 3, 2006 at 1:28 pm)

Greetings, dear readers. Once again, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, Q.E.D. The Wonk, ever gracious, was glad to grant me some bytes of his to make a brief point.

Though we are loath to tolerate lacunae, the threat of uncertainty — or worse — demands some distances be maintained. One such disparity is that between “sexual” and “sexist”:

Sexual
relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals
Sexist
prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex

Though the two should seem quite separate, recent events suggest that confusion lingers. To wit: a recent political demand to remove lip-shaped urinals lest they breed “sexism”.

I do not doubt that Wonk devotees can divine the fullest implications of this demand. Suffice it to say that once sexuality and sexism are fully confounded, neither they nor we will long remain in issue.

Urging you to remember Woody Allen’s admonition:

Sex is better than talk. . .Talk is what you suffer through so you can get to sex.

I remain your devoted philologist,

G.E.

The Persistence of Chivalry0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Golden Tacks (Wednesday November 1, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

It’s not so very long since the “progressive blogggers” alliance promoted a “Five Things Feminism Has Done For Me” theme, proving once more that nothing advances understanding (or elicits wisdom) like arbitrary numerical targets.

One point consistently failed to make the list, though:

A helping hand can hobble, too.

Why should it be there? Because overcoming socially rooted stigmas takes careful, self-conscious reflection. Sometimes, the best-intended plans to help oppose prejudice can also reinforce it.

Consider the many progressive bloggers decrying Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay for referring to MP Belinda Stronach as a “dog”.

It’s not the first time shameful personal insults have been tossed across the Commons floor. It’s not even the first time in recent memory. But the response raises some questions.

Stronach’s response has been admirable. She asked for an apology the following day, and has since clarified the request as follows:

I asked for an apology to the House. This is our place of work. This is the nation’s boardroom and I still feel that it’s inappropriate for a colleague or a minister to refer to another colleague as his dog.

Given the context (the two had a relationship awkwardly end) and highly personal nature of the remark, it would seem, well, exploitative to suggest that it represents a deep and abiding misogyny. It would have been equally specious to suggest that the “Libranos” poster created to lampoon the investigation into graft involving former Liberal Minister Alphonso Gagliano and other Liberal members represented an abiding belief that people with Italian heritage are all mobsters. Women aren’t foolish enough to believe that what one person says by way of insult represents everyone else in the party’s beliefs. Isn’t that insulting their intelligence?

Moreover, Stronach (repeatedly) demanded an apology. Is there a reason why a chorus of men should add their voices? Is it proof of their sensitivity? Does it conjure up an image of gallantry? Doesn’t that imply a woman unable to defend herself? Isn’t that itself an unacceptable prejudice?

Stronach understands the problem — that’s why she emphasised that her complaint was over the violation of Commons decorum. Have others done the same, or have they emphasized the harm done to (poor, downtrodden, defenseless) women in their rush to protect (poor, downtrodden, defenseless) women?

Chivalry can be one of the most resonant parts of romance; and it’s not because it portrays women as weak. It’s not about weakness and strength at all. Chivalry is about trust — that one person can trust another so completely as to rely on them for their preservation; and it goes both ways.

But it’s hard at times to know whether chivalry really helps its intended ward. The extra level of consideration needed to know when gallantry supports and when it subverts is what feminism asks; and those who stand for it deserve better than exploitation, prejudice, and insult.