Politician, office manager
1960-
Member of Canadian Parliament, 2000-present

Background information

Cheryl Gallant is the member of parliament for the Ontario riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. She is one of the more ‘notorious’ members of the Conservative Party of Canada’s caucus because she has become known for making controversial comments and being unapologetically socially conservative to the point of angering more socially moderate members of her own party. More about that later.

Gallant was born in Sarnia, Ontario and was raised in the small town of Blenheim. She earned a science (chemistry) degree from the University of Western Ontario and pursued some graduate education, working as a research assistant at the University of Toronto, but eventually became an office manager and at as an executive at a life insurance company. She relocated to Pembroke, Ontario, with her family after leaving this job and has represented the riding since her first run for parliament in 2000. She is married and has four daughters.

Political beginnings

Gallant was, according to her official biography, always heavily involved in community service and her interest in politics sprang from this. She ran for parliament in the 2000 Canadian federal election as a member of the Canadian Alliance and defeated the Liberal incumbent for the seat. As the MP for a reasonably rural riding, Gallant has been a member of several sub-committees dealing with industry, science and technology, and Canadian Heritage. She also served as the Alliance’s (and, by default, the official opposition’s) deputy House Leader from 2001 until 2002.

During Stockwell Day’s tenure as Canadian Alliance leader, she served as the official opposition’s official Canadian Heritage, amateur sport, Science, Research and Development and Small Business critic. She held these posts even after Day’s “resignation” and the election of Stephen Harper as party leader, and following the party’s merge with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. She was replaced at each of these posts – and at all but one sub-committee – after successfully defending her constituency in the 2004 Canadian federal election. Why? Keep reading.

Controversy

Cheryl Gallant has been described as being afflicted with “foot in mouth disease.” She has attracted the attention of national news media by heckling current defense minister Bill Graham in the House of Commons: after Graham insulted Stockwell Day during question period, Gallant loudly told him to “ask his boyfriend” several times. (Graham is married and has kids, but there has been speculation in certain Canadian publications as to whether or not he is bisexual.) This came shortly after Harper had been elected as the Canadian Alliance’s leader on the platform of distancing himself from the pseudo-homophobic stigma Day had, intentionally or not, allegedly “earned” the party. Harper demanded that Gallant apologize to Graham almost immediately, though some news sources reported that she originally gave up after reaching his answering machine. She did eventually get through to Graham and he accepted her apology, insisting that he hadn’t heard the comments and was ready to put the entire incident behind him. She also apologized in the House, but has been associated with the remarks ever since.

Gallant, a devout pro-life activist, also caused a stir during the 2004 election campaign when she told a Christian newspaper that she felt that abortion was “absolutely no different” than the (what was then) recent murder of Nick Berg. This didn’t sit well with most people, including other pro-life activists and members of the Conservative party. This was further complicated when prime minister Paul Martin, upon being asked to comment by reporters, said that had a member of his caucus made such a remark he would have considered it grounds for immediate dismissal. She released a statement shortly thereafter, announcing that she was suffering from laryngitis and therefore was unable to attend certain campaign functions (including debates). Her opponents dismissed this as a ploy to avoid personal retribution for the comment. Friends of mine from the area were at one of the debates she did attend, and say that while no candidate escaped unscathed, most of the verbal unrest was reserved for Gallant. Regardless, she did win her seat in the June election – with the highest vote percentage of any Conservative candidate in the country.

Her devoted opposition to Bill C-250, a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Svend Robinson that would add ‘sexual orientation’ to the list of grounds on which people could not legally be discriminated against, also earned her notoriety among various equal rights groups. Gallant persisted that the bill was “devoted to eradicating free speech” in Canada by denying Canadians the right to express their opinions. She latched onto the religious element of this issue as well, arguing that if this bill was passed (which it was), various parts of the Bible and other sacred texts could possibly be reclassified as hate literature. This, coupled with the same-sex marriage debate, was enough to prompt Gallant to send flyers to her constituents declaring that the Liberal Party was “Christian phobic.” When pressed for comment, Harper’s reaction was that she could defend herself and that he hadn’t been made aware of her statements. Shortly before the 2004 election, Gallant also publicly connected pedophilia and homosexuality, suggesting that equal rights for gays and lesbians would lead to equal rights for convicted pedophiles. This left Conservative House Leader John Reynolds to distance the party’s policy from Gallant’s own views.

Cheryl Gallant in today’s parliament

The controversy surrounding Gallant and her statements became fodder during the 2004 election campaign. Opposing parties and candidates attempted to use her views to expose a “Conservative hidden agenda,” arguing that her beliefs were not only shared by all party members but were actually party policy. (The Conservative Party was, at this point, only a few months old and had never undergone a real policy convention.) In no small part due to this, she was not appointed to the shadow cabinet after the election; she is now considered a backbencher. She was also appointed to one sub-committee; this one deals with the Library of Parliament. It has been widely speculated that she was given this position because few people could possibly consider anything she says on the subject offensive.

Despite the loss of her shadow cabinet status, Gallant enjoys a healthy approval rating in her riding, and various polls indicate that she is an effective constituency MP. Whether or not her success continues as yet another Canadian federal election looms remains to be seen.


Resource:
Federal Political Experience – GALLANT, Cheryl http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/key/bio.asp?lang=E&query=17775&s=F 26 April 2005
Untitled http://www.cherylgallant.com/cheryl/portal/alias__Rainbow/lang__en/tabID__1/DesktopDefault.aspx 26 April 2005
Memory – you don’t have a bizarre fixation with federal politics without remembering Cheryl Gallant.

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