Harper blunders on same-sex marriage

Tuesday, February 8, 2005


Written by Scott Piatkowski

As someone who is a publicly-identified New Democrat, I wouldn’t normally be expected to offer strategic advice to Stephen Harper – nor would I expect him to ever ask me for advice.

But, Stephen, Stephen, Stephen… give your head a shake. Your strategy to make the fight against same-sex marriage the centrepiece of your opposition to the Martin government is not only destined to fail; it’s about the stupidest thing you could do if you ever hope to become Prime Minister (of course, I truly hope that you never do become Prime Minister, but I’ll get back to that later).

I’m sure you remember that brief moment during the 2004 federal election campaign when you found yourself ahead in the polls. Do you also remember what happened to make that lead disappear? Voters across Canada had a long hard look at your party and decided that – regardless of how tired they were of the arrogance of the Liberals – they didn’t want you or your party in office. In the course of that decision-making, they had a lot of help. Extremist comments from the likes of Cheryl Gallant (on abortion and hate crimes legislation), Scott Reid (on bilingualism), Rob Merrifield (on abortion) and Randy White (on same-sex marriage) made it clear that the Conservative Party of Canada was not ready for prime time.

I argued at the time that the troglodytes weren't actually misrepresenting party policy (as you insisted), but that they were just failing to follow the agreed upon script for hiding party policy from the public. For example, Randy White only confirmed what your September 2003 Commons resolution said – that the party would take every step necessary to ban gay marriage (which, by definition, means using the notwithstanding clause). Of course, he wasn't supposed to discuss it (as you admitted during the English language leaders debate), and he certainly wasn't supposed to say “to heck with the courts, eh”. But, at its core, White was articulating what the Conservative Party believes.

After your election defeat, you seemed to understand that you needed to do a better job of keeping a muzzle on those MPs who insisted on talking about their stance on social issues (back when Preston Manning was having his own problems with MPs removing the veil from their bigotry, cartoonist Jack Leftcourt compared his task to a never ending game of wac-a-mole). You promised last September that you would be “a more severe judge” of the social conservatives within your party who refuse to keep their mouths shut. “Look, it is a fine line because the party does value the right of members of Parliament to represent their constituents, to have diverse views on some controversial public policy issues. In a campaign, the whole issue is about what the party's running on. You expect members, if they're going to be on the team, to be on the team. Some of what happened last time can't be repeated, and it won't be repeated.”

Yet, you are now repeating the mistake of leading with your weakness, and you can’t even blame it on one of your obscure backbenchers. By running ads that pretend to seek public input on same-sex marriage (“We’d like to know where you stand”, read the ads, but they give respondents the choice of agreeing… or agreeing), you are doing exactly what you promised to stop your MPs from doing. You should know better. Yet, there you were two weeks ago, equating same-sex marriage with polygamy, and sounding just as desperate and foolish as you did during the campaign when you tried to suggest that the Liberals and NDP supported child pornography.

Stephen, you know very well that same-sex marriage is a reality in eight jurisdictions in Canada (and the world hasn’t ended). You also know that, regardless of whether the legislation passes, it’s only a matter of time before the other three provinces and two territories follow suit. Your justice critic Vic Toews even acknowledged in June 2003 (shortly after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling), “This vote will be meaningless in every sense of the word… Same-sex marriages are constitutionally imbedded in Canada whether Parliament votes yes or no to the proposed legislation.”

You’re reputed to be a smart man, Stephen. You can’t win this fight. Why would you hand the Liberals a club to beat you with? You must really enjoy the view from the front window at Stornoway. Or, maybe you’ve carved your initials in your desk in the House of Commons and are afraid of being caught. Why are you so determined to ensure that your party remains in opposition forever?

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I care (since I’ve already admitted that I don’t ever want to see you become Prime Minister). I care because I’m tired of seeing the Liberals use fear of “dark forces” to scare NDP voters into voting Liberal (which doesn’t make a lot of sense – especially in ridings where the Liberal incumbent is just as reactionary on social issues, or ridings that are essentially two-way races between the Conservatives and the NDP). And, as long as you make it impossible for most Canadians to even consider the idea of a Conservative government, the Liberals know that they don’t even have to try. That’s not good for the country, and it’s not good for democracy.


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