Canada’s Conservative Example

by Stephen H. Miller on September 22, 2012

Canada’s Conservative Party has evolved significantly on gay issues, reports the National Post:

A mere seven years ago, the Tories were famously the opponents of same sex marriage. Now, the Harper Conservatives freely push gay rights abroad and even host an annual gathering of gay Tories. …

“It’s no secret that the Conservative Party hasn’t always been the biggest champion of gay rights, but public pressure, and quite frankly, society evolving has changed their views,” said Jamie Ellerton, an openly gay former staffer [for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney].

“The Conservative Party, like the rest of society, has moved to be more supportive of gay rights in recent years, and I see that trend continuing,” he said.

On gay marriage, the Conservative Party has moved from outright opposition to something akin to no position (leaving it to the provinces)—not as advanced as Britain’s Tories, but far ahead of where they were, and where today’s Republican Party remains. But this is clearly what the future portends, even for U.S. conservatives, in time.

It’s worth noting, as well, that Canadian conservatives have not become more statist or otherwise like the redistributionist, regulatory left; in fact, as they’ve become more supportive of gay legal equality, they’ve also become more committed to reducing government and advancing economic freedom, positions the party (like U.S. Republicans) did not always adhere to.

{ 14 comments }

Tom Scharbach September 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

A “no position” Republican Party would be an improvement from the 2012 version, which is fighting us every step of the way.

Do you see this happening by the 2016 election cycle, the 2020 election cycle, or when?

Houndentenor September 23, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Since I’m not that well versed in the nuances of British or Canadian politics, my question would be: how strong an influence do social/religious conservatives within the party?

“Conservative” like so many other terms can mean many different things. I learned a lot during the time I lived in German that our idea of right/left didn’t always translate to another country’s politics on any particular issue.

Emilia September 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hello. I’m Canadian. I’m a heterosexual woman, so my knowledge of gay issues isn’t too great, but I follow Canadian news so it piqued my interest that an American website would quote an article from a Canadian paper.

Personally, I think one advantage that conservatives (both small and large ‘c’ ) have over liberals is that the former are less afraid of criticizing homophobic or sexist tendencies in non-Western cultures. For example, last year our Immigration Minister published a citizenship guide that stated that ‘barbaric’ practices like honour killing and genital mutilation would not be tolerated in Canada. Well, a Liberal MP jumped all over him because of the use of the word ‘barbaric.’ I think some liberals are so paralyzed by the fear of being accused of racism that they’ll either stay silent about or downplay reactionary practices in countries whose inhabitants are viewed as ‘oppressed.’ Conservatives don’t have that same fear, so they’re more likely to call a spade a spade. Don’t get my wrong: I don’t abide by 100% of the conservative philosophy. For instance, some conservatives say that the honour killing of women is an exclusively Muslim practice when in reality it’s not unknown among Sikhs and Hindus. However, maybe in the long run some gays (and women, regardless of their sexual orientation) might think that their best bet is going with a party that at least is going to denounce violent sexism and/or homophobia when they see them happening.

Houndentenor September 23, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I don’t know how things work in Canada, but the US you have to go pretty far to the extreme right to find people too mamby pamby to condemn honor killings. Suck people exist (the “we don’t have the right to criticize another culture” crowd who make me want to vomit, if you really want to know), but there really aren’t that many of them down here.

On the other hand, in Canada gay people can get married and have full rights under the law. We don’t have that down here and our conservative party is very much against it. I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that honor killings and a whole lot of other practices in many countries are horrible human rights abuses. What we don’t agree on is whether or not you should be able to fire your accountant for being a lesbian (which is still legal in most states).

Emilia September 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

I’m not saying that the left defends honour killing. However, they have, at least in Canada, among other things expressed sympathy for parents who kill their daughters to protect the family’s ‘honour’ ['they (parents of murdered daughter) are hurting, this from the left of centre paper the Toronto Star], taken issue with honour killing being called ‘barbaric’ (as I mentioned above), and erroneously claimed that honour killing also occurs in Western society (ex. one commentator described a murder-suicide by a mentally ill man who killed himself, his wife and his daughter as an honour killing). Strangely, it now seems to be the right rather than the left defending women in this regard. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t abide by most of the right’s philosophy, but they seem to have a clearer head on their shoulders vis-a-vis women (and now perhaps gays?) in foreign cultures.

Houndentenor September 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

I’m well aware of the loony left. We have some of those down here too. But they don’t represent the mainstream of progressives or of the Democratic Party. Honor killing is murder and anyone who commits murder should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do about the laws in other countries. Honor killings is near the top of a long list of horrendous human rights abuses around the world. Eventually we will drag those countries along into the modern world. At least I hope we will.

Jorge September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t abide by most of the right’s philosophy, but they seem to have a clearer head on their shoulders vis-a-vis women (and now perhaps gays?) in foreign cultures.

Oh, right. I was going to mention Rick Santorum (who is, frankly, on the far right) condemning state executions of gays in Iran, and I was going to ask who among the Democrats ever does that… but I realized that would have been a losing argument.

When it comes to women, the Bush administration made a big deal of speaking out on women’s rights in foreign countries (mainly due to the invasion of Afghanistan, which severely oppressed women under the Taliban). However I don’t have a play-by-play memory of the Clinton administration to compare it to.

Jorge September 24, 2012 at 10:33 am

I don’t know how things work in Canada, but the US you have to go pretty far to the extreme right to find people too mamby pamby to condemn honor killings.

The objection wasn’t to the condemnation of honor killings. It was over the assumed suggestion that brown people are “barbaric”.

I’m sure people on the extreme right are perfectly willing to write the “barbarian” peoples off entirely and say let them all kill each other, but I think you are far more likely to find people saying “you can’t say that you racist!” among the left.

The situation Emilia brought up is almost identical to the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s failed attempt to ban an ad saying, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” This is utterly mundane, but it’s considered “demeaning” by the MTA, and being called “anti-Islamic” and a message of “hate and intolerance” in the Dailykos. Huffington Post wasn’t too sympathetic in the beginning of the right, either. The comments on Alan Colmes’ Facebook page when it covered the story are almost universally hostile to the ad. These are not people who are “pretty far to the extreme right”. These are people who are pretty near to the mainstream left.

Now, I would like to point out that, in this country, while liberals are individually more likely to chicken out of condemning racism, sexism, homophobia, and a range of violent behavior in other cultures out of fears of appearing imperialist, racist, and nationalistic, on a government level it’s different. It is only the Obama administration under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that has broken new ground in pushing to expose and condemn anti-gay violations of human rights on a global scale. That you do have the right criticizing, and it’s the mainstream right.

Emilia September 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Hi again. I think perhaps an important thing to keep in mind in this discussion is that in general, Canada is a more liberal country than the United States. Perhaps that is why we’ve had same-sex marriage for some time whereas, as far as I know, only now has President Obama voiced support for it. So therefore, in the United States, you’ll have a leader on the left, Hillary Clinton, condemn executions of gay men in Iran without being scared excrementless, pardon the expression, of being called racist. On the other hand, in Canada the Liberal MP I mentioned in my first post, Justin Trudeau (for those of you who know about Canadian politics, he is the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), may well be the next head of the Liberal Party (one of our three major parties) in all of Canada. On one hand, maybe living in a more conservative country, you will have leftist leaders condemning homophobia in foreign cultures, while in Canada, we have had gay marriage for some time and even the Conservatives aren’t really trying to abolish it.

Houndentenor September 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Left and right are clearly sliding scales. When I lived in Germany I found that in their politics I was center right. So is the Democratic Party for the most part. Angela Merkel, a conservative in their country, would be more in line with the Democrats on most issues were she an American.

I asked early about the religious right in Canada and the UK. I don’t get any sense that gay rights and family planning are terribly controversial in Canada these days. Those are hot button issues in the US, which was the point of the original post.

Jorge September 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Family planning is not a hot button issue in the United States.

Who pays for it is.

Emilia September 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm

The abortion issue pops up from time to time in Canada. Right now there’s a motion that would review at what point a fetus becomes a human being (at birth as the law stands now or before then), but the results would be non-binding, and with even the Prime Minister not wishing to re-open the question of abortion’s legality, the motion seems destined for oblivion. Contraception’s not really an issue at all per se; there has been some controversy over sex education in the schools, though.

About paying for family planning, I pay for my own contraception (I’m self-employed, so I can’t go to a company and demand coverage anyway). I don’t like the idea of government forcing, say, Catholic institutions to foot the bill for their employees’ birth control. I think whether to provide birth control coverage for employees should be up to the company itself.

Hortensio September 25, 2012 at 1:51 am

Not to be too technical, but the Conservatives in Canada could revoke gay marriage – the legislation enacting it into law is a federal one – so their position isn’t quite the equivalent the same as leaving it to the provinces. (Strictly speaking, one could argue the issue is a provincial one, but that rarely stops federal governments if they put their minds to it.)

If our Conservative government did repeal the law, however, gay marriage would almost certainly be legislated or court-ruled into every province. Most of them allowed gay marriage before the federal law, and the major exception – the small-c conservative province of Alberta – recently held an election contested primarily between two conservative parties (PC and Wildrose) . . . whose leaders both proudly supported gay marriage. So even if the federal Conservatives decided they never wanted to be elected again and chose to repeal the law,* doing so would be, in practice, useless symbolism.

*Unlikely given that five major cabinet ministers – MacKay, Baird, Flaherty, Riatt, and Kenney – have openly advocated gay rights in one way or another (excluding the It Gets Better video), as well as the Prime Minister himself at Commonwealth events.

Tom Jefferson III September 27, 2012 at 6:19 pm

1. Yes, most of the Canadian and UK ‘Conservative/Tory’ party members that I meet, as come to the U.S. to take some classes or work, generally seem to much more focused on tax/economic issues. Straight Tories are also quick to tell me that while they are Tories, they do want the government outlawing abortion or birth control and they generally support gay rights legally.

Again, I am not entirely sure how much this can be applicable to the Republican Party in the U.S. Hot button social issues in the UK and Canada do not really seem to be gay rights, but more so on things like race and immigration.

Maybe, homophobia was particularly bad during the 1980s with the AIDS hysteria (before my time) but probably not much push against gay rights legislation. Although, I suspect things like bullying and discrimination still exist.

In the late 1990s UK, (what I am told) Labour basically became a center-left party and efforts by the social right-wing in the Conservative party to focus on ‘God issues’ during the campaign did not win and so the more secular conservatives gradually took over the party. Could be the same thing happened in Canada.

Yet, Republicans that pander to homophobia are generally rewarded for doing so and it is very, very, very difficult to be a socially liberal Republican and be allowed to have any sort of say on social issues within the party.

So, I am going to guess that (in the 1990s) their were actual electoral-political consequences for the major conservative parties in pandering to the ”Well, God says so” vote.

Yet, I do not see too many consequences (politically-electorally) for the conservative wing of the Republican Party or, indeed, conservative Democrats in pandering to homophobia.

Simply put, Canadian and UK conservatives probably had to little (compared to America) political benefit from in pandering to voters homophobia and much more potential benefit to focus on race and immigration.

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