Ottawa
4 min

A sigh of relief

The threat of Stephen Harper recedes

SLAP IN THE FACE. Voters in Ontario and British Columbia rudely rebuffed Stephen Harper's new party. Credit: Catherine "Tucker" Doherty

Gays and lesbians across Canada breathed an audible sigh of relief on Jun 28 when it become apparent that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives had lost the federal election.



And the resulting Liberal minority government is one that bodes well for the protection of recent gay and lesbian advances.



The Conservatives did make major gains in the Ottawa area, picking up more seats here than they had won in 20 years. But they failed to make real gains in the city itself.



Nationally, Parliament has 308 seats. A majority thus requires 155 seats. As of press time on Jul 29, the Liberals had won 135 seats, the Conservatives 99, the Bloc Quebecois 54, the NDP 19 and there was one independent, Chuck Cadman, a former Conservative in BC.



The natural alliance between the Liberals and the NDP – one that has created a minority government in the past – only produces 154 seats, 153 if, as expected, a Liberal is elected Speaker of the House. As a result, the Liberals will be forced to co-operate with the separatist Bloc to get most bills passed.



This is largely a good news scenario for gays and lesbians. During the election campaign, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe swore that, even if they were working with the Conservatives, the Bloc would not bend on its support for such issues as gay marriage, hate crimes legislation and abortion rights.



Coupled with Paul Martin’s desperate attempts during the election to portray himself as the defender of human rights, this should mean a period of peace for queers.



Various Conservatives had threatened to remove gays and lesbians from the hate crimes legislation to which they were recently added, claiming that the law could be used to attack religious beliefs. With the Liberals, Bloc and NDP working together, the chances of the law being changed by this parliament are virtually nil.



On gay marriage, things are a little trickier. Paul Martin had sent a reference to the Supreme Court asking for advice on gay marriage, and whether allowing gay unions instead of gay marriage would be enough. The court is expected to reply this fall, and most observers expect them to say that only marriage would satisfy the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.



Martin promised a free vote on the issue in Parliament. During the election campaign, Martin defended same-sex marriage, and he won’t want to lose such a vote. But given that a sizable minority of Liberals – led by Toronto-area MP Tom Wappel – oppose same-sex marriage and that the vast majority of Conservatives would vote against it, as would even a few NDP and Bloc MPs, its passage is not guaranteed.



However, even if such a bill is not defeated, it seems inevitable that the courts will eventually require the federal government to pass same-sex marriage legislation. If this were to happen, Martin has promised that he would not use the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to override such a law.



One of the other issues of concern to gays and lesbians is the proposed child pornography bill. That bill died when the election was called, but given the prominence of the issue during the campaign, it’s almost inevitable that a similar bill will be revived.



The previous bill’s most controversial element had been to remove the artistic merit defence, forcing artists to prove that their work served “the public good,” a category that remained completely undefined and put the power to decide about art largely in the hands of police and judges.



Any child pornography bill that comes forward after the election campaign will probably be at least that harsh. And unfortunately, such legislation – even with the best intentions – has often been used against queers and other minority groups.



With the harsh attacks launched during the campaign against such MPs as the NDP’s Dick Proctor, who voted against the bill because of the artistic merit defence and lost his seat, MPs willing to oppose such a bill will be hard to find.



The downside of the Liberals having to work closely with the Bloc is that it may produce one of the most unstable governments in Canadian history. While the Bloc is largely a socially progressive party, their whole reason for existence is to make Quebec a sovereign country.



Towards that end, the Bloc supports measures that give more power to the provinces and less to the federal government. It’s a desire they share with the Conservatives, one that would likely have formed the basis of their coalition with the Conservatives had Harper won.



The Liberals oppose such moves, especially with Paul Martin’s election campaign reinvention of himself as the defender of medicare. Giving power to the provinces would almost certainly involve giving them more control over healthcare and watering down the relatively strong national standards we now have.



Such legislation could also give right-wing provincial governments greater power to attack minorities, not just via healthcare, but on other issues as well.



These splits might well lead to the downfall of a minority government. No party will want to be seen to bring down a government quickly, but the sort of shaky coalition we will probably see might well not survive more than two years.



If a new election is called, there was good news for progressive voters in this one.



Voters in Ontario and in British Columbia seemed to get scared at the thought of a Stephen Harper government, and voted Liberal. The result is that the Conservatives failed to make their hoped-for breakthrough in Ontario and lost seats in BC.



That fear was probably fuelled by the comments of such Conservative MPs as BC’s Randy White, who, two days before the election, was shown in a documentary salivating over the chance to remove gays and lesbians from hate crimes legislation and to use the notwithstanding clause to override any legal decisions the party didn’t like.



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In the Ottawa area, the Liberals won eight seats, the Conservatives six and the NDP one – Ed Broadbent in Ottawa Centre, who should be a strong advocate for gays and lesbians.



In Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Liberal Don Boudria held his seat. He received a C- report card from Egale Canada. In Hull-Aylmer, Liberal Marcel Proulx (B- from Egale) returns. Conservative Scott Reid (opposed gay marriage and hate crimes bill) won again in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox. Conservative Gordon O’Connor, who supports civil unions, won in Carleton-Lanark. Conservative Pierre Poilevre, a former policy adviser to Stockwell Day, won in Nepean-Carleton. Liberal incumbent Marc Godbout (C- from Egale) won in Ottawa-Orleans. Liberal incumbent Mauril Belanger (A from Egale) won in Ottawa-Vanier. Liberal David McGuinty (brother of premier Dalton) won in Ottawa South. Liberal incumbent Marlene Catterall (C+ from Egale) hung on in Ottawa West-Nepean. And Conservative incumbent Cheryl Gallant – who said hate crimes legislation for gays protects pedophiles and compared abortion to Iraqi terrorism – won in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.



Of national note, gay Bloc MP Real Menard was re-elected in Hochelaga. Gay Liberal Scott Brison, who defected from the Conservatives, was re-elected in Nova Scotia. The gay former mayor of Winnipeg, Glenn Murray, was defeated by Conservative Steven Fletcher. Lesbian NDPer Libby Davies won again in Vancouver East. And gay NDPer Bill Siksay won in his old boss Svend Robinson’s former riding of Burnaby-Douglas.