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Are Harper’s numbers short for gay marriage reversal?

Poll says 66 percent of Canadians don't want to reopen the issue

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won fewer House Of Commons seats in January than many pundits had predicted, making it difficult for Canada’s 22nd prime minister to keep his promise to reverse history on same-sex marriage (SSM).

Ignoring an Environics poll that says 66 percent of Canadians don’t want to reopen the issue, Harper has promised that he will introduce a motion in Parliament to revisit equal marriage — sooner rather than later.

An inspection of the riding-by-riding results shows he may not have the numbers, though it will be a tight race. By my count, there are now 157 MPs in the House who support SSM, 149 against and two undecided.

The pro-SSM website Marriagevote.ca puts the number at 155 versus 153.

The last Parliament saw 165 MPs support Bill C-38, the SSM bill, with 141 against. Speaker Peter Milliken didn’t vote, and neither did Independent MP Chuck Cadman from Surrey, who died last summer.

The equal marriage side lost 18 seats on election night to confirmed anti-SSM candidates and another two ridings to candidates who haven’t yet said which way they’ll vote. The two undecideds are from Quebec.

All other losses were to candidates who also support SSM. Meanwhile the pro-equality side gained an additional 11 ridings across the country, six of them in British Columbia.

Former Liberal speaker Milliken was re-elected in Kingston and is expected to support SSM. (Traditionally, speakers come from the government caucus and only vote in the event of a tie.)

Many local pro-equality Liberals who were believed to have been in trouble in the final days of the campaign ended up winning their seats handily.

In the last Parliament, three Conservative MPs (Jim Prentice from Calgary Centre-North, Alberta, James Moore from Port Coquitlam, BC and Gerald Keddy from Nova Scotia) voted for SSM. All three were reelected last week.

Of the new Tory MPs, Lawrence Cannon (Pontiac, Quebec) and Josée Verner (Louis-St-Laurent, Quebec) are on record supporting equal marriage. Both became cabinet ministers on Feb 6.

Another new minister, John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean), is also expected to support SSM.

Harper has promised that cabinet ministers will be able to vote freely on this issue.

It is not known which way many outgoing Liberal cabinet ministers, who were required to support equal marriage last time, will vote this time.