Two conservative leaders heavily favoured to become the premiers of their respective provinces tried to quash the ugliest parts of their parties this weekend.
In Ontario, Doug Ford cast out social conservative firebrand Tanya Granic Allen after the Liberals released footage of her saying that watching Croatia “trying to push radical sexualization on the young, or gay marriage, I almost vomit in disbelief.”
It was the last straw in a steady drip-drip of incendiary comments from Granic Allen’s past that have resurfaced since she finished a surprisingly strong leadership run.
For someone who has been a social conservative activist since the early 2000s, more of her regressive views would have inevitably surfaced. We didn’t even have a chance to discuss her desire to criminalize the production and distribution of all pornography or her conspiracy theories about Alfred Kinsey.
Since the sex education debate took off under former premier Dalton McGuinty, Granic Allen has emerged as one of the most formidable social conservative organizers in the province. And despite her apparently warm relationship with Ford — Granic Allen was the only other leadership candidate to stand behind him as he accepted the leadership — the new PC leader was willing to jettison her to avoid having to answer for her past comments.
Three provinces over, the members of the United Conservative Party went over the heads of the party leadership to pass a motion in support of a parent’s right to know if their child joins a gay-straight alliance.
The rhetoric from the UCP higher-ups was unequivocal. “This is about outing gay kids,” Ric McIver, the party whip, said, pleading to a hostile crowd. “Don’t be called the ‘lake of fire’ party, I’m begging you.”
But the motion passed with 57 percent support regardless. UCP leader Jason Kenney, in a plain misreading of the text of the motion, insisted that it simply affirmed the current practice of parents being notified if their child is being taught about religion or sexuality.
“Let me be absolutely stone-cold clear: a United Conservative government will not be changing law or policy to require notification of parents when kids join GSAs. We will no do that. You can take that to the bank,” said Kenney.
Despite their recent moves, both Kenney and Ford are the authors of their own misfortune. The two leaders spent considerable time and effort courting social conservatives, ignoring their appalling rhetoric and beliefs when it was convenient for them.
Now that they’re positioned to take the top job in their respective provinces, they are trying to walk back from the hardliners they helped empower.
It was Kenney himself that began the GSA firestorm. In one of his first interviews as UCP leader, he said that while he wouldn’t repeal the law that mandates schools can’t ban GSAs, parents should be kept in the loop if their child joins one.
“I do, however, believe parents have a right to know what’s going on with their kids in the schools unless the parents are abusive,” Kenney said. “I don’t think it’s right to keep secrets from parents about challenges their kids are going through.”
While Kenney immediately tried to walk that statement back, when the rubber hit the road, his party opposed NDP legislation that would ban parental notification.
Ford meanwhile won his leadership on the backs of social conservatives who had felt betrayed by Patrick Brown’s shift to the centre. Now, they’re back on a war footing.
“If Doug Ford has declared war on social conservatives we’re ready to do battle,” Campaign Life Coalition vice president Jeff Gunnarson said. “We have ten thousand paid up troops. They are trained, they are eager and they will strike when given the word. This is the worst mistake Ford has made and will make on this campaign. He’s going to eat that decision.”
In some ways, it’s heartening to see that even conservative parties realize that an explicitly socially conservative agenda isn’t palatable to the broader electorate. But social conservatives continue to be one of the most powerful forces in Canadian right-wing politics.
Both Ford and Kenney are instinctively social conservative. And if either of them are elected, they’ll have to find ways to keep that vocal, organized constituency happy.
Until the power of social conservatives wanes, both leaders will continue to represent a potential threat to LGBT rights.