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Half of Tory leader hopefuls silent on same-sex marriage policy

Other half of rumoured candidates say they will support motion to remove “free vote on the definition of marriage” from manifesto

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose 

YouTube/Poletical/CPAC

Half of the people expected to run for federal Conservative party leadership won’t say whether they’re in favour of dropping a policy directive that opposes same-sex marriage.

But none who responded to a Daily Xtra survey said they supported keeping the party’s official stance on the issue. LGBTory, the group pushing to remove the policy, says it’s encouraged by the survey, and is planning a blitz of meetings on Parliament Hill.

“We’re now in the process of approaching individual MPs to get enticements before we go to the convention in Vancouver. So that’s very helpful,” says Eric Lorenzen, an executive member of the group LGBTory.

The group is pushing to have a vote at the federal Conservatives’ convention in May 2016 to remove two clauses from the party’s policy book.

As of its November 2013 revision, the Conservative party manifesto calls for a free vote on “the definition of marriage,” instead of letting courts decide. Another clause states: “We support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Daily Xtra reached out to 14 rumoured and confirmed candidates for the 2017 leadership vote, giving each a week to respond.

While six responded they would support a motion if it came to a vote, eight did not answer despite repeated email and phone queries.

Michael Chong, Wellington-Halton Hills member of Parliament, said “this debate was settled long ago,” in an interview with the National Post.

“If two people are committed to each other, we should recognize it and welcome it,” Chong added.

Parry Sound–Muskoka MP Tony Clement said through an assistant that he would support such a motion if it came to a vote.

Former justice minister Peter MacKay, who has become a lawyer specializing in regulation, sent a 2006 article in which he said the issue had already been settled.

“An open, inclusive national party must do more than just mouth the words on issues of such fundamental human rights. It must act to remove obstacles, real or perceived for all Canadians,” he tells Daily Xtra.

Milton MP Lisa Raitt’s staff referred Daily Xtra to a tweet in which Raitt said she was “so proud of the overwhelming support” from two ridings associations in Alberta.

Calgary Centre-North MP Michelle Rempel, who publicly mulled a run for the top job just after October’s election, told Daily Xtra she would “definitely support” such a motion at the May convention.

The following eight people did not respond to multiple requests for comment:

  • Beauce MP Maxime Bernier, whose staff said he was unavailable, and noted the issue “does not fall under his portfolio.”

  • former Toronto councillor Doug Ford

  • Calgary Midnapore MP Jason Kenney

  • Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch

  • Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson

  • Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre

  • Toronto businessman Kevin O’Leary

  • Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (who is a rumoured candidate despite declining to run)

Lorenzen said he was glad the six who responded agree with his position, noting that many are influential former cabinet ministers.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that nobody said no; to us that’s a big step. Because just 10 years ago [. . .] they would have been putting their necks out quite a bit to support this.”

LGBTory made its push public just weeks ago, publishing an open letter sent to Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose on Jan 10, 2016.

Following Daily Xtra’s article on its letter, national media reported on the group, prompting Ambrose to say she supports the effort.

“It kind of went haywire,” Lorenzen says. “We got a lot of publicity and a lot of support came to us, from people inside and outside the party.”

Among those within the party, two electoral district associations in Alberta — one in Edmonton, the other in Fort McMurray — told a provincial gathering they wanted the party to vote on updating its same-sex marriage policy.

Now, the group is organizing meetings with all 99 Conservative MPs, and running a booth at the Ontario PC convention in March to gather endorsements. Their hope is to get a motion onto the agenda of the national Conservative convention in Vancouver in May 2016.

In its survey, Daily Xtra did not contact the following people, who have firmly declined to run for Conservative leadership:

  • Former foreign minister John Baird

  • Former Quebec premier Jean Charest

  • British Columbia Premier Christy Clark

  • Former premier Bernard Lord

  • Former heritage minister James Moore

  • Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston MP Scott Reid

A parliamentary vote legalized same-sex marriage across Canada in 2005, though courts in eight provinces and Yukon had validated such marriages two years prior.

Some Conservative critics say that the issue is already settled, and thus loudly campaigning against the policy plays into the image of a backward, fundamentalist party.

But Lorenzen argues that the outpouring of support resonates with people whose identities are not often linked.

“It’s very encouraging. We think all the signs are pointing toward getting this thing passed at the convention in Vancouver.”