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Harper brings back age of consent legislation

Throne Speech panders to fear of violent crime

HERE IT COMES AGAIN. Legislation to raise the age of consent is back and will likely pass unopposed says David Rayside, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. Credit: Xtra.ca file photo

Cutting the GST and getting tough-on-crime are among the priorities outlined by the Harper Conservative government in its Oct 16 Throne Speech, but one political expert says the real damage may be done quietly, under the radar of the mainstream media.

Plans to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 are back, after the bill was temporarily killed when Harper prorogued Parliament in September. Now, the consent bill has been repackaged as part of a larger “Tackling Violent Crime” bill which compiles previous crime legislation.

David Rayside, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, says parties are unlikely to stop the consent bill. The bill had previously passed three readings in the House of Commons, unopposed by any party.

“Clearly there are lots of folks within the Liberal, NDP and Bloc who think this is totally unnecessary and that there’s no real demand for this, but they’re not gonna go to the wall on this,” he says.

Pandering to the fear of violent crime, the speech introduced tough-on-crime measures with a preamble that states “Canadians feel less safe today and rightly worry about the security of their neighbourhoods.” Yet homicide rates fell 10 percent last year, continuing a downward trend since the 1970s, notes a Statistics Canada report released Oct 17.

The Tories also reconfirmed their plan to enforce mandatory minimum sentencing for criminals. This would limit the discretion of judges to impose sentences on a case-by-case basis, and ignores research that suggests tougher sentencing rules do not lower violent crime rates.

Speech sets stage for downloading of social programs

In the Speech, the Tories reconfirmed their plan to cut the GST, which will cost the government close to $5 billion a year in revenue. This is bad news for cities, says Rayside.

“Transferring significant taxes to cities is off the table. That’s extremely disturbing for anyone cares about cities,” says Rayside.

The speech also contains a commitment to limit federal spending power for new shared-cost programs with the provinces, setting the stage for decentralization and downloading of social programs to the provinces.

Tories may use divisive politics on queer issues to lure voters

While the Throne Speech is soft on radically social conservative issues, the party may be preparing to use subtler ways to exploit their so-con base. Last month, the Tories sent Rosh Hashanah letters to Jewish constituents in a Toronto riding. Rayside speculates this could be the beginning of divisive campaign tactics.

“The fact that they’re ramping up the strategy to target communities that have traditionally voted Liberal is worrying that they might want to campaign in ways that would be deeply divisive, and using our [queer] issues to do precisely that.”

Rayside says the Tories may attempt to shore up support by showing these voters how the Tories stood up for “traditional family values” by fighting gay marriage.

He also suggests that the Tories may use the judicial system to further a social conservative agenda by appointing rightwing judges.

“That’s where the Conservatives will most affect us [gays and lesbians] and all other historically marginalized groups in the long-term,” he says.