3 min

Harper losing the ‘burbs

Social issues will ignite suburban moderates

The next federal election, whenever it is that the Liberals get up the courage to force it, will be fought in the suburbs. It’s the people of Mississauga and Burlington, Kanata and Dorval, Burnaby and Surrey that will decide whether Stephen Harper gets his majority or Stephane Dion gets a chance to impress them.

The inner cities of Canada are already pretty much locked up for the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP — with a sprinkling of Conservatives. The rural areas are similarly largely owned by the Conservatives, with a sprinkling of the other parties.

It’s the suburbs, with their ticky-tacky houses that will determine our nation’s fate. They’ve done it before: they turned on the Conservatives in 1993, sick of Brian Mulroney, and opened their arms to Jean Chretien.

People live in the suburbs because it costs too much to live downtown. Move to the ‘burbs and your kid can grow up on a patch of back lawn instead of the downtown alley.

The cost of suburban living is a sense of isolation, long distances to merchants, and brutal commutes to work. A culture of alienation has arisen in the suburbs and suburbanites often vote on the basis of their fears rather than their dreams.

It’s their hearts and minds that the Liberals and Conservatives are fighting over now as they prepare for the next election. Harper’s idiotic GST cuts are aimed right at them, as are the tax breaks for kids joining sports teams and the shunning of green taxes. And the rhetoric about getting tough on crime.

The average suburban voter cares a lot about taxes and thinks crime is worse than it actually is.

But the suburban voter is also mildly progressive on social issues and can be seduced by liberal policies. The suburban voter buys into Canada’s myths of building a tolerant society based on equality and freedom. And women vote in the suburbs.

And that’s why I think Harper’s Conservatives are on the verge of sinking themselves. Brian Mulroney has been back in the news, reminding people of another Conservative regime that dragged on far too long. And the Chuck Cadman affair undercuts Harper’s claim that his party ethics fly so much higher than those of the Liberals. Together, Mulroney and Cadman are a reminder that politics may not be cleaner under a Conservative majority.

More to the point are a couple of social issues that could seriously alienate those tolerant folks in the suburbs. First up is abortion. With a little smoke and mirrors at the 2005 Conservative policy convention in Montreal, Harper thought he’d laid abortion to rest. The mainstream media has repeatedly claimed that Harper had moved the Conservatives away from the Reform Party’s past as a Christian party that wanted to reverse laws on abortion and gay rights. Not so. Harper left the door open to private member’s bills that would restrict abortion.

First up is a private member’s bill called The Unborn Victims of Crime Act, which would allow charges to be laid where a fetus is hurt during a criminal act. It’s being spearheaded by Alberta MP Ken Epp, long an opponent of a woman’s right to choose. Welcome to the world of US Republican Party politics, where a woman’s choice is slowly restricted bill by bill, court case by court case.

And then there’s Bill C-10, an Income Tax Act amendment that includes a deeply buried clause that would allow the government to withhold funding for any TV show or film that it deems offensive or not in the public’s best interest — after it’s been made. Gay-rights opponent Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, is taking credit for convincing the Prime Minister’s Office to pass this.

Expect to see a parade of actors, directors and producers denouncing this on the news as a censorious sabotage of an entire industry.

With an election coming up fast, there’s nothing like renewing the abortion debate and a parade of celebrities denouncing government censorship. What a splendid way to make sure that women and moderates in the suburbs get to the polls. And a wee dose of Brian Mulroney just to top it all of.


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