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Inside Harper’s penchant for governing by policy

Conservative policy has been at the centre of several gay standoffs since Stephen Harper took office. What’s perhaps most instructive — given that the opposition parties wield enormous influence in a minority Parliament — is that none of the following policy changes were passed by the House of Commons, but instead are the result of cabinet decisions.

Activist Ariel Troster points to the changes to the Status of Women Canada mandate — the Conservatives removed the term “equality” from the mandate in 2006, but recently re-introduced it — as an example of the quiet tinkering with government departments done without consulting MPs. It’s one a series of policy shifts that’s gradually realigning the way the Canadian government functions.

In 2007, AIDS service organizations were surprised to find that “harm reduction” had been removed from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s funding criteria. Drug programs that use a non-abstinence model were left out of the revised funding formula, and AIDS groups denounced the change as ideological rather than practical.

Around the same time, Montreal’s Black and Blue Festival discovered that family friendliness was added as a requirement for festivals receiving economic spinoff cash from the Feds. Organizers are fighting an ongoing battle with federal bureaucrats to get money — formerly about $60,000 a year — flowing back into the gay party weekend’s purse.

In Dec 2007, Health Canada quietly announced that gay men would be prohibited from donating organs unless they refrained from sex for five years. Alternatively, Health Canada requires that recipients sign a form acknowledging the extra risks associated with transplants involving gay man’s organs. Health groups and student groups launched public relations campaigns to oppose the policy shift.