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Prepare to fight for your rights

Harper minority will cause queers problems, says Egale

"POLITICS IS MORE THAN A SPECTATOR SPORT." Paul Dewar kept Ottawa Centre for the NDP Jan 23 by a substantial margin. Credit: (Gareth Kirkby)

First he thanked people for praying for him and his party. And then Stephen Harper invoked his standard closing line after making his election victory speech Jan 23.

“God bless Canada,” said Harper, using a line that clearly distinguishes him from past Canadian prime ministers who went out of their way to separate church from state in their speeches.

Welcome to Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government, a government dominated by MPs from Western Canada. The Conservatives hold 124 seats to 103 for the Liberals, 51 for the Bloc Quebecois, 29 for the NDP and one independent.

Harper doesn’t have a mandate to implement the socially conservative policies favoured by many of those MPs, says Egale Canada’s executive director Gilles Marchildon. Voters deprived them of a whole-hearted endorsement, he notes.

As well, “we noted a specific effort to muzzle candidates” with the strongest views on gay rights, same-sex marriage and socially conservative beliefs. Even Harper downplayed those issues, says Marchildon.

In the final days of the election, Harper hinted that he might wait for a while before fulfilling his promise to put same-sex marriage rights to another vote in Parliament.

But, Marchildon says, the queer community has “got our work cut out for us. We need to be very vigilant and call them to task on any kind of clawbacks they propose to our equality.” Even without a majority in Parliament, the Conservatives will be able to exercise executive power to the detriment of gays and lesbians. And “they’ll be using our tax dollars to fight us,” he notes.

Marchildon expects eventual battles over marriage and the legality of bathhouses, and even the cancellation of funding for the National Day Against Homophobia.

As well, the minority government will inevitably fall and the Conservatives will be campaigning to turn that into a majority mandate.

“The beast is on the leash and at some point it will want to be freed from that leash,” says Marchildon.

Voters granted the NDP a kingmaker role for now — and that party has pledged to attempt to hold back any Conservative effort to infringe on gay equality rights. After picking up 10 new seats, the NDP won enough ridings to be able to combine their votes with those of the Conservatives to form a majority. Alternatively, NDP votes can form a majority when combined with Liberal and BQ seats.

With Paul Martin’s resignation as Liberal leader during his concession speech, that party has an opportunity to find a leader that resonates with voters. Many gays and lesbians may find a level of satisfaction in the Edmonton defeat of Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, who as Justice Minister in 1999, rallied her party in support of a Reform Party motion defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. More recently, McLellan has drawn fire for anti-terrorist laws that civil libertarians consider excessive.

Some anti-gay rights candidates were defeated, while others were sent to Ottawa.

In the Vancouver area, three Conservative candidates with ties to anti-gay groups or strong personal Christian beliefs were defeated: Darrell Reid in Richmond riding, Cindy Silver of North Vancouver and John Weston of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea. Local media reported Reid, the former head of Focus On The Family Canada, was in hiding in the last week of the campaign.

But in the Ontario riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, Rev Harold Albrecht was elected. Though Harper appeared on the stage with the anti-gay Albrecht, the candidate was then shut in a kitchen to keep him away from media.

Maybe that’s because of Albrecht’s past statements. The recently retired pastor and founder of the Pathway Community Church wrote in a letter to a Kitchener newspaper in June, 2004: “If one is truly committed to the marriage vows of fidelity, these same-sex marriages would succeed in wiping out an entire society in just one generation.” And, he wrote, “Marriage is God’s idea, not man’s, therefore, He alone has the authority to define it.”

In the Ottawa area, vocal social conservative Cheryl Gallant, who was also kept away from media during the campaign, easily won reelection in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke with almost 58 percent of the vote.

There were mixed results for gay candidates. Former Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison (who crossed the floor to the Liberals prior to the 2004 federal election) won with 46 percent of the vote in Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia. Real Menard easily won for the Bloc Quebecois in his Hochelaga riding, with 55 percent of the vote. Lesbian NDP icon Libby Davies, who worked last term on issues of prostitution and legalizing bathhouses, won 57 percent of the vote in Vancouver East. Gay NDPer Bill Siksay, who spearheaded a private member’s bill to include trans rights in the Canadian Human Rights Act, squeaked through in Burnaby-Douglas with 35.6 percent of the vote. Mario Silva, who came out after the 2004 election, won his Davenport riding for the Liberals with 52 percent support.

Longtime friend of the gay community, former Defence Minister Bill Graham, won Toronto Centre with 52 percent of the vote. Vocal same-sex marriage supporter and Conservative candidate John Baird, a former senior minister in the Mike Harris Ontario cabinet, easily won election in Ottawa West-Nepean.

Rabblerouser Svend Robinson failed in his bid to reenter politics less than two years after admitting to stealing a ring. Robinson was handily defeated in Vancouver Centre by Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who could boast strong support in that riding’s gay community. Also in BC, Randall Garrison, the NDP candidate in Esquimalt-Juan deFuca riding failed for the second time — both times in close races — to defeat Liberal Keith Martin.