Canada
3 min

Taking Conservative comments personally

Waiting for Poilievre's trans baiting to backfire

Despite my best attempts to bury my head in the sand, there was no avoiding Pierre Poilievre’s idiocy. The Ottawa-Nepean MP seems to think that the issue of transsexual people getting access to medical care is worth triggering a constitutional crisis.

Luckily, no other federal politician agrees with his ridiculous assertion that the Canadian government should withhold transfer payments to the provinces that fund sex re-assignment surgery — a procedure which Poilievre deems medically unnecessary.

The MP’s outburst was triggered by Ontario health minister George Smitherman, who recently announced that the province plans to re-list the surgery under OHIP. It would restore the funding that was cut by the Mike Harris government in 1998. Still, Poilievre’s attempt to whip up frothy rightwing fury on this issue has fallen surprisingly flat. No other politician has come to his defence, and even the Ottawa Citizen has condemned his flagrant attention grabbing in a recent editorial, retorting, “pardon us if we don’t admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.”

Poilievre has a growing reputation as a loose cannon, but I have to wonder if it’s not part of a greater strategy. He was loudly mocked a few months ago, for sponsoring a student “scholarship” contest where the entry requirement was a 500-word essay on why Canada should raise the age of sexual consent, along with a minimum of 25 signatures on a petition supporting the legislation.

While the contest didn’t have the desired impact of encouraging youth to support a bad law that restricts their sexual rights, it was part of a trend. Increasingly, individual MPs are taking strategic steps to further the Harper government’s agenda, while the PM washes his hands of some of the more controversial issues.

In a similar fashion, two private members’ bills are in play right now — one that would grant legal personhood to a fetus, and another that would allow health care providers to refuse to provide medical care in cases that they feel violate their religion or their belief that “human life is inviolable.” It feels like an all-out attack these days, with the deeply personal issues of sexual health and medical care at the forefront of the rightwing political agenda.

I must admit that I have been taking this to heart lately, and that sometimes the head burying is a form of self-preservation. There are days when I’m prepared to lead the pro-choice and queer rights pack, and other days where I need to stop playing defensive politics and take a break. I worry that the onslaught leaves us shell shocked sometimes, and that we spend too much energy pushing back against the haters, instead of defining the priorities for our community.

Take Smitherman’s announcement about SRS. While many of us should have spent last week celebrating a major victory and thinking about what comes next, lots of trans and queer activists are adopting a measured wait-and-see approach.

Thanks to Poilievre, they’ve spent the week pushing back against the notion that SRS isn’t medically necessary and encouraging the small step that Smitherman took by announcing his intention to re-list. Meanwhile, many of us are waiting with bated breath to find out when the decision will be implemented — and, importantly, what guidelines will be used to determine people’s access to trans-related medical care.

This is not a fight that I have been at the forefront of, given that I am an ally and not a member of the trans community. But the recent backlash has hit me hard, as I’ve seen the issue of whether or not my girlfriend deserves equal access to medical treatment used as a pawn in a Conservative MP’s attempt to rattle up reactionary votes.

At the end of the day, any issue connected to medical care is inherently personal. But our community has a long history of politicizing and pushing back against any attempts to control the way we are treated by the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. I recently watched a documentary about the history of the AIDS activist group, ACT UP. It was inspiring to see footage of queer activists storming the US stock exchange and shareholder meetings of drug corporations, demanding that the companies open drug trials to their friends and lovers who were dying in droves.

In recent moments of frustration, I have been drawn back to the profoundly personal implications of Smitherman’s decision. All I can hope for is that the Ontario government backs up Smitherman’s brave step, and begins to repair the damage done to the trans community during the Mike Harris era. Could this be a step toward ensuring that trans people are provided with compassionate, accessible health care from sensitive and knowledgeable providers?

It took 10 years of activism to call the Ontario government to account on the issue of trans surgeries. There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure that our friends and lovers are treated fairly by a heath care system that has failed them for 10 years. Maybe it’s time for all of us to take it personally.