All parties struggle to keep their candidates on tight leashes during election campaigns, worried that extremist views and beliefs might scare off voters.
The prime example in recent years is Conservative MP Randy White’s outburst about overriding the courts on same-sex marriage on the eve of the 2004 federal election.
“The heck with the courts, eh?” said White. “You know, one of these days we in this country are going to stand up and say, ‘The politicians make the laws and the courts do not.’ The courts interpret that law. And if we don’t like that interpretation, there’s the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which the Liberal government has never invoked and said they will not use. I believe we’ll see that with us in the House of Commons because enough is enough of this stuff.”
White’s outburst is widely credited with provoking a last-minute swing of voters to the Liberals that cost Stephen Harper the election.
Since then Harper has kept his candidates gagged. With White retired the chances of a similar outburst are slim. Nonetheless it’s illuminating to examine the views of a number of candidates on gay issues, and not necessarily just Conservatives.
Cheryl Gallant, the Conservative MP for Ontario’s Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke riding, has been strangely silent for the past few years. But she’s certainly made her beliefs known in the past.
“The danger in having sexual orientation just listed, that encompasses, for example, paedophiles,” Gallant told CTV in 2004, talking about including gay men and lesbians in hate propaganda legislation. “I believe that the caucus as a whole would like to see it repealed.”
Gallant also sent a flyer to her constituents claiming the then Liberal government had launched a concerted attack on Christians.
“Hostility in Canada to Christian teachings about the sanctity of the family and life has resulted in persecution here at home.” she wrote. “The government has launched a campaign of intimidation to silence churches by dispatching tax collectors to threaten the charitable tax status of denominations who speak out against the Liberal government.”
In the 2004 election Gallant compared abortion to the beheading of Iraq war hostage Nick Berg. After that remark the party announced she had laryngitis and could not participate in debates.
Garry Breitkreuz, the Conservative MP for Saskatchewan’s Yorkton-Melville riding, accused the federal government of pandering to homosexuals in 2000.
“In the 1950s buggery was a criminal offence,” he said. “Now it’s a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government.”
Harold Albrecht, the Conservative MP for Ontario’s Kitchener-Conestoga riding, was bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage when he was the pastor of a Kitchener church.
In a letter to a local paper in 2003 he wrote that same-sex unions “would succeed in wiping out an entire society in just one generation. Marriage is God’s idea, not man’s, therefore, He alone has the authority to redefine it,” he wrote.
Albrecht is probably best known for being hustled into a kitchen by party aides during the 2006 election so he would not be able to talk to reporters.
Maurice Vellacott, the Conservative MP for the Saskatchewan-Wanuskewin riding, has been another vociferous opponent of same-sex marriage.
In 1999 he wrote an editorial arguing that marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman because of the need to have and raise children. He wrote that “homosexuals already have the right to marry, providing that — like everybody else — they marry someone of the opposite sex.”
He also opposed spousal benefits for same-sex couples, saying supporters of the initiative were “activist liberal judges and a small but aggressive homosexual lobby.”
In 2002 Vellacott mailed out a pamphlet opposing the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category under Canada’s hate crimes legislation. Vellacott wrote that the policy change “substantially interferes with the right of religious and education leaders to communicate essential matters of faith.”
Another Conservative Saskatchewan MP, Tom Lukiwski of the Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre riding, was in the news this year when a video of him from 1991 surfaced. The video, shot when he was a provincial Tory organizer, showed him celebrating an electoral victory.
“There’s As and there’s Bs,” Lukiwski says on the tape. “The As are guys like me, the Bs are homosexual faggots with dirt under their fingernails that transmit diseases.”
Lukiwski apologized, saying, “If I could take those comments back I would. They do not reflect the type of person that I am.”
He promised to spend his life promoting tolerance for all groups but failed to show up when invited to attend the Regina Pride Parade in May.
“Mr. Lukiwski stated in his public apology… that he would spend the rest of his life making amends,” said Pride spokesman Nathan Markwart. “Well, when exactly does that kick in? “
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, from Ontario’s Nepean-Carleton riding, blew up when the provincial government announced it was relisting sex-reassignment surgery under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
Poilievre said in May that he was going to write to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty asking that federal health transfers to the province pay only for “vital” healthcare treatments, not sexual reassignment surgery.
Poilievre said he would also ask Flaherty to withhold from federal transfer payments any money spent by the Ontario government on the sex-change program.
“I think if people want this medically unnecessary treatment, they have that right,” Poilievre said. “But taxpayers should not have to pick up the tab for it.”
Conservative MP Gary Goodyear, from the Ontario riding of Cambridge, fired one of his staff after she ordered tickets to a special screening of the film Young People Fucking. The film had been the centrepiece of the debate over the government’s plan to give the heritage minister the power to deny tax credits to films she deemed “contrary to public policy.”
But the Liberals, too, have their homophobic members. While the leader of their far-right pack, Scarborough’s Tom Wappel, isn’t running this election, Dan McTeague, the MP for Pickering-Scarborough East, is.
In 2003 McTeague — best known for his self-appointed stance as Canada’s gas price watchdog — sent an open letter to then-prime minister Jean Chretien.
“It cannot be argued that the courts are merely adhering to what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires when, in fact, sexual orientation and gay rights are not even in the Charter,” he wrote. “The issue of advancing homosexual rights and the ensuing edict aimed at redefining marriage are therefore entirely the products of erroneous judge-made law….
“What has occurred over the last few years has been a series of court rulings, followed by kowtowing legislative initiatives by a complacent federal government, aimed at placating a small but vocal minority of individuals under the guise of providing equality. Little consideration was ever given to the impact these actions would have at tearing away at the social fabric of the nation and the degrading of strongly held beliefs held by many Canadians. No wonder then that these initiatives would eventually lead to an attack on the definition and institution of marriage.”
But the one MP who may be most missed in Parliament is Raymond Gravel, the Catholic priest who represented riding of Repentigny for the Bloc Quebecois. Gravel has been ordered by the Catholic church not to run again and to return to his work as a priest.
Gravel — who worked as a gay prostitute as a teen and later in a leather bar — said he had received letters from Vatican officials condemning his stances on abortion and homosexuality.
In 2003, while still a priest, Gravel condemned the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. As an MP he opposed a private member’s bill that would have made it a crime to take the life of a fetus.
“I am against abortion but I am not in favour of the pro-life campaign that condemns all women who get an abortion,” he told the Globe and Mail earlier this month, in announcing he wouldn’t run again.