The last time Canada went to the polls, I was recovering from a nasty cold. I distinctly remember just how congested and distressed I was when I realized the Stephen Harper was about to become the Prime Minister of Canada. In my delirium, I started a blog called Dykes Against Harper, and for a couple years I sporadically chronicled the most egregious actions of the Conservative government.
After a while, I stopped posting on the blog. I developed a form of oppositional fatigue. Being a dyke against Harper felt like a foregone conclusion. I decided that I wanted to feel like I was building something, instead of simply existing in reaction to each of Harper’s appalling decisions.
Not that there wasn’t a lot to be angry about. The last two years have been a whirlwind of right-wing rhetoric and slash-and-burn economics that saw the decimation of the Court Challenges program and the “equality” mandate of Status of Women Canada. I winced as Harper made devastating cuts to arts and environmental programs and introduced regressive “tough on crime” legislation that ushered in mandatory minimum sentences and arbitrarily raised the age of sexual consent.
We all have our breaking points, though, and mine was when the majority of MPs voted to support Ken Epp’s fetal rights law, Bill C-484, at second reading. Even though I had long lost hope that the Liberals or the NDP would mount any sort of effective opposition, I absolutely lost it when I discovered that neither party had whipped the vote at second reading.
So I did what comes naturally to me. I hit the message boards and the streets. I joined the Abortion Rights Coalition. I wrote letters to the editor and to MPs. Within weeks, I was delighted to see the tide of public opinion turn and the pressure mount on all four major political parties as several major medical associations along with dozens of organizations and thousands of citizens expressed their opposition to the bill. A few days before dissolving Parliament the Harper government withdrew its support for Bill C-484 and confirmed that Epp’s pet project could in fact threaten access to legal abortions in Canada.
You have to take your victories where you can find them. And in the case of Bill C-484, the good news is that the long-dormant pro-choice movement is alive and kicking again. Whether or not specific Conservative MPs believed that abortion should be recriminalized soon became irrelevant. Because Harper knew that it would be political suicide to even appear to be anti-choice. That’s the magic of grassroots activism. When we apply pressure and put the hard work into organizing our friends and allies, we put the politicians on notice. This is the type of work that needs to be done every day of the year — most importantly after an election has concluded.
It’s only a few days into this election campaign, and I already have rhetoric fatigue. Meanwhile, no matter how much faith we might place in a particular party or politician, they can’t make any sort of real impact unless we do the tough slogging to change the social and political consensus on the ground and in our communities.
Lest we forget that the Liberals — the party that is now championing its supposed human rights record — fought the gay and lesbian community for over 15 years in court on every issue we brought forward, from adoption rights to pension benefits to equal marriage for same sex couples. It was only when the Supreme Court declared that the marriage law was unconstitutional that Liberals voted in great numbers to support gay rights. And though the NDP was an early and avid champion of our rights, I have been repeatedly disappointed over the last couple of years, as they voted to support reactionary crime legislation and spent the majority of their time in Parliament criticizing the Liberals, in a not-so-veiled attempt to make a play for their political ground. Meanwhile, they neatly ignored the Conservatives — the party that they were actually elected to oppose.
This federal election, I am putting my energy into thinking about the next issues that our community will put forward to challenge the status quo and change the social consensus. Will it be decriminalization of sex work? Or human rights protections for gender identity? Looking beyond the queer community, how about fixing Canada’s employment insurance system so the majority of people who are out of work can actually access it? Or granting citizenship rights to the thousands of migrant workers who we routinely allow into the country on a seasonal basis — just enough time to pay into a social security system that they will never be able to access. Or let’s go for the gold and explain to the public why taxes are actually a good thing and how cutting them provides less rather than more “relief.”
The queer community has always been up for a challenge. Which one are you ready to take on?