2 min

The road ahead

My crystal ball never seemed so clear

Some say the same-sex marriage debate was finally put to bed at the beginning of December when the Harper government’s long-promised motion to hold a free vote on it finally came and mercifully went.

Queer marriage enthusiasts heaved a deep sigh of relief. To many it seemed that gays and lesbians had crossed the final frontier; our assimilation was gloriously complete.

Less than 40 years after the last man was imprisoned for gay sex, the most notable question affecting queer people was whether or not it was reasonable for the government to freeze us out of a much overrated institution of heterosexist orthodoxy.

“We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue. We kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive,” said Harper after the fact. “Obviously we’ll accept the democratic result of the people’s representatives. I don’t see reopening this question in the future.”

Yum. That’s some good crow eatin’.

But before we get all comfy-cozy in our ticky-tacky, sensibly straight-laced lives, let’s not forget that Harper was speaking as the Prime Minister of a minority government. You can bet your wedding band that, had he managed to eke out a majority in the last election, he wouldn’t have eaten those words.

And you can raise your minivan that he hasn’t inferred from those democratic results of the people’s representatives that he should lay off queer people, or any other marginalized group.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told CanWest, Jan 6, that the Conservatives want to table a budget before May 2. It’s a move that has a very strong chance of catalyzing an election call.

The Tories have made it no secret that the 2007 budget will be all aglitter with tax breaks for families and married couples, and they’ve been forthright about their intention to make Canada the first G7 nation to bring debt levels in line with assets.

The only piece missing from that equation of economic gobbledygook is spending cuts; deep, wide spending cuts.

And Conservatives don’t cut things like missile systems and warships. They’ve already committed billions in new spending for those sorts of so-called necessities. The Harper government makes cuts like the one it did in September to the comparatively free Court Challenges Program.

That program provided financial assistance for court cases that advanced language and equality rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was a fund regularly used, for example, by Egale to fund cases about discrimination against queer people.

On Sep 26, Treasury Board president John Baird said the program was cut because it didn’t make sense for the federal government to “subsidize lawyers to challenge the government’s own laws in court.”

Think about that. This is a government that is always harping about accountability and ethics saying that if you don’t have the scratch to challenge them in court, they are perfectly happy to keep right on screwing you over.

“It is inconceivable to think that democratically-elected representatives enacted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms without the expectation that Canadians would exercise these rights and challenge laws that violated them,” wrote Canadian Bar Association president J Parker MacCarthy in a Nov 2 letter to Justice and Human Rights Committee chair Art Hanger. “However, without the assistance of the Court Challenges Program, there is a real risk that these rights will simply become ‘rights on paper.’

“People who find their rights disregarded by government are often the same people who lack the financial means to bring the government to court to make it accountable. The program ensured that not only did rights exist, but that they were meaningful.”

All this raises the question: If the Harper government can so cleverly erode access to Charter rights while they hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons, what horrors do they plan to inflict if voters allow them to achieve a tyrannical majority?