Friday, January 21, 2005

Harper's Wedge

Like George Bush before him, Stephen Harper has decided that gay marriage is the wedge issue he can use to pry ethnic communities away from the Liberal party. This week, he joins Catholic and Sikh leaders in decrying the impending gay marriage legislation, which should appear before Parliament next month. He's still frightened of the words "notwithstanding clause", of course, which he full-well knows is the only way of blocking these changes. So instead he speaks in vague terms about defending the traditional family, without outlining how, legally, he can do this.

It's an interesting ploy, to be certain. Recent immigrants to Canada are less likely to be supportive of gay marriage, according to recent polling data. But the question is whether this issue is important enough to them to make it the issue that they consider in the polling booth. I have my doubts. My anecdotal experience with friends (and their families) from ethnic minorities (specifically Asian ones) in Toronto is that they believe that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon, and one which does not affect their families. As such, they don't tend to view it, or gay marriage, as a threat to themselves. If asked point-blank about the issue, they might say that they oppose gay marriage, but it doesn't occupy their thinking most of the time. Harper will have to come up with other economic and social policies to make himself more appealing in the ballot box.

Going a bit further, if the Liberals, NDP and Bloc are able to spin this as being an issue of the Charter and the notwithstanding clause, the Conservatives are in trouble. It will not be difficult to paint an Western-centred party as one willing to override Charter rights - perhaps including a return to mandating school prayer, or to banning Sikh religious symbols from public areas. I'm certain that some juicy quotes could be dug up from their MPs from the not-too-distant past (or indeed, they could be instigated in the future).

Beyond these dynamics, I'm also not convinced that this is a seat-winner. If his aim is to appeal to Catholics, he's barking up the wrong tree. Most Canadian Catholics already disagree with the Church leadership on a number of key social issues, including abortion, homosexuality, women priests, etc. Harper is preaching to the converted. As for ethnic minorities, they tend to be concentrated in the cities, where support for gay marriage is at its highest levels. Liberal (or NDP, or Bloc) majorities in these areas tend to be so strong as to offset any voters he convinces with this scare tactic. I suspect that he stands to lose more voters than he gains on this, particularly in British Columbia and Quebec.

Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part. But if Parliament does indeed block the legislation, the fact remains that all but three provinces and two territories have legal gay marriage. It would be a nightmare for any government to try to overrule that. And that's even before you get into the question of federalism, if a Harper-led Conservative government tried to tell lovely-lefty Quebec that it's gay marriages had to be annulled. Now that would be a battle for the ages!

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At 10:12 am, Blogger Matt said...

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