For 13 years, Canadians in general, but especially pro-life and pro-family citizens, criticized the heavy-handedness of Liberal prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, who attempted to foist upon their party and the nation an ideologically rigid and radical approach to abortion and marriage. There was reason to believe things would be different when the Conservatives won power on Jan. 23, 2006. But while there have been many positive developments, on two key votes, the Tories have proven the axiom that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

First, to give credit where credit is due, the Conservatives have taken many incremental steps toward levelling the playing field, by reducing handouts to radical special interest groups such as the Status of Women Secretariat; defunding the Court Challenges Program, which financially assisted homosexualist and feminist organizations in their court challenges; closed the Law Commission of Canada, a federally funded legal think tank that pushed the envelope on social issues; amended the appointment process of Supreme Court justices to allow more vetting of candidates by parliamentarians; the appointment of Justice Marshall Rothstein, a restrained jurist, to the Supreme Court of Canada; the appointment of the brilliant and principled lawyer David Brown to the Ontario Superior Court; the creation of a process to open up and make fairer the judicial review committees that examine the appointment of judges. Stephen Harper is also to be applauded for keeping euthanasia off Parliament’s plate over the past 12 months, while a Bloc MP sought to get her private member’s bill on the issue back before the House.

Over time, many of these changes will make it easier for social conservatives to get a fair hearing in the public square, whether it be the courtroom or the floor of the House. It will definitely make it more difficult for radical activists to make their cases, as they will no longer will be on the taxpayers’ dime. These changes will level the playing field a bit more than otherwise would have happened, had the Conservatives not actively altered the intellectual and political landscape with them. But these changes, unlikely as they were, are the “easy” ones. Defunding the CCP or reducing funding for SOW can be carried out for economic reasons (fiscal restraint) or libertarianism (no favour for one group of special interests over another). Even social liberals, gay activists and Globe and Mail columnists admit that David Brown is a good lawyer who deserves his spot on the bench.

But when it comes to legislation on abortion and marriage, the Prime Minister’s Office shows the same tendancies to micromanage caucus and prevent a free and full debate on the issues from coming to the floor of the House of Commons.

When Leon Benoit’s private member’s Unborn Victims of Violence bill was brought before a parliamentary subcommittee for routine consideration of its eligibility for a vote, the PMO exerted pressure on the Justice Department to have the bill declared unconstitutional. The prime minister and his advisers do not want Conservative MPs addressing the issue of abortion, lest their political opponents label the party as “extremist” for doing so.

Likewise, as we report in detail in the cover story on the motion to revisit same-sex “marriage,” Harper did the very least he could with the issue, while curtailing real debate. He demonstrated zero leadership and cynically pushed a measure he knew was doomed to failure. The obvious explanation is that he wanted the issue to disappear and for the party to present a “moderate” face to the public so it could win a majority. Again, under this rubric, there will be no hint of Harper or his party being extremist.

What is extreme, however, is the Conservative leadership’s paranoia over social issues, not to mention the implicit support of an abortion regime that kills more than 100,000 unborn babies each year. Most polls show a majority of Canadians support traditional marriage and a majority of citizens disapprove of the abortion status quo. If framed properly, social issues can be electoral winners. What never works is hiding or, worse, suppressing, socially conservative views.

Political pundits and political leaders say the marriage issue should be put to rest, just as abortion has supposedly been. Fortunately, in a democracy, the people, not a handful of journalists and backroom strategists, get to decide such matters.

If the marriage and abortion issues “go away” and seem “settled,” it is because we are not making them a priority in our politics. We must repeatedly raise these issues with our elected representatives and political candidates, as well as be willing to make them central considerations on election day.

The battle to protect innocent human life and restore marriage may seem like an uphill battle, but it is not an insurmountable one. The political realities of today – the most pressing being that a majority of MPs support abortion and same-sex “marriage” – may be obstacles that are extremely difficult to overcome now, but that is hardly reason to give up. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Considering that the Harper government has done so much to create a level playing field for the clash of ideas, our cries of protest are needed more now than ever.

They just might be heard.