When Conservative MP Jim Prentice announced in early February that he was going to support the Liberals’ anti-marriage legislation, Bill C-38, it came as a bit of a shock to many Calgarians, who thought they’d elected a conservative to Parliament.
Yet, such voters must remember that the merger of the PCs and Canadian Alliance brought together two radically different parties. One, the Progressive Conservatives, was a top-down, socially liberal relic of a party whose 19th-century glory days were well behind it and whose recent leaders included a grand marshal of Calgary’s gay pride parade: Joe Clark. Social liberal Jim Prentice came out of this institution, finishing second only to Peter MacKay in the last leadership race for the old Tory party.
The Alliance and Reform parties it grew out of were grassroots, conservative parties, founded and led by evangelical Christians from the new West, and a large majority of their MPs were pro-life and pro-family.
The thought of working alongside such “rednecks” was a little much for some former PCs, such as Joe Clark and MPs Scott Brison and John Herron. To their credit, they remained true to their principles and refused to join the new party. And, while the merger process and a snap election in 2004 quickly forced former rivals to work together in the new party, the party marriage is now showing a little strain over social policy.
The first cracks startedshowing publicly in late January, when “Red Tory” MPs Belinda Stronach and Peter MacKay openly criticized leader Stephen Harper for a party-funded advertising campaign that contrasted the positions of Paul Martin and Harper on the question of how marriage should be defined. MacKay, the Conservative deputy leader, whined that he “hadn’t been consulted,” about the ads, though he is widely expected to vote against C-38 anyway.
Stronach, on the other hand, was more aggressive, suggesting she “wouldn’t have run the ads” herself. Though her own performance as an MP has been particularly lacklustre since an unsuccessful run at the party leadership last year, sources indicate she is preparing for another run at the top job at the first available opportunity. Part of her strategy appears to be an appeal to “centrist,” meaning liberal, sensibilities, including a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual rights position on social issues.
Stronach has never made any secret of her support for the homosexual agenda. But, as the mother of two children, some wonder if she is not concerned with the moral implications of that agenda on society. A little-known interview broadcast during the June 2004 federal election gave some interesting insight into her belief system, or lack of it. CBC TV’s Sunday show host Evan Solomon conducted an interview with Stronach, in which he asked her about her faith. Clearly caught off guard, she muttered inanities about how she is “a spiritual person,” and “doesn’t believe in a God.” She admitted, “I’m not in the practice of following a particular religion.”
Religious motivations may affect more than one Conservative MP in sympathy with C-38. A fellow rookie Conservative MP elected along with Stronach in 2004, Bev Oda, from Clarington-Scugog, Ont., has been waffling around on the marriage definition question. Because she represents a very rural riding, she is feeling intense pressure from constituents to oppose the Liberal legislation, though she has indicated sympathy for it in the past.
Before her election, Oda worked in television broadcasting and was appointed for five years to the federal television regulator, the CRTC, by Brian Mulroney. During her tenure at the CRTC, she signed a dissenting statement to the Commission’s new policy allowing limited religious broadcasting.
Demonstrating clear antipathy toward the public expression of Christian faith, she argued at that time that single-faith programming “may prove to be a destructive force in Canadian society.”
Jim Prentice, on the other hand, has publicly embraced his Presbyterian faith, even if he cannot provide a theological explanation for supporting homosexual “marriage.” Instead, he has distributed a press release that purports to explain his worldview. In it, he claims to be a follower of enlightenment philosopher John Stuart Mill. Yet, while Mill himself is considered a father of liberalism, Prentice states, “I am a conservative.” The reference to J.S. Mill is not insignificant. The debate over the possible legalization of polygamy that has erupted in response to C-38 raises the question of what may happen next.
Unfortunately for Prentice, his hero J.S. Mill could see no legal or moral impediment to polygamy. It is unclear at this point whether Prentice also supports polygamy or if he’ll go shopping for a new worldview should that debate ever commence.
One other former PC MP who has come out in favour of homosexual “marriage” is Nova Scotia South Shore-St. Margaret’s MP Gerald Keddy, who argues that denying homosexuals access to civil marriage is akin to the former segregationist policies of the U.S. South. Keddy makes no philosophical argument whatsoever for his position. However, he does make the absurd claim that C-38 “has clearly protected religious marriage,“ even though the Supreme Court of Canada has already clearly stated, and constitutional experts have agreed, that the federal government has no jurisdiction to offer such protections.
Of course, not all homosexual marriage supporters are from the old PCs. Conservative James Moore, from the riding of Port Moody-Port Coquitlam, B.C., is indicating his support for the bill. The libertarian MP was the youngest MP elected in 2000, at a tender 24 years of age. While Moore also does not offer a philosophical defence of his position, other than a vague reference to “equality for all,” party insiders tell a story of a more fundamental political calculation. He apparently considers the matter already settled and does not want the black mark of “intolerance” staining his political record in a decade or two, when he may want to seek the party leadership. Unfortunately for Moore, however, Hansard shows he voted in favour of traditional marriage in a House of Commons motion in 2003.
Despite the philosophical pretzels a few socially liberal Conservative MPs are twisting themselves into, it appears well over 90 per cent of the caucus will vote in defence of traditional marriage. The lesson, however, when picking your MP is: “buyer beware.”