Tories deliver in several important areas

Many social conservatives did not have high expectations for the first term of a Harper-led Conservative government. They put their faith in the Conservative party due in part to Stephen Harper’s promise to revisit the same-sex “marriage” issue and because of the large number of pro-life MPs within the Tory caucus as compared to the other parties. Many socons were bought cheaply, then, on the promise to introduce a motion that would ask Parliament to revisit the marriage issue and have a full debate.

As predicted by many, the government has refused to touch the abortion issue with the proverbial 10-foot pole, most notably putting the kibosh on Leon Benoit’s private member’s bill to protect unborn victims of violence.

So, while there is plenty to rightly complain about, this fall has seen a number of positive policies and appointments for which to praise the government. Most notable among these are the elimination of two federal programs and curtailing of the budget of another, all of which funded left-wing, radical special interests.

The Court Challenges Program funded homosexual and feminist organizations, among other groups, to intervene in court challenges to the constitutionality of federal laws. Gay rights groups received funding for their court challenges, seeking the inclusion of homosexuality among specially protected classes of people and a change to the traditional definition of marriage. Feminist groups received money to fight against cases that would have enshrined fetal rights.

The Law Commission of Canada funded studies that often pushed the legal envelope on issues such as gay rights (2002) and polygamy (2005), no doubt influencing both the minds of the public and the judiciary.

Also, the Status of Women Secretariat had its budget cut by more than a fifth. The secretariat funds various feminist groups that push a radical definition of equality, which favour women in the workforce over stay-at-home moms. The funding cuts were part of a broad announcement of $1 billion in federal savings.

The program cuts are not only good economics and just policy, but smart politics. Both fiscal and social conservatives support the defunding of special interests, with not only Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women and the Institute of Canadian Values, but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition applauding the announcement. Gerry Nicholls, vice-president of the NCC, said defunding the CCP was a victory for “taxpayers and democracy.” Edmonton Journalcolumnist Lorne Gunter noted that the CCP hardly ever funded individuals, only “powerful rights-seeking lobbies, and almost always the same dozen or so lobbies.” Nicholls said that taxpayers should not have to fund court challenges with which they disagree.

Considering that these federal monies did not go to conservative organizations (of any kind), the advocacy and think-tank work paid for by these taxpayer-funded outlets will have to be picked up by individuals, non-profit organizations, corporations and unions, just like everybody else’s activities. In other words, the announcement levels the public policy playing field.

The government also made two appointments of note.

Toronto lawyer David Brown was named to the Ontario Superior Court. Brown, a well-rounded lawyer who has dealt extensively with energy and environment issues in recent years, has represented numerous socially conservative clients, including Focus on the Family in the same-sex “marriage” reference before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004 and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in the Dobson case (fetal rights) in front of the SCOC in 1999.

The Globe and Mail gave the usual crowd of shrill left-wing groups space to complain. EGALE conceded that Brown is well-qualified for the bench, but worried he might try to roll back court-won gay rights. Carolyn Egan of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and Shayna Hodgson, a Morgentaler spokesman, both said the announcement is proof that Prime Minister Stephen Harper harbours a “hidden agenda” on abortion. Egan told the Globe, “What we are seeing is something we predicted: the Harper government intends to follow in the footsteps of the Bush government in the U.S. with measures like this.” (Interestingly, the paper quoted three socially liberal sources, but used only one pro-life source, Mary Ellen Douglas of Campaign Life Coalition, who said Brown will provide a modicum of balance to liberal – and Liberal – titled courts.)

Justice Minister Vic Toews also announced Kerry-Lynne Findlay will join the Canadian Rights Tribunal. Findlay, a former Liberal, is a lawyer with 26 years’ experience, including serving as the former chair of the national constitutional law section of the Canadian Bar Association and present chair of the National Women Lawyers Forum. But she has come under fire for supporting the Conservative nomination of Darrel Reid, former president of Focus on the Family (Canada), in his 2006 bid to become an MP in Richmond, B.C. In 2000, she was the Canadian Alliance candidate in the riding.

It is noteworthy that special interest groups and the far left of the Liberal party have criticized the appointments. Neither Brown nor Findlay will be part of a “conservative majority,” either on the bench or on the tribunal, but both are likely to uphold the law, rather than create it. This, too, helps level the playing field.

The most significant proposal has not yet been formally announced, but the government’s “denials” have hardly ruled out the Globe and Mail’s scoop that the Justice Department is considering legislation that would enshrine the rights of those with religious objections to same-sex “marriage.” The Defense of Religion Act (DORA) would protect clergy and civil marriage commissioners who refuse to participate in same-sex “weddings” and other opponents of SSM whose objection is religiously based.

Initial criticism from a bevy of academics and politicians was that the rumoured proposal was unconstitutional, because regulation of marriage ceremonies is a provincial jurisdiction even if the federal government is responsible for defining what marriage is. That may or not be true, but there is still reason to proceed. There are federal employees who need protection, as well as religious publications that receive government funding through various subsidy programs. There are already efforts by homosexual groups to have the publications assistance program cut off funding to magazines that criticize same-sex “marriage.”

The DORA is also good politics. It is no mere cynical attempt to recognize the socially conservative base of the party, but a way to keep the marriage issue alive. Earlier this year, Faith Today reported that nearly 70 per cent of Protestants who go to church weekly voted Conservative, up from less than half in 2004, and that the number one issue for them was same-sex “marriage.” If SSM disappears from the political radar screen, what happens to those voters who became active and how might that affect the  Conservatives’ chances of further electoral success.

Good policy and good politics is a winning combination. It might not be protection for the unborn and restoring the proper definition of marriage, but it is a significant step in the right direction – a step reversing the trend that automatically assumes social liberalism is synonymous with Canadian values. Ottawa is demonstrating that the scope of what is mainstream is broader than once assumed.