Pro-life, pro-family, Liberal backbench MP Roseanne Skoke faces a challenge for re-nomination due to federal electoral boundary redistribution. Skoke’s Central Nova riding will be eliminated, with most of it being incorporated into a new Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough constituency for the next federal election.
Antigonish and Guysborough Counties and currently part of the Cape Breton Highlands Canso riding, held by Liberal Francis LeBlanc, although Guysborough was part of Central Nova before 1984, Cape Breton Highlands Canso will also disappear with the election call, which leaves either Ms. Skoke or Mr. LeBlanc high and dry. Last November, Mr. LeBlanc announced that he will contest Ms. Skoke for the Pictou Antigonish Guysborough nomination, to be held March 22.
Mr. LeBlanc says that he agonized long and hard over his decision, but believes that he has a legitimate claim to the new riding, since he has represented approximately 39 per cent of its constituents (Antigonish and Guysborough) since 1988. However, it is a thinly-veiled secret that the Liberal backroom folks (not to mention many in the front room) are sorely vexed with Roseanne Skoke, who embarrassed the party by vocally opposing and voting against Justice Minister Allan Rock’s gay rights bills (C-33 and C-41). It is widely rumoured that Francis LeBlanc has the tacit blessing and support of the Liberal Party establishment and the Prime Minister’s Office in his bid to unseat Skoke.
Aside from the approximate parity of their ages, the two Liberal MPs have little in common. Skoke is a self-described “fighter”, and is a staunch advocate and defender of traditional Christian family values.
LeBlanc, on the other hand, is a consummate politician and party conformist. “I believe I can be a construction player in a Liberal government after the next election,” he asserts in none-too-subtle reference to Roseanne Skoke’s notorious dissonance with some of the party’s social policies-especially on homosexuality and abortion.
Like Ms. Skoke, Francis LeBlanc is a professed Roman Catholic, but that has not inhibited him from enthusiastically supporting the Chrétien Liberal government’s aggressively anti-family, anti-life, anti-traditional Christianity agenda. “I want to be careful not to dissipate my influence as a government MP by embarking on crusades that are not the priority of my constituents,” says Mr. LeBlanc. “I will not short-change my constituents by using this important office as a soapbox. I am interested in using whatever experience and respect I’ve built up over the last eight years to provide …solid, effective representation on matters of real concern to the people of Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough.”
However, many of Mr. LeBlanc’s constituents in strongly Catholic Antigonish County and largely evangelical Protestant Guysborough County, would dispute his assertion that abortion and homosexuality are not “matters of real concern” to them.
Unfair treatment in media
Ms. Skoke isn’t reticent about affirming that the Pictou Antigonish Guysborough nomination battle is between what she characterizes as “the so-called Liberal establishment” versus herself, whom she sees as representing the “grassroots.” In fact in 1995 Prime Minister Jean Chrétien mused publicly that he might not sign Skoke’s nomination papers next time around, after she and several other Liberal backbenchers voted against Bill C-33, which gave special rights to homosexuals. Skoke’s supporters feel that the strong constituency work she has done has gone unheralded by the press and electronic media, which chooses to focus derisively on her pro-family and pro-life convictions.
Mr. LeBlanc loyally supported and voted for C-41 and the subsequent Bill C-33 (also opposed by Skoke) that granted explicit anti-discrimination rights based on “sexual orientation.” He also vigorously defends and voted for Allan Rock’s gun control legislation (Bill C-68), even though the latter is spectacularly unpopular with most of his rural constituents. LeBlanc’s willingness to dutifully toe the party line has been rewarded with a chairmanship of the House of Commons Human Resources Committee, and a subsequent appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the External Affairs Minister.
Central Nova was a Tory stronghold for decades before Roseanne Skoke took it in the Liberal tidal wave of 1993. Long held by laconic Pictou County lawyer Elmer MacKay, the riding was briefly in the national spotlight when MacKay temporarily stepped down in 1983 to make room for newly-chosen Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney to enter Parliament in a by-election.
If the Skoke/LeBlanc confrontation turns into a nasty family feud that leaves slow-healing wounds, many predict that the Tories stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.
It is also rumoured that Ms. Skoke may decide to run as an independent if she loses the Liberal nomination to Mr. LeBlanc.
Reform will also contest the riding, as will the NDP, making it one to watch on election night.
(See page 15 for Charles Moore’s view on how violence against women is interpreted selectively, especially as it applies to people such as Roseanne Skoke).