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January 24, 2006
Harper victory narrowed by marriage issue
Government has no mandate to re-open debate
Ottawa—Stephen Harper has ridden a wave of anti-Liberal sentiment and will become Canada’s 22nd prime minister. However, despite polls last week suggesting he might win a majority in Parliament, he wound up with only a minority, and with a lower percentage of the vote than recent polls had indicated.
The loss of momentum and downward shift began when Mr. Harper made comments about his government being constrained by the courts and the Senate, and when it became known that many Conservative candidates with extreme right wing social views were hiding this fact from voters.
Last Wednesday, Egale made it known that it reviewed the websites of 34 non-incumbent Conservative candidates with extreme views on equal marriage and other social issues. Egale found that some contain hints and code words, but only three identified equal marriage as an election issue. None presented an accurate picture.
Only 10 of these 34 candidates were elected, fewer than expected. The clearest example of the public’s negative reaction to hidden agendas came in North Vancouver, where Cindy Silver was defeated. Though it was widely predicted she would win, the revelation in the final week of the campaign that she was an anti-equality activist dealt a death blow to her campaign.
“Several things are clear,” said Laurie Arron, Egale’s Director of Advocacy. “First, the equal marriage issue was a drag on Stephen Harper’s campaign. Despite trying to downplay the issue and prevent candidates from talking about it, it took its toll in the final week.”
“Second, the Conservatives have no mandate to re-open equal marriage,” continued Mr. Arron. “They didn’t show it as an issue on their website, didn’t issue any press releases about it, didn’t feature it at all. Canadians made Mr. Harper our Prime Minister because they wanted a change, not because they wanted to re-open equal marriage. In fact, re-opening equal marriage is opposed by two-thirds of Canadians.” (See poll and Fact Sheet below.)
“Finally, we saw that exposure of extreme candidates’ hidden agendas had a negative impact on their campaign,” added Mr. Arron. “This was clear in the case of Cindy Silver, but we also saw it dampen results for others. David Sweet and Harold Albrecht won by less than expected and Rondo Thomas was devastated. His opponent, Liberal Mark Holland, won by a bigger margin than he did last election.”
“Mr. Harper should think twice before moving to take away equal marriage and trying to make us second class citizens,” said Gilles Marchildon, Executive Director of Egale. “Canadians want Parliament to deal with issues like health, education and the environment, not spend its time mired in a divisive and legally pointless debate.”
A survey released November 29 by CBC and Environics found that two-thirds of Canadians say the issue of same-sex marriage is settled and should not be addressed again.
A consensus of over 100 law professors say passing a law that is almost certainly unconstitutional would be irresponsible.
Egale Canada advances equality and justice for LGBT people, and their families, across Canada. Founded in 1986, Egale’s work includes political action, legal interventions and public education and awareness.
For more information:
Laurie Arron, 416 839-7178
Gilles Marchildon, 613 230-1043 (o), 613 864-1133 (c)
How Harper ducked the marriage issue: the facts and figures
Egale conducted an analysis of the Conservative campaign and found little mention of the equal marriage issue. Here are some of our findings:
Over the 56 days of the election, Stephen Harper raised the equal marriage issue only once, on the first day of the election. He then made an additional substantive statement in answer to a question during the first two debates, when he said he wouldn’t use the notwithstanding clause. Aside from that, Mr. Harper avoided raising the issue. None of his 121 press releases ever mentioned it.
Mr. Harper talked about his 5 priorities over and over again. They are the Federal Accountability Act, cutting the GST, cracking down on crime, helping with the cost of raising children, and patient wait time guarantees. Re-opening equal marriage is not one of these priorities.
The Conservative website (www.conservative.ca) lists 6 key issues: Accountability, Opportunity, Security, Family, Community and Canada. The Family issues page talks about child care, medical wait times and seniors. It makes no mention of equal marriage.
The Conservative website lists 30 Issue Backgrounders. None deal with equal marriage.
The Conservative Federal Election Platform is 46 pages long. It is the only document on the website that mentions equal marriage. It is organized by the 6 key issues. Buried on page 33, the last item in the “Stand up for Families” section, is a brief blurb saying a Conservative government will hold a vote on whether to “restore the traditional definition of marriage”. There is no mention of Mr. Harper’s promise not to use the notwithstanding clause. Mr. Harper made a speech to tell the media and Canadians what was in the Platform. The speech was 2,499 words. It made no mention of the equal marriage issue.
The Conservative website lists 37 Announcements on subjects ranging from small business to veterans to family farms to immigration. None deal with re-opening equal marriage.
The Conservative homepage lists 38 Ads, Videos and Speeches. None deal with re-opening equal marriage.
The Conservative website lists 121 news releases between November 27 and January 22. None mention marriage.
Conservative candidate websites mirrored the main Conservative website in that they almost never made any mention of equal marriage. Of the new candidates, about whom voters know the least, Egale identified the 34 most anti-equality candidates, including all those who responded to the Campaign Life Coalition questionnaire indicating opposition to abortion, equal marriage and euthanasia. Of those 34, only three mentioned the marriage issue on their websites.
Some Conservative candidates went to great lengths to conceal their history of fighting against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) people. For example:
The week of January 9, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reported that Rakesh Khosla and Paul Francis, both of whom secured their nomination with the help of evangelical activist Tristan Emmanuel (of Equipping Christians for the Public Square), were keeping mum about attending a meeting of clergy opposed to equal marriage. “We’ve been told by Ottawa that we don’t talk about that,” Khosla campaign volunteer Paula Henderson told The Chronicle Herald. “That’s a dropped subject.”
In North Vancouver, Cindy Silver’s website makes no mention of the fact she was Executive Director of the Christian Legal Fellowship from 1998 - 2000. She claims her advocacy work there and for the six years before that when she worked at Focus on the Family did not reflect her personal views. However, she was one of a group of 35 lawyers who in their personal capacity wrote to all MPs and Senators at the height of the C-38 debate last April to ask them to vote against equal marriage. (See http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=1&item=1274.)
In Hamilton, David Sweet’s website and bio fail to mention he was President of Promise Keepers Canada from 1998 to 2004, a fact that was clearly stated when he ran in the 2004 election. All references to Mr. Sweet were scrubbed from the Promise Keepers website as well, and several articles quoting him have disappeared from the Canada Christian Week website. (See http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=1&item=1276.)
In Ajax-Pickering, Rondo Thomas’ website makes no mention of him being a top lieutenant of the Defend Marriage Coalition, the biggest advocacy group in Canada whose sole aim was defeating Bill C-38 (the equal marriage bill). A recently released video of Mr. Thomas declaring war on equal marriage resulted in him disappearing from public view for several days. (See http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=1&item=1275.)
In Richmond, Darrel Reid was President of Focus on the Family Canada (the Canadian branch of Focus on the Family U.S.) and made a career of fighting equality for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. However, equal marriage is not even listed on his website’s Issues page.