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Edmonton Pride Festival's political participants a positive sign of the times

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Alberta Premier Alison Redford

It's a positive sign of the times that must drive so-called social conservatives nuts: right-wing politicians are increasingly open in paying, at the very least, lip service to liberal social policy positions.

A striking example of this in recent days has been Alberta Premier Alison Redford's decision to take part in Edmonton's Pride Parade on Saturday.

But it may not be the most striking example. Consider, for example, the fact that Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, who just weeks ago was defending one of her candidates' consignment of gays to an eternal lake of fire, has promised to show up at the Pride Festival too, if not the parade. Whatever will her supporters say? (Or passersby in the crowd, for that matter.)

This issue and the response to it by conservative politicians has caused significant buzz in the mainstream media, and conservatives have obviously taken note of the fact folks calling in to radio talk shows are almost entirely supportive of the premier's decision.

Even Stephen Harper, Canada's avowedly socially conservative and evangelical prime minister, was successfully scrambling yesterday to ensure one of his more virulently so-con MPs would not manage to set off a politically dangerous legislative review of when human life legally begins.

Not surprisingly, the PM was successful. Stephen Woodworth, the Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre who had been pushing the obvious anti-abortion gambit dropped it like the proverbial scalding spud yesterday, claiming it was because of his elderly mother's illness.

As if more evidence were needed, just this week I had a call from a would-be politician with a very conservative cut to her jib who wanted to ensure I understood that she's pro-choice and has many friends who are gay. "I'm socially moderate, pro-gay, pro-choice," she assured.

All this suggests that conservative politicians like these, taking part in this event, will have developed the wit to eschew sending offensive Tweets to their friends -- and a billion or so other people who happen to be paying attention -- as did former Edmonton Tory and nascent blogger MLA Doug Elniski at the Pride Parade in June 2009.

Genuinely socially progressive Canadians can take some comfort from this. The war may not be over on these key social issues, and it never will be, but at least for the moment the tide is flowing in the right direction.

This has been the result of a prolonged effort to change the our small Canadian world by what American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead so famously characterized as "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens." Over time, this group has grown to the point, it is reasonable to argue, it now encompasses the vast majority of the citizenry.

So the likes of Harper and Smith, and perhaps on some topics even Redford too, may wish to turn back the clock on this raised state of consciousness, but they recognize that they can only do so through discreet stratagems, not through a direct appeal to the basest sectors of their conservative base.

Indeed, that point was made very forcefully to Smith during the campaign leading up to Alberta’s April 23 general election. The public reaction to comments about the eternal destination of Alberta's gay and lesbian citizens by one of her candidates seems to have been the catalyst that prompted, to stick with the Judeo-Christian metaphor for the moment, her Road to Damascus experience on how she deals with this particular issue.

There's a good reason for this: these conservatives now understand that while their crazy economic nostrums still enjoy some currency with the public thanks to constant repetition, Canadians will unhesitatingly kick their keesters out of office if they openly call for bullying gays or try to eliminate the right of women to reproductive choice.

This is a big change from when Ralph Klein was Alberta premier in the mid-1990s, when bitter socially conservative callers to his office shook his staff with the vehemence and anger of their views. No doubt they still get such calls in the premier's office, but obviously they are balanced with sufficient numbers of alternative views to empower politicians like Redford to do the right thing.

But while committed progressive citizens congratulate themselves for the success of their long evolutionary effort to change the world for the better, we need to remember that so-called social conservative issues are mainly convenient dog-whistles for use by the people who finance and run Canada's right-wing political parties.

Their real agenda remains an economic one -- and the quasi-theological market-fundamentalist economic worldview they espouse is as harmful and dangerous as the convenient bigotry they have tried to use as a wedge to advance and finance their true objectives.

In this regard, the paranoia of the social-conservative right in this province is justified. Their political leaders, and one suspects this includes the purportedly pious Harper, mostly privately disdain their social and religious views and snicker behind their hands at the holders of these opinions as uncultured hicks and bumpkins.

Now that even the leadership of the Wildrose Party is embracing liberal social views -- however reluctantly and hypocritically -- there's really nothing for this province's most determined social conservatives to do but to establish another splinter political movement. Is there, guys?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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