If you had to think of a single catch phrase to sum up the 2004 Federal Election Campaign, it would likely be the following two words: “hidden agenda.” The phrase was nearly always applied, not without justification, to Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. The Liberals successfully played up voters’ fears about Harper’s extreme social positions to draw votes away from the Reformatories and, more significantly, to scare people who wanted to vote NDP into holding their nose and voting Liberal.

In the last campaign, the Conservatives seemed to be only too willing to assist the Liberals in painting a picture of themselves as extremists. Even though they made an effort to downplay their more unpopular stances, there were a series of incidents in which the party’s MPs and candidates allowed the muzzle to slip off, if only for a moment. The most publicized examples were:

  • Rob Merrifield calling for mandatory counselling for women seeking an abortion
  • Scott Reid advocating the effective end of official bilingualism
  • Cheryl Gallant arguing for the repeal of recently-passed legislation protecting gays and lesbians from hate crimes, and
  • Randy White speaking openly of his party’s willingness to override the Charter of Rights.

At the time, Harper urged candidates to exercise “caution in an election campaign about what they want to communicate to the public in terms of party position.” While it wasn’t enough to silence everyone, some of his MPs clearly got the message. “For now, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get elected,” admitted troglodyte MP Myron Thompson in June 2004.

This time out, the Conservatives have been far more effective in countering accusations of having a hidden agenda. They’ve released new policy every day, trying to write their own narrative for the campaign (a public agenda that is more than “scary” enough), rather than letting Paul Martin define them. As well, their gag order appears to be holding this time. Two Halifax candidates who attended a meeting with opponents of same-sex marriage refused to tell the media what was discussed at the meeting. “We’ve been told by Ottawa that we don’t talk about that. That’s a dropped subject,” Paula Henderson (a Conservative campaign spokesperson in Halifax West) told The Chronicle Herald.

Even the fringe lobby groups that are quietly counting on Harper to implement their agenda are playing along. CBC.ca reported that Hermina Dykxhoorn, president of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families (AFWUF?), had told them that she is “willing to not talk about those issues during the election if it means electing a Conservative government.” Meanwhile, MPs like Gallant and Merrifield have been curiously “unavailable for comment” throughout the campaign.

But, let’s not pretend that the Conservative Party is alone in having a “hidden agenda.” The Liberals haven’t exactly proven themselves to be completely forthcoming in what they would do in office. In fact, they are masters of saying one thing any doing another.

They say they’ll cut greenhouse gas emissions, but they said that in 1993 — and our emissions have gone up by more than 20 per cent since then. They said they’d increase foreign aid, and they cut it. They said they’d “fix the democratic deficit” but they appointed so many cronies to patronage positions that it was easy to lose count. They said they’d deliver a national child care program, but they only began to deliver on that promise when they lost their majority. They said they’d “fix health care for a generation” and “look Ralph Klein in the eye and tell him no” but even the prospect of losing a non-confidence vote couldn’t make them agree to put controls on health care privatization.

According to a current TV ad, Paul Martin is the “one leader (who) will stand up for minorities” but the Liberal government let Maher Arar be tortured in a Syrian prison for over a year, and are currently holding a number of “minority” men without charge, and without disclosure of any evidence against them. So much for standing up for minorities.

Paul Martin said earlier in this campaign, that “we look to the Prime Minister to protect the Charter. If you won’t protect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms then you have no business trying to become the Prime Minister of Canada.” When it was pointed out that over 30 of his MPs and a good number of his candidates were openly opposed to same-sex marriage, Martin said that his high standard for protecting the Charter did not apply to them — only to Stephen Harper.

Because the Conservatives are nearly unanimous in their opposition to basic human rights for non-heterosexuals, the Liberals tend to get a free ride for carrying their own band of bigots on both their Parliamentary and electoral rosters. Hardly anyone mentioned, for example, that Liberal MP Paul Steckle was on the same podium in 2004 as Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant when she made her memorable remarks on abortion (saying that it was “no different” than beheadings). Janko Peric, the former Liberal MP for Cambridge (now seeking to return to the House of Commons), referred to the Conservatives as “dark forces” but few media who covered the remarks mentioned that Peric held then and still holds exactly the same draconian views on social issues as his Conservative opponent.

My point is that anyone who finds the Conservatives’ views on social issues to be “scary” definitely shouldn’t be looking for refuge with the Liberal Party. Exchanging one hidden agenda for another hidden agenda is hardly a solution.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for rabble.ca. He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...