Households in Kitchener-Waterloo and Kitchener Centre ridingswere recently among the lucky recipients of a Canadian Alliance mailingconcerning “the future of marriage in Canada.” (The publicly-funded flyers —250,000 pieces of them — were also sent to ridings in London, Hamilton andEtobicoke). According to the flyer, “the Liberals betrayed Canadian votersby “refusing to stand by their word” to defend marriage.
We are assured that “the Canadian Alliance, led by Stephen Harper, is theonly federal party that supports the traditional definition of marriage: theunion of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Unlike theLiberals, we intend to keep our promise.” Of course, recipients are giventhe opportunity to express their opinions on the issue, particularly if they“want to help.” The party wants to know whether we “agree that the Federalgovernment should maintain the definition of marriage as between one man andone woman to the exclusion of all others” and whether “Stephen Harper’sCanadian Alliance is on the right track.” For a litany of reasons, they areclearly not on the right track (unless they’re trying to evoke an image ofbeing tied to the track as a speeding train approaches).
Members of Parliament are entitled to do this kind of mailing and furtherentitled to pool that right with other MPs in their caucus (which is whatallows the Alliance to blanket households in Liberal-held ridings, forexample). So, the question then becomes: Is this the kind of mailing thatthe Alliance really wants to be sending to voters in the five ridings thatreceived it? I think not.
Over the past week, I’ve exchanged a series of e-mails on this issue withJim Armour, Director of Communications in Stephen Harper’s office. I notedthat a majority of Progressive Conservative supporters (57 per cent, whichrepresents a larger majority than Canadians as a whole) support the rightof same-sex couples to marry), and asked why would the Alliance want todrive a wedge between the parties at the very time that they are trying toconvince the Tories to merge with them. Armour dismissed the polling numbersthat I cited and argued that “the Alliance opinion is not at odds with theoverwhelming majority opinion of the PC Caucus so I don’t see it as a wedgeat all.”
But, many Tories that I talk to (and I do talk to Tories), aregenuinely worried that any merged party will be dominated by a narrow-mindedsocial conservatism, particularly if it is led by Stephen Harper. Thismailing, at this time, will hardly do anything to relieve those concerns.
I asked Armour why the Alliance thought that this issue would be likely tolead people to switch their votes, given that supporters of his party arealready overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage, whereas supporters ofevery other party are in favour (albeit by a smaller margin, with theexception of the NDP). He responded by suggesting that “the jury is stillout on whether same-sex marriage will be a vote-switcher. The fact that thepool of traditional marriage supporters is far higher than those who —according to pollsters — currently support the Canadian Alliance meansthere’s an opportunity to pick up some votes.”
If that’s the case, why hasthe Alliance not gained at all in the polls since the summer, when it beganto put this issue front and centre? In fact, all that’s happened in thattime is that support for same-sex marriage has gone up. Either opposingsame-sex marriage is an electoral dead end, or the Alliance must be doing apretty pathetic job of making its case.
Armour contended that the party was not opposed to “the idea of registereddomestic partnerships or same-sex civil unions. The Canadian Alliancesimply believes that the traditional definition of marriage should beupheld. That opinion does not come at the expense of any group in Canadiansociety.” But, the Alliance/Reform has voted en masse against every singlepiece of gay rights legislation — from amending the Canadian Human RightsAct, to expanding hate crimes legislation, to the recognition of same-sexcivil unions (when that was on the table in 1999). The party that allegedlybelieves in free votes is always unanimous when it comes to denying therights of its gay constituents.
I asked Armour whether the Alliance really wanted to gain votes at theexpense of a persecuted minority, even if this campaign was effective indoing so. “Firstly, I reject the premise of your question,” he replied.“Secondly, we view this issue as a question of social policy and not one ofminority rights.”
Sure, Jim; whatever you say. And I suppose the U.S. CivilWar was really about protecting states rights and had nothing to do withabolishing slavery.