Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hurtling backward

Just taking a little break from unpacking and re-installing myself in Home City house, to get out the rage I've been feeling ever since I saw the front page of today's newspaper. It seems our new Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper - a Bush-booster whose election at the end of January sent shivers down the spines of the left and many centrists in this country - has decided to re-open the issue of same-sex marriage.

For those of you who aren't up on this issue in Canada: In June 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in two provinces. That had a domino effect, and cases in other provinces led to the same outcome. So there were queers getting married all over the place. Long story short, this led to legislation brought forth by the previous Liberal government (capital-L Liberal is centrist, here) last summer. It passed in the House of Commons, making same-sex marriage uniformly legal across the country, and Canada became the third country in the world with such a law.

Now, I'm one of the many who was slightly frustrated by the way this issue played out politically. Some of us wondered if this was the right place to put political energy, and worried about the ways this struggle for marriage rights rendered invisible the myriad critiques of the very institution of marriage. Nevertheless, in such a climate - for there were the predictable hell-and-damnation arguments from conservatives - one didn't have much choice but to support the legislation, while still longing for a more nuanced analysis of the issue. (GayProf had a great post capturing the complexity of this issue - in the US context - a few weeks back.) It was celebration time when the legislation was won, and life clipped along.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the evil Mr Harper announced that in the fall he will have the House vote on whether to re-open the debate, which could eventually result in a vote on whether to revoke the legislation itself. Make no mistake, that's what the Conservatives want; they opposed the legislation in the first place, and many of them were elected by a newly invigorated Christian Right lobby in the last election. (Sound familiar?) I don't need to spell out everything that's wrong with this picture. What kind of precedent does this set? That legislation was based on human rights principles, which are reflected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court initially struck down the ban on same-sex marriage because denying marriage rights violated the Charter. What the Conservative government wants is to consciously revoke human rights that have been recognized and granted. I can't recall a more sinister political development in this country. It's one thing to oppose legislation, as many vocally and hatefully did last year and in the two years leading up to that deciding vote. It's quite another thing to re-open this kind of human rights question once it has been democratically decided. This is a Very Bad Day for this country.


Sfrajett said...

Wow--this is terrible. I was mad enough this morning when I read that Bush has decided to push for the anti-gay marriage amendment again here. The idea that Canadian right-wingers are doing it too is too horrible.

lucyrain said...

Ditto sfrajett. I wonder--and perhaps you can answer, Hilaire--what motivates the Canadian government to engage such political machinations?

As far as US politics go, I firmly believe in the analyses that argue the Bush administration's focus on this issue is part and parcel of their strategy to nurture and fortify their "moral" base. In the meantime, this moral base follows all Bushian maneuvers unquestioningly. This is the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" argument that Thomas Frank makes.

What's the matter with Canada?

And, yes, I'm embarrassed by how ignorant I am of the politics of all other nations besides my own.

Hilaire said...

sfragett: I'm almost tempted to say that the timing of these two announcements is more than a coincidence. I'm not a fan of the conspiracy theory in general, but Harper's pro-Bush rhetoric is a little too suspicious.

lucyrain: Hmmm. I wish I could say I know what's the matter with Canada. In fact, I haven't ever come across a theory that explains this in a big-picture way, the way Thomas Frank et al. do for the States. What's funny is that, sure, the government may be playing to the Christian Right constituency that grew quite vocal when this issue erupted. But as the Globe and Mail noted yesterday, they may well also *jeopardize* the chance to grow a bigger base in same-sex-marriage-friendly Ontario and Quebec, where they badly need support if they want to win the next election. It's a risk the Prime Minister's taking, then. Which suggests to me that there actually is a quite profound ideological basis for the move, and not as much a strategic one.

But, given the fact that the Supreme Court has declared banning s-s marriage a Charer violation, it's really tricky. Banning it again likely wouldn't last - we'd see the queers doing the same kinds of Charter challenges all over again, and they would win, and we'd end up back in the same place five years down the road. Same-sex marriage is essentially inevitable in this country because of the way the Charter has historically been interpreted. Harper's not an idiot - he knows this. I wonder if, in fact, he realizes the futility of this move, but is doing it to a) show the Christian conservatives that he's still on their side, and b) show everybody that he's not afraid to throw his weight around (which he's certainly proven already in a number of ways, including by declaring he's going to pull Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol - nice.) He's a reprehensible toad.

I wish I had a better idea. I'll keep my eye out for big-picture analyses of this and keep you posted.

By the way, this is a minority government, which means its hold on power is very tenuous. I'd love to see the government brought down over the outrage of even proposing to roll back human rights! (Don't know if this is possible, but I can dream...)

App Crit said...

As I recall, Harper actually campaigned on this, but many were predicting the minority government, as the Liberals and Conservatives were polling nearly equally in the final month or so before the election, and all the challenges that a minority government would bring. So I'm guessing that no one took too much notice. (In the last two weeks before the election, wasn't Duceppe and the Bloc the only party with a rise in the polls, albeit small, all but ensuring the minority government?)

Yet, though I heard Harper speaking about this, I was surprised that not many, or not enough, forced the issue to broader focus. If elected, he was sure to raise the issue again in the House. And now he seems to be enjoying expanded popular, if not political, support. So why not?

But the election, and its result, was not so much pro-Harper or pro-Conservative. It was more anti-Martin and anti-Liberal. RIght?

If there is any broader, international point to all this, it may that a trend is emerging in large democracies showing the electorate voting against incumbents rather than for important, crucial issues. Voting against incumbents is hardly new, but doing so in denial of how the alernative will realize itself perhaps is.

Any wagers on how soon Harper gets sacked?


Hilaire said...

app crit, you're absolutely right - he campaigned on this promise. But since we have very little faith in the election promises of politicians, its sheer audacity still takes us by surprise. This is especially so given the risks it represents, and its futility - I guess that would seem to be the "why not". As well, some of the MPs in his own party have said they don't want to go there again. So it's an interesting move. He's confident enough to court all kinds of divisiveness, at this point.

And you're so right, too, about a vote for the conservatives really being a vote against the Liberals. Such a shortsighted way to run a country.

I predict Harper will last another year or so...which would take us to the 18 months that minority governments last, on average. Since the alternatives haven't got their act together, though, there may be a dissolving of the Conservative government only to elect it all over again. Harper is doing a great job of dominating.

Cheers, and thanks for your broad perspective - and your reminder of the promise Harper made.

App Crit said...

I understand now, Hilaire. Thanks for providing context. Audacity and futility indeed...especially if he's willing to risk a backbenchers' revolt (if you call them backbenchers in Canada). Well, then. I have no idea why he's doing it, even when trying to think purely politically. It seems he's willing to destroy his own party, and create a new divide in Canadian society.

It's funny what hapens when an electorate votes against its leader despite the obvious benefit of doing otherwise. The French rejecting the EU contitutional referendum just to spite Chirac, Germans tossing Schröder without fully defenestrating him, etc. ... And Americans voting for Bush, twice...I guess, as you say, that's a result of the alternatives not yet getting their act together. I really don't understand American politics.

Did you hear about the CBC reporter (I think he was from the CBC) who asked Bush about his attitudes towards Canada and Prime Minister Poutine? Bush replied, deuce ignorant here, that he and Prime Minister Poutine were amigos. And with that, who needs fiction?

Nearly as audacious as this current move in the House is any attempt by Mr. Harper to speak French. You've heard him, surely. Awful.