Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Concerns About Harper's Social Conservative Agenda

Now that Stephen Harper has a dictatorship, there is a lot of concern about him pushing through his neo-conservative agenda of dismantling Canada's social safety net.

This includes all of the things he campaigned against for decades; like public health care, Canada Pension and Old Age Security.

But there is something else that we should be concerned with. His social conservative agenda.

It had been put on the back burner when he was trying to fool Canadians into thinking he was moving to the centre, but it no longer matters now.

And if in fact, if he does plan on forcing an election in the spring, as many anticipate (before the Liberals thinker's conference, which would probably get a lot of media attention), will he still try to silence the extremists in his party, or allow them to focus on social conservative issues again?

When you look at his actions in the past few months, there is definitely something going on. He's brought on an awful lot of Christian fundamentalists, who are now writing his speeches and directing policy.

This will guarantee that the Religious Right will bleed money for him, but what will it mean for a once progressive country like Canada?

Jason Kenney's new citizenship booklet, pretty much erased women's roles in the country's development. In fact, if you didn't know better you'd think it was written in the 1950's. I'm sensing something here that I don't really like.

I thought I'd revisit a posting on Buckdog's blog, written soon after the homophobic Nigel Hannaford was hired to write Stephen Harper's speeches. He shared an article from The Sasquatch, Briarpatch.

Harper's New Speechwriter Is A Strong Social Conservative And Gay Rights Opponent
Jenn Ruddy

It probably won’t come as much of a shock that the Prime Minister’s Office has hired a gay rights opponent to write speeches for Stephen Harper.

Former Calgary Herald columnist Nigel Hannaford is the latest — but certainly not the first, and probably not the last — social conservative to join the upper echelons of Harper’s government.

Hannaford, who was a member of the Calgary Herald’s editorial board until recently, has argued against gay rights in his column Slings & Arrows and scoffed at the legitimacy of human rights commissions. He once referred to human rights tribunals as “communist show trials, not courts” and implied that human rights advocates are “whiners.”

If you think that’s bad, here’s what he had to say about gay rights: Referring to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 decision to decriminalize homosexuality, Hannaford wrote in 2005, “Fine, said lots of people. Leave gays alone? Fair enough. But, let ’em be Boy Scout leaders? Have each other’s benefits? Adopt kids? Marry each other? Ridiculous.

Anybody seeking political office who suggested it would have been laughed off the hustings. Yet, the Liberals are ready to legalize gay marriage. How did we get to this point?”

Of the 1998 Delwin Vriend Supreme Court ruling, which required that Alberta add sexual orientation to its human rights legislation, Hannaford wrote in 2003, “So much for democracy.”

And when Elsie Wayne, former deputy leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, was excoriated for saying in 2003 that gays should “shut up” about marriage and that Canadians shouldn’t have to “tolerate” gay pride parades, Hannaford wrote in her defence: “Wayne gets my vote. ... Canadian society has been turned upside down in the past 35 years and things regarded as sin in 1965 have special status in 2003.”

As recently, as his May 8, 2009 column, Harper’s new speechwriter lamented that Section 3 of Alberta’s Human Rights Act makes it difficult to prevent Albertans from bringing the same kind of “creepy curriculum” to the province that B.C. has allowed, “in which gay advocates design class material promoting their persuasion right down to kindergarten.”

Hannaford’s appointment troubles longtime gay activist and former Edmonton city councillor Michael Phair.“

Much of what Mr. Hannaford writes and has indicated in his work as a journalist, I suspect, reflects Prime Minister Harper’s and his party’s position on what they would like for Canadian society to be, and I think it harks back to a 1950s approach,” says Phair.

He worries that the Harper government will continue to look for back-door ways to reduce equality for the queer and other marginalized communities, as well as women.

Hannaford’s hiring is the latest in a string of appointments that place social conservatives in high-ranking positions of the Harper government. In July 2008, one of Canada’s most prominent Christian conservatives, Darrel Reid, was appointed director of policy for the Prime Minister’s Office and later moved to one of the top political posts in the country when he was promoted to deputy chief of staff in February. Another Christian evangelical, Paul Wilson, replaced Reid as director of policy.

NDP critic for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Transgender Issues Bill Siksay says he’s not surprised to learn of Hannaford’s appointment.“We know that there’s still — within the Conservative Party and within the Conservative caucus — lots of folks who don’t support the full human rights of gay and lesbian Canadians, who are not friends of the queer community, and so in a sense it’s not surprising,” says Siksay.Some of those folks Siksay refers to within the Conservative caucus can be found right here in Saskatchewan.

In July, Saskatoon-Humboldt Conservative MP Brad Trost was critical of his government’s decision to fund Toronto’s gay pride week and pandered to anti-gay sentiment. Speaking to the right-wing website, Trost reassured the pro-life community, “The tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by — I think it’s safe to say by a large majority — of the MPs.”

Shortly thereafter, Saskatoon-Wanuskewin Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott wrote a letter to his constituents supporting Trost’s comments and reassured them that their tax dollars would be used for more “suitable purposes.”

In 2003, the then MP for Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Larry Spencer was suspended from the Canadian Alliance caucus for saying that homosexuality is a conspiracy theory to seduce and recruit young boys. Spencer said he would support any initiative to criminalize homosexuality.

And who could forget the media scandal last year in which Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski was caught on videotape saying in 1991: “There’s A’s and there’s B’s. The A’s are guys like me, the B’s are homosexual faggots with dirt under their fingernails that transmit diseases.”

“There is a very one-sided message coming from the Conservative Party,” says Nathan Seckinger, executive director of the GBLUR Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity in Regina. “What we hear are a lot of anti-queer statements being made by individual politicians under a conservative banner. What we don’t hear are any pro-queer statements.”

Statistics Canada revealed in 2004 that gays and lesbians are nearly twice as likely to be the victim of a violent crime, including sexual assault, robbery and physical assault, and bisexuals are four-and-a-half times as likely, compared to heterosexuals.

In 2007, 10 per cent of police-reported hate crimes in Canada were motivated by sexual orientation.“What we’re really talking about is a sin of omission,” says Seckinger. “The concern for me isn’t so much the fact that Conservatives are shooting their mouths off about having anti-queer positions, because politicians say dumb things once in a while. My concern is more that they say them frequently and that they don’t have anybody saying anything else [about queer issues], and that’s what tells me that there’s a problem.”

When the Lukiwski scandal broke out last year, GBLUR, under the leadership of Seckinger, took the high road: it accepted Lukiwski’s apology and called for co-operation across political divides. GBLUR’s goal was to shift the debate toward the health and safety crisis facing queer people in Canada and away from the media’s sensationalized coverage of the scandal.

“The reality of it is that Mr. Lukiwski had been campaigning against same-sex marriage for years and nobody gave a damn,” says Seckinger. “The reason everybody got angry about that issue is because he used a dirty word. He got caught on tape using the word ‘faggot’ and it got put on TV and so, really, what people were upset about wasn’t the fact that the man is homophobic, because that should have been common knowledge already. What people were concerned about is the fact that he was being impolite about his homophobia.”

Seckinger says there’s no doubt that the Conservative Party panders to homophobic voting bases. But when the media lend coverage to, say, Harper’s new homophobic speechwriter or to the blatantly homophobic remarks of an individual politician, the pressing health and safety concerns of the queer community get ignored.

And the general homophobic discourse in government, which cuts across party lines, sneaks under the radar.“A question to ask yourself is, ‘how often do queer specific concerns get put forward in the form of bills?’” says Seckinger. “The mental health problems for the GLBT community are epidemic in Canada. Why is that not being dealt with?

And let's not forget Stockwell Day: Press reports revealed recently that Mr. Day, who is the Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, refused to send condolences to the Palestinian people on the death of President Yassir Arafat. Why? Because of Mr. Arafat’s support for armed struggle against Israel? No. Because he might have died of AIDS. In a November 16 email to his Conservative colleagues Mr. Day stated: "Some of you have asked why I have not released a statement of condolence or sympathy. As you know, there are two sides to the Arafat story. You pick...." He then included in the email an article by David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush, indulging in unfounded speculation about the cause of Arafat’s death. Frum suggested that Arafat’s symptoms “sounded AIDS-like.” (BTW: David Frum is a Harper insider and former speech writer of George W. Bush. He was the one who coined the term 'Axis of Evil')

Or Jason Kenney recently appointing an anti-gay activist to the Refugee Board, who will determine which of those claiming refugee status on the grounds of sexual orientation, will be given safe haven.

Or Pierre Poilievre and his shot about sex changes, declaring that the federal government should hold back any health fund transfers used for this purpose, ignoring health concerns.

And we know how many of them are anti-abortion. Will a woman's right to choose be abolished, as suggested by Dean Del Mastro?

Harper is certainly getting his ducks in a row.

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