Conservatives have moved on from the gay marriage debate. Almost.

Tories have moved on from the gay marriage debate. Almost.

In the race to become the next Conservative Party leader, two contenders oppose gay marriage. It’s not good for the brand.

Delegates Michelle Rempel and Natalie Pon celebrate the yes vote to change the wording of the traditional definition of marriage in the conservative policies at the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Vancouver, Saturday, May 28, 2016. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/CP)

Delegates Michelle Rempel and Natalie Pon celebrate the yes vote to change the wording of the traditional definition of marriage in the conservative policies at the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Vancouver, Saturday, May 28, 2016. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/CP)

One of the more damning indictments of social conservatism in this country came at the hands—or, more precisely, the eyeballs—of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. At last May’s Conservative convention, the 36-year-old Rempel helped spearhead a motion striking down the party’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005, and Rempel was suitably thrilled at the news that the Conservative Party of Canada was going to acknowledge as much some 11 years later.

“I’ve never been more proud of our party,” she said during a media scrum. “I think I’ll look back at this moment in my political career and my life as something that was really transformative and really awesome.”

Standing next to her was Brad Trost, a fellow Conservative MP from Saskatchewan. Trost is a staple of the party’s social conservative ranks, and his five-minute spiel for the cameras is required watching only as a majesty of self-martyrdom and bitterness wrapped in dime-store smarm. “Traditional marriage is the bedrock of society. You can’t have a free enterprise society without it,” he said. “In the next election, I will say that homosexual marriage, gay marriage, is wrong. I’ll be public about it.”

About two minutes in, around where Trost suggests allowing gay marriage will foment rampant socialism throughout Canadian society, Rempel looks at Trost like he was a bad smell. Her ensuing eye roll was probably captured on the recorders of the assembled journalists. A minute later, with Trost in mid-sentence, she turns and walks away.

There is so much in Rempel’s reaction: evident disdain, for one, but exasperation, embarrassment and hurt, too. And, maybe, worry. Because Trost isn’t just some perpetually aggrieved back bencher—though he’s that as well. At the convention, he threatened to run for the leadership of the Conservative party. On Aug. 16, he made good on those threats by declaring himself the sixth candidate to succeed Stephen Harper.

Again, it’s tempting to dismiss Trost’s leadership campaign as a last-gasp oddity fuelled more by hubris than political conviction. But while he may be the most vocal social conservative candidate, he certainly isn’t the only one.

Former Ontario MP Pierre Lemieux also recently declared his candidacy. Lemieux is almost as quotable as his Saskatchewan brethren. In 2006, he concluded his defence of “traditional” marriage in Parliament by asking God “to guide us in our efforts to defend the holy sacrament of marriage as the union between a man and a woman.” (Apparently, God had long given up on Parliament, since same-sex marriage had been the rule of law for over a year by then.)

Granted, neither of these men is particularly electable, by Conservative party members or the Canadian electorate. But their presence in the race, and the oxygen their sideshow candidacies consume, will serve as a reminder to voters that the party remains tethered to its social conservative beginnings.

The percentage of voters between the ages of 18 to 25 increased by 12 percentage points in the 2015 election, according to Statistics Canada data. About 20 per cent of that vote went to the Conservatives, according to an Abacus Data report. More than double, 45 per cent, went to the Liberals. Most Conservatives, interim leader Rona Ambrose and Rempel very much included, know one of the keys to defeating the Liberals is to shed the Conservative image as the party of old, intransigent white guys.

The likes of Trost and Lemieux are living, breathing repudiations of this change. Harper, no fan of same-sex marriage, at least had the good sense to ignore his own party’s doctrine on the subject. Trost and Lemieux want a return to and an enforcement of that doctrine. Against all odds and common sense, not to mention common decency, they will fight their own party’s motion to acknowledge what is already written law. Marketers call this brand pollution. Political scientists might call it suicide.

Lest anyone think we are dealing with an abstract issue, it’s worth taking note of another presence in that scrum. Standing to Trost’s right was author and Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson. As the Globe’s Washington correspondent in the twilight of the George W. Bush years, Ibbitson chronicled social conservatism’s caustic effect on the Republican Party.

Last April, he wrote a series of articles about the rank discrimination against gay public sector workers by the federal government as recently as the early ’90s. These articles show the dangers of institutional intolerance, particularly when coupled with the state’s levers of power.

Ibbitson is one of the better journalists in the country. He is also gay. If Trost had his way, the federal government would have prohibited Ibbitson from marrying his partner of 13 years, which he did in 2009. In that scrum, as Trost spouted off his gay-baiting nonsense, Ibbitson calmly took notes and asked questions. I’m not sure how he managed.


Tories have moved on from the gay marriage debate. Almost.

  1. Separation of church and state…..the Cons have yet to learn that.

    • Yes, I see the rabbit hole is getting bigger for the cons, starting to turn into a black hole again, sorry about that, they were always in a black hole.

  2. Ms Rempel should not be lauded for duplicity: until 3 years ago the CPC policy declaration includes the statement ‘We support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman’. Progress of a sort but only supported by 69% of the party and only a minority in Saskatchewan. The fact is that while the CPC removed some obvious homophobic rhetoric from their published policy they chose not to replace it with an affirmative statement.

    • Why does a political party need a statement on something which the Supreme Court has been essentially definitively settled?

      It is no longer a viable political issue. It is not something the Conservative Party is going to revisit, and the leadership contest will make that clear.

      Besides, in the end, it was a battle over who “owned” a word. Equal rights were going to be respected in any case, and it came down to merely a battle over what the labels were going to be.

      The critics of the Conservative Party now are left to criticize the right to freedom of expression of a few traditional marriage diehards.

      Remember Bob Rae let his NDP members defeat his gay rights legislation in the early nineties in Ontario, which then Mike Harris Conservatives passed a few years later.

      To complain about a few sore losers exercising their free speech rights is silly.

      • You asked why does the party need a statement. Who are you asking? The commenter critiquing the statement (as is his right) or the party who wrote it? I expect you’re smart enough to know why the party crafted a policy statement for a law it never agreed with and now sort of does (not quite all the way, grudgingly and let’s give them a slow clap for it). As for your absurd claim we “criticize the right to freedom of expression”, you may want to rethink your phrasing. Nobody’s criticizing the right to freedom of expression. They are criticizing what is being expressed. Conservatives are free to say any inane thing they like and we are free to ridicule them.

        Geez, I don’t know why I bother…it’s like talking to a brick wall.

  3. Re: hubris

    Hubris is generally considered a sin in world religions. C. S. Lewis writes, in Mere Christianity, that pride is the “anti-God” state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”[2]

    Pride is an effective mask of underlying fear. Politicians (of both sides of any issue) could at least aspire to reach out with their valuable values (conservative or progressive), rather than recoil into fortresses. If politicians of the same party cannot reach an understanding that leads to political innovations, why would such a party have the leadership strength to bring all of us together as a country?

    Yes, political suicide indeed.

  4. Yay!!! Way to go Conservatives! You finally approve of same sex marriage ..almost (and it only took you 11 years after it was made legal in Canada). Now that’s a party of vision! LMFAO

  5. Martin, I think what’s important here is that the Conservatives even allow discussion of the issue at all.

    To say gay marriage is the law of the land, while of course being the case, is a distraction from the religious arguments many Canadians still hold. Otherwise you’re just being dismissive of those who don’t hold your viewpoint.

    • When the viewpoint treats other citizens as if they’re deserving of fewer rights, yes, I will be dismissive.

    • You are free to hold a bigoted point of view. No one is stopping you. You are not free to prevent gay people from marrying.

  6. As a small L liberal I’d be thrilled if Harper’s conservatives (he made them all!) chose a dinosaur like Trost to lead them. Thus guaranteeing them a nice spot in the outback for the next election and possibly longer. They won’t of course, because even though the party is filled with undeserving cretins and grifters, they aren’t that stupid. No, what they are more likely to do is give “old stock” Randian Bernier the leadership. You know, the one who won’t bother with social issues he can’t win but will instead press for the continued erosion of civil liberties and as much deregulation as possible to free up corporations to make as much money as possible while the society at large deteriorates.