The Tory MP who made his peace with Pride Week -

The Tory MP who made his peace with Pride Week

Alberta MP Jim Eglinski once disapproved of homosexuality and saw “no need” for Pride. Then his grandson came out.

Jim Eglinski at a Jasper Pride event, March 2016. (Jasper Pride Festival Society)

Jim Eglinski at a Jasper Pride event in 2016. (Jasper Pride Festival Society)

Jim Eglinski shrugs off his participation in the flag-raising to kick off Pride Week in Jasper, Alta., as no different from a French school’s Franco-Albertan flag ceremony in Hinton, an hour’s drive east. “They invite me just like hundreds of other organizations around the riding, and I treat them the same as others. If I can make it, I‘ll be there,” says the MP for Yellowhead, which covers a vast swath of small-town and rural northwest Alberta.

But it’s an act that sets him apart from the majority of his fellow Conservative MPs. When Pride hits their towns, most find a senior’s home celebration, a dragon boat race, a fundraising barbecue or any event but a rainbow-hued parade to attend instead. Eglinski surprised Jasper Pride organizers by how quickly and affirmatively he responded to last year’s invitation; for the mountain resort town’s event this year, he apologized that his Ottawa duties prevented him from helping raise the rainbow flag, but brought his wife Nancy to the festival’s reception for VIPs and sponsors, which included TD Bank, CTV and Jasper’s world-famous Fairmont hotel.

The Conservative Party remains one of the last groups to resist celebrating (or acknowledging) LGBT rights; new leader Andrew Scheer has continued predecessor Stephen Harper’s practice of skipping Pride events, and party members only dropped formal opposition to same-sex marriage in 2016, having resolutely voted against marriage equality in 2005. Eglinski, a former RCMP officer, has also had to be dragged toward greater acceptance: in 2003, when he was a councillor in Fort St. John, B.C., confessed to a local newspaper he didn’t condone homosexuality and would oppose proclaiming a Pride Day in the self-proclaimed “Energetic City.”

“I don’t think there’s a need for it,” he had said. “I probably wouldn’t support it, but I do not hold it against them.”

READ MORE: The Conservatives don’t show up for Pride, and that’s a problem

A few years later, his grandson said he wanted an earring. “And I said: well, you can put it in but it’s going to hurt when I pull it out,” Eglinski recalls. A few years later, the Alberta-bred politician moved back to the province to be closer to his family, and won the perennially Conservative federal seat in a 2014 byelection with 63 per cent of the vote. Another grandson made a different declaration: Papa, I’m gay. “I needed to rethink my thinking,” the elder Eglinski confessed.

Eglinski surprised Jasper Pride organizers by telling this story at his first flag-raising event. “I’m so proud of him for stepping out and admitting that and coming forward,” said Eglinski to heavy applause, according to the Fitzhugh of Jasper. “As times change, and as we see the swing that happens in Canada, we have to open our minds and be cognizant of what’s taking place out there.”

Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s first openly gay cabinet minister, stood alongside Eglinski, as did the riding’s current NDP provincial politician. They all donned white toques with the Jasper Pride logo on them. There are photos of this on Eglinski’s website, with the caption “celebrating diversity.”

Jasper, a national park town of 4,590 residents, isn’t the largest community in his riding, which straddles the Yellowhead highway from just outside of Edmonton on west to the B.C. border. But the tourism hub has an LGBT community the likes of which doesn’t exist in Hinton or Edson or the rest of his district, which is defined largely by petroleum development, agriculture and forestry. Has he received any grief from less tolerant rural constituents? Never; a Maclean’s writer is the first person to call or write about it. Eglinski has heard the debates inside his Conservative caucus about it, and acknowledges that some colleagues have “strong feelings.” Ontario MPs Tony Clement and Karen Vecchio are regular attendees at Pride celebrations in their ridings. Saskatoon MP Brad Trost, during his leadership campaign, declared he would never march in a Pride parade, and pointedly placed “gay pride” in quote marks in his written campaign material. Eglinski tolerates that, too: “Some of them won’t go because they don’t believe in it. And that’s their personal belief and you just have to respect that.”

RELATED: Small town Steinbach, Man. fills to bursting with gay pride

In some quarters, there is fatigue or disillusionment with politicians joining the marches. Halifax’s alternative weekly newspaper, the Coast, called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at Halifax Pride “pinkwashing,” and quoted one activist saying the straight, white bigwig’s attendance shifted focus from marginalized voices. But in a small town like Jasper, where the struggles for acceptance have taken longer, it’s a big honour when politicians come, says Pride co-chair Cody Murdock. “It’s not that we feel the need to be validated, but it was more–just to be recognized,” he says. “Yeah, maybe it is a validation.”

Twelve years after the same-sex marriage debate ended, it’s still not the norm for Conservative MPs to partake in what are some of their communities’ largest annual gatherings. Statistical probability would suggest that Eglinski cannot be the only Tory member with an openly gay son, daughter or grandchild. Yet even his views have limits; he’s reluctant to ever join a Pride march. “I don’t know if we need parades to go out and broadcast stuff like that,” Eglinski says. “Why do they have to?”

Lucky for him, Jasper holds its Pride week in March. In the northern Alberta Rockies, that’s no time to hold a parade.


The Tory MP who made his peace with Pride Week

  1. Mmmmm yeah, , that usually does it.

  2. Kudos to Mr. Eglinski. One of his comments summarized it really well : ‘We have to open our minds and be cognizant of what’s taking place out there.’
    The problem with the more ‘Reformist’ side of Conservatives lies, too often, with the more extreme rump, the Evangelicals, if I can put it this way. The ones that live in the 18th Century and see sin everywhere. Take your nose out of your Bibles and live in the modern world. You’ll see. It’s not that bad. People are even kind!

  3. Nice to have you on board Mr. Eglinski, and it usually takes some kind of epiphany for people to change their minds, and it took blood for this to happen. Who gives an Eff how people live their lives, i don’t care what color you are, what sex you are, “Qua Effing Sera Sera”.

  4. I care how my loved ones live their lives. That’s love.

    I want them to live full human lives which include creating new complete biological families that are best for all concerned. Anything less is just less.

    I understand that less is sometimes the only option. It’s still less.

    We call people names when we’re upset, things that we don’t want to be. That’s the way it is.

    Kevin Pillar did and despite his apology, the only way he could truly demonstrate his change of opinion, would be to lose his biological family and join the LGBT lifestyle and parade. It’s that easy and he’s not doing it.

    Neither am I.

  5. All it takes for CON politicians to approach humanity is to know someone who is a minority.
    This doesn’t make them brave or noble, it just makes them ignorant, shallow, self-serving, and late to the human rights party.

    • What are you upset about?

      Don’t you realize that no amount of whining will make rational people want to live disordered lives?

      Get over it.

  6. In a related hate speech vs free speech case the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the truth is no defence.

    Do you know what that means? It means that whatever the government says is final. We can no longer legally speak truth to power.

    Wynne has taken full advantage of it. In grade school students are taught that transgender is a normal sexuality. It is in reality associated with the mental disorder gender dysphoria which is also the required diagnosis for sex reassignment surgery.

    Take her to court for lying to all our children and you’ll be charged with a hate crime. What will you do when you learn that the fact that you are telling the truth makes no difference?

    Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth eh?

    • Writing lies and believing lies hardly supports your supposed love of the truth.

      • I have not lied.

        Indoctrinating normalcy of LGBT behaviour is the intent of Wynnes new sex Ed curriculum.

        The Canadian Supreme Court did rule that the truth is no defence.

        You sound like an impotent ideologue unable to refute the facts who believes that they no longer matter.

      • And…

        Sex reassignment surgery results in the sterilization of the patient. That is harmful.

        Doctors won’t do it unless the alternative is worse. Worse is the mental disorder gender dysphoria.