James Moore: a new breed of Tory

A young urbanite who’s in favour of gay marriage and arts funding, ‘he actually gets it’

‘He actually gets it’

Photography by Simon Hayter

On a cold, dreary Good Friday, James Moore, Conservative candidate for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, is standing in the rain; the local Legion turns 80 today, and Moore is out stumping, though it doesn’t look as if he’ll pick up a lot of votes. The crowd is mostly under 18—Boy Scouts and Cadets in awkward, blue uniforms. Moore, who’s built like a linebacker and looks even taller than his six-foot-three frame, towers over them.

Then again, his seat isn’t really in doubt: he won by over 15,000 votes last time. The 34-year-old is already the region’s most powerful political minister. And with the recent retirements of B.C. heavyweights Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl, “his time has come,” says University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff. Gary Lunn, his competitor for senior minister from B.C., faces a fight against Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and was demoted in cabinet in 2008.

Moore, meanwhile, has deftly handled the heritage portfolio, his rookie ministerial assignment, ensuring Stephen Harper will never again be side-swiped by angry artists. Harper’s comments in the last election that “ordinary people” didn’t care about arts funding backfired spectacularly, particularly in Quebec, and Moore, who is single and unencumbered by a family, has been criss-crossing the country ever since, making nice, spreading cash and the new Harper creed—lately, the Tories have delivered the biggest arts funding budgets in Canadian history.

“If market forces were all that is important in terms of culture,” he says, “then all you’d see on TV would be women in bikinis and cage-fighting.” He’s also fond of the business argument. “It’s a huge export, a huge business in Canada,” he tells Maclean’s from his campaign office on Port Moody’s main drag, “$46 billion and over 600,000 jobs. That’s twice the size of Canada’s forest industry.”

Howard Jang, executive director of Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, recalls the off-the-cuff remarks Moore made to a group of arts executives last year, as the B.C. government was slashing arts funding in the province. It was a turning point for an arts community “reeling” from the Liberals’ cuts, Jang says. “We thought: ‘He actually gets it.’ ”

This is part of what makes him one of the Tories’ most attractive ministers, says University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman. “I haven’t heard him talking about dinosaurs walking on Earth at the same time as man,” he adds, a reference to Day. Moore, who is a metro MP, and bilingual, so rare west of Manitoba, represents a bright hope for the party: a Conservative who can appeal to urban types, artsy folk and gays and lesbians scared off by the biblical flank.

Despite his blue pinstriped suit, Moore looks comfortably rumpled. A few dog hairs decorate his pant leg, care of Jed, the Bernese mountain dog he calls “son,” and his black dress shoes have seen a lot of miles. He knows politicians wear French cuffs at their peril: “If you’re smarmy and too slick by half,” he says, “people won’t vote for you.”

But he is, by now, an old hand. His political start was born of tragedy at age 16, when his mom, Gail, a former Canadian amateur golf champion, died from brain cancer. “Before that,” he says, “all I was interested in was scratching together enough money so I could have my first car, hoping I made the midget-A hockey team.” But his “whole centre,” he says, was rocked by her death. “I thought: how can I do something? How can I fill this void? Politics was it.” Within weeks, he’d hung up his skates, and started door-knocking for local Reformers; later he met Preston Manning, whose call for no distinct society and equality in the Senate spoke to him. “Multiculturalism is dead,” Moore’s 1994 Centennial Secondary School yearbook entry declares, his conversion to the cause complete.

Today, he’s a “huge fan” of George Will and William F. Buckley, and has called himself a libertarian. He doesn’t believe in unequal treatment—whether in unique powers for Quebec, or the way Canada treats its gay and lesbian citizens. In 2004, he sat two seats away from Harper, and voted against his party in favour of equal marriage rights. In February, he was one of the few Tories to vote for an NDP bill protecting transgender rights. “He follows his own instincts,” a Tory insider tells Maclean’s, which is “unusual for this cabinet.”

“He’s always been very clear on what he believes,” says Katie Green; she’s been a close friend since they first landed in Ottawa in 2000, he a 24-year-old rookie MP, she a parliamentary page. Despite his youth, he didn’t waste time at D’Arcy McGee’s, the Hill pub, she says; among friends, he’s known for being “born old.” He worked his way into cabinet, and today, his name comes up, along with Peter MacKay, Jim Flaherty and Jim Prentice, when discussion turns to possible successors to Harper. Whether it interests him is a subject for another day. For now, Moore is taking things one election at a time.

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