Prime-minister-designate Stephen Harper has pledged to introduce a resolution asking MPs whether they want to reopen the controversial [same sex marraige] debate, and promised it would be a free vote in which MPs can choose a side according to their conscience rather than their party.
-The Globe and Mail
Parliament does not have the power to legislate minority rights on a case-by-case basis, as though laws pertaining to them are the same as any other kind of legislation. Minority rights are subject neither to the whims of public opinion nor the maneuvering of politicians: that’s the whole point of the Charter and a central tenet of tolerant liberal democracy. One of the most intelligent things Paul Martin did as Prime Minister was to stress this. MPs who say they will “vote according to the wishes of their constituents” should be ashamed of themselves for either misunderstanding or publicly misrepresenting the nature of minority rights.
The importance of a government choosing to overturn such a law extends beyond the same-sex marriage debate itself. It speaks to the possibility of a socially activist government of a kind that is neither well suited to Canada nor justified by the results of the election. In that way, I am especially glad for people who elected NDP members of Parliament, who I expect will be particularly effective at countering the Conservatives when they step too far.
I think that the complete failure of the Conservatives to win seats in Canada’s three biggest cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver demonstrates the limitations of their perspectives on government. The same irony comes up in the United States, where you see people in places least likely to be directly affected by terrorism most concerned about it and those least exposed to matters like immigration or same-sex marriage most threatened by it. ‘Traditional values’ do not deserve an equal hearing when they are fundamentally oppressive, and tolerance for alternative viewpoints does not need to extend to the point where they can be allowed to form national policy.
I don’t think Stephen Harper will be stupid enough to shift policy too far to the right on social issues. Of particular importance is the fact that he must be hoping that if he can convince enough Canadians that he is a moderate and acceptable leader, he will be returned with a majority at some point in the future. The way to do that may be to placate your socially conservative supporters with a few token gestures, while actually working to stay close to the political centre.
That said, governmental change is unpredictable. We shall have to see what transpires.