TV & Radio
December 26, 2005 - 14:58
Gay community reacts with alarm, vows to fight Harper on same-sex marriage
(CP) - It's hardly a secret that Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are less than popular in Canada's gay communities. And jumping headlong into the same-sex marriage issue at the outset of the federal election campaign did little to bolster Harper's image among gay voters.
But aside from that, the prime ministerial hopeful may yet want to consider how family ties can also affect balloting in the Tory heartland.
"I'm from Alberta originally, and my family is there," Doug Kerr, 38, said recently as he drank coffee with friends near Toronto's Church and Wellesley streets, the epicentre of homosexual life in the city.
"They're Conservative (supporters), but they're pro same-sex marriage. I think they're having second thoughts about Harper," said Kerr, who works as a manager in the non-profit sector.
"There are more important issues in Canada, and it's a real shame that it had to be raised. It may have lost him votes."
With the election buses barely heated up, Harper opened the election campaign Nov. 29 by vowing a Conservative government would allow a free vote in the Commons on restoring the traditional definition of marriage.
The statement, offered without provocation or prodding from the media, thrust back into the spotlight an issue that pundits say cost Harper dearly in the 2004 election, especially in vote-rich Ontario.
Gay, lesbian and transgendered communities across Canada went on high alert.
"The initial (reaction) was total paranoia in my circles," said Michael Hendricks, a Montreal gay-rights activist who married his longtime partner Rene Lebeouf in 2004.
The issue dominated discussion among the couple's friends for days, until logic prevailed.
"Somebody finally had the intelligent idea to remember that Harper isn't elected yet," said Hendricks. "That seemed to secure everybody. They quieted down and the subject hasn't come up again. Just that one shot."
For Vancouver's gay community, Harper's words are very much a live issue.
Jim Deva, co-owner of the controversial Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium, says Harper made the comments early in the campaign for good reason - namely to shore up support among gay marriage opponents while hoping the broader electorate simply forgets the issue by election day.
"I see it as our job, the (gay) community's job, to just keep bringing the issue forward, that this is a constitutional challenge," said Deva. "This isn't just about marriage, this is about what the Constitution means to you."
While Harper, if elected, would allow a free Commons vote on the definition of marriage, he promised not to challenge the 3,000 gay marriages already in place in Canada nor invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to overturn the law.
Given that, experts say it's unlikely a Conservative government could revoke rights already granted by lower courts when they ruled the traditional definition of marriage was discriminatory.
Legal arguments notwithstanding, Harper's attack on gay marriage will not soon be forgotten.
"I assume it means he's written off the gay community," Anton Wagner, a documentary filmmaker, said while sitting in the Toronto coffee shop with Kerr.
The prospects of Harper abandoning the homosexual vote, and those of straight Canadians who support same-sex marriage, concerns Wagner. More specifically, the 56-year old filmmaker worries Quebecers angry at the Liberals over the sponsorship scandal will cast votes for the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
"In terms of national unity, I'm concerned the Conservatives have no representation in Quebec," said Wagner.
For same-sex supporters living outside of Quebec, the Conservative stance also narrows the field somewhat, observed Kerr.
"For a lot of people that are angry at the Liberals, (Harper's words) are frustrating," said Kerr. "There are people who would like change, but that's not where we want to go. So what are the alternatives? It's really unfortunate."
The ideal outcome for Wagner is a Parliament much like the one that fell last month, with one modification.
"My hope is that it's a Liberal minority with the NDP holding the balance of power, with a stronger NDP representation."
Copyright by Rogers Media Inc.
May not be reprinted or republished without permission.
This story can be found at:
December 26, 2005
Rosie O'Donnell offers aid to NDP candidate
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. (CP) - Federal NDP candidate Peg Norman received an offer she had to refuse from former TV chat show host Rosie O'Donnell.
Norman, who is running for the second time in the Newfoundland riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl, had to say no thanks to O'Donnell's "generous" offer of a donation in the Jan. 23 election campaign because the actress isn't a Canadian citizen.
The offer not only reflects O'Donnell's left-leaning political bent, but also her affection for Canada, says Norman.
"Politically, we're pretty close - she recognizes the need for social democracy," Norman says.
"I think it's interesting that an American would see fit to contribute to a campaign because she sees the threat of the right in Canada."
The two women have known each other for several years.
Norman's partner, filmmaker Gerry Rogers, appeared on O'Donnell's talk show in 2000 to discuss her film, My Left Breast.
Rogers made the film after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"We've kept in touch since then, so when she heard that I was running again in federal politics, she sent a donation," says Norman.
Norman won't comment on the size of the offered donation, which she had to reject, except to say that it "wasn't extravagant, but it was generous."
In a visit to Halifax earlier this year, the openly gay O'Donnell praised Canada for its treatment of gays and lesbians and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
She came with her wife, Kelli O'Donnell, on a unique cruise the couple launched last year to give gays and lesbians a chance to vacation without fear of harassment.
Norman finished third in the 2004 federal election, losing to Conservative Loyola Hearn, who is vying for re-election.
Liberal Siobhan Coady is also running in the riding.