I was recently asked a simple question by some colleagues of mine: “How can a young gay male like yourself be a Conservative?” This is a question I get from time to time and more frequently lately, it seems. It’s a question that requires more time for pause and reflection.
Let me start by saying that, as do most young boys, I modelled myself after my father; he was a Tory, so I was a Tory. In high school I reflected on this question with more self-awareness. I was drawn to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his vision of conservatism. He believed that government at times has the ability to do what is good but not popular; that government can affect profound change but it is not the only answer. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal once said that Mulroney did not believe that all government was bad; in fact on such issues as family benefits, healthcare, defence, and aboriginal self-government, he was prepared to use government in a substantive way for public benefit. We saw this played out with such files as acid rain, South African apartheid, and NAFTA. Mulroney’s views on social issues, the free movement of ideas, goods, and people, all aligned with mine. Mulroney helped shape my view that, unlike the Liberals, the Progressive Conservative Party was a party of big ideas and taking on challenges, from expanding the railways to western Canada under John A. Macdonald, to designing an international trade agreement with a depth and scope never achieved before.
Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party is no more, and, like many of my friends and colleagues, I was dejected when the PC Party merged with the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada. The word “progressive” was dropped from the name and it seemed the new leader wanted a break with the past. Stephen Harper, though, turned out to be a pragmatic leader. As I got to know him I felt more and more comfortable with his leadership, his desire to win, and his awareness that if the party went too far to the right it would never form a government.
As time went by the desire to just win was not enough for me, and as I became more aware of who I am as a gay man, I had to take a closer look at what the Conservative Party stands for. This spring we have a chance to open the windows and let in some air. The party’s leadership race gives us an opportunity to shape the party into something that all conservatives can support.
When I bring up such social issues as needle exchanges and drug policy, my social conservative friends get queasy, but as a party we can have a conservative approach to these issues that makes sense. Our current drug policy is a good example. According to Statistics Canada, the overall crime rate has dropped significantly, but drug convictions, mostly for cannabis-related offences, have gone up substantially. It costs the government $115 310 a year to house each prisoner, the average age of which is 24. We currently have a policy that is not only ineffective, but is cruel and costs the taxpayer an exorbitant amount of money.
Another issue is needle exchanges and safe injection sites for drug addicts; it would seem sensible to me as a fiscal conservative that the cost of a needle is far less than the cost of an individual contracting HIV or Hepatitis C and having the tax-payer pay for their massive health care costs. In addition this problem affects big cities disproportionately, hurting the small businesses that are located in those areas, hamstringing local authorities and throwing good money after bad. Sadly, on these issues, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and libertarians can’t seem to agree to a plan that tackles these big problems with bold vision.
In spite of this, I have not given up on my conservative ideals or on the party I grew up with. It may have a different name and soon it will have a different leader, but there is always hope. The Conservative Party of Canada is truly a big tent – one that I’m proud to say includes groups like LGBTory; something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Being a gay man and a Conservative are not mutually exclusive, and I say to my friends you can shout and protest outside or you can come with me and work within and try to affect change. There is a group in the party that represents me and issues that are important to me. Although at times I am derisively branded a Red Tory or some other name by social conservatives, to me these positions are just common sense.