Tories Defenders of Gay Rights

It was immediately apparent, following the shellacking they sustained Oct. 19, that leading Conservatives understood at least in part where they'd gone wrong. A succession of party grandees, including Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay, Lisa Raitt and Tony Clement, mused about inclusiveness and tone. Translation: Stoking a fight over the niqab and "barbaric cultural practices" was a disaster and we never should have gone there.

But that wasn't the end of the discussion. Since the vote, and since the installation of interim leader Rona Ambrose, the Tories have taken a succession of fair-minded positions on issues as they've arisen.

First was a potential controversy over looming multimillion-dollar renovations to the Prime Minister's official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. The headlines wrote themselves: Dauphin to spend millions on childhood luxury home! But Ambrose wisely waved the long-overdue repairs aside as a no-brainer.

Next came the refugee question. Even after the government jettisoned its year-end deadline for bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, the Conservatives could have continued to make this an issue, opposing the bulked-up rescue on principle, dates be damned. Instead, Ambrose apparently opted for sunny ways. Immigration critic Michelle Rempel actually praised them. On Twitter, former immigration minister and uber-partisan Chris Alexander offered heartfelt congratulations, causing eyes to bug out across the spectrum.

Clement asked whether the Liberals would ‘continue to support the strong stand taken by Canada on the decriminalization of homosexuality.’ Defending gay rights abroad was, indeed, one of the few rays of outright progressivism allowed to shine in the old regime.

Then last week as Commonwealth leaders converged on Malta, the party struck another Red Tory note, in a release by Clement. After first calling on the PM to strongly defend human rights, Clement asked whether the Liberals would "continue to support the strong stand taken by Canada on the decriminalization of homosexuality." Defending gay rights abroad was, indeed, one of the few rays of outright progressivism allowed to shine in the old regime. Interesting that Clement choose to highlight this now.

In an adversarial system such as ours, there cannot be peace, love and grooviness in perpetuity. The opposition must oppose, as Ambrose and Raitt have done over the water-cooler brouhaha of the Trudeaus' taxpayer-paid nannies. Had they given him a pass on that, one suspects, quite a few Conservatives might have begun to wonder whether they'd lost their stomach for a scrap. As the session unfolds, it will be a matter of picking spots.

Here's why consistent, constructive opposition is just what the Conservatives need now: It's not just that Trudeau's open, gregarious style has proven a winner with voters. It's also that these Liberals have allowed ample room for a progressive conservative party in the centre of the spectrum. Space once occupied by right-of-centre blue Liberals on foreign policy, for example, is now vacant, with the Trudeau government pulling combat resources out of Iraq and Syria as major allies put more in.

There's a great focus in the new liberalism on redistributing wealth; less emphasis on slashing import tariffs, furthering competition and enhancing productivity. By planning a string of deficits in an economy that grew 2.3 per cent in the third quarter, the Trudeau Liberals have created another opportunity for the centre-right. Liberal strategists argue, quite rightly, that these are small deficits in a $2-trillion economy.

Be that as it may, there is no reason why the party Stephen Harper built can't outgrow him; why it can't begin to systematically carve out responsible, moderate centre-right policy, in terms that will be familiar to many Canadians who supported the Chretien-Martin governments in the 1990s. Whether the Tories can articulate it in in the House of Commons will be the test.

By Michael Den Tandt Twitter: @mdentandt

Source: The Londoner