Andrew Scheer’s support for Justin Trudeau’s LGBTQ apology reveals a deepening consensus in the country.
After Justin Trudeau finished apologizing on Tuesday for the wrongs committed by the federal government against sexual minorities, Andrew Scheer rose to second that apology. This is remarkable.
Remarkable in showing how the Conservative Party has evolved in recent years, and remarkable in showing how Canada has evolved as well.
The progressive and conservative movements in the United States have polarized to the point where the country is becoming ungovernable. Similar gulfs plague countries in Europe.
But in Canada, at least on national social policy, convergence is the norm. The Canadian consensus is deepening rather than weakening.
Now, a few qualifications to Mr. Scheer’s apology. First of all, he never actually said: “We’re sorry.” The closest he came was: “Today’s apology must be an opportunity for all of us to recommit to the defence of human rights, not only here at home, but around the world.”
Mr. Trudeau spoke for 20 minutes; Mr. Scheer for five. And there were roughly 20 empty seats in the Tory backbench, although some of the absentees were on government business, such as Lisa Raitt, Erin O’Toole and Garnett Genuis, none of whom could be classed as social conservatives. A few other Tories attended but sat on their hands. MPs Ted Falk and Harold Albrecht told The Canadian Press they thought Mr. Trudeau’s apology went too far in spots.
But what matters is that Mr. Scheer put the Conservative Party solidly onside with the Liberals in regretting “a terrible and unfair moment in the history of the federal government of Canada,” as the Opposition Leader put it.
The conservative movement has travelled a long way from Sept. 16, 2003, when Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper, speaking in the House against the legalization of same-sex marriage, referred to “sexual orientation or, more accurately, what we are really talking about, sexual behaviour,” which rendered the very identity of gay people illegitimate.
Conservatives had traditionally opposed expanded rights for sexual minorities. Progressive Conservatives opposed the partial legalization of same-sex acts in 1969. Reform MPs voted against including sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1996. Conservatives opposed same-sex marriage a decade ago.
But then things began to change. As prime minister, Mr. Harper held a free vote on whether to revisit same-sex marriage; aides said he was quietly relieved when the House voted not to.
Whatever criticisms are being levelled today at Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney over gaystraight alliances, as immigration minister he created the underground railroad that brought gay Iranians to Canada as refugees.
Within the Commonwealth and elsewhere, foreign affairs minister John Baird promoted same-sex rights as human rights.
After it lost power, the party voted to remove opposition to same-sex marriage from its policy platform. Brad Trost, the most visible social conservative in the leadership race, secured the support of only 14 per cent of the party faithful.
And Mr. Scheer joined with the Liberals and the NDP in support of an apology for unjust treatment toward homosexuals by governments in the past.
Today, we have consensus among the major national parties on the need to protect the rights of sexual minorities, even as the Trump administration moves to strip protections the Obama administration put in place for transgender Americans.
In Canada, all parties agree on the need to preserve universal public health care, even as Republicans attack – and the Democrats defend – Obamacare.
Under Mr. Harper, the federal government increased the intake of immigrants; Mr. Trudeau raised the level even higher. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is trying to deport illegal immigrants, while the Democrats struggle to protect them.
The latest example: Mr. Trudeau’s choice of Sheilah Martin to replace Beverley McLachlin on the Supreme Court will almost certainly prove uncontroversial. The U.S. Supreme Court is so ideologically riven that the ability to choose judges is considered one of an American president’s greatest powers.
Conservatives and Liberals still disagree on taxation, regulation, deficits and other economic issues. But in this country, social conservatism is largely relegated to fringe websites and truculent comment threads.
On the big issues, consensus rules, as Mr. Scheer demonstrated on Tuesday.