JOHN IBBITSON

The Globe and Mail (Atlantic Edition) - - NEWS - JOHN IBBITSON jib­bit­son@globe­and­mail.com

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.

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