At the beginning of this year’s Pride Month, the Conservative Party of Canada released a video of its leader, Erin O’Toole, reinforcing his commitment to the LGBTQ2 community.
“I want you to know that I have been, and will continue to be an ally,” O’Toole resolutely pledged while standing against the backdrop of the “We Demand” mural in Ottawa, and later, while strolling across a rainbow-coloured crosswalk.
“You have my commitment to be there with you, standing up against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. Discrimination and intolerance against the LGBTQ2 community is unacceptable and has no place in Canada.”
As is common with almost all political communications these days, O’Toole’s message was heavy on symbolism, and feather-light on substance. It contained nothing in regard to policy solutions the Conservatives would champion in order to address some of the most pressing issues facing the LGBTQ2 community.
At no point in his pride message did O’Toole mention the Conservative plan to address the alarmingly high rates of considered and attempted suicide, rife among the marginalized trans community. Nor did he shed any details on what an O’Toole-led Conservative government would do to tackle the stigma and discrimination within Canada’s healthcare system, which has seen far too many trans Canadians denied care (or to better provide care for the abundance of gay youth who disproportionately find themselves abandoned and without a safe and welcoming home).
Instead, O’Toole steered clear of making concrete policy promises, and stuck almost entirely to the kind of boilerplate messaging usually reserved by the likes of his chief rival, Justin Trudeau.
Still, for anyone who remembers the evident squeamishness that befell former leader Andrew Scheer whenever the subject of the LGBTQ2 community came up, O’Toole’s message of support was at least an improvement over that of his predecessor, as well as an encouraging step forward on the path to modernity for the Conservative Party.
Coupled with the party’s effective efforts to press the government into eliminating its discriminatory blood donation restrictions on men in same-sex relationships, O’Toole’s speech appeared like a breakthrough moment for the Conservatives and their relationship with LGBTQ2 Canadians.
In typical Conservative fashion, however, the party bungled whatever tentative goodwill they had been cautiously obtaining from LGBTQ2 voters, in a most unbecoming spectacle during a recent vote in the House of Commons.
On June 22, during some of the final hours before parliament was to go on summer recess, 63 Members of Parliament, all of whom are Conservative (or at least used to be a Conservative, in the case of the one independent MP, Derek Sloan), voted against the government’s proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy.
You read that correctly.
63 MPs voted not to ban conversion therapy, otherwise known as “gay-cure therapy,” a practice devised to try to forcibly modify or repress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
It should go without saying that conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice, based on zero scientific evidence, which is well-known for causing immense, discernable harm, especially to vulnerable minors. According to many health experts and LGBTQ2 scholars, conversion therapy is far more akin to “child abuse” than it is to anything nearing mentally beneficial therapeutical assistance.
Nonetheless, the majority of voting Conservative members remained unpersuaded by the plethora of scientific data and testimonial evidence that has been built up over the years in condemnation against conversion therapy, and instead, voted against the proposed Liberal ban, hiding behind some intellectually feeble justifications for their opposition.
Fortunately, these 63 MPs were completely alone in doing so.
All other voting MPs from the Liberal, NDP, Green and even the Bloc caucuses, were able to come together to vote in unison against the immensely harmful practices of conversion therapy.
Regardless of their unique and diverse personal beliefs and political affiliations, all voting MPs from these four parties were able to ensure the passage of Bill C-6, as it is known, through the House and Commons into the Senate, for the next stages of legislative deliberation.
Barring any shamefully opportunistic election calls by the Liberal government (which would scuttle all the long-held hopes for the bill to receive Royal Assent in 2021) Canadians will finally have in place a legislative ban on conversion therapy.
While such a moment is undoubtedly deserving of celebration, it cannot help but be noticed that under a different, more conservative parliament, the passage of Bill C-6 and the banning of conversion therapy might very well not have occurred. Even with the support of their leader, O’Toole, and 50 other Conservative MPs, the majority of the party still found it inside themselves to vote against the proposed legislation. If that in itself is not worrisome to LGBTQ2 Canadians and their allies, I do not know what is.
While O’Toole and a segment of his Conservative colleagues have made some progress in their evolution towards supporting LGBTQ2 rights, he and his party are still a long way off from demonstrating genuine allyship.
Wyatt James Schierman is a freelance writer from Alberta and a regular columnist with Loonie Politics. His writing has also been published in the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, the Calgary Herald, Huffington Post Canada and the Hill Times. When he is not writing, Wyatt is traveling abroad as an election observer.