Fourteen years ago, the Alberta provincial government led by Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein was convulsed with controversy at the thought of same-sex marriage.
In the ensuing weeks, Mr. Klein threatened to employ the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Staff who worked in the premier’s office in those days have insisted to me Mr. Klein was not personally homophobic, but that the reaction from voters was the strongest they ever encountered on any issue – and that callers were almost universally, and sometimes viciously, opposed to the idea that marriage should be anything but a transaction involving a man and a woman.
One asked, with a little shrug, what could we do?
Fast-forward to 2012 and the Edmonton Pride Parade and the issue of diversity and human rights, at least in the context of Albertans’ sexuality rights, was still capable of inducing a full-blown case of the political heebie-jeebies in this province.
Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, a humiliating election defeat partly the result of homophobic comments by one of her party’s Edmonton-area candidates just weeks behind her, nervously skipped the year’s parade. She tried to mend fences with the LGBTQ community at the Edmonton Pride Festival Police Chief’s Reception, but became reignited the controversy when she refused to apologize for Pastor Allan Hunsperger’s ill-considered pre-election commentary.
Premier Alison Redford promised to be in the parade, but wasn’t – although she did show up to deliver some friendly remarks at the end of the parade route. Her staff huffily announced it amounted to the same thing – a point on which there is still room for disagreement.
Nevertheless, today pride flags are snapping in the breeze at city halls throughout Alberta and the tenor of most commentary is that times have really changed out here in the Conservative heartland. The days of homophobia and disrespect for diversity and rights are behind us, it is widely said.
One certainly hopes that this is true, but it is a fair question to wonder if things have really changed all that much since the phones were ringing off the hook in the premier’s office and the answering machines were melting down from the fury of the homophobic messages being left.
Certainly, Alberta is not a hotbed of respect for other human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression.
Recent legislation bans any citizen from giving voice to certain views on labour relations with which the Redford Government disagrees on pain of massive fines. This is about as clearly unconstitutional as a Canadian senior government can get, and Redford PCs’ chicken-hearted dodge was to pass the law but not proclaim it in hopes of stymying a Charter challenge in the courts.
There is only a little public discomfort with this law.
Say what you will about Mr. Klein, at least he had the courage to threaten the use of the Notwithstanding Clause to keep Alberta safe for his supporters’ heterosexualist agenda!
In Ottawa, the Bow River Elite led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that runs the Conservative Party of Canada has declared jihad on environmental charities, launching the campaign of harassment by the Canada Revenue Agency, making the former taxation agency virtually a division of the so-called Ethical Oil Institute.
The goal, obviously, is to ruthlessly suppress all opposition to plans for a spider web of pipelines leading out of Alberta’s Bitumen Sands region that the federal and Alberta Conservative governments are anxious to build in order to finance their duplication of Margaret Thatcher’s scheme to squander North Sea oil revenue to finance tax cuts for Britain’s ultra-rich.
It is worth remembering that the political infrastructure that supports these oppressive policies is made up of essentially the same people suddenly rushing to run the rainbow flag up the flagpoles of Alberta city halls.
So are they sincere in their sudden conversion to the cause of LGBTQ rights, or is this just a convenient way to take a shot at Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which from the vantage point of this one-party oligopoly still looks a little too Com’unistic to many leaders determined to crush unions, silence critics and speed the extraction of bitumen regardless of the environmental consequences?
Maybe. But consider the possibility that the flag of Panama may not be the only flag of convenience in this world.
It would certainly be interesting to see how Alberta’s politicians would react were Russian mayors and city councillors to start running up green flags in support of the rights of Canadian environmentalists to free speech and the rule of law.
They might be within their rights to speculate as well that the Russians’ commitment to a clean planet and fundamental rights was a mile wide and an inch deep.