Wildrose defeat shows the limits of social conservatism in Canada
Apr 24, 2012

Wildrose defeat shows the limits of social conservatism in Canada

Alberta is Canada's most right leaning province. The Wildrose party is a further right splitting of the long dominant right leaning party in Alberta. If there is anywhere that the most extreme socially conservative positions are going to be uttered, it is from the Wildrose party. However, if we look at the most contentious points in the election campaign on the social issues side of things, we see that the Wildrose party is vastly less extreme than their Tea Party counterparts - or even establishment Republicans - are in the most right leaning states of the US. Further, the fact that they lost, and that social issues appear to have contributed to that loss, backstops just how far to the right a political party is capable of going in Canada.

The Globe and Mail identifies social issues as one of the detractors from Wildrose and gives a list of the salient low points in the campaign on the social issues side:

The backlash against Wildrose’s stance on social issues was a slow burn. First, the party’s stance on conscience rights bubbled up, showing it supported the fundamental right to refuse a service – such as an abortion – based on religious objections. It piqued the interest of voters. Then came Allan Hunsperger, whose year-old blog surfaced, one that said homosexuals would spend eternity in the “lake of fire, hell.” And there was Ron Leech, the Wildrose candidate who said he had an advantage over Sikh and Muslim rivals because he was white. Ms. Smith later said the “science isn’t settled” on climate change. It all painted Wildrose as too extreme, too socially conservative for the fast-growing province.
Take the conscience rights issue. The big social issue in the US of a couple months back is the issue of a conscience objection on behalf of employers (first religious institutions, then extended to any employer) who would not want to offer insurance that covered birth control. Not abortion, which is much more controversial, but the widely accepted and widely used birth control. This issue, much more extreme and representing specific policies than that of the Wildrose, got widespread Republican support from all the major establishment players and was not confined just to the further right Tea Party caucus. In many state legislatures on the abortion front, seemingly any tactic, no matter how egregious, is used to try and fight abortion up to and including bills that mandate the use of a trans-vaginal probe to deliver images to a women who wants an abortion. In comparison, the leaked rhetoric on conscience rights is at best a muted ghost of their American cousins.

Watching the horror show that is the social conservative movement in the US can only strengthen our resolve against the encroachment of this movement in Canada. However, we should recognize and be happy that the situation in Canada is far, far better than that in the US. Gay marriage, for instance, is the law of the land. The rise of the Tea Party provided a boost of momentum of social conservatism in the US and there was a fear that the Wildrose which, in many ways, is analogous to the Tea Party, could do likewise. To a limited extent, it probably has shifted the conversation and it seems likely that policies will be affected by moderate conservatives having to watch out for their further right flank. However, there appears to be firm limits on how far they can go and in Canada the limits of what a politician can say on the social conservative agenda still seem to be in reasonable bounds. For that, I am certainly very happy to be Canadian.

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