Skip to main content

Tom Mulcair: These conservative politicians claim they're protecting kids, but they're making victims of them

Saskatchewan is joining New Brunswick in an unseemly political manoeuvre, using the sensitive issue of gender identity to gain the support of certain voters at the expense of the fundamental right to equality.

If it were an oblique attack against people for who they are in terms of their religion or ethnicity, calling out that prejudice would be a slam dunk. Most segments of our society would denounce it. No serious politician would ever get close to it. 

It is no less bigoted and prejudicial to target people for who they are in terms of their gender or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, it’s still possible for some politicians to fan the flames of intolerance on these issues by claiming honourable motives.

For those promoting it, this particularly dirty battle in our culture wars is simply about ensuring parents’ right to know what’s going on in their children’s lives. What could be wrong with that? 

Of course, what is political is political and just yesterday Doug Ford’s government said it would be mimicking the moves in N.B. and Saskatchewan.

There is very little here that should merit the attention of a provincial premier, let alone inspire copycat bigotry halfway across the country.

The pushback against the pathetic, ham-fisted campaign of New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs by members of his own government was extraordinary and deserves to be congratulated. Higgs, in turn, deserved to be castigated for stooping so low. We’ll see if anyone in Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan government is possessed of that sort of strong principle and backbone. (Apparently not, so far!). 

Some young people feel threatened and are worried about expressing their gender identity with their parents. They ask to be recognized at school by neutral or plural pronouns that avoid a binary reference, because that’s not how they see themselves. It’s not who they are. They can and should feel safe at school. Their peers are often their best allies.  

No one who has ever had a friend or family member experience hatred and derision because of their gender identity will ever fall into the trap being set by Premiers Higgs and Moe. It’s called empathy. They know and understand just how difficult life can be for someone, especially young people, who affirm who they are. There are numerous deep prejudices remaining in society over LGBTQ2S+ issues, generally, and gender identity issues in particular. 

Goodness lacking in some senior politicians

For that young person, being targeted by their premier as part of a political game adds to the difficulty and stress that they often experience on a daily basis. They become pawns in a game where someone else makes the rules. They’re likely to feel even deeper rejection and pain. Schools, teachers and especially other kids can and do show support. Thank goodness. But goodness is precisely what certain senior politicians lack. 

Respecting the use of preferred pronouns is easy and doesn’t take anything away from anyone. Unfortunately, what Erin O’Toole once called “politics by algorithm” appears to be once again in play.

A shrewd and calculating (and unscrupulous) politician will see this issue as an opportunity to capture votes. It matters little to them that they’re hurting young people who haven’t done anything wrong. 

Poilievre  'weaponized' LGBTQ2S+ issues

During the recent federal by-election in Portage-Lisgar, Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives waged a no holds-barred battle against their principal opponent, PPC Leader Maxime Bernier. They intentionally weaponized LGBTQ2S+ issues, attacking Bernier for having attended a pride parade. That was shameful and should put Canadians on guard against the federal Conservatives’ intentions on this and indeed all socially sensitive issues. 

Of course, Higgs is a Progressive Conservative while Moe is a closet Conservative, his Saskatchewan Party having been built on the ashes of the former Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party, after an unfortunate spate of criminal convictions made it unwise to keep their old name. 

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (left) speaks in Fredericton, N.B. on Thursday, February 9, 2023 (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray). Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks to delegates at the Global Energy Show in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, June 13, 2023 (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh).

We’ll see what types of motions the federal Conservatives dredge up for debate on these questions at their big convention in Quebec City next week. It will provide an insight into their real thinking. Similar to what Canadians learned when the Conservatives voted to deny that climate change is real, the last time they got together. 

This time Poilievre seems to be teeing things up to jump onto the anti-LGBTQ2S+ bandwagon being pulled by Higgs and Moe. He’ll also say it’s all about protecting kids, while in fact he’s making victims of them. 

Jordan Peterson and the 'thin edge of the wedge'

When a Conservative backbencher tried to use the exceptional case of sex-selection abortion as a way to reopen that debate, Poilievre voted against it. This time he’ll be a cheerleader for the position of his buddy Jordan Peterson who likes to rail about the issue of gender identity. 

It’s precisely this "thin edge of the wedge" technique of using the most exceptional case, that your polling shows a majority of people feel uncomfortable with, which the Conservatives will be deploying at their convention: “Oh, we’re not talking about pronouns, we’re talking about surgery!…”. 

It’s an age-old political legerdemain. Donald Trump still pleads he didn’t ban Muslims, it was only temporary! Islamophobes correctly heard that finally someone had the courage to…ban Muslims. Pick a religious minority, pick an oppressed group, pick anyone or anything people disagree with, dislike or feel uncomfortable about. Then pick a policy or make a promise that plays to those feelings. 

Niqabs at citizenship ceremonies? Hello Stephen Harper! A turban on a police officer? Hello François Legault. 

Right wing politicians have been using the technique forever. So what if it hurts, debases or singles out for mistreatment? So what if it divides our society?  Social cohesion requires understanding and respect. Dividing people one against the other is much easier and it works! 

LGBTQ2S+ issues are complex. Just the terminology can be daunting. But society is evolving in its understanding of those complexities. Debates that were held in Parliament not so long ago,  as to who can use which washroom, will probably appear quaint in a couple of generations. 

In the meantime, as long as there is a political advantage to be gained playing to fears, prejudice and the unknown there will be people like Scott Moe, Blaine Higgs and Pierre Poilievre who’ll try to profit politically. They’ll claim that they’re doing something noble. They're not fooling anyone. All they’re doing is promoting discrimination and intolerance in the hope of winning votes and it’s ignoble. 

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017



ANALYSIS What do the policies Poilievre's party passed say about the Conservatives' future?

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre spent the summer speaking about housing affordability, a core focus that attendees at the party's Quebec City convention were quick to praise him for. But by the end of the weekend, delegates opted to instead pass policies on contentious social issues. What does that say about the Conservatives' future?



opinion Don Martin: With Trudeau resignation fever rising, a Conservative nightmare appears

With speculation rising that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow his father's footsteps in the snow to a pre-election resignation, political columnist Don Martin focuses on one Liberal cabinet minister who's emerging as leadership material -- and who stands out as a fresh-faced contrast to the often 'angry and abrasive' leader of the Conservatives.


OPINION Don Martin: Life in Trudeau's brain defies imagination

Getting inside Justin Trudeau's head these days requires a vivid imagination. The prime minister's bizarre statement on the Middle East war this week reflects a distorted view that human-shielded resistance by Hamas terrorists can be overcome with "maximum restraint" by Israel's military. Top Stories

These are the 5 headlines you should read this morning

A gunman kills three people on a Las Vegas school campus, Pierre Poilievre threatens to delay MPs' holidays and a Saskatchewan veteran receives France's highest order of distinction. Here's what you need to know to start your day.

Stay Connected