Stephen Harper says any gay marriage law will be stamped with illegitimacy because it will owe its passage to Quebec separatists.
Same-sex marriage legislation, which is expected to clear the Commons this week with help from the Bloc Quebecois, would have been thwarted if only federalists MPs were casting ballots, the Conservative leader said yesterday.
"Because it's being passed with the support of the Bloc, I think it will lack legitimacy with most Canadians," Harper said.
"The truth is, most federalist MPs oppose this."
Conservative justice critic Vic Toews went further.
"The federalist MPs in Canada, the majority of them, would oppose (gay marriage) on a free vote. So what we are seeing now is simply an agreement by this government with the separatist Bloc -- who have no long-term interest in staying in Canada."
The comments were swiftly rebuked and mocked by rivals of all political stripes.
"We're elected," said Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe. "Our mandate is every bit as legitimate as any member who sits in this chamber. That's what they call democracy."
The Conservatives could help end the Bloc's influence by supporting Quebec independence, Duceppe wryly suggested.
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton said the remarks are further proof of why Conservative popularity has stalled or dropped.
"Mr. Harper is essentially saying that Quebecers' votes don't matter -- aren't on an equal par with the rest of Canadians. So he wants to deny equality to same-sex partners, and he wants to deny equality to Quebec voters.
"Maybe Mr. Harper should think about why people aren't listening to him by just simply looking at what he says."
[. . .]
"Are sovereigntists more homosexual or heterosexual?" quipped Transport Minister Jean Lapierre, the Liberal party's Quebec lieutenant. "Does (Harper) have a study on that?"
David Docherty, a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, called the Conservative tactic a "mind-boggling" insult to Quebec. The Bloc, with 54 seats in the 308-seat Commons, is a force that can't be ignored.
"It's silly, is what it is. (Harper) really seems to be fumbling the ball."
It is worth noting that André Boisclair, one of the two front-runners in the race for the leadership of the Parti Québécois (Blogspot blog here, official site here, French-language biography at the website of the Assemblée nationale here), is in fact openly gay, as Lysiane Gagnon noted recently in The Globe and Mail.
For now, Mr. Boisclair's candidacy is generating much more excitement than Ms. Marois's. In a province where same-sex marriage is hardly an issue, Mr. Boisclair's sexual orientation doesn't seem to hurt him. "He's gay, yes, and so what?" wrote Vincent Marissal, a political columnist for La Presse, in summing up a general feeling.
The man is (relatively) young, he's a perfectly fit athlete, and he's bright and attractive with a seductive smile. He projects an image of renewal -- something that the PQ, a party of baby boomers, desperately needs. In contrast, Ms. Marois, a matronly mother of four who often speaks like a technocrat, has been around forever. Although her ambitions have been known for decades, she's never captured the hearts and minds of the electorate; even within the party and the caucus, she has surprisingly few supporters.
Harper and Toews might, in fact, be right about a positive association between being non-heterosexual in Québec and supporting separatism. I'd be interested to see any research proving or disproving this connection. For the time being, I have to congratulate them for the clumsy way they permanently hobbled themselves in Québec.