Editorial note: The following is a submitted Op/Ed piece written by Councillor Nathan Townend and does not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of The Kiingstonist.
Following his recent election as the new Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole has made overtures about inclusion and is quoted in The Hill Times for having said “I’m going to be a bit of a sea change to Canadians, because you know what, I respect people even when I don’t agree with them.” However, in refusing to eject Derek Sloan from his caucus, as he has been called upon to do, Mr. O’Toole has revealed that very little has changed at all, for as with Andrew Scheer before him, the Conservative Party leader has shown that he does not understand the basic political mathematics of inclusivity. For Mr. O’Toole the rule of thumb is: the more diverse the perspectives, the more inclusive the party caucus is. At one level, this seems noble. Yet when it comes to having LGBTQAI2S+ affirming people in the same caucus as homophobic and transphobic persons, then that formula does not function.
This is because in the context of LGBTQAI2S+ issues, the stakes are existential in nature and therefore exceed standard policy discussions where it might otherwise be reasonable (if not principled) to house differing perspectives under one roof. In order to suggest that his decision to leave Mr. Sloan in situ is inclusive, Mr. O’Toole needs to represent LGBTQAI2S+ issues as being at the level of policy and opinion. However, we are not mincing the tax code to argue about rescinding the extra levy on un-shucked oyster imports. What we are talking about are people, human lives, and their rights to be recognized for who they are in themselves, and to be afforded the same rights, freedoms, and protections as everyone else.
When being anti-queer and anti-trans is not a disqualifier of membership, then by default homophobia and transphobia become the accepted position. If they are not denounced, they are de-facto condoned. It does not matter how many queer- and trans- affirming people there are in the Conservative Party caucus; if the caucus abides an outspoken homophobe and transphobe, it is, as a body, homophobic and transphobic. The law of non contradiction applies here (that the proposition A is B, and the proposition A is not B, cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense.) The Conservative Party caucus cannot be considered inclusive if at the same time it accepts members who are anti-LGBTQAI2S+. The existential stakes of LGBTQAI2S+ issues are apparent to most other political parties. Therefore, open homophobia and transphobia are a disqualifier in most of their parliamentary caucuses, along with racism and misogyny. Again, this is because, as with queer and trans issues, race, sex, and gender are operative at the existential level, so the moral demands are greater.
It is likely Mr.’s Sloan and O’Toole would be hyperbolic about my position, and consider it to be an example of ideological means testing, regarding it as authoritarian and anti-democratic. First of all, I would argue that believing someone should be free to exist as they are in themselves with equal rights, is not ideology, it is common sense and decency. Yet, more simply, such a charge would be breathtakingly hypocritical. All parties perform some portion of political means tests, with the most obvious occasion being the vetting of candidate nominations at election time. The point I am making is that for every party there are, to use a colloquial term, “dealbreakers.” A dealbreaker is essentially the threshold of compromise, where a party is unwilling to dilute or negotiate its most deeply held values.
Though Mr. O’Toole would wish to sell the idea that keeping Mr. Sloan in caucus demonstrates that the Conservative Party deeply values inclusivity, I would hope most Canadians would not buy this. I would hope they would not buy it for the reasons explained above, but also because they see it for the weedy pandering that it really is. Quite simply, by keeping Mr. Sloan in caucus, it reveals that the deepest held values of the Conservative Party leadership are merely the many thousands of votes (on which the party perceives it depends) that are cast by people who share (with Mr. Sloan) a decidedly homophobic and transphobic worldview. Mr. O’Toole has only been a leader for a matter of days and in that time has quickly abandoned his first serious opportunity to take substantial moral leadership. That was bad enough, but to try and pass off this feebleness as virtue is frankly disdainful.
Ultimately, what all of this has revealed, or should have revealed to the Canadian public, is that: if fully affirming LGBTQAI2S+ people and steadfastly defending their equal rights, is a dealbreaker for you; then it may be some time yet before you feel comfortable in the “big blue tent.”
Nathan Townend is a Loyalist Township Councillor representing Ward 1 (Amherst Island).