Anne Cools: Help or hindrance?
Adam Daifallah and John Turley-Ewart
National Post

Friday, June 11, 2004

The following debate is excerpted from Across the Board, the National Post editorial board's blog:

Adam Daifallah: The defection of Senator Anne Cools to the Conservative party is a pretty significant development. Cools has been a bit of a Liberal maverick, opposing gay marriage and hate speech legislation and championing such causes as fathers' rights in child custody cases. But symbolically and optically, at least, her defection is a big coup for Stephen Harper. She's Canada's first black senator, a woman, and was appointed by Trudeau. And until recently, she was a strong Martin supporter.

For her to defect mid-campaign speaks volumes about the current turmoil inside the Liberal party, and throws a stick in the wheel of those claiming the Conservatives are anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-woman, and all the rest.

Adam Radwanski: Umm, I'm not really sure wooing Anne Cools is the best way to convince people you're not "anti-gay." She's a stauncher social conservative than most members of the Conservative caucus. She could also, depending on your perspective, be labelled "anti-woman" for all her fathers' rights stuff.

John Turley-Ewart: I disagree that the Conservatives don't have much to brag about in persuading Cools to cross the floor. She represents many in the Liberal party who feel that the leadership has abandoned its balanced approach to social issues.

Child custody is one area where the Liberals' claim to balance has gone off the rails. Cools has rightly advocated for shared parenting -- a move away from the feminist-centred approach courts now take to custody battles that discounts the importance of dads and their role in the lives of children.

It's equally true that her position in favour of traditional marriage and its recognition as a unique social institution does not stand in contrast to what most Liberals believe. Supporting gay marriage, a move Chretien made only a year after he voted in the House of Commons in support of traditional marriage, was a political ploy to distinguish the Liberals from the Conservatives. That decision has come back to haunt them, alienating a good many traditional Liberal supporters. If gay marriage was put to a free vote in the House of Commons, it's unlikely that a majority of Liberals would support it.

Cools' departure is important. It is emblematic of just how arrogant and unrepresentative of its core supporters the party has become.

A.R.: I never said that Anne Cools wasn't a valuable addition to the Conservatives (although I may have thought it). I said that her recruitment might not be the best way to convince people that you're not "anti-gay" (and to a lesser extent "anti-woman"). Bear in mind that she didn't only oppose gay marriage, but also other gay rights legislation including the extension of same-sex benefits.

I also have to dispute J.T.E.'s suggestion that Cools represents a Liberal base that's deserting the party. On the contrary, I think the Liberals are losing more of their left than their right.

Compare current public opinion to the popular vote in the last election. The Liberals, now at 32% according to the latest poll, received 40.8% in 2000. But the Conservatives, now at 31%, have actually fallen as well, if you consider that the combined vote of the Canadian Alliance and the Tories was 37.7% in 2000 (though granted, not every former Progressive Conservative has made the transition). So who's been gaining at the Liberals' expense? Other than the Bloc Quebecois, it's the NDP, which has gone from 8.5% to 16%, and the Green Party, which has come out of nowhere to hit 7%.

This is a very simplistic statistical analysis with at least a couple of caveats. But it shows fairly plainly that it's not the Anne Cools of this world who the Liberals should be most concerned about losing.

J.T.E.: Adam would have us believe that Paul Martin is losing the Latte Liberal vote and that the real threat to the Liberal power base is the left.

Alas, there are few Latte Liberals outside of the urban areas that the Grits won in the 2000 election. Instead, there are the traditional family types that live in the suburbs around most Canadian cities and in rural areas.

Ask Liberal MPs from those areas where the real danger is. It's not the NDP, but the Conservatives. What's driving this? Might I suggest the Liberal party's hard shift to the left on social issues is at least partly to blame, along with the party's appetite for demonizing Christians in its attacks on the Conservatives?

A.D.: Fact is, most Canadians don't know or care who Anne Cools is. They don't know the first thing about her views on gay marriage or father's rights. All that will stick out here is that a long-serving parliamentarian who is Canada's first black senator (appointed by Trudeau, no less) defected to the Conservatives in the middle of an election. This is the kind of press money can't buy.

As for the point that she's not the best person to help fend off criticism that the Tories are anti-gay or anti-woman, that may be true. But her defection also reinforces the idea that the Conservatives are a more tolerant party, accepting of a variety of viewpoints.

The full transcript of this and other Across the Board discussions is available at http://www.national

 National Post 2004