The Hill Times, December 20th, 2004
By F. Abbas Rana
Grit MP O'Brien predicts four more Cabinet ministers to struggle with same-sex bill
Government backbencher Pat O'Brien, who is pushing for national referendum on same-sex marriage, says at least four other Cabinet ministers, along with Natural Resources Minister John Efford and junior Cabinet minister for Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario Joe Comuzzi, have serious reservations about supporting the upcoming same-sex marriage legislation and would vote against it if it were a truly free vote.
"There are at least half a dozen Ministers who I believe if they were given a free vote will vote against this," said Mr. O'Brien (London-Fanshawe, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times last week, but refused to identify the Cabinet ministers. Mr. O'Brien said he learned about these Cabinet ministers in his private conversations.
Meanwhile, other current Cabinet ministers, who were not part of Cabinet at the time and who voted in favour of the traditional definition of marriage back in September, 2003, in the Commons included: Labour Minister Joe Fontana (London North Centre, Ont.), Veterans Affairs Minister Albina Guarnieri (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.), Immigration Minister Judy Sgro (York West, Ont.) Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Joe Volpe (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) and ACOA Minister Joe McGuire (Egmont, P.E.I.).
It's expected all of these Cabinet ministers will vote with the government. Mr. McGuire's office told The Hill Times that Mr. McGuire will vote with the government. "As a member of Cabinet, he will vote for the government's legislation," said Valérie Poulin, a spokesperson for Mr. McGuire.
Ms. Poulin added that Mr. McGuire takes comfort in the fact the legislation won't impact the freedom of churches and religious groups to conduct marriage ceremonies.
One source close to the government told The Hill Times that the controversial legislation will likely pass, but that it won't be easy. The source said there's a lot of behind-the-scenes arm-twisting going on right now.
A vocal critic of same-sex marriage, Mr. O'Brien, who was first elected to the House in 1993, said that public opinion should be taken into consideration before the government introduces any legislation on this issue in the House at the end of next month. And, he added that the best way to guage public opinion would be to get it through a non-binding national referendum and not through public opinion polls.
"It deserves serious consideration. I don't know what the fear of a referendum is. I would suggest that it would be non-binding. You'd go to the Canadian public and clearly ask them a couple of clear questions and give them a chance to personally and directly speak their views," said Mr. O'Brien.
"This may be one of those times where you are talking about something that is so fundamental to Canadians, it's such an emotional issue that we may have a good case to go directly to them. You've heard about all these different polls, different interpretations of what people think, find out directly so that would be the value to do it that way."
Mr. O'Brien said in his view two clear questions should be asked: "Do you support changing the definition of marriage to include a same-sex relationship?" and "Do you support the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but short of changing the law to call it a marriage?" Mr. O'Brien said these questions would yield clear responses from Canadians.
Declared Mr. O'Brien: "The use would be a very clear statement of the public's point of view on it without being filtered through media or pollsters."
When asked if he trusts the media and public opinion polls, Mr. O'Brien said: "It's not that I don't trust them. It's just that they are all over the map. So, I don't think they are reliable enough tool for the government to base its any decisions on it. If you want to factor in the public opinion and I certainly think you should, then get it unfiltered."
But Mr. Martin and the leaders of the three other federal parties Conservative Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) Bloc Gilles Duceppe (Laurier-Sainte-Marie, Que.) and NDP Jack Layton (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.) shot down the idea of a national referendum first proposed by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.
"We haven't been demanding a referendum," said Mr. Harper. "The only thing maybe I could add is I gather Premier Klein has suggested a plebiscite or referendum. If Premier Klein is committed to that, he can always do that in the province of Alberta."
Mr. Harper himself was, however, under sharp criticism from the Prime Minister last week who said that the Leader of the Official Opposition has shown "a lack of courage and a clear lack of leadership" on this issue. Mr. Harper, in turn, came out swinging back and challenged Mr. Martin to allow his MPs and Cabinet ministers to cast their vote according to their consciences.
For Liberal MPs, a vote on same-sex marriage will be a free vote, but the Cabinet ministers will have to maintain Cabinet solidarity and will have to vote with the government.
The government can count on solid support from the NDP and Bloc caucuses with a few exceptions. The NDP's veteran MP Bev Desjarlais (Churchill, Man.), and two or three Bloc MPs, who have not spoken publicly yet, are expected to vote against the legislation.
As for the Conservative Party, its 99-member caucus will reject the bill en masse, except for Belinda Stronach (Newmarket-Aurora, Ont.) and James Moore (Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, B.C.), both of whom have said they would support legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
The head-counting has already started in earnest, by party whips and media. The Globe and Mail citing unnamed sources predicted last week that "about 40 of the Liberals' 134 members will vote against the bill, and that the legislation will eventually pass by about 25 votes."
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Liberal Senator Terry Mercer described the idea of holding a national referendum as "silly," adding that MPs are elected by Canadians and that they should take a clear stand on this issue.
"The referendum is a silly idea. Being elected to Parliament and government's, being selected by the people, is all about leadership and leadership is all about making decisions and decisions aren't always easy," said Sen. Mercer who was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Jean Chrétien last year.
"I'm a practising Catholic. I know how my church stands on this and, quite frankly, I don't care how they stand on this because they're wrong. It's a question of human rights. The God I know, the Christ I follow doesn't discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and a number of the churches, including my own, should be very careful about criticizing. They should clean out their own houses first."
Sen. Mercer said that he supports the government's position to not allowing a vote on same-sex marriage to be a free vote for Cabinet ministers.
"Not for Cabinet ministers. You're on the team or you're off. If you're a backbencher, that's one thing, if you're in the Senate where you have no Cabinet responsibilities, that's another thing. Vote your conscience. However, if you're in the Cabinet, a price of being in the Cabinet is to follow Government policy. You don't follow government policy, you're out." Arana@hilltimes.com The Hill Times
Libs who voted for traditional marriage in 2003
Liberals who voted in favour of the Alliance moved on Sept. 16, 2003 "that, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada."
* Raymond Bonin (Nickel Belt, Ont.)
* Brenda Chamberlain (Guelph, Ont.)
* John Efford (Avalon, Nfld. & Lab.)
* Mark Eyking (Syndey-Victoria, N.S.)
* Joe Fontana (London North Centre, Ont.)
* Albina Guarnieri (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.)
* Charles Hubbard (Miramichi, N.B.)
* Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ont.)
* Walt Lastewka (St. Catharines, Ont.)
* Derek Lee (Scarborough-Rouge River, Ont.)
* Judi Longfield (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.)
* Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ont.)
* John Maloney (Welland, Ont.)
* Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, B.C.)
* Joe McGuire (Egmont, P.E.I.)
* John McKay (Scarborough Guildwood, Ont.)
* Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East, Ont.)
* Shawn Murphy (Charlottetown, P.E.I.)
* Pat O'Brien (London-Fanshawe, Ont.)
* Jerry Pickard (Chatham-Kent Essex, Ont.)
* Andy Savoy (Tobique-Mactaquac, N.B.)
* Judy Sgro (York West, Ont.)
* Paul Steckle (Huron-Bruce, Ont.)
* Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Ont.)
* Alan Tonks (York South-Weston, Ont.)
* Rose-Marie Ur (Middlesex-Kent-Lambton, Ont.)
* Joe Volpe (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.)
* Tom Wappel (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.)
* Bryon Wilfert (Richmand Hill, Ont.)