OTTAWA - Nearly a year after Parliament shelved the
same-sex marriage debate, Canada's socially
conservative thinkers are shifting gears and pushing
government to promote and support the traditional
There was nary a mention of same-sex marriage at
a policy conference Thursday of the Institute for
Marriage and Family Canada.
Instead, speakers that included economists and
writers emphasized the benefits of marriage to the
social fabric and the economy.
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper announcing a
$13.5-billion surplus would ultimately translate
into tax reductions, the notion of income-splitting
was a popular topic.
Right now married Canadians are taxed as
individuals, but allowing them to split the total
family income would be especially advantageous in
situations where one spouse stays at home.
"If we have high taxation, people also appear to
have fewer children," said David Quist, executive
director of the institute.
"The two go hand in glove and that's a large part
of what today is, to talk about strong family and
If we have a weak family, we will in turn have a
weak society as well."
Said Douglas Cryer of the Evangelical Fellowship
of Canada: "There's things to consider, such as
income splitting and other measures the government
can do to strengthen marriage.
Ultimately, it's a cultural as well as a
We can't ask government to solve the problem of
All of us need to work on it together."
Most alarming to many participants was a
Statistics Canada study released earlier this month
that suggested fewer Canadians are getting married
and more are in common-law relationships.
Still, a married couple remained at the centre of
70 per cent of families.
American economist Jennifer Roback Morse, a
research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study
of Religion and Liberty, said her own research has
shown that marriage is a much healthier proposition
She said women and their children who lived with
boyfriends were more likely to face violence.
She too suggested legislators should be
encouraging marriage through their policies and
"They should be looking at not treating
cohabitation as equivalent to marriage," said Roback
"Living together for one year is not equivalent
to marriage, and it's not good policy to say it is.
Taxing people as individuals is a mistake, it's
better to treat marriage as a real functioning
All speakers emphasized the welfare of children
as central to supporting traditional marriages.
Fellow economist Doug Allen, of Simon Fraser
University, suggested the government could help by
revising its position on child support.
He argued the guidelines for payments result in
some custodial parents - mostly women - getting too
He said the system acted as an incentive to
divorce for some.
"For me the main goal is to have a greater
proportion of children living with two married
parents," said Allen.
But is the Conservative government listening?
Income splitting is still being actively
discussed in Harper's circles, and modest steps were
taken in the last budget to remove any unequal
treatment between singles and married couples.
His government did away with the concept of a
national child-care program, but introduced a $100
per month taxable payment for every child a family
has under the age of 6.
Jason Kenney, one of the party's leading social
conservatives and secretary of state for
multiculturalism, attended most of Thursday's
Quist is optimistic the message is getting
"The family advocates are having the best hearing
that they've had with this government for many, many
years...," Quist said.
"I find that encouraging.
There are people who are willing to listen to
some of the discussions that are going on today or
similar discussions in the public sphere."