Conservative Convention 2011 supports traditional family and parental rights
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)--The Conservative Party's 2011 policy convention June 9-11 gave a ringing endorsement to the traditional family and to the rights of parents to raise their children according to their consciences and beliefs.
"This is a party that's not afraid of being conservative," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Catholic, in an interview. "It's a dramatic change from the days of the old Progressive Conservative Party, where social conservatives were not made to feel welcome."
The Conservative Party would support legislation "defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman," and stressed Parliament, not the courts, should determine the marriage definition through a free vote.
"The Conservative Party believes that the family unit is essential to the well-being of individuals and society, because it is where children learn values and develop a sense of responsibility," said the resolution on family and marriage. It also stressed "the right and duty of parents to raise their own children responsibly according to their own conscience and beliefs."
"We believe no person, government, or agency has the right to interfere in the exercise of that duty except through due process of law," it said.
Kenney noted the resolution also included support for religious freedom for ministers and organizations, so that they could refuse to perform ceremonies or to have their facilities used for ceremonies that go against their beliefs.
Parental rights and religious freedom are under strain through Quebec's mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program, which opponents say indoctrinates students in relativism. Seventeen hundred families have sought exemptions for their children. Parents from Drummondville, Que., recently had their case heard before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Parents from Loyola High School in Montreal, a private Catholic high school, took the province to court and won the right to teach the relativistic ERC from a Catholic perspective. Ontario's equity policy is also putting pressure on publicly funded Catholic schools to provide clubs to combat bullying of students because of their sexual orientation.
Though Kenney said he is concerned about the ways "intolerant secularism" can put pressure on parental rights and religious freedom, "we do have a legal framework" for people to defend their rights, the way the Loyola parents did. "It's up to the bishops, church leaders, to vigorously defend the rights of their communities."
"People who are concerned about these things need to lawyer up," he said.
Kenney noted the family also got support through a policy plank supporting tax relief for home caregivers. He called the support for income splitting, which would give tax relief to families that have one parent staying at home to look after children, "huge."
Though the policies adopted by the more than 2,500 delegates from across the country do not bind the new majority Conservative government, they do indicate which policies have the most broad-based support.
At a keynote address June 10, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated the promise to bring in income splitting for families once the budget was balanced. "We promised that a Conservative government would work to strengthen families, not to replace them."
"And so we took money from bureaucrats and lobbyists and gave it to the real experts on child care, and their names are mom and dad!" he said, referring to the Universal Child Care Benefit for parents of pre-school children and other tax breaks.
Kenney noted the "electric response" in Ottawa's new conference centre when Harper made that remark.
Harper signalled during the campaign before the election, however, that he would not use a majority to redefine marriage.
A resolution opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide did not make the final cut, though it was supported by an overwhelming majority at the workshop stage, but Kenney said the Conservative government opposes changing the criminal prohibitions against euthanasia.
The Conservative Party also resolved to "reject the normalization of prostitution," and called for the development of strategy to ensure that keeping a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution - recently struck down by an Ontario court and now under appeal - remain illegal.
"Human beings are not objects to be enslaved, bought, and sold," the resolution said.
The party also supported a resolution in favour of shared parenting or joint custody in the event of marriage breakdown unless it could be shown not to be in the child's best interest.
Though there were no resolutions concerning Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, that says anything "likely" to expose a designated group to hatred or contempt runs afoul of the act, Kenney said getting rid of this section is already Conservative Party policy, since it passed by a 97 per cent vote at the last policy convention.
The Catholic Civil Rights League and other groups have urged the striking of this section because it has been used to stifle freedom of expression and religious freedom, especially Christian expression, by various interest groups.
Kenney agreed there were not many contentious or "hot social issues" at the convention. But the party's keeping to a limited number of policy resolutions is in keeping with Harper's incremental approach to change. Harper also stressed the importance of governing for all Canadians, even those who did not vote for him.
"By saying what we will do and doing what we say, one step at a time, we are moving Canada in a Conservative direction, and Canadians are moving with us," the prime minister said.