Harper government reaches out to women

Canada opposes moral relativism in asserting greater women’s rights in free societies – Felix von Geyer in Montreal

In a speech that cribbed John F Kennedy’s idealism, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird championed so-called Canadian values over partisan politics on Friday as he described the road to progress as the road to freedom and that the state’s role is to protect its people regardless of gender, sexuality or faith.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is against moral relativism, Baird told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. “We believe what’s right is right… and what’s wrong is wrong,” continued Baird after highlighting cases he stated violated women’s, children’s and gay rights in countries such as Niger where he cited a 14 year old girl Habiba being forced into marriage, and Uganda where Gay-rights activist David Kato was murdered.

Earlier this year Baird, who has neither confirmed nor denied public rumours and statements surrounding his homosexuality, defended gay rights in a speech to Seventh Day Adventists in the United States, a religious group opposed to homosexuality as the Bible makes no provisions for it.

In both his speech and in subsequent answers to audience questions, Baird defended his decision ten days ago to close Canada’s embassy in Tehran due to Iran’s “abysmal human rights record,” he said.

“People are fighting for dignity,” said Baird as he described a common denominator in today’s rapid changes around the world that he broke down into three essential dignities: to live in freedom; to live in peace and to provide for one’s family.

While Baird described Canada as a “beacon of light…built on values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” liberal democracy cannot be forced upon other societies, although he is “aggressively pursuing a foreign policy to protect the fundamental liberties of people around the world,” he said.

In what appeared to be a rebrand of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s neo-Conservatism into a form of caring Conservatism, Baird echoed Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau by stating that “people are born free” before he used John F Kennedy’s line that “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.”

Poignantly, Baird stated that this commitment was shared with like-minded institutions such as the G8, G20, Commonwealth, Francophonie and “some parts of the United Nations,” he said. Canada withdrew from the UN Kyoto Protocol where the former Liberal government committed the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by the end of this year.

Instead, Canada’s emissions are about a quarter more than 1990 levels and even if Harper’s government realizes its revised target by 2020 in line with the US to reduce emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels, the country will likely remain at least 8 percent above 1990 levels.

Harper’s government hosted both the 2010 G8 and G20 conferences where they emphasized maternal and newborn health initiatives but steadfastly refused to include abortion on the agenda.

In his speech Friday, Baird declared that to “cut off radical extremism at the knees” required more than just equality of men and women but the full participation of women in all parts of civil society .

“Each of us, working toward furthering human dignity, respect and tolerance, will be able to write the history of our generation.”

Such conviction said Baird would drive us to stand up for the rights of women; stand up to the violent mobs that seek to criminalize homosexuality and the terrorists who prey on religious minorities seeking only to practise their faith in peace.”

While Baird stated that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked him to spearhead the discussion on women, peace and security at April’s G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, his claim that “these are not partisan politics, they transcend politics” and that these “distinctively Canadian values shaped by our national experience,” might serve a different purpose.

As federal MPs prepare to reconvene from the summer recess in Ottawa on Monday for what will likely be a further contentious session of Parliament over budgetary issues, the Harper government is well aware that the federal Conservatives are almost the last resort for approximately three-quarters of female voters.

Bridging this gender gap, in particular appealing to urban and suburban female voters, a majority of whom are likely to vote the federal Liberal Party according to some polls, will be a major focus as Harper’s Conservatives try to position themselves into a catch-all party.

A Harris-Decima poll in June indicated a big surge in Liberal support is likely should Montreal MP Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian prime minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau, decide to run for the federal Liberal leadership later this year.