As Pride month rolls along, there have been questions raised as to whether or not Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre would march in a Pride parade somewhere in the country, with the usual request being Toronto. At the announcement on emergency Pride funding, the executive director of Toronto Pride, Sherwin Modeste, even made a personal appeal to Poilievre and all other federal leaders to attend in order to send a message at a time when anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate is rising in the country, and when rights are being put under attack in provinces like New Brunswick.
Thus far, Poilievre has refused to say whether he will attend, and it’s increasingly unlikely that it would happen. It should be noted that during the Pride flag raising on Parliament Hill, Poilievre not only didn’t attend, but scheduled a press conference at the same time.
When asked about attending Pride, Poilievre told reporters he would “be joining with all Canadians to celebrate the fact that gays and lesbians have the freedom in this country to live their lives, and raise their families in peace, in safety, and in acceptance.” He then said he’d let reporters know how he’ll be doing that celebrating. While several members of his caucus did attend York Pride last weekend, which has been one Pride that other conservatives including Ontario premier Doug Ford have felt comfortable attending and did again this year, Poilievre did not.
During his four-hour faux-libuster about the most recent budget bill in the House of Commons on June 7 (which was not an actual filibuster like he claimed it was), one of the topics that Poilievre raised was diversity, and how he views its celebration as a form of government control. Poilievre said he believes “in judging people based on their personal character, not based on their group identity.” He also said that dividing people by groups “allows the woke estate to control people,” declaring that this is “the prime minister’s objective.”
The fact that he said the “woke estate” on the record in the House of Commons, and that diversity is “control” is a very troubling sign. It signals that for someone who has been in politics as long as he has, he has managed to avoid seeing the very real problems of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia that are still prevalent in Canadian society, some of which are on the rise. Insisting that he wants to judge people based on personal character and not group identity may sound utopian and egalitarian, but it tends to come from a place of white, cis, heterosexual male privilege that is perfectly happy to ignore that people with particular group identities both face particular barriers and that the “personal character” standards are often based on white cis-het male standards.
Poilievre buying into the “woke” panic is not new either, and he has frequently tried to make “when the government goes woke, Canadians go broke” happen in his railing about government spending, but he has also applied it in defence of people like Jordan Peterson, whom Poilievre venerates. As part of Peterson’s battle with the licensing body for psychologists in Ontario, Poilievre has decried the supposed “woke censors” whom he sees as trying to muzzle Peterson, trying to cast the blame onto the Trudeau government, nevermind that the regulatory college is an independent provincial body.
And while the “woke” panic is one thing, Poilievre’s silence is another, particularly when it comes to the fact that he has yet to denounce rising violence against queer and trans people, or the protests that are happening at drag queen story times, or Pride events around the country.
In Monday’s by-election in Portage-Lisgar, Manitoba, the Conservative candidate, Branden Leslie, was captured on video saying that he would have voted against the ban on conversion therapy because he thinks that youth can be “spiritually counselled” out of being gay or trans, and raised the false assertion that the RCMP would be knocking on pastors’ doors as a result (nevermind that if the Mounties are knocking on their doors, it’s statistically more likely because they are being charged with sexual offences against children).
Poilievre not only didn’t denounce his candidate’s statements, but that particular by-election has seen Poilievre and his candidate trying to go even harder on far-right talking points and conspiracy theories because People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier was also running. Poilievre was very much trying to crush Bernier so that he could claim that Bernier was irrelevant, in an attempt to bring Bernier’s far-right followers into the Conservative tent.
It’s unlikely that would happen, however, because enough polling was done in the last election to show that Bernier’s supporters were not disaffected Conservatives, but were mostly people who simply didn’t otherwise vote. It’s unlikely to think that they will again because many see Poilievre as a sellout, no matter how much he pushes the Overton window of acceptable speech further to the extremes on the right, and how much he plays into their conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum, or what have you. Meanwhile, attacks against queer and trans communities continue from these far-right extremists, whose activities Poilievre turns a blind eye to.
While some of Poilievre’s MPs may try to claim that because he named out lesbian Melissa Lantsman as a deputy leader, and the fact that he has a gay father as “proof” that the party is inclusive, Poilievre’s conspicuous silence and his continued desire to court those very voters who are engaged in attacks on the queer and trans communities is as much of a declaration of his indifference to our communities as his refusal to participate in Pride events. I will say again that he can’t cherry-pick the culture war he wants to fight, and aligning himself with far-right actors is a very telling sign of where the protection of minority rights rates on Poilievre’s list of priorities.