John Baird’s easiest political victory

The foreign affairs minister’s defence of gay rights was a political no-brainer
Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Rarely have less controversial words emerged from the mouth of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

“Stephen Harper said his government would champion Canadian values,” Baird told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “Someone being put to death because they are a sexual minority is abhorrent to Canadian values.”

Not very many people, anywhere, Canadian or not, would disagree with that second sentence. Some would. Among the organized groups who think Baird shouldn’t say such things is REAL Women of Canada, a group that describes itself as socially conservative. REAL Women questioned Baird’s pro-gay advocacy in Uganda, Kenya and Russia. The press release, and its characterization of Baird as a “left-wing elitist”—a laughable assertion—found its way into most newspapers in the country. The Globe‘s interview with Baird, where he defended his government’s advocacy overseas, awarded that press release three days of summer news coverage.

Immediately, REAL Women’s critics denounced coverage of the release. The organization regularly spouts similar, bizarre views, so why provide it a platform? Baird’s groupies trumpeted his statesmanship, touting him as a future party leader. The Liberals and NDP, who can’t help but criticize the foreign affairs minister on any given day, actually sided with Baird. Everyone else, if they cared, looked on in relative disbelief. After all, even the government’s social conservative MPs, often silenced when they introduce abortion into parliamentary debate, never get so personal with their political masters. Watching a conservative group go after a federal minister was pure spectacle.

All of this wreaks of a summer news story gone wild. REAL Women had nothing to lose by lashing out. In the process, the organization may have concocted the rare story where almost everyone wins. Let’s review: a social conservative group satisfies its constituency by criticizing gay advocacy; a foreign affairs minister earns rare accolades from just about every political corner; political opposition look conciliatory as they offer support; gay rights advocates see their issue on newspapers everywhere; and then, after a few days, it’s on to whatever’s next.

Of course, not everyone wins. What will fade with these headlines is awareness of the anti-gay furor sweeping Uganda and Kenya, among other places. The Sochi Olympics, and talk of boycotts related to anti-gay laws passed in Russia, will keep that country’s fight on Canadian radar for weeks, and maybe months, to come. Everything else, everywhere else, becomes a news brief, maybe, that few will ever notice.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with the unlikely tourist hotspot in Kashmir, a disputed piece of land claimed by the nuclear-capable India and Pakistan. The National Post fronts a U.S. TV station’s refusal to run a billionaire-funded anti-Keystone XL ad during a late-night slot. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with the Ontario ombudsman’s investigation into police de-escalation tactics, in the wake of the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim. The Ottawa Citizen leads with RCMP allegations that Senator Mike Duffy claimed Senate expenses while he campaigned during the 2011 election. iPolitics fronts aboriginal protests of a pending Canada-China investment deal. CBC.ca leads with two teenagers who face child porn charges related to the Rehtaeh Parsons case. CTV News leads with warnings that Americans shouldn’t travel to Pakistan. National Newswatch showcases CBC News‘ story about the RCMP’s pursuit of Duffy’s banking and credit card records.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Floods. More than 400 residents of High River, Alta., have moved into trailers in Saddlebrook, a temporary community north of their flooded homes. The population could grow to 1,200.2. Oilsands. Imperial Oil and Exxon combined to take over a patch of the Alberta oilsands from ConocoPhillips for $751 million—a purchase that ends a year-long stretch that saw no big deals.
3. Discipline. A Mennonite community in Manitoba where the province apprehended all children after claims of assault is being asked by social workers to only spank kids on the behind with no objects.4. Child porn. A former soldier has been charged with 119 counts of child luring and possession of child pornography, among other charges. Matthew Richervezeau, the accused, is 23 years old.
5. Boston bombing. Two teenage friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston marathon bomber, were indicted for attempting to throw away items in Tsarnaev’s dorm room.6. Colombia. Government crackdowns meant coca fields in Colombia only covered 48,000 hectares of the South American nation in 2012, a 25-per-cent drop over the year before.