Monday, April 07, 2008

Not Quite the Voice of Reason

Prime Minister won't take further action on Lukiwski

It's unlikely that the scandal swirling around a Conservative MP and some homophobic comments he made on a video tape in 1991 will die a quiet death following a public apology and an announcement today that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be disciplining Lukiwski any further.

The tape -- as it has been played and re-played since being made public -- featured, among other things, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary Tom Lukiwski making some virulently homophobic comments (although, considering the party environment in which they were being made, can't quite be taken at full value, although they are nonetheless distressing).

"Let me put it to you this way -- there's As and Bs," Lukiwski explained. "The As are guys like me. The Bs are homosexual faggots with dirt under their fingernails that transmit diseases."

The tape, discovered by NDP staffers in their new offices in the Saskatchewan legislature, almost immediately made it public.

"Obviously I just found out in the last 30-40 minutes that some comments I made back in 1991 have been made public and I just want to publicly say I am truly, truly sorry," said Lukiwski. "I have the utmost respect, I have no prejudice against gay people whatsoever. Those comments do not reflect the type of person I am and I'm very, very sorry."

Of course, Lukiwski's professed "respect" for homosexuals is far from apparent in the comments he made on tape.

Naturally, Lukiwski's apology wasn't quite enough, even for those who demanded it in the first place. "Does the prime minister realize that his tepid response to these hateful remarks against gays and Canadians suffering from AIDS tells Canadians that hate, bigotry and prejudice are just fine in his Canada?" demanded Liberal MP (and former Progressive Conservative) Scott Brison.

"Does the prime minister not realize if he does not act on this matter, if he does nothing, then he owns it?" added Ralph Goodale.

Harper, on the other hand, wasn't buying any of that. "It is my view that when such an apology is sought, such an apology should be accepted," Harper announced.

Upon first consideration, it would seem that Harper is trying to be the voice of reason on this particular issue. But there are deeper considerations at hand; considerations which seem to escape him.

Of course, no one is suggesting that the Prime Minister should cave in every time the opposition attempts to make homophobia a partisan issue; especially considering the fact that it has afflicted all of Canada's major political parties.

But attitudes like Lukiwski's simply must be addressed. Continuing to count him among his government's inner circle after the public airing of such a tape is more than simply bad politics: it really does send the wrong message.

Unfortunately for Harper, his decision not to discipline Lukiwski any further does resemble tacit approval of the comments. Considering the increasingly fickle nature of modern politics, he needs to realize that the resemblance enough is sufficiently damning.

And while the increasingly unforgiving, partisan and bloodthirsty nature of the opposition -- demanding that he be sacked despite the fact that they already got what they claimed they really wanted in the first place -- cannot be discounted, sometimes discretion really is the better part of valour. This is one of those times.

While Stephen Harper would probably be among the first to consider himself the "voice of reason" on this topic, the fact is that he's fallen quite short of it on this occasion.

Lukiwski probably should be demoted in the wake of this scandal. It may only play into the hands of those who favour fickle politics, but it is politics nonetheless.

"The comments I made should not be tolerated in any society. They should not be tolerated today, they should not have been tolerated in 1991 and they should not have been tolerated in the years before that," Lukiwski himself announced.

While his apology may well have been perfectly sincere, actions speak louder than words -- a fact that Harper himself could stand to remember. If Harper won't remove him as Parliamentary Secretary, then Lukiwski should resign.

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