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Canada's Equality Bill Falls Victim to Liberal Caucus Leadership Row

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THE House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights today voted 11-4 to accept the anti-marriage amendment proposed by Justice Minister Anne McLellan to the equality bill.

Member of Parliament Svend Robinson failed repeatedly yesterday and this morning to prevent the amendment from being proposed on the basis of it being 'out of order.'

The proposal from the government yesterday, surprising everyone because it  had been expected it to be put before the Committee by the Reform Party, comes on the heels of the Chretien government apparently patching up dissent within its ranks.

Speculation on the week-end was intense that the Liberal caucus would be attempting to remove Prime Minister Jean Chretien as leader of the Party in preparation for the next election.  As well, some documents had been leaked which reportedly described a plan to have Finance Minister Paul Martin assume the leadership.

"Put that in the garbage," Minister Martin told the press Tuesday, amid smiles and confirmations from Liberal Members of Parliament that everything in the Party was fine and no question of leadership existed.

The Cabinet had been summoned to the Prime Minister's residence Sunday evening for dinner.  It was a 'no shop talk' affair with the Ministers reportedly singing.

Also on the week-end was the Liberal Party national convention here in Ottawa.  Only one proposal put to the Party members from across the country was contentious at all:  same sex marriage.

The motion was defeated, not overwhelmingly, but noteworthy in the voting was the age split:  younger Party members generally favoured it.

The Prime Minister's speech urging the Party to remain committed to its left-of-centre ideals, including "protection of minorities," came only minutes after the motion's defeat.

Opposition to the equality bill from within the Liberals' own ranks has been made clear since its introduction, especially regarding the bill's alleged threat to marriage 'as an institution.'  This, in combination with right wing groups protesting and being quite vocal in their opposition, meant the Cabinet had been getting it from all sides.

John Fisher, Executive Director of the national rights / lobby group Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), commented following the amendment's proposal yesterday: "The Government's commitment to doing the right thing and affirming human rights is not sufficiently strong to prevent them from compromising if they think it will be to their advantage.  In this case, I believe their strategic analysis is badly flawed and, in trying to please everyone, they will end up pleasing no-one."