Saturday, October 02, 2004

Martin May Delay Gay 'Marriage' Bill

Oct. 2, 01:02 EDT
Same-Sex Bill in Limbo
'Secret' document says feds plan to put controversial issue off at least a
year
Tonda Maccharles
Toronto Star

The governing Liberals expect a swift decision from the Supreme Court of
Canada on the proposed same-sex marriage law but plan to delay bringing the
bill to Parliament until fall 2005, a leaked cabinet document indicates.

The document is silent on the reasons for such a delay. The bill would then
have to go through study by a parliamentary committee before a vote. Under
that scenario, a vote could be delayed until 2006.

The timeframe suggests Prime Minister Paul Martin, who campaigned on
protecting Charter rights, is reluctant to rekindle the divisive debate
within his own party while it is in a precarious minority position, or to
whip up the issue before a possible election.

Even though Martin has only 135 Liberal seats in the Commons, most in the
Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat caucuses could be expected to support a
same-sex marriage law, as they did last year on a simple motion that saw
more than 50 Liberals break ranks with the government.

The document outlining cabinet's agenda, obtained by the Toronto Star, also
red-flags another controversial issue facing Martin's government: three
requests by Bombardier for billions of dollars in federal aid in the short-
and long-term.

Most of the money -- $48.8 billion -- would go to development costs and
sales financing support over 20 years for a new family of commercial jets,
called the "Cseries."

In addition, cabinet faces a request from Bombardier for $1.5 billion as
part of a "domestic sales financing program."

Cabinet has already approved the creation of a program at Industry Canada
"to facilitate the sale" by Bombardier of 45 Canadair Regional Jets to Air
Canada, it says. But further cabinet approval is required to release the
funds.

As well, Bombardier wants $50 million in research and development funding
from Technology Partnerships Canada (a federal lending agency) for a
$200-million "strategic aerospace technologies" project.

The total bill: about $50 billion US over more than 20 years.

The cabinet document also shows Ottawa wants to maintain current
"operational" immigration target levels at about 225,000 -- a decision
described as "not a controversial announcement." But it warns such levels
threaten efforts to reduce backlogs and delays that have frustrated
newcomers.

It also says Canadian health regulations must be amended to allow federal
authorities to collect from the provinces information to help prevent the
international spread of disease.

One federal source says the Liberals' plan to introduce a lot of new
legislation in the new Parliament. A throne speech on Tuesday will set the
agenda.

But on gay marriage, Liberals appear set to stall a vote, even as they plan
how to deal with the issue in public.

"The government of Canada intends to continue to emphasize the role of
Parliament and the necessity of respecting the Constitution, especially when
it comes to the protection of minority rights," it says.

The document says Justice Minister Irwin Cotler expects to return to cabinet
in the spring for authorization to table the bill later in the fall of 2005.

"As the issue of marriage between same-sex couples carries with it a certain
polarization, it is likely that the media will continue to highlight every
example of diverging opinions within the Liberal caucus and in cabinet over
what approach to adopt," says the "secret" document.

Wednesday, the draft bill on same-sex marriage goes before the judges of
Supreme Court of Canada. Three days of oral arguments are scheduled, after
which the high court is expected to reserve its decision.

The proposed law is brief.

It says "access to marriage for civil purposes should be extended to couples
of the same sex," and "officials of religious groups are free to refuse to
perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs."

The issue exposes divisions in all parties and caucuses.

Yesterday, Conservative justice critic Vic Toews said social policy is a
matter for Parliament, not the courts.

"I'm very concerned that the government is using the court to advance a
political agenda. I think that what the court should really be doing is
simply saying to the government: 'Look, this is your issue. It's your
obligation to table legislation. Table that legislation in the House.' Have
that discussion and debate in the house, and then allow the judicial
challenges to take place after that."