[Blushing update: a reliable source informs me that I misremembered the question I asked 23 years ago — updated below (different, but closely-related issue).]
… (Progressive Conservative at the time) was the 1988 federal election. I’d grown up in Kingston as a Red Tory (socially left, fiscally right), working on campaigns for Flora Macdonald and Keith Norton before I was old enough to vote, but by age 24, living in downtown Toronto, I’d drifted around the political spectrum and generally voted NDP or Liberal, with an occasional crush on Green.
In particular, I disliked our current Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, because he’d pushed out Joe Clark, the last of the great Red Tories. Still, on principal, I always tried to learn something about the local candidates, because in the Westminster System that we follow in Canada, no one votes for a party or leader — we elect local representatives for each Riding, and the government is whoever can convince enough MPs (of any party) to support them.
A direct question
So one day, I was walking down Yonge Street and I ran into the local Progressive Conservative candidate, David MacDonald. MacDonald was an ordained United Church minister at a time when the church was torn apart over the issue of gay ordination; he was also running in a Riding that had both a large gay community (we called it just “Church and Wellesley” at the time — the nickname Gay Village wasn’t current yet, at least not in the hetero community) and a large, often homophobic Catholic immigrant community; finally, he was running for a party that wasn’t exactly in the vanguard of the gay rights movement.
I decided, then, as a cocky 24-year-old, to give him a chance to prove himself with a simple Shibboleth question that would piss off half his church, half his potential supporters, and some faction of his party no matter how he answered it:
Do you support same-sex marriage?
A direct answer
The normal political instinct would be to waffle and try to come up with a wimpy compromise answer (“I support the aspirations, but it’s a difficult question and we need time …” kind of BS). The second instinct would be to be bluntly opposed, in line with the majority of Canadians 23 years ago. But MacDonald gave his answer loudly and without hesitation:
Yes, I support it fully.
That’s the kind of courage I love to see from a politician in any party. When I combined that direct and honest answer (which I happened to agree with) with the fact he had real political experience as a cabinet minister under Joe Clark, I decided that even a 24-year-old Toronto grad student could, I guess, vote Tory just once.
MacDonald won the election and went on to become a cabinet minister during Mulroney’s second term, acting as a moderate voice from inside the cabinet room, where he could do the most good. I had mixed feelings about Mulroney’s government, but I was always happy to know that MacDonald was there to speak for me.
Today, I am still a fan of voting local first, and national second. We need good people in Parliament, willing to represent their constituents. I do care about what party those people belong to, but it’s a secondary consideration. Sure, most MPs vote with their parties, but first, there has to be a consensus in cabinet and in caucus, and the more moderate, reasonable voices you elect there, the less likely that Layton can nationalize Canadian industry, Iggy can start a new war in the Middle East, Harper can ban abortion, or whatever nightmare scenario you happen to have in mind.