Alberta Premier Ralph Klein is emerging as the leading figure in the national battle against same-sex marriage, saying yesterday that he is disappointed with federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's efforts to marshal opposition.
Mr. Klein, who has called same-sex marriage "morally wrong," also may soon hit the road on a cross-country tour to shore up public discontent over the issue.
"I wouldn't go now because it's too close to the holidays, but we'll see what happens after the holidays," the Progressive Conservative Premier told reporters yesterday. "I'll see what the mood is."
In the meantime, Mr. Klein is asking Canadians to write to their federal politicians to urge them to "defend the traditional definition of marriage."
Alberta is the only province that has openly objected to the federal Liberals' plans to legalize same-sex marriage in legislation to be introduced as early as next month.
Mr. Klein's comments are the latest in a string of public pronouncements on the matter. Besides suggesting a national referendum on the issue, he has said that if same-sex legislation is passed he will urge federal politicians to demand that the government invoke the notwithstanding clause to stop it.
"I don't know where Stephen Harper is," he said when asked what the federal Opposition Leader was doing to block same-sex marriages. "I can't direct Mr. Harper to do anything, but it would be much more comforting to me and my caucus if he would say that they were going to propose amendments to allow same-sex unions only or to [support using]the notwithstanding clause.
"I don't know if he is going to do that."
Mr. Harper has proposed that the government legislation be amended to entrench the traditional definition of marriage. But he has refused to say whether he supports use of the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The clause is a mechanism that the provincial and federal governments can use to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provincial courts have cited in decisions upholding the right of gay couples to marry.
Earlier this week, deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay accused Mr. Klein of being "anything but helpful" on the controversial issue.
Mr. Klein's 61-member Conservative Party caucus unanimously voted yesterday to pursue all political options at its disposal, including launching the national letter-writing campaign. In recent days, several members of his party have floated potential legal options. They include a plan for the province to stop issuing marriage licences and instead register unions between all couples, as well as a push for a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage.
However, Mr. Klein said after his party's closed-door, three-hour meeting that those ideas have all been "put aside" until the federal government's proposed same-sex legislation is tabled.
Even though Mr. Klein is a "political heavyweight," John Wright, senior vice-president of polling firm Ipsos-Reid, said it's unlikely his lobbying effort will change many minds on same-sex marriage.
"There is a mood in the air for accepting equality rights and I think then that you have to cancel your own political position," he said. "It's not just about the now -- it's about the future." Same-sex couples may now legally marry in six provinces and one territory.
Mr. Wright said Mr. Klein's decision to take the national stage on this issue could damage the federal Conservatives' popularity. "This type of stuff continually paints them into a corner as being right-wing social conservatives, which is not where the votes are."
Nevertheless, Mr. Klein said he will "do whatever it takes" to stop federal same-sex legislation and he plans to write Prime Minister Paul Martin to allow a free vote on the matter so that politicians can "vote their conscience."
Currently, Liberal cabinet ministers are expected to toe the party line. However, two ministers, John Efford, Natural Resources Minister, and Joe Comuzzi, minister responsible for Northern Ontario economic development, have not yet said whether they will support the bill.
Mr. Efford made an announcement in Ottawa yesterday, but refused to say how he will vote.
"I am not going to make any comment today. I said in Newfoundland the other day I owed it to the church leaders of Newfoundland to talk to them first. The story has been taken, twisted around and it's not going to be twisted any more until I meet with the church leaders, and that will be next Tuesday."
Asked for his personal view on same-sex marriage, Mr. Efford said he had no comment and brushed past reporters. He did not say which church leaders he intends to meet.
His spokesman, Tom Ormsby, said Mr. Efford will make a public announcement immediately after their meeting next week.