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Stockwell Day's social conservatism threatens once more to become an election issue after he campaigned on the weekend with a Canadian Alliance candidate who calls gay and common-law parents a "disaster for children."

Peter Stock, the Alliance candidate in the Ontario riding of Simcoe-North, has for years been one of Canada's most outspoken opponents of expanding gay rights. He is the director of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, a lobby group that promotes a rigid definition of family -- two married people of the opposite sex and their children -- as the only one that should be recognized in law.

Mr. Day has tried hard to play down his socially conservative beliefs, but campaigning with Mr. Stock in Orillia, Ont., may have given his opponents another opportunity to paint him as too extreme for mainstream voters, particularly those in Eastern Canada.

Gay-rights advocates say Mr. Day's show of support for Mr. Stock is proof the Alliance has an antigay agenda that it has been hiding during the election campaign.

"By endorsing such a visibly antigay candidate and generally intolerant candidate, the Canadian Alliance is showing its true colours in this election," said John Fisher, executive director of Equality for Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (EGALE).

Testifying before a House of Commons committee this spring, Mr. Stock argued against Bill C-23, which extended to gay couples the same pension benefits common-law couples receive. The bill was passed into law in June with all Alliance MPs voting against it.

"Common-law relationships are an absolute disaster for children and should not be supported in public policy or endorsed or encouraged," Mr. Stock told the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in March. Family situations other than the heterosexual two-parent family contribute "no discernible public good" to society, he said.

Mr. Stock is also well known for his anti-abortion beliefs.

He opposed the promotion of Beverley McLachlin to chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada because she is a "radical feminist" with an anti-family bias. His group has intervened in court to protect laws allowing parents to spank their children.

He ran in the same riding in the 1997 election under the Reform Party banner and finished second, 8,500 votes behind Liberal candidate Paul DeVillers.

Alliance spokesman Phil von Finckenstein said Mr. Stock doesn't speak for the party, which welcomes supporters of all backgrounds.

"The Alliance is made up of a lot of different viewpoints, pro-life, pro-choice and libertarian. The one thing that unites us is the democratic process," he said.

Specifically, the Alliance believes social issues such as abortion or whether to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples are best decided by referendum, Mr. von Finckenstein said. "We have strong faith in the common sense of the people."

During the Alliance leadership race this spring, Mr. Stock backed Mr. Day, in part because one of the other main contenders, Ontario Tory strategist Tom Long, had gay campaign workers.

He said that if Mr. Long won the race, it would be "a real problem" for the "pro-family" movement.

Mr. Day has spent much of the election campaign trying to dodge questions about his views on abortion and gay rights.

Meanwhile, both the Liberals and the Conservatives -- the Alliance's two main opponents for the right-of-centre vote -- have tried with middling success to portray Mr. Day's social views as too extreme for mainstream voters in Ontario.

But analysts suggest that while that may be true in downtown Toronto, they may have some appeal in rural parts of the province where the party is hoping for an electoral breakthrough.

The Orillia campaign stop -- where Mr. Day was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of about 300 -- was dogged by protesters who opposed Mr. Stock's candidacy and wanted Mr. Day to distance himself from it.

At one point, the event turned nasty, as an Alliance supporter grabbed a sign from an individual protesting Mr. Day's views on gay rights.

The sign, which urged equality for gays and lesbians, was being held up behind two other protesters, who were being interviewed by a television reporter.

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Retraction

After communication with Alliance candidate Peter Stock, The Globe and Mail has determined it has no evidence to support a statement in an article on Nov. 6 that Mr. Stock backed one leadership candidate in the spring Alliance leadership race in part because another main contender was perceived to have gay campaign workers. The Globe and Mail retracts any such suggestion in the article. (Saturday, November 18, 2000, Page A8)