With international delegates already trickling into town for “Pre-Conference Conference(s)”, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision not to officially open the International Conference on AIDS this month in Toronto is calculated and cynical but, alas, hardly surprising.
From a political point of view – and Harper is, after all, an experienced political strategist – the AIDS Conference is a no-win for the Conservative prime minister. With its mixture of health professionals and AIDS activists the Canadian delegates, at the very least, would probably boo the P.M. I dare say the two ministers Harper is sending, Health Minister Tony Clement and Josée Verner, Minister of International Cooperation, will receive such a greeting. From a political point of view Harper is cutting his losses. Frankly he and his government could not care less about any fall-out from Canadian activists or international delegates.
It is important to lay out part of the Conservative record, or lack thereof, on the HIV/AIDS file. While HIV/AIDS in Canada continues to affect gay men, with 51% of cases, the rate of incidence among women and First Nations is growing the fastest. Women, but especially First Nations, are hardly a growing voter constituency for the Conservative Party. The most glaring reason for this is the Harper government’s speedy rescinding of the federal government’s signature on the Kelowna Accord, reached between the then-Liberal government and First Nations leaders, shortly after last January’s election. This agreement would have only begun to redress some of the more glaring lack of basic services and living standards of Canada’s First Nations.
Prime Minister Harper’s “scheduling decision” (the expression he used at a news conference following a government retreat today) proves that while he could very easily have come to Toronto he has chosen not to. Shame!
For the record I will be out of Toronto the week of the conference. My health simply precludes me from playing an active role as a volunteer and I will be visiting my Mom.