Reading Time: 4 minutes The ad that appeared in The Light.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The British Columbia Liberal Party (BC Liberals) is under fire for running a series of ads in a local Christian magazine with a track record of posting decidedly illiberal arguments concerning sexuality, abortion, medically-assisted dying, and other hot-button Religious Right issues.

While it’s normal for political parties to advertise in community publications, including those directed at niche demographics, this specific choice of magazine leaves some people questioning what values the BC Liberals truly stand for.

Progressive media outlet PressProgress broke the story earlier this week, in which they showed the receipts — literally — proving that at least twelve Liberal members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) allocated part of their community advertising budget, amounting to $1,700 (CAD) to Light Christian Media Inc., publishers of The Light Magazine. (That amount is expected to increase once numbers for 2020, not yet available, become part of the public record.)

Here’s the core issue: Even the most vaguely progressive voters would likely take a dim view of The Light‘s editorial positions on a whole range of topics, all the familiar battlegrounds of the Christian right — especially where LGBTQ Canadians are concerned. The choice calls into question the very values of the BC Liberal Party.

It also represents a concern for BC taxpayers who object to seeing their tax dollars propping up a magazine that urges restrictions on human rights and harm to LGBTQ Canadians in particular.

One ad, wishing readers a “Happy Thanksgiving from the BC Liberal Caucus,” appears across from a hectoring editorial invoking the Bible to condemn “sexual immorality” (with little indication of a distinction between the extremes of consensual encounters and child sex trafficking). Elsewhere in the same issue, contributors condemn conversion therapy bans and sex education programs as impediments to freedom. The magazine also reproduces an anti-choice editorial by Unplanned author Abby Johnson.

The April 2020 issue of The Light included another Liberal ad, wishing readers a happy Easter. The same issue includes yet more articles in favor of conversion therapy, fear-mongering over the ban’s impact and lionizing a father who wanted to “convert” his trans child.

Previous and subsequent issues have taken on on other contentious topics, like medically-assisted dying, same-sex marriage, and absolute parental veto rights over trans medical care for children.

On top of it all, as of 2020, the magazine features a monthly column penned by BC Liberal MLA Simon Gibson.

Taken together, the facts suggest a relationship between the BC Liberal Party and an anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice media outlet that’s a little too close for comfort, especially among voters affected by the issues.

Following the release of the PressProgress story, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson responded in a tweet — not with an apology, but with a promise to do better in the future:

There is no room in the BC Liberal Party for homophobia, transphobia, or any other form of discrimination. Going forward, we are taking immediate steps to ensure our advertising decisions reflect those values at all times.

Wilkinson’s words seem tailored to create the impression that the whole affair is a mistake or a miscommunication, a case of advertising dollars being allocated in good faith but without adequate attention to the values of the publications chosen, easily fixed with an internal review. But, given the long history of anti-LGBTQ positions expressed by some of the politicians featured in the ads, that’s not easy to accept.

Consider Marvin Hunt, who’s paid for individual advertising in The Light as well as participated in the aforementioned group greetings. In 2014, Hunt and Laurie Throness joined with Gibson to vote against transgender rights. And in 2016, Hunt spoke against amending the BC Human Rights Code to include protections for trans people.

Throness, who serves as Opposition Critic for Children and Family Development and Childcare, is as bad if not worse. He’s publicly mused about anti-Christian bigotry from the LGBTQ community, and as recently as 2018, he vocally argued that even acknowledging the existence of trans people in a provincial anti-bullying initiative could harm children.

Oh, and lest we assume these legislators are solely a threat to the LGBTQ set, let’s not forget the time he accompanied fellow Liberal MLA Rich Coleman — also featured in the ads — to an anti-abortion rally in front of the BC Legislature.

Throness, Hunt, Coleman, and Gibson are all among the legislators whose advertising budgets included payments to Light Christian Media Inc.

Generally speaking, it’s pretty standard for both provincial and federal Liberals to try to shore up their voter count by siphoning off disaffected conservatives. But if the BC Liberals are willing to endorse open bigotry to court right-wing voters, what do they really stand for? Or is it, as the above politicians demonstrate, that the bigotry is coming from inside the house?

Not everyone involved in the ad scandal shows signs of rank bigotry, though. Kamloops MLA Todd Stone is garnering praise for taking his response one step further than Wilkinson did, listing concrete steps he’ll take to prevent similar errors in future:

I was very, very concerned to learn that advertising dollars from my constituency budget had been recently used to co-sponsor ads in The Light Magazine… I am accountable that this has happened and, as a result, I have decided that my office will no longer be advertising in this magazine. I’m in the process, along with my staff, of reviewing all advertising decisions within our constituency office to make sure that all advertising decisions that we make moving forward align fully with my values.

While technically Stone never said he was sorry, perhaps an admission of accountability and a practical plan to do better is the most sincere form of apology… assuming, of course, that he follows through.

As for Wilkinson, if he really means it when he says discrimination has no place in his party, maybe it’s time to clean house.

(Thanks to Rick for the link)