Les Leyne: Social conservative rides his beliefs out the door

You’d think a lifetime spent working in politics would teach someone where the minefields are and how to walk around rather than through them.

But ex-B.C. Liberal candidate Laurie Throness, of Chilliwack, never really got it. He had a knack for igniting mini-controversies with pronounced social conservative views.

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He ran out his string this week with an observation about the NDP’s promise of free prescription contraception – “it has a whiff of the old eugenics thing about it where… poor people shouldn’t have babies.”

Supposing the thinking behind it, he said at a meeting: “We can’t force them to have contraception, so we’ll give it to them for free. And maybe they’ll have fewer babies so there will be fewer poor people in the future. And to me, that contains an odour that I don’t like.”

New Democrats jumped on the remark avidly, as they have with some of his other stands.

There was his position against elements of the sexual orientation gender/identity school program, his defiant advertising support in a Christian newsletter that endorses conversion therapy, his opting out of a vote on transgender rights and persistent questions about his views on gay rights.

The point this time around was that his remark “had the whiff” of a view that there is some secret social engineering conspiracy to depopulate a strata of society, which is over-the-top even by B.C. standards.

Also, the Liberals have adopted the contraception stand too. Coming in the middle of an election campaign, where the handful of B.C. Liberals who make up the party’s right wing always get dragged into play by the NDP, it was enough to push the party leadership to arrange an understanding that Throness would resign.

So Throness exits the party – stage right – as a prime example of someone who’s deeply-held beliefs drew him to trouble like a moth to a flame. We want politicians to stand for their convictions. But they have to be the right convictions.

He’s still in the game as an independent. He could even conceivably make his way back to the legislature. The departure came late so he’s still on the ballot in that conservative-minded riding as a Liberal. Thousands of ballots may already have been mailed in. And he’s won Chilliwack twice by strong margins.

With 36 years of off-and-on experience around politics, it’s strange that he had so much trouble navigating his way to the boundaries, without ­stepping over them.

He was hired in his 20s in 1984 after graduating the Canadian Bible College as an executive assistant to then Social Credit agriculture minister Harvey Schroeder.

Ten years later he signed on with the Reform caucus in Ottawa. He moved to the leader’s office and worked for opposition leaders Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper. When they took power he was chief of staff to cabinet minister Chuck Strahl in several portfolios before returning to B.C.

Along the way he got advanced degrees and wrote a book about the theological underpinnings of the prison system.

Personally, he doesn’t come across as the zealot he gets portrayed as. Smart and hard-working. Deeply immersed in all the files he handles. Courteous and respectful in all but the most heated legislature debates.

But inside the Liberal caucus there was always a question mark beside his name. They spent seven years gingerly holding the view that whatever Throness had on his mind, their party was diverse enough to make room for him, even though few agreed with him.

It must have been exhausting, but it’s over now.

Throness on Friday posted a statement apologizing for using “an incorrect word” and saying Andrew Wilkinson is “a good man who has dealt kindly with me on a personal basis.”

He’ll make it clear he’s an independent and vowed: “I’m in it to win it.”

If he does return as an independent MLA, he’ll be a lot less constrained than he was on a team where everyone was holding their breath wondering what he’d do next.

And Liberals, forced to do exactly what the NDP demanded and surrender a badly-needed seat, can wonder whether allowing such a broad range of views is worth all the trouble.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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