Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Tom Warner

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Ten Questions with Tom Warner

In his latest book, Losing Control: Canada's Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights (Between the Lines), author Tom Warner sheds light on the dark side of Canadian politics, especially as it pertains to the "close relationship between a resilient, never-say-die social conservative constituency and the political direction of the federal Conservative Party". The book launches on June 30 at 7pm, at the Croissant Tree.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Losing Control: Canada's Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights.

Tom Warner:

Losing Control examines Canada’s social conservative (religious right) movement as a reactionary, anti-reform insurgency of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. It chronicles the movement’s advocacy on a range of moral issues, from abortion and the regulation of consenting sexuality to same-sex marriage and moral instruction in the public schools, as part of an increasingly desperate fight against losing control of the state’s moral agenda in an age of Charter rights. In doing so, Losing Control also raises disturbing questions about the importance of the social conservative constituency to the federal Conservative Party and to the advancement of Stephen Harper’s agenda to transform Canada into a conservative country. It concludes with a cautionary recounting of social conservatism’s long-term crusade to take back Canada, to regain control of the moral and policy agendas of the state and to restore Canada as a resolutely Christian nation in which Judeo-Christian moral values are the only true “Canadian values.”


OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

TW:

I had a number of specific readerships in mind. I thought the book would appeal to social liberals and progressives who want to learn more about social conservatism and the threat it poses to the pluralistic and secular values that today inform and infuse Canada’s laws, policies and institutions. I also thought it should find a receptive readership among Canadians looking to find answers about whether the Harper government has a hidden agenda and what that agenda may mean for social values and social legislation in Canada. Other potential readers of this book, to my mind, would be those who enjoy social analysis and commentary, even that with which they do not necessarily agree. As well, I hoped that political and social activists, especially youth and queer activists, would read this book to learn more about, and to learn from, some of the titanic social and political conflicts of the recent past. Other readers potentially would be post-secondary students in cultural studies, political science, contemporary history, or social and political movements, as well as those enrolled in sexual diversity studies, queer studies and women’s studies. Finally, I wanted the book to be of interest to university and public libraries in Canada and elsewhere.


OBT:

Tell us about the research you did for Losing Control.

TW:

As a gay activist for nearly 40 years, I was very familiar with the various social conservative groups, the issues on which they had advocated their strategies for advancing their moral and political agendas and the evangelicalism that motivated and informed their advocacy. I was able to use that familiarity as the starting point, to frame the ambit of my exploration of social conservatism and the research for the book. For the research itself, I drew mainly upon a variety of primary sources, often obtained from the websites of social conservative groups. These included mission statements, legal factums, briefs and other submissions prepared for legislators, press releases, newsletters, and educational, advocacy and promotional materials produced by the groups. Other valuable sources were newspaper and other media reports about social conservative advocacy, especially those that are now posted online by various media outlets. And, of course, there have been a number of books published recently that have examined the rise of social conservatism within the political realm, beginning with the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance and, more recently, the united right Conservative Party, that I was also able to consult.


OBT:

Why do you think there has been a recent rise in social conservatism in Canada?

TW:

One of the perspectives that I present in Losing Control is that Canada was founded as a socially conservative country devoted to preserving British traditions as well Christian values and morality. Those traditions and values were vigorously promoted by the state and state institutions in colonial times and for nearly 100 years following Confederation in 1867. Indeed, until the mid-20th century, Christianity and most particularly Christian values and morality were central to the national identity and Canada was by all accounts a “Christian democracy” in which the Christian religion held a privileged constitutional, legal and cultural role.

During most of the 20th century, evangelical Christian reformers preached social democracy based on co-operative action to achieve social and economic justice. They advocated for the introduction of social programs -- welfare, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and labour laws supporting the formation and rights of trade unions. They also were instrumental in fostering what became modern sociology and social work and in the establishment of the social welfare state. In contrast, as I explore in Losing Control, the modern social conservative movement emerged in the 1970s as an angry and militant response by, primarily, evangelical Protestants and evangelical Roman Catholics to their gradual loss of control over the moral agenda of the nation. The modern social conservative movement is a response to the transformation of Canada into a secular state increasingly defined by the principle of separation of church and state and the primacy of human of rights and equality. Over the last four decades, it has sought to defeat radical new forces for social change, especially the feminist and pro-choice movements, gay liberation and the movement for same-sex equality rights, as well as the atheism of secular humanism. The movement’s advocates have focused their efforts on repelling those whom they see as the godless secularists, advocates of sexual immorality and moral relativism, politicians who promote immorality and anti-family policies, and unaccountable, activist judges and human rights commissions armed with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


OBT:

What was your first publication?

TW:

Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada. It was published in 2002 by the University of Toronto Press.


OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

TW:

That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think I can name three books specifically. What I would suggest, is visiting one of our many excellent public libraries and finding a good book on Canadian history, one on the geography of Canada and then one on human rights laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


OBT:

What are you reading right now?

TW:

Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.


OBT:

What’s the best response to your writing that you've received from a reader?

TW:

I would have to say that it is the comments of younger LGBT people that they found Never Going Back to be an engaging and highly informative primer on the history of queer activism in Canada.


OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

TW:

Write about something that you feel strongly or passionately about and write in a way that is distinctive and says something new, different or thought provoking. Then, write about it in a way that is readable, and engages or challenges the reader. Do extensive research of potential publishers to find those who would be inclined to publish your book and then send out a well-written proposal that will persuade them to accept your manuscript.


OBT:

What is your next project?

TW:

I don’t have anything specific in mind right now. I don’t feel compelled to write another book just for the sake of having another book published. If I feel inspired to expound on a topic and believe that I have something to say about it that other people would be interested in reading, I’ll sit down at the keyboard and start on another manuscript.


Tom Warner has been a gay activist for over thirty-five years. He got started in 1971 by helping to found the Gay Students’ Alliance at the University of Saskatchewan and, in 1971–1972, the Zodiac Friendship Society, which later became the Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon. After moving to Toronto in 1973, he helped to found the Gay Alliance Toward Equality and served as the group’s president from 1976 to 1977. Tom is the author of the widely acclaimed Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada.

For more information about Losing Control: Canada's Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights please visit the Between The Lines Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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