Since we’re looking at a federal election in this country on Tuesday, I thought it might be a good time to look at the records of the parties.
The parties’ platforms are discussed at length on other sites. But platforms during an election are airy things — anyone can promise the moon. I personally believe that past performance is the best predictor of future behaviour, when it comes to party politics.
It will likely come as no surprise that the New Democratic Party has by far the best record of any sitting party on LGBTQ issues. This started forty-one years ago, in 1967, when party founder and Baptist minister Tommy Douglas became the first parliamentarian to call for the legalization of homosexuality. This support became official in 1976, when the party was the first to make support of the gay liberation movement a part of its platform.
The party has most of “firsts” of LGBTQ politics. It ran its first openly gay candidate in 1988 (Douglas Wilson). After the 1988 election, the NDP’s Svend Robinson became the first member of parliament to come out publicly. In 2001, Libby Davies of the NDP became the first queer woman parliamentarian to come out. In 2004, Bill Siksay became the first MP to come out before he was elected and still win his seat.
The party was also the first to propose same-sex marriage — Robinson had been arguing for this throughout the 1990s. It regularly whips LGBTQ-related votes in our favour, such as the vote to add us to the human rights code, and to add violence against us to the hate-crimes provisions. It has “affirmative action committees” made up of LGBTQ members of the party that drafts its policies on queer issues.
The NDP was the only party to whip the most recent vote on same-sex marriage. One NDPer voted against it — Bev Desjarlais — and was remove from the shadow cabinet as punishment. She later lost the nomination for her riding. In an earlier free vote on the definition of marriage in 1999, eleven of fourteen New Democrats in the House of Commons voted not to keep the heterosexual-only definition of marriage.
On immigration issues, the NDP’s newest MP Thomas Mulcair made a name for himself fighting the deportation of Kulenthiram Amirthalingam to Malaysia, where he has already suffered violent persecution as a gay man.
Some activists have taken the NDP to task on the age-of-consent crime bill, as the party whipped the vote in favour of it. Age of consent laws are known to be enforced unevenly to control the sexuality of gay teenagers, and there’s a different age of consent for anal sex.
Still, it should be noted that Bill Siksay was the only MP of any party to vote against the bill, and unlike Bev Desjarlais when she voted against marriage, he remains a member of the shadow cabinet and a candidate. Not one Blocquiste, Liberal, or Conservative voted against it.
The NDP is also only party to put forward bills to prevent discrimination against trans people.
At the time parliament was dissolved last month, the NDP had two out MPs among its thirty — Bill Siksay and Libby Davies. The news site Xtra.ca claimed that the party is running seven out candidates across Canada in 308 ridings, but one has since written to me to inform me that she is not queer — she was misidentified by the newspaper — so that makes six.
The Bloc has the second-best record of the four parties in parliament. It was the second party to have an openly-gay MP — Réal Ménard, who came out in 1995 when Liberal Roseanne Skoke was fighting against our inclusion in the hate crimes bill.
On the majority of LGBTQ issues, most Blocquistes have voted with the NDP — same-sex marriage, hate crimes legislation, the human rights code. Bloc MPs have spoken passionately on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to unfair immigration laws.
Its voting record has been good overall — although it nearly stopped same-sex marriage in its tracks by voting against a Liberal budget bill at a crucial moment — but the party is hampered by the fact that’s it’s a nationalist party first and foremost, rather than a left-wing party. For this reason, votes on things like same-sex marriage are never whipped in the Bloc. Seven MPs voted against same-sex marriage, and were never punished in any way.
Louise Thibault — one of the ones who voted against same-sex marriage — quit the party in 2007 over pressure to vote against re-opening the same-sex marriage debate. Thibault issued a statement a week into this election with five other former Bloc MPs, saying that the Bloc no longer represents Quebec’s interests. The five ex-Blocquistes lamented that the Bloc is now just another left-wing party.
Duceppe shrugged off criticism. But Conservative support has been rising for years in rural Quebec, and the Bloc now has to fight battles off its right flank — and from its own former right-wing MPs. Duceppe says he represents the consensus of opinion in Quebec, but as the province polarizes between an increasingly left-wing Montreal and the rest of the province, a real consensus will become harder and harder to find.
The Bloc had had two openly-gay MPs at the time the election was called — Réal Ménard, and a left-wing Catholic priest named Raymond Gravel. Gravel (who was pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage) was ordered by the church not to run again, so Ménard is their only out candidate in all of Quebec’s 75 ridings.
The Liberal Party
The Liberals are the oldest party still going — the Harper Tories really are a new party, after all — so they have the longest record to look at. Sadly, the Liberal Party shines its brightest the farther back you go.
Way back in 1892, a Liberal named David Mills actually asked if homosexuality should be punishable with jail time. He thought whipping was sufficient. Even Wilfrid Laurier — then leader of the Opposition — managed to express some criticism over the vagueness of the law.
Fast-forward sixty-five years, and Pierre Trudeau was calling the legalization of homosexuality — though only after the NDP had raised the subject. The Liberals rightly deserve credit for legalizing homosexuality. Trudeau famously statement that there is “no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
In 1978, the Liberals also passed legislation allowing openly homosexual people to immigrate to Canada.
When the torch passed to Jean Chrétien, though, the Liberals’ star began to dim. Chrétien was much more prepared to move with political winds than Trudeau had ever been. And the political winds in the 1980s and 1990s were the rising clout of the religious right.
The Liberals’ lowest moment on LGBT issues came on June 8, 1999, when they voted overwhelming in favour of the one man/one woman definition of marriage. Only three new democrats voted in favour, to eleven against, and none of those are still involved in the party. By contrast, the 131 Liberals — the majority of the 216 votes — voted in favour of the heterosexual-only definition of marriage. Only ten Liberals voted against.
It would be easy to dismiss this as ancient history, but many of the names on the list are people who are still very much involved in the Liberal Party — including some very disappointing ones. Seeing Marlene Jennings’ name on the list of those who voted for this piece of homophobic legislation, you’d never suspect she now frequently marches in Montreal’s gay pride parade.
Of all the members of the 2008 Liberal Shadow Cabinet who were sitting MPs back in 1999, only three did not vote in favour of keeping marriage unequal. Hedy Fry didn’t show up that day. Scott Brison was a Progressive Conservative. Colleen Beaumier — critic for multiculturalism — was the only Liberal who voted no to the homophobic bill and still manages to hold power in the party.
Even more worrying is the Liberal leadership. Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and Stéphane Dion all voted against in favour of the homophobic definition of marriage. In fact, the only Liberal leader (past or future potential) since Turner who could claim credibility on the issue is Bob Rae, who tried to extend benefits to same-sex couples way back in 1994 when he was an NDP premier of Ontario. Michael Ignatieff’s views at the time are unknown.
It’s not surprising then that the Liberals appealed all three supreme court decisions requiring the government to extend the definition of marriage to same-sex couples. To my knowledge, no one has counted how much it cost the taxpayers to engage in this stalling game.
When the Supreme Court of Ontario finally gave up on the government and made same-sex marriage available immediately, many Liberals followed the prevailing wind and experienced an instantaneous conversion. Those who’d voted no — like Jennings and Dion, Chrétien and Martin — suddenly set themselves up as champions of equality. I have never heard one of these converts apologize for the vote, nor even heard a reporter ask about it, but they did vote in favour of same-sex marriage when the bill came up again.
Not all the Liberals got the message that things had changed though. When the vote came up for the government to confirm what the courts had already done on same-sex marriage, just over one-third of Liberal MPs voted against equal marriage. They were, of course, never punished, as the Liberals didn’t want to split the party.
Not wanting to split the party has generally been the post-Chrétien Liberals’ mode of operation when dealing with LGBTQ issues. This is why when Liberal MPs Roseanne Skoke and Tom Wappel were never punished for attacking their own government, when it tried to introduce stiffer penalties for homophobic violence back in 1994.
This may also explain why the Dion Liberals do not have a plank about LGBTQ rights in their official platform — it could cause internal problems.
When the election was called, Scott Brison and Mario Silva were the party’s only two out members. It’s running a total of four out candidates this election in 307 ridings.
The Conservative Party of Canada
What can I say about this party? Its evil on LGBTQ issues is so well-known as to be proverbial in our community. When a study was released this year saying that only 7% of gay men and 10% of lesbians voted for Harper last election, the only shock was that the numbers were that high.
Still, it’s helpful to go over the reasons why there’s so little support for this party in our community, in case you’re ever in an argument with a gay Conservative — most of the ones I’ve talked to believe that Harper’s homophobia is a media invention:
- Harper’s Conservatives have overwhelmingly opposed same-sex marriage, homosexuality, LGBTQ human rights, and our culture. They’ve been the main engine of the religious right in making itself heard in Canada — and with 70 evangelical Christians among its 129 in the last parliament, it’s easy to see why.
- It gives its most extreme evangelicals positions of power — like handing Stockwell Day the job of Minister of Public Safety, and giving Focus on the Family’s Darryl Reid a place next to Harper in the Prime Minister’s Office. Of course, the most powerful of these evangelicals is Stephen Harper himself, who is a member of an extreme church called the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
- Its voting record is atrocious on all LGBTQ issues — on the same-sex marriage vote, for instance, 93 voted against same-sex marriage, while 5 voted in favour. Harper also killed the Court Challenges program, which we had used to fight unjust laws like unequal marriage.
- Sometimes its members slip their leashes and say things we suspect most of the party is thinking, as when Tom Lukiwski was caught telling a camera that homosexuals spread disease. The seminars run by Preston Manning and Tristan Emmanuel — aimed at helping evangelicals to disguise themselves as fiscal conservatives — don’t help the party’s image as a Trojan horse for puritans.
- Harper led the crusade against same-sex marriage. He tried to play cultural communities off against our community in a move that managed to insult everyone.
- He’s made war on LGBTQ culture, attempting to deny film credits to our movies, and cutting funding to queer cultural events like Montreal’s Black & Blue because they aren’t “family friendly” enough.
This list is by no means exhaustive, of course. But then space is limited.
To be fair, not every single Conservative MP is homophobic. The party does include a few purely fiscal Conservatives. Jim Prentice is one who has real credibility on the issue — he voted in favour of same-sex marriage. But the Prentices are a very tiny minority within the party.
The Conservatives are only running one out candidate — Lorne Mayencourt in Vancouver. Another out candidate named Chris Reid in Toronto dropped out of the race after saying that the passengers of a Greyhound bus who witnessed a decapitation should have fought back. Reid said, “This is where socialism [has] gotten us folks, a castrated effeminate population.” For many gay men, the statement resonates with homophobia.
There is at least one more gay man in the Conservatives race, as keen observers of Ottawa political culture know. But as he’s one of the fiscal conservatives with a decent record on LGBTQ issues, I won’t be outing him on this page.
None of its MPs were openly gay at the time parliament dissolved, though one as I said was an open secret.
The Greens are an unknown quantity, having never held power and not regarded as a serious contender for any seats until this election.
They do get credit for having elected the first gay leader of a Canadian party — Chris Lea, the party’s longest-serving leader from 1990-1996.
Since then, however, the party’s taken a swing toward the centre. And while the official platform of the party is very much in favour of LGBTQ equality, leader Elizabeth May’s personal social conservatism has some worried. Until recently, her boldest statements in favour of equality were that the Bible didn’t require her to fight against same-sex marriage, and that there were more important issues to worry about.
This election, though, she’s taken aim at the culture of homophobia inside the Conservative Party, and presented a very progressive platform ranging on issues from reinstating the court challenges program to protecting trans rights.
Without a record, though, it’s difficult to know how the Greens would vote on LGBTQ issues. They are running only one out candidate — Andre Papadimitriou in Toronto.
I hope I’ve done something to help Canadians make up their minds this election. Our issues have been largely pushed to the side this election — an in the case of the Liberals and Conservatives, not even in the party platforms.
It’s important to know where the parties really stand when the elections are over and the real business of politics begins.