For those who are keeping track of the out candidates and how they did in the election, I’m pleased to say that — in the election no one else is happy with — we did fairly well. The NDP managed to elect two of its six queer candidates, the Liberals elected three of their four, and Réal Ménard of the Bloc held on to his seat.
Every queer person who ran for re-election won — the Bloc’s Raymond Gravel has quit politics. Even the well-known closeted Conservative cabinet minister held his seat, though whether that’s a victory or not I leave to the reader to decide.
Here’s a breakdown, party by party.
Bill Siksay won his tightest race yet against Conservative challenger Ronald Leung in Burnaby-Douglas. That’s good, because Siksay has been the loudest voice in the House of Commons for LGBTQ rights since the retirement of Svend Robinson. He is the only critic for LGBTT issues in the House of Commons (the other parties don’t have one), and he has been tireless on the issues of same-sex marriage, queer refugees’ right to asylum in Canada, and trans rights.
Vancouver East’s Libby Davies was the first queer woman MP to come out, and is the NDP’s joint deputy leader. She is more focused on anti-poverty issues than on directly queer ones, but she was one of the passionate voices for same-sex marriage when the issue finally came to a head. One of her main goals now is keeping the Insite needle exchange program alive, which helps slow the spread of HIV infection. She won by her usual massive landslide.
A special mention should go to Thomas Mulcair. Though Mulcair is straight, anyone who becomes uncontrollably enraged by Conservative homophobic policies on immigration — as he did when the Conservatives decided not intervene in the deportation of Kulenthiram Amirthalingam — ought to have a place on this list, and an honorary place in our community.
Special mention, too, should be made of Megan Leslie, one of the NDP’s new MPs — a straight woman who co-founded the queer group OUTlaw at Dalhousie, who’s done work on trans rights, and worked with a number of queer organizations. She was misidentified as a queer woman in Xtra.ca before voting day, though it doesn’t seem to have hurt her in the Halifax election.
In the 39th Parliament, the Liberals had matched the NDP two out MPs for two. In the 40th parliament, the Liberals have exceeded that number, and now have three.
Scott Brison is a fiscal conservative who’s always been socially liberal. When he came out in 2002, he said he was “not a gay politician, but a politician who happens to be gay,” and his career has mostly focused on business issues, on industry, and technology.
Still, being gay has changed the course of his career. Way back in 1999 — when the Liberal Party voted en masse against same-sex marriage — Brison was a Progressive Conservative who voted for it. When the Canadian Alliance party devoured the old Progressive Conservative one, Brison no longer felt comfortable in the homophobic atmosphere of the Harper Tories, and found a more natural home as a purely fiscal conservative in the Liberal Party.
He was the first openly gay cabinet minister in Canadian history, being named Minister of Public Works in Paul Martin’s government.
By contrast, Mario Silva has a much lower profile. Silva is a cabinet minister that most Canadians have never heard of, although he’s been recognized for his progressive views on environmental, labour rights, and immigration issues.
He hasn’t been lacking on queer issues, however, since he came out. He spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage, and quietly tried to use his influence in the Liberal Party to get the Immigration Officer to permit Juan Camacho to stay with his male common-law Canadian partner, in the days before universal same-sex marriage in early 2005.
Still, of all the LGBTQ MPs currently in the House, Silva is the most controversial. His first election in 2004, he was not yet out, and yet ran an against openly-gay social worker in the NDP, Rui Pires. Some in the riding have claimed that Silva was running a homophobic campaign against Pires, and making his sexuality an issue. If that’s true, I can’t find a solid trace of it in newspapers or in cyberspace.
What is certain is that Harper Conservative Theresa Rodrigues was running a homophobic campaign against both for their parties’ support of same-sex marriage, and most likely Pires — who was out — suffered the brunt of the damage as a result. Silva only came out of the closet after his election — he refused to answer questions about his sexuality until after he arrived in Ottawa.
A new face among the Liberals is openly gay United Church minister Rob Oliphant, who beat the Conservatives in Don Valley West. Again, he’s mostly an unknown quantity on the federal political scene, but he’s been deeply involved in both Toronto’s gay community, and a strong supporter of their community centre, the 519. He’s also been involved behind the scenes in the Liberal Party since the 1970s.
The Bloc Québécois
The Bloc had two out members last session. But pro-choice, gay Catholic priest Raymond Gravel was refused the right to run by the church, even though he abstained on all LGBTQ votes like same-sex marriage.
Réal Ménard was the second out MP. He came out in 1994 in parliament, speaking against Liberal backbencher Rosenanne Skoke’s objections to including “sexual orientation” in Canada’s hate-crimes law. His background is political science, and he’s been shuffled into every position in the Bloc’s shadow cabinet, from immigration to health care to defence to public housing.
He’s also the Bloc’s unofficial spokesman on all LGBTQ issues. In 2004, when Montreal’s Gay Chamber of Commerce invited all the candidates for the area to debate issues affecting queer people, Gilles Duceppe — who represents the riding — didn’t go personally but sent Réal Ménard as his representative. During the same-sex marriage debates, it was Ménard who led the attack for equal marriage on the Bloc side.
Of course, the Green party didn’t win any seats. But the Green’s one out candidate, Andre Papadimitriou, did increase his party’s share of the vote in his Toronto riding from 3.75% to 5.1%.
In my last post, I mentioned there was a fiscal conservative cabinet minister whose homosexuality was an open secret in Ottawa, but that I wouldn’t out him here because his record on LGBT issues was good. Well, he too retained his seat.
It does make me wonder, though — would he still be with us if he’d come out in the last parliament? Would the ultra-conservative base of his party abandon him? Or would they have put partisanship and policy over personal disgust?
The Conservatives have run openly gay candidates, usually in urban ridings with large gay populations where they’re considered to have little or no chance of winning. These are usually fiscal conservatives who try to soften their party’s image for gay voters. Lorne Mayencourt and Chris Reid both come to mind. Chris Reid was primarily known for wanting looser gun control laws, while Mayencourt’s focus is lower taxes, and law and order.
I mentioned a debate held by the Gay Chamber of Commerce above. This was in Gilles Duceppe’s riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, which includes Montreal’s Gay Village, in 2004. I was at that debate, and that year the Conservatives were running an openly gay candidate in the riding named Pierre Albert. Albert’s defence of his choice to run for the Conservatives gave me some insight into the mind of an openly gay Conservative.
Albert was attacked from all sides throughout the debate. Put on the defensive for running for the Conservatives, Albert admitted that his party had an atmosphere of homophobia and a dangerous number of social conservatives. He argued that this was because the party was western-province dominated, and that the solution was for more socially liberal people from other parts of the country to join the party and change it from the inside.
He explained that as a fiscal conservative, he couldn’t join the Bloc or the NDP, and that while the Liberals espoused fiscal conservatism in theory, in practice they tended to make money disappear — frequently to their friends. He didn’t consider that fiscally responsible, so he felt he had nowhere else to go.
Albert’s arguments struck me, and I present them here because I’m still fascinated by the idea of gay fiscal conservatives trying to change the party from the inside. I wonder sometimes if this is what Mayencourt and Reid imagine they’ll one day be able to do.
If so, given their support outside the party — and the evangelical Christianity deeply entrenched within the party — it seems unlikely they’ll be able to transform the Harper Conservatives anytime.