4 min

Any straight candidates left?

Even though trailblazer New Democrat Svend Robinson will be watching from the sidelines, this spring’s federal election will see the largest ever number of queers on the ballot.

The Liberals are fielding a star queer candidate, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray. And the NDP says its new diversity policy has resulted in the nomination of a significant number of gay men and lesbians across the country. Hey, even the Conservatives have one openly gay candidate.

“Svend Robinson meant a lot to me as a teen. He broke the silence and came out as the first gay MP,” says Rui Pires, who is running for the NDP in Toronto’s Davenport riding.

Yet unlike Robinson – currently taking time off after his Easter weekend shoplifting meltdown – Pires and other out queers running in this election have the opportunity to be the first MPs who were out before their debut in the House Of Commons.

Current out MPs, including Robinson, Réal Menard and Libby Davies, only revealed their sexual orientation to the electorate after winning their seats. Though Pires isn’t certain the electorate will realize that distinction, he does see himself as a having a chance at being another kind of first.

“The issue that has come up is who will be the first Portuguese Member Of Parliament – that’s what people are focussing on,” Pires says.

Davenport has a strong immigrant Portuguese community, and Pires and his Liberal rival, former Toronto councillor Mario Silva, are both of Portuguese descent.

“I’ve always done the work that I’ve done in the communities as an out gay man; people know,” says Pires. “They’re more interested to know why they’re being paid so little in their pension plans. They’re more interested in how the NDP can influence the TTC and childcare.”

Pires has a long history of community involvement, and currently works with the homeless population at a west-end agency. Except for a brief stint in Hamilton during university, Pires has been a resident of Davenport since the age of three, and now lives there with his partner, Leif Harmsen.

Paul Ferreira, the NDP candidate in York South-Weston joins Pires as competition for potential double first groundbreaker – also openly gay and Portuguese. Ferreira immigrated to Canada from the Azores at the age of six, and grew up in Brampton. He and his partner Tim Gernstein have lived in Toronto for the past five years.

Ferreira says that he decided to run because he is disturbed about what he sees happening across the country.

“Locally, the city is not getting its fair share. We see it in everything from funding for transit to our neglected waterfront, to the increase in homelessness and poverty,” he says. “The current government is not paying its fair share to maintain quality of life.”

Ferreira’s history of union activism drew him to the NDP. His parents both became trade unionists after arriving in Canada, and Ferreira was a union steward for a local drugstore while still in high school.

“Jack Layton is a wonderful leader who doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. I hope to replicate Jack’s successful work in the federal government.”

Ferreira hopes to send a strong message to the queer community about political involvement.

“As an openly gay candidate running in a riding that may not traditionally be seen as being receptive to a gay candidate, I’m hoping to send a message to other gays and lesbians that they should be free to run regardless of where they happen to live,” he says. “I hope that I am seen as a role model to young gays and lesbians hoping to run for office.”

The third openly gay candidate in southern Ontario is Ted Mouradian, running for the NDP in St Catherines, a university town along the Niagara escarpment.

Mouradian’s history includes careers as a journalist, talk-show host, author, real estate agent, actor, dishwasher, tobacco picker, bank teller, college lecturer and vacuum cleaner salesman. He says his diverse career background gives him the tools he needs to be a strong Member Of Parliament.

“I’ve been a negotiator all my life so I can negotiate very well with people. I try to bring people together,” Mouradian says. “Some of my very best friends are evangelical Christians. We choose to celebrate our sameness rather than the differences.

“I’m going to do my best not to stand up in the House and become an asshole. I’m pretty good at mending fences and being a bridge builder.”

Mouradian says he hasn’t found his sexual orientation to be an issue while campaigning. He and his partner Troy are out and involved in the community, but Mouradian says they don’t flaunt their sexuality.

“I’m actually hoping that the Alliance-Conservative candidate or some of their people start attacking me because it will be used to my benefit,” says Mouradian. “People who know me know that I’m left-handed – so what. And that’s who we are. If they attack it will be to their detriment.”

NDP leader Jack Layton says that all three men are excellent candidates. “Their CVs are really quite fabulous in terms of community engagement. The fact that they happen to be gay as well and could make history that way is an exciting element.”

Layton says that the NDP’s equity policy helps to ensure that its candidates are not all straight, white men, unlike much of the current crew in Parliament. “We won’t allow a riding to have a nomination convention until they show us, with evidence, that they have reached out to the diverse community.”

In addition to the three in Ontario, the party has several out candidates running nationally including incumbent Davies (Vancouver East), Nicholas Simons (West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast), John Carty (Fredericton), Benoit Beauchamp (Rosemont- La Petite), Maria Pia Chavez (NDG-Lachine), Jean-Marie Fiset (Quebec) and Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Juan deFuca).

Scott Brison will run in Nova Scotia’s Kings-Hant riding, the first time he’s faced the electorate since coming out and crossing the floor to the Liberals after leaving the newly merged Conservative-Alliance party. The Liberals are also fielding one of the most well-known openly gay candidates, Glen Murray, who stepped down as mayor of Winnipeg in early May to contest the election at the request of Prime Minister Martin.

It must have been a persuasive request. In a July 2002 interview, Murray told Xtra: “I am being courted to run by every party. I am committed to being mayor for the next four years – it isn’t going to happen in the near future.”

Murray, a former member of the NDP, will be running in the riding of Charleswood-St James-Assiniboia. Incumbent MP John Harvard vacated the seat the day before Murray announced his intentions. In what some call political game playing, Martin appointed Harvard to be Manitoba’s next lieutenant-governor, opening a local seat for Murray.

The Conservative Party Of Canada is running at least one openly gay candidate. Gary Mitchell is running in the Vancouver Centre riding against former Liberal cabinet minister Hedy Fry.

“I want to ensure that this party puts forth centrist, progressive views,” Mitchell told Xtra West, Xtra’s Vancouver sibling.